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   PHOENIX (AP) — Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer slapped down the right wing of her own party, vetoing a bill pushed by social conservatives that would have allowed people with sincerely held religious beliefs to refuse to serve gays.
   The conservative governor said she could not sign a bill that was not only unneeded but would damage the state's improving business environment and divide its citizens.
   Senate Bill 1062 had set off a national debate over gay rights, religion and discrimination and subjected Arizona to blistering criticism from major corporations and political leaders from both parties.
   Loud cheers erupted outside the Capitol building immediately after Brewer made her announcement Wednesday night.
   Brewer pushed back hard against the GOP conservatives who forced the bill forward by citing examples of religious rights infringements in other states.
   "I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner's religious liberty has been violated," Brewer said. "The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences."
   And she chastised the GOP-controlled state Legislature for sending her a divisive bill instead of working on a state budget that continues her economic expansion policies or an overhaul of Arizona's broken child welfare system, her top priorities.
   In a reference to the gay marriage debate that has expanded across the nation, she reached out to the religious right with sympathy but said 1062 was not the solution.
   "Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes," she said. "However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and nobody could ever want."
   The bill was designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays or others who offend their beliefs. But opponents called it an open attack on gays that invited discrimination.
   Arizona was thrust into the national spotlight last week after both chambers of the state legislature approved it. As the days passed, more and more groups, politicians and average citizens weighed in against Senate Bill 1062. Many took to social media to criticize the bill.
   Prominent business groups said it would be another black eye for the state that saw a national backlash over its 2010 immigration-crackdown law, SB1070, and warned that businesses looking to expand into the state may not do so if bill became law.
   Companies such as Apple Inc. and American Airlines and politicians including GOP Sen. John McCain and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were among those who urged Brewer to veto the legislation. The Hispanic National Bar Association cancelled its 2015 convention in Phoenix.
   In addition, three Republicans who had voted for the bill reversed course and two said it was a mistake. They said in a letter to Brewer that while the intent of their vote "was to create a shield for all citizens' religious liberties, the bill has been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance."
   Enough lawmakers have said they're against the bill to ensure there will be no override of the governor's veto.
   SB 1062 allows people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination. Backers cite a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to document their wedding, even though the law that allowed that suit doesn't exist in Arizona.
   Sen. Al Melvin, a Republican who is running for governor and voted for the bill, said he was disappointed by the veto.
   "I am sorry to hear that Governor Brewer has vetoed this bill. I'm sure it was a difficult choice for her, but it is a sad day when protecting liberty is considered controversial," Melvin said.
   Democrats said it was a veiled attempt to legally discriminate against gay people.
   Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said he would remain vigilant of other legislation that could also target gays.
   "The effect is that again we got a black eye," Gallego said. "But it also shows that Arizona can stand united"
   The Center for Arizona Policy helped write the bill and argued it was needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law. It accused opponents of mischaracterizing the bill and threatening boycotts of Arizona.
   "It is truly a disappointing day in our state and nation when lies and personal attacks can overshadow the truth," said Cathi Herrod, the leader of the group.
   Similar religious-protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, but Arizona's plan is the only one that has been passed by a state legislature. The efforts are stalled in Idaho and Kansas, and was withdrawn in Ohio Wednesday among concerns it would have unintended consequences.
   The push in Arizona comes as an increasing number of conservative states grapple with ways to counter the growing legality of gay marriage. Arizona has a ban on gay marriage.
   Federal judges have recently struck down those bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but those decisions are under appeal.
   On Wednesday, a federal judge declared Texas' ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, but he left it in place until an appeals court can rule on the case.
Published in National News
Wednesday, 04 December 2013 14:24

Arizona agency seeks fine in firefighters' deaths

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona's workplace safety agency is recommending that the state Forestry Division pay a nearly $560,000 fine in the deaths of 19 firefighters.

The citations proposed Wednesday by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health say forestry officials managing the Yarnell Hill Fire placed the protection of structures and pastureland above firefighter safety.

The proposals also say that downwind crews weren't removed when suppression became ineffective.

The safety agency is presenting the proposals to the state Industrial Commission at a meeting in Phoenix. The commission has the final say on whether the fines are imposed.

The Arizona State Forestry Division oversaw the blaze that trapped the Granite Mountain Hotshots on state land.

A separate report into the circumstances surrounding the June 30 deaths of the firefighters found communications lapses but concluded that proper procedure was followed.

Published in National News

PHOENIX (AP) - Tough-talking Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is warning civilians who embark on armed patrols in remote desert terrain that they could end up "seeing 30 rounds fired into them" by one of his deputies.

His unapologetically terse comments came Tuesday after a member of an Arizona Minuteman border-watch movement was arrested over the weekend for pointing a rifle at a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy he apparently mistook for a drug smuggler.

Court records say Richard Malley believed he had the right to aim the rifle at the deputy because he thought a crime was occurring. Malley was arrested for aggravated assault.

He was released on $10,000 bail and is to appear in court Aug. 26. It wasn't clear if Malley had an attorney, and telephone numbers listed for him were disconnected.

Published in National News

YARNELL, Ariz. (AP) - Gusty, hot winds blew an Arizona blaze out of control Sunday in a forest northwest of Phoenix, overtaking and killing 19 members of an elite fire crew in the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. for at least 30 years.

   The "hotshot" firefighters were forced to deploy their fire shelters - tent-like structures meant to shield firefighters from flames and heat - when they were caught near the central Arizona town of Yarnell, state forestry spokesman Art Morrison told The Associated Press.

   The flames lit up the night sky in the forest above the town, and smoke from the blaze could be smelled for miles.

