Petition to block voucher law falls short; application deadline extended

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By Tori Gantz and Ryan Knappenberger
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – The secretary of state’s office is still counting, but it had seen enough by Friday to say that a petition drive to block expansion of the state’s school voucher program fell short of the required signatures.

The announcement by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs that Save Our Schools Arizona failed to collect the 118,823 signatures needed, means that HB 2853 can take effect. That made Friday a “joyous day” for supporters of the universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Continue reading “Petition to block voucher law falls short; application deadline extended”

Thursdays with stories: Horizon football players make weekly visits to elementary schools

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Madison Thacker
Cronkite News

CHANDLER – From the moment he walks into Desert Shadows Elementary School , Tre Hickem is the most popular guy around.

Horizon High School’s assistant defensive line coach is greeted with high-fives and fist bumps from students that pass him in the hallway. Horizon football players follow him. It’s a typical Thursday during the regular season at another local elementary school in the Paradise Valley School District, where Hickem takes his seniors every week to spend time and make an impact with younger students. While Horizon searches for the second win in history against Pinnacle Friday, the kids come first.

“The message behind this is about making young men into men,” Hickem said. “Obviously, when they’re graduating next year, I want them to be accomplished, more than just not student-athletes of the game. Just to focus on other people.” Continue reading “Thursdays with stories: Horizon football players make weekly visits to elementary schools”

Letter of the law(s): Prosecutors confused by conflicting abortion laws

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By Haley Smilow
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – Whatever their position on abortion rights, the Arizona county attorneys who would be responsible for enforcing the state’s abortion law all acknowledge that they will do their best to follow it.

Except that they’re not all sure what the law currently is.

A Pima County Superior Court judge ruled last week that the state’s 1901 law criminalizing most abortions was back in effect, after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision recognizing a right to an abortion.

Judge Kellie Johnson’s ruling came just one day before a new state law allowing abortions up to 15 weeks of pregnancy was scheduled to take effect, on Sept. 24. Continue reading “Letter of the law(s): Prosecutors confused by conflicting abortion laws”

‘Good Samaritan’ bill aims to allow cleanup of abandoned, leaking mines

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By Emilee Miranda
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – Arizona could have as many as 100,000 abandoned mines, many leaching toxic minerals into the state’s waterways, but state environmental officials said cleanup has been hampered by the fear of litigation.

That’s why Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Misael Cabrera was testifying Thursday in support of a proposed federal “good Samaritan” law aimed at addressing the issue. The bill would let organizations step in and clean up long-abandoned mines without fear of the legal liability that could have attached to their now-absent owners. Continue reading “‘Good Samaritan’ bill aims to allow cleanup of abandoned, leaking mines”

Opponents of expanded vouchers concede petition may have fallen short

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By Tori Gantz
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – The apparently successful petition drive that blocked an expansion of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts may not have been so successful after all.

Officials with Save Our Schools Arizona, who said Friday that they turned in thousands more signatures than needed to force a vote on the issue, conceded this week that they “definitely got the numbers wrong.”

And while they were not ready to admit defeat, they said they were not optimistic that the secretary of state’s office will find that they collected the 118,823 signatures needed. Continue reading “Opponents of expanded vouchers concede petition may have fallen short”

Abortion-rights advocates vow fight, as Arizona clinics halt abortions

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By Haley Smilow
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – Planned Parenthood Arizona said Monday it will appeal a Pima County judge’s ruling that restored a territorial-era law that criminalized abortion in the state.

The ruling by Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson has effectively shuttered abortion services in Arizona, with some clinics saying they have instead turned to helping patients find care in nearby states where abortions are still legal.

While abortion opponents praised the ruling, Planned Parenthood Arizona said in a statement Monday that it means that “members of the community are being and will continue to be denied of the medical care that they deserve” and must be reversed. Continue reading “Abortion-rights advocates vow fight, as Arizona clinics halt abortions”

Opponents confident of meeting deadline to block school voucher expansion

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By Shane Brennan
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Of almost 11,000 students who have applied for one of the state’s expanded empowerment scholarship accounts, more than 8,200 have not been enrolled in public school before – a potential loss of $53.9 million to the state’s public schools.

