Cronkite News

Cronkite News Digest for Wednesday, March 4

Here is the Cronkite News lineup for Wednesday, March 4. 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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Congress funds Homeland Security with Obama’s immigration action intact

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WASHINGTON – The House gave final approval Tuesday to a “clean” Department of Homeland Security budget after months of political squabbling and just days before a second deadline that would have shut the agency down.

The bill provides funding for DHS through the end of the fiscal year and does not try to overturn President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which had been stalling the budget before.

The House voted 257-167, with every House Democrat and 75 Republicans voting for the measure. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, was one of the Republicans to cross the aisle and the only GOP lawmaker from Arizona to vote for the bill. Read More »

Lawmakers question request to authorize military force against ISIS

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WASHINGTON – House members had plenty of questions Tuesday about President Barack Obama’s request for use of military force against ISIS, particularly his insistence that congressional approval would not authorize “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”

Members of the House Armed Services Committee alternated between concerns that the request was too narrow and that the U.S. allies in the region may not be up to the task of preserving whatever gains are made by the U.S.

“As someone who served in Iraq, I want to see Iraq succeed but I also don’t want to see ourselves sucked in to another mess in Iraq where we have to go and clean up again and again,” Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said before the hearing.

The president is asking Congress to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State militants who are waging a brutal campaign – which has included highly publicized beheadings of captives – in parts of Iraq and Syria. Read More »

Latest Supreme Court Obamacare challenge could hit 155,000 in state

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WASHINGTON – More than 155,000 Arizonans could lose the federal assistance that helps them pay for health insurance, if the Supreme Court rules against the administration in the latest challenge to Obamacare to be argued Wednesday.

The decision in King v. Burwell could be a “game-changer,” said Allen Gjersvig, healthcare innovation director of the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers.

The case deals with federal subsidies established by the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – to help lower- and middle-income Americans buy insurance through a state-run marketplace.

But in the 34 states that did not set up their own marketplaces, including Arizona, residents bought insurance through a federal health-insurance exchange, The IRS expanded the subsidies so that they are also available to individuals who used the federal marketplace. Read More »

Bill seeks buffer between medical pot facilities and homes, schools, churches

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PHOENIX – Citing the case of a medical marijuana-cultivation facility approved for a site across a canal from homes in north Phoenix, a state lawmaker to establish a buffer.

HB 2056, authored by Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, would bar facilities for cultivating medical marijuana cultivation and creating medical marijuana products within 1,000 feet of residential areas and 1,320 feet of schools and places of worship. It would apply to facilities that already exist within the limits.

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Coyotes have high hopes for future after busy trade deadline

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The Arizona Coyotes traded Antoine Vermette, Keith Yandle and Zbyněk Michálek in return for John Moore, Prospects Klas Dahlbeck, Anthony Duclair, Maxim Letunov and a slew of draft picks.

Outgoing state health director reflects on six years at agency’s helm

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PHOENIX – When he took over as director of the Arizona Department of Health Services in 2009, Will Humble’s main focus was “keeping the wheels on” amid deep budget cuts.

Preparing to leave the post Tuesday, Humble said his proudest achievements include reforming the way his agency licenses and inspects hospitals, day care centers and more, helping change the recommended response to cardiac arrest and improving the behavioral health system.

“Some of the biggest and most important accomplishments are the things that nobody’s heard of,” he told Cronkite News in an interview.

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New tech: ASU launches new center focusing on nature inspired designs

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Michael Phelps’s swimsuit, Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes and even jets were inspired by things found in nature.

The designers took qualities in fish, the Sonoran desert and birds to make those products more efficient or beautiful.

Arizona State University plans to take that concept – called biomimicry – and teach students to identify, study and design products based on natural innovations. The university launched its Biomimicry Center in Tempe on Tuesday.

Biomimicry uses nature to solve human design and sustainability problems. Though the field has attracted recent interest, it is actually older than most high-tech disciplines.

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Both sides questioned by Supreme Court justices in redistricting case

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WASHINGTON – Supreme Court justices grilled both sides Monday as the Arizona Legislature argued that the voter-approved Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission unconstitutionally cut lawmakers out of the redistricting process.

