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Some schools take a pass on program to give free meals to students

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WASHINGTON – With a deadline looming for a federal program to give free meals to all students in certain low-income schools, some Arizona districts are finding there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

State officials by Friday had approved just 29 of the 247 school districts and charter schools eligible for a program to provide free breakfast and lunch to any student at those schools, regardless of the student’s income. Sunday is the deadline to apply.

But while the poorest districts would be fully reimbursed by the federal government, others are note even applying because they would have to pick up some of the cost.

“Schools that are below that (income threshold) have to see if the numbers work for them,” said Becca Segal, child nutrition associate at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “And in some cases it might not.” Read More »

Experts: Shrinking workforce, not job growth, driving drop in jobless rate

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  • Sidebar: State, metro unemployment rates
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WASHINGTON – Arizona’s jobless rate is falling toward pre-recession levels, but don’t start the Labor Day celebrations just yet – experts say the drop could be driven as much by a shrinking labor force as a growing job market.

After peaking near 11 percent in 2010, Arizona’s unemployment rate has been falling steadily and stood at 7.0 percent in July, according to the latest numbers from the Arizona Department of Administration.

But Aruna Murthy, the department’s director of economic analysis, noted that “unemployment is slowly declining, but jobs available have not been growing.” Read More »

Cronkite News Digest for Friday, Aug. 29

Here is the Cronkite News lineup for Friday, Aug. 29. Please contact Steve Crane in the Washington, D.C., bureau at 202-684-2398 or or Steve Elliott in the Phoenix bureau at 602-496-0686 or if you have questions. Stories promised for today along with photos and links to multimedia elements will move on the CNS client site at

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Renewable-energy project gives state fastest clean-energy job growth

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  • Sidebar: Top states, hiring proposed
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WASHINGTON – Arizona businesses announced plans earlier this year to hire more than 3,000 workers in clean-energy industries, letting the state claim the biggest growth in renewable-energy jobs in the nation for the second quarter of 2014.

A report released Thursday by Environmental Entrepreneurs said the bulk of the new Arizona jobs – and a large share of the total planned for the nation – could be attributed to the proposed Solar Wind Energy Tower project in San Luis. Developers of that project said they plan to add 2,350 workers, with most of those being construction jobs at the $1.5 billion plant.

That announcement allowed Arizona to knock California out of first place for the quarter.

“It’s tough to compete with California because there’s just less of us,” said Susan Bitter Smith, a commissioner with Arizona Corporation Commission. “But Arizona is always in the top three because it’s a place of great opportunity for renewable energy.” Read More »

Leaders from tribe, Glendale break ground on $400 million casino resort

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GLENDALE – Leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation and this West Valley city broke ground Thursday on a $400 million casino resort that has been the subject of lawsuits and legislation to block it.

While opponents have objected to the West Valley Resort and Casino being within a city, Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, said the development is on land that his people are allowed as reparation for flooding caused by the Painted Rock Dam, built on the Gila River caused  in the 1960s.

“It is the work of generations of nations’ leaders, the result of a long struggle to turn a great wrong into a new opportunity for our people and for all of Arizona,” Norris said.

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High court: No automatic priority for contractor’s lien under state law

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PHOENIX – A lien placed by a construction firm doesn’t automatically have priority over other liens recorded after work begins on a development, according to a Arizona Supreme Court ruling.

The Aug. 26 decision stems from a longstanding court battle over a high-rise condominium building, Summit at Copper Square, located next to the Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.

Reversing an appellate court decision, the high court said that a state law governing so-called mechanics’ liens doesn’t necessarily make general contractor The Weitz Co. first in line to recoup the $4 million it has yet to be paid for the project.

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Arizona group pushing feds to protect monarch butterflies

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PHOENIX – The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity and other groups are petitioning the federal government to make the monarch butterfly an endangered species, citing a population drop of more than 90 percent over the past two decades.

The coalition, which also includes the Center for Food Safety and The Xerces Society, which seeks to preserve habitat for invertebrates, submitted a petition Aug. 26 for the U.S. Department of the Interior to protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

Monarch butterflies are known for their transcontinental migrations each fall and spring, with a population west of the Rocky Mountains ranging from the U.S.-Mexico border area into Canada and another east of the Rockies wintering in central Mexico. While the western population winters primarily along the coast, monarchs also breed in Arizona.

