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DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Psaki now White House communications chief

WASHINGTON – State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki will serve as White House communications director as the administration enters the closing years of President Obama’s final term, the White House announced Thursday.

Psaki, a longtime Obama aide, will replace Jennifer Palmieri, who leaves to work on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s potential presidential bid. Psaki starts work April 1.

In a statement, the president praised both women’s work.

“Over the past three years, Jen Palmieri has served as a brilliant and effective communications director and trusted adviser. More importantly, she has become a good friend. I will miss her deeply – and I wish her success in the future,” the president said. “I’d say Jen is irreplaceable – if Jen Psaki hadn’t agreed to step in.”

Psaki, who was a contender to replace former White House press secretary Jay Carney when he stepped down last year, started working for Obama in 2007 as the traveling press secretary on his first presidential bid, and served as his 2012 senior communications adviser.

– Washington Post

MARYLAND

Cholesterol is back on Dietary Guidelines menu

ROCKVILLE, Md. – A panel of nutrition and public health experts advising the federal government on healthy eating guidelines has recommended the withdrawal of a longstanding recommendation that Americans should avoid foods that are high in cholesterol – advice that has put eggs off limits for heart-healthy consumers for decades.

The new advice, which will help guide a government panel in drafting new Dietary Guidelines for Americans later this year, continues to urge Americans to reduce their intake of saturated fat and sodium, and to boost their consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts.

The 2015 dietary guidelines are to be issued late this year, after a period of public comment on the report of the Diet Guidelines Advisory Committee, released Thursday.

The advisory panel – made up of independent experts – cited mounting research that consumption of cholesterol-rich foods has little bearing on overall levels of cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream. Other evidence has suggested that for those with worrisome cholesterol readings, which are linked to a higher risk of heart disease, the most effective way to improve blood cholesterol may be taking medications such as statins.

Cholesterol from the diet represents only about 20 percent of the cholesterol circulating in the human bloodstream, and thus lowering cholesterol intake will affect blood cholesterol levels only marginally.

– Los Angeles Times

MARYLAND

State Senate gives OK to increase to 70 mph

The Maryland Senate voted 39 to 7 on Thursday morning to give state transportation officials the power to increase the maximum to 70 on some interstate highways and expressways. The legislation still needs approval of the Maryland House of Delegates, which passed a similar bill last year.

Sen. George Edwards, R, who sponsored the legislation, said most major modern highways are constructed to safely handle cars going that fast. Even if the legislation becomes law, he said the state Department of Transportation could opt to leave the speed limits as they are.

“Most states in this country have at least 70 miles per hour,” Edwards said on the Senate floor. Virginia has allowed 70-mile-per-hour speed limits on rural highways since 2010. In Texas, drivers can legally drive 85 miles per hour.

Seven Democrats voted against Senate Bill 44, and several of those dissenters raised questions about the increased risk of fatal accidents.

– Washington Post

PENNSYLVANIA

Penn law professors slam sexual assault policies

PHILADELPHIA – A group of law professors at the University of Pennsylvania signed a letter that attacks the school’s new sexual assault policies. The letter, dated Feb. 18, says that Penn’s procedures are unfair to students accused of sexual violence, who may be subjected to “serious, life-changing sanctions” without getting a real chance to defend themselves.

Penn put new rules in place for handling cases of sexual violence on Feb. 1.

The university’s new procedures include hiring a former prosecutor to investigate claims and empowering a panel of three faculty members to interview the people involved and decide whether to mete out punishment, based on a majority vote.

Penn is setting a worryingly low bar for determining guilt when sexual misconduct is alleged, the letter said. The investigators and the panel will follow a “preponderance of evidence” standard, which means that they would have to find a student guilty if they were more than 50 percent sure that an assault occurred. The professors note that this means someone could be found guilty, even if the panel was nearly 50 percent sure he or she was innocent. The faculty also said that the accused’s legal counsel should have the right to question the accuser, and that the panel should reach a guilty judgment only if they were unanimously agreed.

– Bloomberg News