   The fire started Friday and spread to 2,000 acres on Sunday amid triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions. Officials ordered the evacuations of 50 homes in several communities, and later Sunday afternoon, the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office expanded the order to include more residents in Yarnell, a town of about 700 residents about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix.

   Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said that the 19 firefighters were a part of the city's fire department. The crew killed in the blaze had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona.  

   Fraijo said in a news conference that the department is grieving the loss of so many of its members.

   "By the time they got there, it was moving very quickly," he said.

   He added that the firefighters had to deploy the emergency shelters when "something drastic" occurred.

   "One of the last fail safe methods that a firefighter can do under those conditions is literally to dig as much as they can down and cover themselves with a protective - kinda looks like a foil type- fire-resistant material - with the desire, the hope at least, is that the fire will burn over the top of them and they can survive it," Fraijo said.

   "Under certain conditions there's usually only sometimes a 50 percent chance that they survive," he said. "It's an extreme measure that's taken under the absolute worst conditions."

   The National Fire Protection Association had previously listed the deadliest wildland fire involving firefighters as the 1994 Storm King Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colo., which killed 14 firefighters who were overtaken by a sudden explosion of flames.

   Morrison said several homes in the community of Glenisle burned on Sunday. He said no other injuries or deaths have been reported from that area.

   About 200 firefighters are fighting the wildfire, which has also forced the closure of parts of state Route 89. An additional 130 firefighters and more water- and retardant-dropping helicopters and aircraft are on their way.

   Federal help was also being called into to fight the fire, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman Mike Reichling said.

   Prescott, which is more than 30 miles northeast of Yarnell, is one of the only cities in the United States that has a hot shot fire crew, Fraijo said. The unit was established in 2002, and the city also has 75 suppression team members.

   The Red Cross has opened a shelter at Yavapai College in Prescott, the sheriff's office said.

   U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, whose district includes Yarnell, shot off a series of tweets Sunday night sending his condolences to those affected. He said his office will remain in contact with emergency responders and would offer help to those who needed it.

   Other high profile Arizonans expressed their shock on Twitter, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who called it "absolutely devastating news." U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., tweeted that he was "sick with the news."

   

 
Published in National News
Friday, 31 May 2013 01:19

Arizona mom freed from Mexican jail

   NOGALES, Mexico (AP) - A U.S. woman in a Mexico prison on a drug-smuggling charge has been released.

   Yanira Maldonado walked out of the jail late Thursday night, after court officials reviewed security footage that showed her and her husband boarding a bus in Mexico with only blankets, bottles of water and her purse in hand.

   Maldonado hugged her husband Gary and was greeted by well-wishers after she left the lockup and officials closed the jail doors behind her.

   Maldonado was arrested by the Mexican military last week after they found nearly 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms) of pot under her seat on the commercial bus traveling from Mexico to Arizona.

Published in National News

PHOENIX (AP) - Jodi Arias has been convicted of first-degree murder in the brutal stabbing and shooting death of her one-time boyfriend in Arizona.

 

   Arias was charged in the June 2008 killing of Travis Alexander in his suburban Phoenix home. Authorities say she planned the attack in a jealous rage. Arias initially denied involvement, then blamed it on two masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said she killed Alexander in self-defense.

 

   Testimony began in early January, with Arias eventually spending 18 days on the witness stand. Jurors got the case Friday.

 

   The trial has been a made-for-the-tabloids drama, garnering daily coverage by the cable news networks, with tales of lurid sex, lies and death, nude photos and accounts of a salacious relationship that ended in a bloody killing.

 

   THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

 

   Jurors reached a verdict Wednesday in the trial of Jodi Arias, who is accused of murdering her one-time boyfriend in Arizona.

 

   Arias is charged with first-degree murder in the June 2008 death of Travis Alexander, a motivational speaker and salesman, at his suburban Phoenix home. Authorities said she planned the attack in a jealous rage after being rejected by the victim while he pursued other women.

 

   Arias initially denied involvement and later blamed the killing on masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said she killed Alexander in self-defense.

 

   Jurors got the case Friday afternoon. They reached a decision late Wednesday morning. It was scheduled to be announced at 1:30 p.m.

 

   Testimony in the trial began in early January, with Arias later spending 18 days on the witness stand. The trial quickly snowballed into a made-for-the-tabloids drama, garnering daily coverage from cable news networks, and spawning a virtual cottage industry for talk shows, legal experts and even Arias, who used her notoriety to sell artwork she made in jail.

 

   Alexander suffered nearly 30 knife wounds, was shot in the forehead and had his throat slit before Arias dragged his body into his shower. He was found by friends about five days later.

 

   Arias said she recalled Alexander attacking her in a fury after a day of sex. She said Alexander came at her "like a linebacker," body-slamming her to the tile floor. She managed to wriggle free and ran into his closet to retrieve a gun he kept on a shelf. She said she fired in self-defense but had no memory of stabbing him.

 

   Arias acknowledged trying to clean the scene of the killing, dumping the gun in the desert and working on an alibi to avoid suspicion. She said she was too scared and ashamed to tell the truth.

 

   As deliberations drag on, dozens of people gather daily on the courthouse steps waiting for a verdict.

 

   If Arias is convicted of first-degree murder, she faces either life in prison or a death sentence. Jurors also have the option of convicting Arias of second-degree murder if they believe she didn't premeditate the killing but still intentionally caused Alexander's death. If convicted of that charge, she could be sentenced to 10 to 22 years in prison.

 

   Manslaughter is an option if the panel believes Arias didn't plan the killing in advance and the attack occurred in the heat of passion after "adequate" provocation from Alexander. A conviction on this charge carries a sentence of seven to 21 years in prison.

 

   If they believe she killed Alexander in self-defense, Arias would be acquitted and would walk out jail after being incarcerated for more than four years.

 
Published in National News

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