VA officials respond to outcry over secretary’s ‘Disneyland’ comments

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WASHINGTON – Department of Veterans’ Affairs officials apologized this week for comments by Secretary Robert McDonald that compared VA health care wait times with wait times at Disneyland – but they didn’t back down from the statement.

VA administrators conceded that it was a poor choice of words but told a Senate panel Tuesday that McDonald was making a “point about delivering great customer service,” of which wait times are only a part.

“The point Bob was trying to make was really the point about delivering great customer service, a great veteran experience around healthcare,” Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

“It’s unfortunate and he and I both regret that folks misunderstood or misconstrued the point that was being made there,” Gibson said. Continue reading “VA officials respond to outcry over secretary’s ‘Disneyland’ comments”

Arizona surveillance helps track Zika, but residents can help, too

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WASHINGTON – Phoenix is one of the best regions in the nation when it comes surveillance of mosquitos that can carry the Zika virus, one of the hard science approaches that could help check the spread of the disease, an Arizona epidemiologist said Wednesday.

Kacey Ernst, an epidemiologist in the University of Arizona’s Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department, was one of four scientists called to testify before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on the “science of Zika.”

The hearing came as Congress wrestles over a White House request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus. The House has approved $622 million for the effort while the Senate has passed a $1.1 billion allowance.

It also comes as experts say the warmer summer temperatures are sure to bring an increase in mosquitoes that carry the disease, that has been linked to everything from joint pain to severe birth defects. Continue reading “Arizona surveillance helps track Zika, but residents can help, too”

TSA chief promises wait times will improve after June hiring boom

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WASHINGTON – The head of the Transportation Security Administration promised lawmakers Wednesday that the planned hiring of 768 workers by June 15 will ease long wait times at airports nationwide.

Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger, who took over as TSA administrator last June, told the House Homeland Security Committee hearing that the hiring will allow the agency to improve efficiency without shortchanging security.

“Efficiency and effectiveness are not mutually exclusive,” Neffenger said in his testimony.

The moves come just as the summer travel season is gearing up, and follow high-profile TSA problems at several airports that have delayed fliers. Continue reading “TSA chief promises wait times will improve after June hiring boom”

Scottsdale middle schooler advances to National Spelling Bee finals

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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – A Scottsdale seventh-grader survived the preliminary rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Wednesday to advance to Thursday’s national final round, one of just 45 students to do so.

Nicola Ferguson was one of two contestants representing Arizona in the spelling bee that began the day with 284 students.

Both Nicola and Hannah Norliyn May Batnag Pengosro, a sixth-grader from Newcomb Middle School in New Mexico, made it through first round – a written test – and the first round of spelling on stage. Continue reading “Scottsdale middle schooler advances to National Spelling Bee finals”

Cronkite News Digest for Wednesday, May 25

Here is the Cronkite News lineup for Wednesday, May 25. If you have questions on news stories, please contact Steve Crane in the Washington, D.C., bureau at 202-684-2398 or, or call the Phoenix bureau for Kevin Dale at 602-496-5168 or or Venita James at or 602-496-5280. For business story questions, please contact Christina Leonard at 602-361-5893 or Questions on sports stories should be directed to Brett Kurland 602-496-5134 or Stories promised for today along with photos and links to multimedia elements will move on our client site at

Continue reading “Cronkite News Digest for Wednesday, May 25”

Tribal leaders call for return of remains, sacred items before auction

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WASHINGTON – Tribal and federal officials called Monday’s planned sale of Indian remains and sacred objects at a French auction “disrespectful and fundamentally wrong” and called for the return of the items.

Leaders from the Navajo, Hoopa and Acoma Pueblo tribes gathered with federal officials and advocates Tuesday to draw attention to the planned Parisian auction, in which they objected to the sale of one Hoopa cultural item and two Acoma Pueblo items, among hundreds of items.

“We demand that France and the U.S. act forcibly to stop the sales of these items,” said Gov. Kurt Riley of the Acoma Pueblo. “We are appealing to the people of France to honor our humanity.”

