A roundup of some interesting news around the region:

PRIVATE ACCOUNTS HAVEN'T WORKED FOR STATES: The L.A. Times finds that public employees have been less than enthusiastic about private accounts for pensions in the seven states that have offered them. On average, only 5% of employees have opted to join the "ownership society." Joseph Jankowski, executive director of the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board, said: "The vast majority of people don't have the inclination or comfort level to be responsible for their own retirements." West Virginia board officials are debating whether to drop the state's private account plan.

NC LEG MOVES TO RESTORE VOTES: The North Carolina Sentate voted to restore over 11,000 provisional ballots that the state Supreme Court tossed out last month in the state's school superintendent race. Although N.C. law specifically allows provisional voters to cast ballots outside of their precinct, the court had declared them invalid. State advocacy group Democracy North Carolina fought to restore the votes, which their analysis found were disproportionately African American voters.

ARKANSAS EXPANDS HEALTH COVERAGE: The Arkansas House on Monday passed two bills which allow patients more freedom to choose their physicians and requires health care management plans to pay those doctors at the plan's regular rates. A similar bill already passed in the Senate. Said Steve Faris, D-Malvern, "It was a good day for the little man."

DISCLOSURE BILL UPSETS AL CHRISTIAN COALITION: The Alabama Senate passed a bill, echoing a similar House measure passed last week, requiring that any nonprofit group that spends more than $1,000 to influence an election would have to disclose the names and addresses of all its donors. Particularly upset is the Alabama Christian Coalition, whose spokesman said "We're not out here advocating one candidate or the other. We're advocating issues." The bill's sponsor, Sen. Pat Lindsey (D-Butler), said "All the bill is, is letting a little sunshine in."

NO SEX TOYS FOR ALABAMA: The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday declined to review the constitutionality of Alabama's state law banning the sale of sex toys. Despite an ACLU challenge on privacy grounds, the Supremes let stand the Atlanta-based 11th Circut Court of Appeals' decision last July that siding with the sex toy merchants could open the door to the legalization of undesirable sexual behavior such as prostitution.

CATCHING UP: Two stories from last week that deserve more attention. 1) W. Va. prisons: Grassroots Leadership and other groups released an excellent report showing how West Virginia -- which has one of the fastest-growing incarceration rates in the country -- is bankrupting itself by building new prisons. The state's spending on prisons has grown five times faster than it has on higher education. 2) A Soldier's Heart: The Jackson (Mississippi) Free Press, in partnership with others, have an insightful story on post-traumatic stress disorder among Iraq War (part II) veterans. A December 2003 study found at least 16% of those returning from Iraq suffer from PTSD; experts put the number at twice that. The impact is lasting.