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Immigration judges urge Congress to fix record-high caseload backlog

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WASHINGTON – Congress needs to double the number of immigration judges and reorganize the immigration court system to cope with a record-high 375,000 backlogged cases, two of those judges said Wednesday.

Judges Dana Leigh Marks and Denise Noonan Slavin said a fix “wouldn’t be cheap,” but that action must be taken to relieve the logjam of cases – including 15,000 in Arizona’s four immigration courts, according to government data compiled by Syracuse Univeristy’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

The two, speaking as officials of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said staffing is just one of the problems facing immigration courts, “an alternate legal universe” where those charged with being here illegally can face years waiting for justice. Read More »

Parade celebrates Arizona Rattlers’ third straight AFL championship

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PHOENIX – Gov. Jan Brewer and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton helped the Arizona Rattlers celebrate their third straight Arena Football League championship Wednesday.

“The plan was never to repeat, never to three-peat,” said Kevin Guy, who coached the team to a 15-3 regular season record. “The plan was to win the championship every year.”

The Rattlers trounced the Cleveland Gators 72-32 in Saturday’s ArenaBowl, played in Cleveland.

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Spending on just-ended Arizona primary races topped $43.5 million

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  • Sidebar: Breakdown of spending
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WASHINGTON – Arizona candidates – and their allies and opponents – spent more than $43.5 million on Tuesday’s primary election, a “staggering” amount for the state, according to one political expert.

“It’s a lot of money,” said longtime Arizona pollster Bruce Merrill. “Keep in mind, Arizona is a relatively small state.”

More than half the total, $23.65 million, went for statewide races, according to the most recent campaign finance reports, with spending driven by a bitter six-way contest for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

The number is likely higher, as the last state and federal spending reports were filed several days to several weeks before Tuesday’s primary. And experts expect millions more to be spent in the 10 weeks between now and the Nov. 4 general election, which features several high-profile congressional races in addition to state offices. Read More »

Federal, local officials sign agreement to protect forest watershed near Payson

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PAYSON – Federal, private and local agencies signed an agreement Wednesday that will help protect a crucial water source for this city from the effects of wildfires.

The agreement, which participants hailed for its collaborative nature, calls for forest-thinning, prescribed fires and other measures near the C.C. Cragin Reservoir north of Payson.

During a wildfire, ash, debris and sediment can enter reservoir and waterworks, fouling the water, damaging facilities and costing millions in repairs.

Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the U.S. Interior Department, one of the agencies involved, called the agreement a “win-win.”

“It improves the health of the watershed, it reduces the risk of fire and it allows for more minimal damages if there is a fire,” he said. Read More »

City of Phoenix is talking trash with garbage analysis underway

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PHOENIX – A bag of puke, a baby diaper and a live turtle. These are among the items that Cassie Lubenow wades through for four hours each day.

Flies swarm around Lubenow’s workstation, a raised plywood slab covered with refuse from this trash-sorting facility. Her mission: sifting through piles of residential trash to help the city of Phoenix learn how to get people to recycle more.

The 27th Avenue Transfer Station sorts 60 percent of all residential trash the city throws away. Though the facility has about 30 full-time employees, Lubenow sorts recyclables as part of her master’s degree program at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability.

“I thought that the waste-stream issue was a really important issue in sustainability,” she said. “I knew it was going to be dirty and little gross, but it’s an important issue.”

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Advisory: Mechanics’ Liens

The story slugged Mechanics Liens’ will move Thursday morning.

Diamondbacks a hit with patients at Phoenix Children’s Hospital

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PHOENIX – David Peralta might be a tough out for Major League pitchers, but the outfielder was no match for 12-year-old Corey Heartwell at air hockey.

On their day off Tuesday, Peralta and Arizona Diamondbacks teammates Chase Anderson, Tuffy Gosewisch and Ender Inciarte hung out with patients in Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s Child Life Zone, playing video games, foosball and board games. They also visited visited children who couldn’t leave their rooms.

Inciarte quickly found himself at the pool table with a teenage girl, who beat him.

“It touched my heart, you know. Seeing them, how happy they are and how they see life,” Inciarte said. “So I’m really happy to come share these moments with them, and seeing that they can smile makes me really happy and really enjoy this moment.” listen

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In otherwise forgettable season, rookies shine for Diamondbacks

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PHOENIX – With injury woes and a subpar record, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ season is nearing a forgettable ending. However, certain players’ successes and talents are being recognized, especially among the rookies.