Liberal-leaning justices on the court questioned the Legislature’s argument that the power to set district boundaries was reserved for the elected body, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor noting that the commission was approved by voters.

“This makes no sense to me,” Sotomayor said. “The Constitution says the people hold the power.”

But more-conservative justices pointed to the language of Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution, the so-called “elections clause,” that gives each state’s “legislature” the power to decide the “times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives.”

“What we have here is an unelected body of five people,” said Justice Antonin Scalia of the redistricting commission. Read More »

Demonstrators demand release of transgender woman in ICE custody

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PHOENIX – A transgender Guatemalan asylum-seeker incarcerated at an all-male facility in Florence has been a victim of sexual assault and ill treatment by guards, activists demonstrating for her release said Monday.

About 20 people turned out in heavy rain at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office downtown to call attention to the case of Nicoll Hernandez-Polanco.

“Nicoll is currently facing very inhumane and abusive conditions under ICE custody,” said Raul Alcaraz Ochoa, the community organizer for Mariposas Sin Fronteras, a Tucson-based LGBTQ group. “ICE can’t guarantee her safety, so that’s why we are asking for her release to our community.”

According to the Oakland, Calif.-based Transgender Law Center, Hernandez-Polanco has been in custody since U.S. Border Patrol agents detained her at the border in October. She has requested asylum based on physical and sexual violence she experienced in her home country and Mexico, the group said.

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Aiming to reduce falls by elderly, health officials promoting Tai Chi

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SCOTTSDALE – Patricia Burns said she began Tai Chi after middle age brought lower back issues. The gentle movements helped, and she fell in love with the martial art.

“I was looking for something to do that was low-impact. This fit the bill, and I started doing it,” she said.

Today she’s a Tai Chi instructor at the Taoist Tai Chi Society’s Scottsdale Center.

Wayne Tormala, chief of the Arizona Department of Health Services’ Bureau of Tobacco and Chronic Diseases, said the state needs more Tai Chi instructors to work with the state’s aging population. Training and certifying more of them is among the goals in the department’s updated Healthy Aging Plan.

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Officials expect heavy snowfall will boost Flagstaff economy

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FLAGSTAFF – “Get mom!” one man tells his toddler as they launch snowballs near Northern Arizona University’s campus in Flagstaff on Sunday.

Families broke out their sleds, built snowmen and pelted one another as a storm dumped one of the heaviest snowfalls the area has seen in years.

The winter weather continued Monday with an expected 4 to 10 inches of snow accumulation in some areas, according to the National Weather Service in Flagstaff.

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Bill would bar police departments from establishing ticket quotas

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PHOENIX – A bill advancing at the state Legislature would prohibit law enforcement agencies from establishing quotas for traffic citations or determining officers’ ranks or assignments based on the number of tickets issued.

And that would be fine with Levi Bolton, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, an umbrella organization of groups representing law enforcement and correctional officers. He said one of the biggest problems with quotas is that they bring the fairness of law enforcement into question when a warning could suffice.

“Those are the kinds of things that bring about trust and fairness … that make people want to report crimes to police, to talk about sensitive things with police officers,” Bolton told the Senate Public Safety, Military and Technology Committee, which unanimously endorsed HB 2410 on Feb. 25.

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Lawmaker seeks to create office of lieutenant governor in Arizona

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PHOENIX – Given Arizona’s history of turnover in the governor’s office, the state would benefit from having a lieutenant governor who runs on the same ticket, a state lawmaker says.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, has introduced two pieces of legislation to create the office, to require a party’s candidates for lieutenant governor and governor to run as a team and to put the lieutenant governor first in the line of succession. Some of the proposed changes would require approval by Arizona voters.

Mesnard said having the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket would be helpful for voters because it would mirror the way the president and vice president are elected. He said many voters don’t realize that the secretary of state is the next in line for the governor’s office.

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Federal officials reject Arizona’s construction worker safety plan

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PHOENIX – Federal officials have rejected an Arizona construction worker safety plan, saying it doesn’t go far enough to protect employees.

