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PHOENIX (AP) — Gov. Jan Brewer returned to Arizona on Tuesday and faced a pressing decision about a bill on her desk that has prompted a national debate over religious and gay rights.

The Republican governor has been in Washington the last five days for a governors conference, and she is returning to a political climate that is much different from just a week ago.

The Arizona Legislature passed a bill last week allowing businesses whose owners cite sincerely held religious beliefs to deny service to gays. It allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination.

The legislation has caused a national uproar. The chorus of opposition has grown each day, with the business community, the state's Super Bowl Committee and both Republican U.S. senators calling for a veto. Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was the latest prominent voice to weigh in and urge Brewer to veto the bill.

Brewer will likely spend the next day or more pondering Senate Bill 1062 before deciding whether to sign or veto the legislation.

There is widespread speculation that Brewer will veto the bill, but she has not said how she'll act, as is her longtime practice with pending legislation.

Political observers in Arizona cautioned that the governor is deliberate and not prone to act hastily, despite the growing calls from business, politicians of all stripes, and civil rights groups for a veto.

"She's no rookie to these high-profile deals — she gives both sides their due," said Doug Cole, a political consultant whose firm has run all of Brewer's campaigns for decades.

"She's going to get a very detailed briefing from her legal team, and give the proponents their best shot, and the opponents their best shot," he said. "Everybody's going to get their say, and they've giving it."

Some Republican senators who pushed the bill through the Legislature are now calling for a veto as well, but they cite "inaccurate" information about the measure for igniting a firestorm. They argue the bill is designed only to protect business owners with strong religious beliefs from discrimination lawsuits that have happened in other states. Some blame the media for blowing the law out of proportion.

Democrats say that argument doesn't wash and call SB 1062 "toxic" legislation that allows discrimination. They said they warned Republicans who voted for the bill that it was destined for trouble.

"We brought this to their attention five weeks ago," said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. "We said this is exactly what is going to happen. You have a bill here that's so toxic it's going to divide this Legislature. It's going to be polarizing the entire state. And that's exactly what happened."

The bill was pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. The group says the proposal simply clarifies existing state law and is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts.

The center's president, Cathi Herrod, has been deriding what she called "fear-mongering" from the measure's opponents.

"What's happened is our opponents have employed a new political tactic, and it's working," she said. "Throw out the threat of a boycott to attempt to defeat a bill, and you might just be able to be successful.

Herrod added she was surprised and disappointed that "in America today, false attacks and irresponsible characterizations about a piece of legislation can so intimidate and persuade people to change their opinion about religious liberty."

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   EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) - A disgraced metro-east judge at the center of a courthouse drug scandal involving the cocaine death of a prosecutor-turned-judge is about to be sentenced.
   Former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis. That's where he pleaded guilty in November to heroin and gun charges.
   Cook had negotiated an 18 month sentence as part of a plea deal. But it's possible the federal judge assigned to the case, Joe Billy McDade, may depart from that.
   Cook resigned from the bench last May, after his legal troubles surfaced after Joe Christ died of a cocaine overdose while with Cook at a hunting cabin. Christ was a former St. Clair County prosecutor and newly sworn-in judge.
   
 
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 04:22
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   Missouri education officials want to intervene sooner in school district that are struggling to maintain accreditation.  That was the jist of the plan officials with the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education outlined at a public meeting on the UMSL campus Tuesday night.  Education officials held the meeting to gather feedback on the proposed plan to improve performance in stuggling districts.  
   Most of the speakers expressed concerns that the plan doesn't do enough to help districts that are already failing and burdened with the cost of a state mandated transfer program, districts like Normandy.  
   Missouri Education Commissioner Dr. Chris Nicastro spoke with Fox 2 News.  She acknowledges that the problems in Normandy go beyond those addressed by DESE's proposal. "Unless something significant happens in the legislature to alter the course, it's pretty clear that the transfer program expenditures will cause the district to go bankrupt," Nicastro said.
   Many at last night's meeting also took the opportunity to criticize the transfer program and its affect on districts like Normandy.  That includes Maryville University Professor Emeritus Dan Rocchio. "We need to be changing the system within the district," Rocchio said, "as opposed to spending money to send kids outside the district."
   Public comments on DESE's proposed plan can be submitted online at www.dese.mo.gov/unaccredited-districts.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 04:08
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   LOS ANGELES (AP) — When anguished family members first called for information about their loved ones aboard a wrecked Asiana Airlines plane, instead of getting answers they had to navigate an automated reservation system.
   Even once Asiana finally set up a proper hotline, it would be five days before the South Korean airline connected with the families of all 291 passengers.
   Asiana's response to the deadly crash last summer near San Francisco earned quick criticism for its disarray. On Tuesday, it also earned a $500,000 penalty from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
   It's the first time federal officials have concluded that an airline broke laws requiring prompt and generous assistance for the loved ones of crash victims.
   Three people died and dozens were injured July 6 when Asiana Flight 214 clipped a seawall while landing at San Francisco International Airport. One of the victims, a 16 year old girl, apparently survived being ejected onto the tarmac, only to be run over by a fire truck.
   Many families live in South Korea or China, meaning the airline was their main source of information on the crash half a world away.
   "The last thing families and passengers should have to worry about at such a stressful time is how to get information from their carrier," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a prepared statement.
   Under a consent order the airline signed with the department, Asiana will pay a $400,000 fine and get a $100,000 credit for sponsoring conferences and training sessions through 2015 to discuss lessons learned from the situation.
   In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, Asiana spokeswoman Hyomin Lee said the airline "provided extensive support to the passengers and their families following the accident and will continue to do so."
   Asiana said in the consent order that its response was slowed because the crash occurred on a holiday weekend when staffing was short. The airline said it was not alone among foreign airlines with "few trained employees to attend to post-accident responsibilities."
   Asiana argued that it recovered quickly, noting that within a few days of the crash it had assigned a special representative to each passenger and family, flown in family members from overseas and provided professional crisis counseling.
   The consent order also laid out findings from the Department of Transportation's investigation. Among them:
   — Asiana generally "failed to commit sufficient resources" to help families; it wasn't until five days after the crash that its employees were meeting all responsibilities under U.S. law. The airline lacked translators and personnel trained in crash response.
   — It took Asiana more than 18 hours to staff a reliable toll-free hotline.
   — The law requires family notification as soon as practical, but Asiana had contacted just three-quarters of families within two days. It would take five days to contact every family.
   Congress required carriers to dedicate significant resources to families of passengers in the late 1990s, after airlines were roundly criticized for ignoring desperate requests for information after crashes.
   Last fall, the AP reviewed plans filed by two dozen foreign airlines and found cases in which carriers had not updated their family assistance plans as required.
   Since AP's story, several airlines have updated their plans with the Department of Transportation. Among them is Asiana's bigger rival, Korean Air.
   Many airlines invest in crash preparedness and family assistance planning, but a minority are "using lip service and euphemisms in their plans," said Robert A. Jensen, whose company has contracts with hundreds of airlines to help after an accident.
   "It's time that some of the airlines that have been flying under the radar be held accountable," said Jensen, CEO of Kenyon International Emergency Services. "Somebody finally got caught."
   The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the crash. Family members of some passengers have sued the airline in federal court.
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