Diamondbacks starting pitcher Chase Anderson and outfielder David Peralta have both shined as midseason roster additions. has cited Peralta as a worthy Rookie of the Year candidate.

Both talked about their seasons Tuesday after visiting Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

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Group: Penalties for buyers key to curbing sex trafficking

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  • Sidebar: Cities studied.
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PHOENIX – When it comes to sex trafficking, the traffickers – usually pimps – traditionally receive the harshest legal punishments. However, states can do more to curb the practice by shifting that responsibility onto the men who purchase sex with young women, an advocacy group contends.

“You make a mistake when you buy bad fruit at a grocery store. You don’t make a mistake when you go shopping for kids,” said Linda Smith, a former congresswoman and founder and president of Shared Hope International.

The nonprofit organization devoted to helping victims of sex trafficking reclaim their lives held a news conference Monday to present findings from its Demanding Justice Project, a report assessing how buyers influenced sex trafficking in Phoenix and three other metropolitan areas where enforcement aims at curbing demand.

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Tucson scientist joins panel touting 2015 visit to ‘dwarf planet’ Pluto

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WASHINGTON – Tucson scientist David Grinspoon joined a panel Monday talking about NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto – but the scientists were most animated when talking about the feud over the status of the recently classified “dwarf planet.”

Long sought by Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory as Planet X, and classified as the solar system’s ninth planet in 1930, Pluto took a hit in 2006 when it was downgraded to the new category, upsetting Pluto’s defenders.

“Dwarf people are people. Dwarf planets are planets,” said Fran Bagenal, a panelist and University of Colorado astrophysicist, when asked about Pluto’s current status.

Panelists – NASA officials, academics and contractors overseeing the New Horizons mission – were unanimous in their support of the position that the littlest planet should still be called a planet, without qualifiers. Read More »

California-Chiapas, other climate-change plans could see new life

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  • Eds: Final installment in the Cronkite Borderlands Initiative
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TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Chiapas, Mexico – The concept was complex and controversial: California companies would be allowed to exceed limits of carbon-dioxide emissions by paying to protect rainforests abroad.

The pollute-locally, restore-globally strategy was put forth in a 2010 memorandum of agreement between then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and representatives from the states of Chiapas, Mexico, and Acre, Brazil.

The goal was to create incentives for the countries to move forward in developing programs to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. California companies would pay to preserve tropical forests that scientists say are key to slowing the generation of greenhouse gases and climate change.

But four years later, the program in Chiapas has stalled. The state officials who made the agreement are out of office and Mexico’s national government now has its own climate-change policy with which state governments must coordinate. Read More »

After six years, Obama administration gets good marks on tribal issues

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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – On a campaign visit to the Crow Nation in Montana in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama promised to improve nation-to-nation relationships as president, vowing that Native Americans would “be on my mind every day that I’m in the White House.”

It may not have been every day, but after six years the administration is getting generally high marks from tribal experts who say the president has given tribal relations a high profile. It comes at a time when landmark legislation for Native Americans has passed.

Gains range from an overhaul of tribal courts to a multibillion-dollar settlement of a longstanding tribal suit against the government, but include lighter policy statements like the declaration of National Native American Heritage Month and presidential visits to reservations.

“I certainly feel the commitment from the administration has been one of the strongest we’ve seen among a number of different administrations,” said Eric Stegman, a former Senate Indian Affairs Committee counsel.

Not all the successes can be credited solely to the Obama administration – many had already been in the works for years before he took office, but his timing was right. Read More »

Arizona leads states for rate of deferred-deportation applications

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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Arizona has the highest rate of deferred deportation applications in the nation, with two-thirds of the estimated 34,000 eligible immigrants in the state signing up, a new report says.

The Migration Policy Institute report cited a “mixed picture” for the two-year-old federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, noting that while many have applied there are still hundreds of thousands who have not come forward.

DACA, unveiled in summer 2012 by President Barack Obama, lets undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children stay for renewable two-year terms without fear of being deported, under certain conditions.

The institute report said that 643,000 people had applied as of March 31, out of an estimated 1.2 million people who are eligible, an application rate of 52 percent. Read More »