Residential construction sites must now follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety standards when it comes to fall protection. The state can create new requirements of its own, but one federal official said that’s not likely to happen.

One construction industry representative called the federal regulations unnecessary, and he said following those guidelines could cause more harm than good.

“We believe the employment of federal standards is not safe,” said Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.

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Thicker than water: Community of Williams confronts drought

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WILLIAMS – It’s September, and John Moore gazes out across the Santa Fe Reservoir, his wide-brimmed, felt cowboy hat tilted back so he can see. In the clear, calm water of the reservoir is the reflection of Bill Williams Mountain, the town’s namesake. Wildflowers line the banks of the reservoir. It would be easy to think nothing’s wrong.

Moore, who owns a hotel, bar and restaurant in town, has been mayor of Williams for seven years, and he has lived there for 28 years. Never has he seen the reservoir – one of five that provide water to the town of 3,000 people – so low. And never has he been so worried because years of drought coupled with a collapsed municipal well have brought the town uncomfortably close to running out of water. In February, the town went into level four water restrictions, the highest level of restrictions that prohibits the use of water for anything other than public health or emergencies.

The Santa Fe Reservoir is more than 20 feet below its full line. Thick, black, white and rust-red rings mark the dam’s cement wall like a bathtub, an ugly reminder of how full the reservoir once was.

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New tech trend: Gamification injects gaming into everyday life

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By Will Sowards
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TEMPE – Have you ever watched “The Walking Dead” while following the bonus features on your tablet? Or had a computer program train you how to do something at work? What about taking a quiz on Facebook or BuzzFeed?

If so, you’ve been “gamified.”

Schools, companies and other organizations are using gamification to connect teachers, students, workers and other audiences to information and advertising.

“When you look at the Internet, initially it was how do you create rules for everyone to connect with each other?” said Ajay Vinze, associate dean of international programs at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “The next frontier, going forward from here, is this notion of gamification.”

Definitions of gamification vary, but it’s generally the idea of using video-game ­ – or even board game – elements to help people reach an objective: solving a problem, training employees or marketing companies or products.

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Phoenix campus events set up disabilities awareness month

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PHOENIX – Michael Watts was all smiles Friday as classmate at the Arizona Center for Comprehensive Education and Life Skills (ACCEL) pulled him on a dolly through a forest of pool noodles dangling from playg round equipment.

At a DJ booth blasting music, another student, Eric Robinette, grabbed a microphone and sang along.

Then there was the sponge relay, bounce house, bowling, obstacle course, baseball and basketball games and a Super Soaker station.

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Goldwater report: Arizona has among most burdensome licensing

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By Amy Edelen
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PHOENIX – All kinds of professions – barbers, electricians, taxicab drivers – need government-issued licenses to work in Arizona.

But obtaining those licenses isn’t necessarily easy. Some licenses cost as much as $209, and some require as long as a year of training, according to a new report from the Goldwater Institute.

Arizona has among the most burdensome licensing requirements in the United States, the report said. The result: Fewer low-income workers launch their own businesses here.

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative Phoenix-based think tank, released “Bootstraps Tangled in Red Tape” on Tuesday. The report indicated Arizona’s low-income entrepreneurship rate is at 36 percent, which is below the national average of 38 percent.

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What’s hot in Arizona hospitality this year? Experts share 2015 trends

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PHOENIX – Arizona hotels and resorts have embraced several new trends as they try to attract and keep visitors and compete for tourism dollars.

One Scottsdale resort encourages its spa guests to make their own custom-blended body lotions. A Lake Havasu City resort recently added a family package to attract multi-generational travelers. And attendants armed with tablets now allow guests at a Sedona resort to check in curbside.

For some, the moves have helped speed recovery. In fact, several hospitality representatives said they’re seeing growth again after the lull from the Great Recession.

“People are living again,” said Penny Allphin, a spokeswoman from Hassayampa Inn in Prescott.

Galen Collins, a professor at the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Northern Arizona University, said two other big reasons might lead to bumps in travel: low gas prices and a rebound in the economy.

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