The catalog from the Parisian auction house EVE lists what appears to be hundreds of Native American items, including clothing, weapons and baskets that Riley said should not be in nontribal hands. They are part of a sale that will include items from Central America, Africa and Asia. Continue reading “Tribal leaders call for return of remains, sacred items before auction”

Tucson AHL team another step in growth of hockey in Arizona

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TUCSON – When he lived in the Valley, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild had a front row seat for the growth of hockey in Arizona.

“My daughter was a figure skater here growing up and we were always driving to the Ice Den, Chandler or Tempe,” Rothschild said of the various sheets of ice where he would often see hockey players in addition to the figure skaters alongside his daughter.. “There is a community that can really thrive amongst the youth hockey players in this state.”

And Rothschild hopes that hockey’s surge will continue in Tucson with the move of the Arizona Coyotes’ American Hockey League team to the city. The AHL is the final minor-league step before players make it to the NHL.

“I think this team will bring more synergy to downtown Tucson,” Rothschild said. “It will encourage people to go out to the bars, restaurants, and stores in the city.” Continue reading “Tucson AHL team another step in growth of hockey in Arizona”

NCAA rule change gives underclassmen until Wednesday to return to school

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PHOENIX – Like many talented underclassmen in the last several years, Purdue freshman forward Caleb Swanigan decided to test the NBA waters, declaring for June’s NBA Draft and working out for the Suns last week at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

However, Swanigan will have a bit more time than those who came before him to decide if he should keep his name in the draft.

Under an NCAA rule change approved in January, underclassmen have until Wednesday to return to college as long as they have not hired an agent, extending a deadline that last year was in late April. This year, players could participate in the NBA Draft Combine and work out for individual teams before deciding whether to stay in the draft or return to school.

“I think there was great concern that in the past without enough time and information to make the best informed decision that underclassmen, who were prospects for the NBA, were making poor decisions,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships. Continue reading “NCAA rule change gives underclassmen until Wednesday to return to school”

Arizona summit on Zika teaches health officials how to tackle virus

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PHOENIX — Arizona health officials joined the global battle to fight the Zika virus in a daylong summit Tuesday, educating doctors and other medical professionals and emergency personnel on ways to prevent and handle the mosquito-born virus that causes devastating birth defects.

Arizona has had three confirmed cases of Zika, diagnosed in Arizona residents who contracted it while traveling outside the country. More than 140 people have been tested, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The state has the type of mosquito that carries the virus but it has not been detected in mosquitoes, health officials said. Continue reading “Arizona summit on Zika teaches health officials how to tackle virus”

Mr., Ms. Smith to go Washington: Citizens add voices on national issues

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WASHINGTON – Over two days last week, three Arizonans – a teacher, a former student and a immigration case worker – came to Washington to add their voices to the debate over Merrick Garland’s stalled Supreme Court nomination.

“You don’t have to tell my clients that the Supreme Court justice matters,” said Consuelo Hernandez, an immigration caseworker with the International Rescue Committee in Tucson, who said her clients ask “every single day” what’s going to happen with the court.

She was one of about 30 people from around the country – including recent Arizona State University graduate Jordan Uter – at a Capitol Hill rally Thursday with lawmakers calling for “fair consideration” of Garland’s nomination by the Senate.

It came one day after West Phoenix middle school teacher Marisol Garcia joined a dozen other teachers at the White House to talk about the Supreme Court’s 1954 school desegregation decision – and the importance of having a full court. Continue reading “Mr., Ms. Smith to go Washington: Citizens add voices on national issues”

Arizona education leaders call Prop 123 first step, still not enough to fund K-12 schools

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PHOENIX — Education advocates Monday applauded the approval of Proposition 123 but said Arizona education is still being shorted billions of dollars.

Leaders for the Arizona PTA and the Arizona Education Association for teachers, said at a news conference at the Capitol that the measure to provide $3.5 billion over a decade is only a first step in efforts to improve K-12 funding.

“It was never intended to be a long-term fix to fix Arizona’s funding issues,” said Julie Bacon, president-elect of the Arizona School Board Association.