But not if Beth Lewis can stop it.

Lewis is executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona (SOS), which is in the home stretch of its push to collect at least 118,823 signatures to put the scholarship program on the ballot in 2024. That would delay implementation of the law, currently scheduled to take effect Saturday, until 2024 when voters could have their say. Continue reading “Opponents confident of meeting deadline to block school voucher expansion”

Tribal officials: Court ruling poses ‘real threat’ to sovereignty, safety

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By Tori Gantz
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – Indigenous leaders called on Congress Tuesday to reverse a Supreme Court ruling that expands states’ ability to prosecute crimes on tribal land, a ruling they said threatens their sovereignty and their ability to protect their citizens.

Witnesses told a House Natural Resources subcommittee that the Castro-Huerta ruling tramples on 200 years of legal precedent about tribal jurisdiction and has made it harder for them to pursue cases of domestic violence or missing and murdered Indigenous people, among other crimes. Continue reading “Tribal officials: Court ruling poses ‘real threat’ to sovereignty, safety”

Mesa mayor joins White House panel on hate in ‘horribly divided country’

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By Ryan Knappenberger
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – It was 21 years ago that a gunman killed Balbir Singh Sodhi in Mesa, making him the first victim of a hate crime in the wake of 9/11.

On the anniversary of that shooting Thursday, Mesa Mayor John Giles joined local officials, Cabinet secretaries and community leaders at the White House to call for a renewal of efforts to combat violent extremism and rising hate crimes.

“Mesa, Arizona, is a very compassionate city,” Giles said during a bipartisan panel with four other mayors. “But I’m a little ashamed to tell you that we are the city that had the first hate crime following 9/11, a wonderful Sikh gentleman … was shot and killed by someone because he was wearing a turban.” Continue reading “Mesa mayor joins White House panel on hate in ‘horribly divided country’”

Tribal leaders urge support for bills to protect cultural, sacred sites

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By Ryan Knappenberger
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – Tribal leaders urged lawmakers Wednesday to pass a package of bills that would protect cultural and sacred sites by creating a new tribal cultural areas designation and require Native input on any decisions on those lands.

The sponsor of the bills, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson, called them an attempt to “put tribes at the front end, not the back end” of the decisions on cultural and historic sites.

But critics said the bills – including proposals to set aside 377,000 acres in Arizona – are too broad and need to be redrawn “with a scalpel, instead of just a machete.” Continue reading “Tribal leaders urge support for bills to protect cultural, sacred sites”

Migrant deaths declined as encounters rose; advocates warn against relaxing

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By Tristan Richards
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – Migrant deaths in Arizona’s deserts have fallen sharply so far this year, even as the number of immigrants caught trying to cross the state’s border with Mexico has been soaring.

Records kept by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office show that there were 136 bodies recovered in the desert from Jan. 1 to Sept. 1 this year, compared to 163 in the same period in 2021.

Customs and Border Protection numbers are not yet available for August, but the agency reported that migrant apprehensions in its Tucson and Yuma sectors jumped 75% through the end of July, going from 193,774 in the first seven months of last year to 340,399 in the same period this year. Continue reading “Migrant deaths declined as encounters rose; advocates warn against relaxing”

Angry at other states, Arizona towns, tribes rethink planned water cuts

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By Ryan Knappenberger
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – Faced with deep cuts to the water supply, and angry that other states are not doing their share, tribes and local governments in Arizona are increasingly talking about backing off earlier offers to give up some water.

The Gila River Indian Community said in August that it will begin storing water underground “rather than contributing them to system conservation programs for Lake Mead.”

Officials in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson, Peoria and Glendale are considering following suit, asking to get their full allotment of water instead of financial compensation they might have received for reducing their take from the system. Continue reading “Angry at other states, Arizona towns, tribes rethink planned water cuts”

Court: 292-year sentence in string of nonviolent burglaries is not excessive

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By John Brown
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – A divided federal appeals court said a 292-year sentence for a string of nonviolent burglaries over three months in Bullhead City was not “grossly disproportionate” to the crime and did not violate the Eighth Amendment.

