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Maricopa County one of two U.S. sites testing 2020 Census procedures

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WASHINGTON – Maricopa County residents who missed the big Census Day celebrations on Wednesday can relax – Census Bureau workers will be in the area for at least the next several months.

The county is one of two sites in the U.S., along with Savannah, Georgia, that was selected to test new methods of collecting population data in advance of the 2020 Census. As part of those tests, the bureau mailed out forms to county residents last week and will start follow-ups in May with households that do not respond to the mailed forms.

Census Day, for the uninitiated, is April 1, the day every 10 years when the bureau counts every person living in the United States. While the next official Census Day is not for another five years, bureau officials took advantage of this April 1 to draw attention to the tests. Read More »

Census: Arizonans with health insurance rose as state economy fell

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WASHINGTON – The number of people with health insurance in Arizona rose even as the state economy was falling from 2007 to 2010, when both trends reversed direction, according to a recent report by the Census Bureau.

The report said the number of people with health insurance in the state improved slightly in the period from 2006 to 2013, going from 21.8 percent uninsured to 20 percent without insurance. That moved Arizona from fifth-worst in the nation to eighth-worst, the Census numbers showed.

Experts said they were not surprised by the numbers, but cautioned that they do not reflect the surge in people with insurance since the start of the Affordable Care Act – better known as “Obamacare” – took effect last year. Read More »

Environmentalists work to restore native vegetation along Gila River

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SAFFORD – Along the Gila River, as they have along river and stream banks around the Southwest, invasive tamarisks have crowded out native vegetation and proceeded to suck up water voraciously.

But word that a beetle introduced elsewhere to kill off tamarisks is expected to spread into this area in the next three to five years isn’t entirely good news here.

That’s because the tamarisks, also known as salt cedar, have become homes in the Safford Valley to two species of endangered birds that once lived in native trees.

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Deferred maintenance adds up at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

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COOLIDGE – The road into Casa Grande Ruins National Monument as well as the parking lot need repaving to address potholes, cracks and years of wear, but the project keeps getting pushed back for lack of funds, said Dave Carney, the facility’s chief of education and interpretation.

It’s the same story with wood slats providing shade at picnic pavilions and a ramada where tours begin. Those could use a new paint, Carney said, pointing out the weathering and peeling.

Then there’s the monument’s namesake: the huge, earthen house constructed by Sonoran Desert dwellers in the mid-14th century. Workers are keeping up with plastering needed to keep the exterior in good repair, but the facility could use more metal and wood supports as well as bricks to stabilize large walls, Carney said.

“Our main resource here is the ruins, and the ruins themselves involve maintenance in order make sure that they’re standing,” he said. listen

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Business experts share ‘wins and losses’ on state budget

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PHOENIX – Alberta Charney said she hasn’t heard much outrage from the business community over the state’s latest budget.

“Maybe we are used to it,” said the research economist at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. “We have seen so many cuts over the years.”

The fiscal 2016 budget is no different. Gov. Doug Ducey in March signed a $9.1 billion budget that adds some funding, but also trims millions from higher education and social service programs.

Business and economic experts said although they’re concerned about long-term implications on the state’s economy and job market, they also found some bright spots for the business community.

Cronkite News spoke to five experts to get their take on the highs and lows of the state budget. Here are their insights:

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Tactical to practical: military technology could save firefighters’ lives

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SCOTTSDALE – Nearly two years ago, 19 firefighters died fighting a blaze near Yarnell. Since then, experts have looked for ways to prevent another tragedy.

They said they hope one new piece of communication technology, previously used by the military and adapted for wildfire firefighters, will help.

Ralph Lucas, a battalion chief with Prescott fire, said he knew all 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew. And when federal officials approached him to test the communication and tracking system, he saw an opportunity to help protect other firefighters.

“One of the issues that occurred on the Yarnell Hill fire was resources not being able to locate one another,” Lucas said. “In the aftermath of the Yarnell Hill Fire, federal resources came to us and offered us some equipment that has been used in military applications, and they thought that we might be interested in trying to test some of this equipment.”