 The coalition of education organizations estimates Arizona schools have been underfunded $1.2 billion since 2009. That figure is more stark given that the financial picture for Arizona schools is historically woeful, they said. Continue reading “Arizona education leaders call Prop 123 first step, still not enough to fund K-12 schools”

Arizona teacher survey: Use Prop 123 to raise salaries

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PHOENIX – Some Arizona teachers want Proposition 123 money to be used to increase teacher pay, but the state’s two major teacher associations disagree over how the money should be spent.

“It would be great to get a raise in the short term,” said Mary Saraceni, who has taught in the Tucson Unified School District for 26 years. But the money is not enough to help students — and their teachers — in the long run, she said. “Schools are in a world of hurt in Arizona and we need some permanent funding to make teachers of children a priority in the state.”

The Arizona Federation of Teachers opposes the education funding measures because it believes low-income schools will not get a fair share of the money. The larger Arizona Education Association said it will improve teacher salaries, support all-day kindergarten and help pay for textbooks and technology.

The education funding measure, which appears headed for approval, calls for $3.5 billion to be allocated to education over the next decade. Supporters marketed it as a win for teachers but local school districts decide how the money will be spent. About 51 percent of voters approved the proposition, based on unofficial ballot results.

Nearly 85 percent of Arizona teachers who responded to a Cronkite News questionnaire said Prop 123 money should go toward teacher salaries.

Continue reading “Arizona teacher survey: Use Prop 123 to raise salaries”

So close: Phoenix eighth-grader misses National Geographic Bee finals

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WASHINGTON – Phoenix eighth-grader Ari Mehta said he spent three hours every night poring over maps, atlases and textbooks on geography, but all that hard work was undone in about an hour Monday.

That’s how long it took to finish the preliminary round of the National Geographic Bee, with Ari failing to cut for the 10 students from around the country who will advance to the finals Wednesday.

“After I finished the preliminary rounds, I still wasn’t sure if I might get called into the tie-breakers,” Ari said late Monday morning. “Turns out I wasn’t.”

But he can still boast about being the Arizona state champion, beating about 100 other fourth- through eighth-graders in early April to advance to this week’s national competition with 53 other contestants. They represented every state, the District of Columbia, Defense Department schools and one each from U.S. territories in the Pacific and Atlantic. Continue reading “So close: Phoenix eighth-grader misses National Geographic Bee finals”

Carson Palmer, Jonathan Ogden among celebs to join Calais Campbell’s annual charity golf tournament

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CHANDLER — When Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden entered the NFL last year, veteran Calais Campbell helped guide the rookie through his first season and provided the support any young athlete might need.

Golden returned the favor of support Friday, as did many of Campbell’s other Cardinals teammates, joining the defensive end at his fourth annual Celebrity Golf Classic at Whirlwind Golf Course in Chandler.

“Since I first got here he’s been helping me out a lot,” Golden said. “So any time he needs me to come out and support him and help him out in any way, I’ll make sure I’ll be there.”

The golf tournament supports Campbell’s CRC Foundation, named for his late father, Charles Richard Campbell. According to the organization’s Facebook page, the foundation provides opportunities for local children to learn valuable life skills through sports, creative pursuits and other guidance.

“He’s one of the best guys we know as Cardinals, so it’s a great chance to support Calais and his foundation,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. Continue reading “Carson Palmer, Jonathan Ogden among celebs to join Calais Campbell’s annual charity golf tournament”

Mercury’s Taurasi welcomes high schooler who shattered her record

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PHOENIX – Five hundred three pointers a day.

That is how Ana Resendiz, a senior basketball player at Don Lugo High School in Chino, California, said she prepared for games, all with an eye on her idol who also wore the Don Lugo uniform, Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi.

Taurasi set Don Lugo’s single-season three-point record in 1999, making 96 from long range. Resendiz shattered that mark this year, hitting 136 three pointers for her Conquistadores team, second most in the country.