A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel of judges ruled Tuesday that the sentence given to Atdom Mikels Patsalis was “undeniably harsh.” But it said that federal courts had no role in the case because state courts had already ruled on Patsalis’ claim and upheld his sentence.

In a 25-page dissent, Judge Morgan Christen said the state courts erred and that the sentence – “multiples of the sentences imposed for murderers and rapists” – amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Continue reading “Court: 292-year sentence in string of nonviolent burglaries is not excessive”

Federal funds for water projects a fraction of what Arizona says it needs

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By Ryan Knappenberger
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – Arizona will get $109.5 million from the federal infrastructure bill this year to improve water systems in the state – a fraction of the $1.4 billion list of needs state officials say they have.

But even at that level some critics say Arizona is getting more than its fair share of its portion of the funds – for lead-pipe replacement – over other states with thousands more pipes to replace.

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, approved last fall, includes $50.9 million for lead-pipe replacement in Arizona, as well as $13.6 million to address PFAS contamination in the state and $32.3 million for other projects. That’s on top of a $12 million base grant to the state from the Environmental Protection Agency. Continue reading “Federal funds for water projects a fraction of what Arizona says it needs”

Court says local health centers can challenge AHCCCS on reimbursements

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By Ryan Knappenberger
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court Friday ordered a new hearing for Arizona community health care centers that claim the state’s Medicaid system is wrongly denying reimbursement for chiropractic, dental, optometric and podiatric care.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision that dismissed the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers’ suit against the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid provider. Continue reading “Court says local health centers can challenge AHCCCS on reimbursements”

Lunch crunch: Inflation has schools scrambling to afford student meals

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By Haley Smilow
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – To see the real-world impact of inflation, you can look to the reams of data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Or you can talk to Shannon Gleave.

“Last year, for 152 slices of bread we paid about $3.80,” said Gleave, the director of food and nutrition services at Glendale Elementary School District. “This year the cost is right at $6.90 for the same amount.”

It’s a situation being faced by school districts across the state, where officials are scrambling to figure out how to afford meals for students at a time when inflation nationwide is running at the highest level in decades. Continue reading “Lunch crunch: Inflation has schools scrambling to afford student meals”

CORRECTION to Aug. 31 story on abortions resuming

EDS: Clients who used a Cronkite News story slugged BC-CNS-Abortions Resume that moved Wednesday, Aug. 31, under a WASHINGTON dateline are asked to run the following correction. The error occurred in the 17th graf of the original. A corrected version of the story has been posted here.

WASHINGTON – An Aug. 31 Cronkite News story about abortions resuming in Arizona misstated the number of doctors in Planned Parenthood’s Tucson clinic. The clinic has about 10 staff members in total.

 

‘State of siege’: Tapachula residents react to the recent influx of migrants

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By Alyssa Marksz
Cronkite Borderlands Project

TAPACHULA, Mexico – Tapachula’s location near Mexico’s southern border has made it a city of migrants.

“We are a border city that has historically received migrants in different stages and in different ways,” said Roberto Fuentes, general secretary of the city council. “Those migrations practically formed our city.”

But something has shifted, Fuentes said. Continue reading “‘State of siege’: Tapachula residents react to the recent influx of migrants”

DACA déjà vu: Biden reaffirms, doesn’t expand, migrant protection program

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By Tristan Richards
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration reaffirmed its commitment Tuesday to DACA, officially posting regulations to extend the 10-year-old program that has protected hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

The rule, which takes effect Oct. 31, makes few changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and it does not move it any closer to becoming law – a key shortcoming for advocates who lived through Trump administration efforts to overturn the program. Continue reading “DACA déjà vu: Biden reaffirms, doesn’t expand, migrant protection program”

Both sides find something wanting in Biden’s student-debt relief plan

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By Tori Gantz
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – There are nearly 900,000 Arizonans who could benefit from the Biden administration’s plan for student debt forgiveness – and almost as many opinions about whether or not the plan is worthwhile.

The main aspect of the plan unveiled last week by President Joe Biden is a proposal to cancel up to $10,000 in debt for people making less than $125,000, and up to $20,000 in debt for low-income Pell Grant recipients. Continue reading “Both sides find something wanting in Biden’s student-debt relief plan”