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Cronkite News Digest for Wednesday, April 1

Here is the Cronkite News lineup for Wednesday, April 1. 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 on news stories. Please contact Christina Leonard at or 602-496-5241 with questions on business stories. Please contact Brett Kurland at or 602-496-5134 with questions on sports stories. Stories promised for today along with photos and links to multimedia elements will move on our client site at

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Proponent: Pending abortion law gives women essential information

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PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision to sign legislation requiring physicians to tell those receiving medication abortions that the procedure may be reversible, a claim disputed by research, will provide women with essential information, a proponent said Tuesday.

“It ensures that if a woman who has had a (medication) abortion has changed her mind, she will be informed that the process can be reversed,” said Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative advocacy group that pressed for the change.

The bill Ducey signed Monday also would bar any health care exchange from providing coverage for abortions except in cases of rape and incest. Herrod said that change will protect taxpayers.

“Taxpayer money will not go toward subsidizing abortion coverage,” she said.

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Auto theft less of a problem in Arizona, but don’t rest easy

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PHOENIX – In 2008, Arizona was the top state for automobile thefts. Since then, it’s improved to No. 9, according to the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a problem, said Frederick Zumbo, executive director of Arizona Automobile Theft Authority. In fact, he said, a car stolen from the Valley can be at the Mexican border in about two hours and torn up to be used for trafficking drugs or people.

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Tucson inventor’s fight over Spider-Man toy lands before Supreme Court

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WASHINGTON – More than 20 years ago, Tucson resident Stephen Kimble was spending some quality time with his son, reading comic books and looking to “make something cool.”

Out of that came a Spider-Man-themed web shooter toy – and a Supreme Court case.

“Boy, that was the last thing in my mind,” Kimble said Tuesday as he stood in front of the court.

That’s where attorneys for Kimble and for Marvel Entertainment LLC squared off over a decades-old ruling by the court under which the comic company has stopped paying royalties for the web-shooter to Kimble, whose patent on the toy expired. Read More »

Heading into wildfire season, Sierra Vista reflects on destructive 2011 blaze

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SIERRA VISTA – Beatty’s Guest Ranch once had a lush apple orchard that provided fruit to sell as well as a home for the many hummingbirds that call the Huachuca Mountains home.

Today, most of those trees are gone along with the green in the surrounding landscape, and much of the property is covered with landslide debris.

The damage is left over from the 2011 Monument Fire, which devastated about 38,000 acres and destroyed or damaged dozens of structures in the Huachucas and on the fringes of Sierra Vista. Nearly four years later, the Beattys and others here continue to deal with its aftermath and use lessons learned in hopes of preventing or minimizing damage from wildfires.

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Wildfire season outlook uncertain, but firefighters preparing for the worst

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ORACLE – The baseball field at Mountain Vista School is dotted with yellow and green uniforms. But today the players are dozens of wildland firefighters preparing to save landscapes, property and perhaps their own lives.

One group picks at the infield dirt with fire rakes, simulating what it takes to clear vegetation from a wildfire’s path.

Near home plate, others practice unpacking and tucking themselves safely beneath sheets of plastic – a substitute for the expensive foil shelters they would deploy as a last resort if overrun by flames.

“You play like you practice, and you practice like you play,” Colin Port, a qualified engine boss with Golder Ranch Fire District and incident commander for the drill, told participants.

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Antiques On Central had to relocate after 25 years in Uptown Plaza

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PHOENIX – Cliff Sharar said his antique store no longer fits “the image” the owners of Uptown Plaza in central Phoenix want.

So Sharar and his two co-owners, Sylvia Wells and Doris Leis, had to move Antiques On Central down the street (to Missouri Avenue). The store had been at the Central Avenue location for 25 years.

But relocation isn’t the only challenge the antique store is facing: The industry is shrinking. With older generations making up a majority of the antique industry’s customer base, “unfortunately, your customer base dies off,” Wells said.

When Vintage Partners decided to renovate Uptown Plaza, the property owners did not renew the lease for Antiques on Central. Nelsen Partners, the same group that designed upscale Kierland Commons and Scottsdale Quarter in the northeast Valley, designed the renovations for the 60-year-old plaza.