In recognition of her accomplishment, the Mercury invited Resendiz, her family and her coach Eric Waltz to attend the Mercury’s home opener and shootaround Friday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Continue reading “Mercury’s Taurasi welcomes high schooler who shattered her record”

NFL promises to return some Defense Department marketing funds

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WASHINGTON – Arizona’s senators welcomed the announcement this week by NFL officials that the league would return more than $723,000 of Defense Department recruitment funds that had been used to fund events at games honoring troops.

The money is only a fraction of the $6.8 million the Pentagon had spent on marketing at major sports events since 2012, according to a report released in November by Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake.

While the funding was intended for recruitment purposes, teams used much of the money on events such as ceremonial first pitches, color guards and troop tributes, according to a letter released Wednesday by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Continue reading “NFL promises to return some Defense Department marketing funds”

Tempe campus bookstore closing after 49 years

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TEMPE – For nearly 50 years, Arizona State University students have stopped at a Tempe bookstore to pick up school supplies. But the decades-long tradition will soon come to an end.

The Student Book Center will shut down on May 31, mourned by current and longtime customers.

“This is actually the first place me and my family came to tour at ASU,” said student Alison Lee. “I am kind of sad.”

Thirty years ago as an ASU freshman, Sherry Woodley started shopping at the bookstore, which also carries T-shirts and other gifts. She became a loyal customer.

“It’s always easy to find what are you looking for,” Woodley said. “People are really nice here.”

Continue reading “Tempe campus bookstore closing after 49 years”

West Valley cities saw some of nation’s fastest growth last year

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WASHINGTON – Two West Valley cities were among the fastest growing in the nation in 2015, according to Census Bureau estimates released Thursday.

Goodyear and Buckeye finished 14th and 15th, respectively, with each city growing by 4.3 percent between July 1, 2014, and July 1, 2015, the Census said. The additional 3,281 residents in Goodyear brought the city’s estimated population to 79,003, while Buckeye added 2,569 to stand at an estimated 62,138 residents last July.

“It’s affordable to move to the West Valley, and we’re building a very strong job market in Goodyear,” said Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord.

While those cities grew fastest, Phoenix again grew the most in the state. The city added an estimated 24,614 residents, the fifth-biggest increase in the nation, bringing the Phoenix population to 1.56 million. Continue reading “West Valley cities saw some of nation’s fastest growth last year”

How upcoming Supreme Court abortion ruling could change Arizona’s legal landscape

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PHOENIX – Elizabeth Savino worked as a nurse practitioner at Grace Clinic for two years, serving mostly low-income women at the family planning clinic.

Savino now works in family practice but she keeps an eye on new laws she says could limit abortion access and affect women’s health-care providers. She’s worried.

“I think that more and more, everybody’s hands are being tied by various legislators who, in my opinion, have no business making decisions in women’s health or how a health practitioner practices,” Savino said.

The status of abortion access and legislation that affects patients and healthcare providers may change dramatically in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide a Texas case that could echo across the country. The court will hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenges two restrictions that abortion rights advocates say place an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion.

The Texas restrictions would require abortion clinics to meet the standards of outpatient surgical centers and require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Anti-abortion advocates say the measures protect women’s health, while abortion rights advocates say the Texas law fits a pattern of legislation to limit abortions. Arizona and more than 20 other states have passed a number of abortion laws that could be affected by a Supreme Court decision.

Continue reading “How upcoming Supreme Court abortion ruling could change Arizona’s legal landscape”

Arizona official urges Senate to close gaps in tribal criminal law

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WASHINGTON – A Pascua Yaqui official said Wednesday that changes to federal law allowing tribes to prosecute nonmembers for domestic violence represented “a new dawn” for Native Americans, but there are gaps in the law that need to be addressed.

Pascua Yaqui Attorney General Alfred Urbina told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that his tribe has been able to prosecute 22 non-Indians for domestic violence since winning that authority in 2014, and has convicted eight.

But Urbina, testifying in support of three bills on tribal law enforcement, said the currently law is so narrowly drawn that tribal authorities cannot proceed with prosecuting suspects on other charges that are not directly related to the domestic violence. Continue reading “Arizona official urges Senate to close gaps in tribal criminal law”