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Court upholds chemical weapons conviction for Tucson contractor

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WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court upheld the conviction Monday of a Tucson contractor who set off a homemade chlorine bomb at a former customer’s home in 2009, creating a noxious cloud that forced a neighborhood evacuation.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said prosecutors could use a federal chemical weapons ban to charge Todd Russell Fries – also known as Todd Burns – because of the scope of the incident.

“Fries’ use of a chlorine bomb produced a dense chlorine gas cloud estimated to have been ’1,000 feet high and roughly 200 feet deep’ that injured several people including first responders, and required the evacuation of an entire neighborhood and implementation of HAZMAT procedures,” said the opinion by Circuit Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson. Read More »

Ducey vetoes bill to shield officers’ names after police shootings

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PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed a bill Monday that would have allowed police departments to withhold the names of law enforcement officers for up to 60 days after the use of deadly force.

Ducey’s veto letter said Arizona’s public records law already gives departments the ability to withhold names even longer than 60 days if a threat to an officer outweighs the public’s right to know. It also said SB 1445, authored by Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, contained “ambiguities” that went beyond the stated goal of protecting officers and their families.

“With the proliferation of social media, rumors regularly run wild and unfiltered,” the letter said. “An officer’s name could very easily come to light. The wrong officer’s name could circulate. Speculation replaces fact.”

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Enforced water rights stop Greenlee County farmers from irrigating farmlands

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DUNCAN – Some Greenlee County farmers said they may lose their land unless they can resolve a water-rights dispute that could cut off their water supply.

“Our money only goes so far when you’re fighting the United States of America,” one farmer said.

However, the Native American tribe that holds rights to the water said they’re simply protecting their resources.

In October 2013, lawyers representing the Gila River Indian Community sent letters to some local farmers telling them to discontinue watering their land from their wells. A federal decree forbids certain landowners in that area from using well water without approval from federal district courts.

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Rim Country community seeing surge in heroin use among teens, young adults

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PAYSON – Even in Arizona’s Rim Country, in a city of just 16,000 people, heroin abuse is surging among teens and young adults just as it has across the state.

“We had some issues with other drug problems in the past, but this is just encompassing our whole community,” Payson Town Councilwoman Su Connell said.

Nearly 70 people came out for a Payson Town Hall meeting earlier this month, many of them standing in the hallway outside the small council chambers, for a three-hour meeting on how to try to fix the deadly problem.

“And what came from that meeting was a sense of desperation,” Mayor Kenny Evans said. “These families are looking for help any way they can get it. A few of the addicts were as well.”

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Commercial beekeepers must adjust as honey production slows

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LITCHFIELD PARK  – Locally produced honey is flying off the shelves – so much so that many honey producers cannot meet the production demands.

“I’m not having problems selling my honey,” beekeeper Dennis Arp said. “I’m having problems with producing enough.”

Fifteen years ago, Arp’s Mountain Top Honey Co. in Flagstaff produced 126,000 pounds of honey a year. Now the farm only produces 70,000 pounds, he said.

The farm has several hundred more hives than it did 15 years ago, but with fewer foraging options for nectar, wet winter weather conditions and unhealthy hives, the bees don’t produce as much honey.

Nationally, beekeepers did better last year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honey production was up 19 percent compared to 2013, totaling 178 million pounds of honey from keepers with five or more hives.

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With federal grant, UA out to get more Native Americans into medicine

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Growing up in Chinle, Arizona, the heart of the Navajo Nation, Kim Russell said she never saw the same physician twice.

“They didn’t have a high level of commitment to the community,” she said.

Facing a lack of health care providers and other opportunities, Russell said many Native Americans leave their reservations.

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Second group files paperwork to seek 2016 vote on legalizing pot

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PHOENIX – A second group aiming to put marijuana legalization on the 2016 ballot filed paperwork Friday with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Calling itself Arizonans for Responsible Legalization, the group said in a news release it wants to allow adults to purchase small amounts of marijuana for private use and tax marijuana sales to help fund education.

The release lists Gina Berman, identified as an emergency room physician, as leading the effort. Barrett Marson, a spokesman for the group, said Berman is affiliated with a medical marijuana dispensary.

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