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GAY MARRIAGE SUPPORTERS SEE HOPE IN DEEP-RED IND.

Friday, 20 December 2013 08:39 Published in National News

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- In one of the most conservative states in the nation, supporters of gay marriage are pondering the unthinkable: a victory, or at least not a loss.

A proposal to amend Indiana's constitution to ban same-sex marriage has sparked a flurry of phone banks and appeals to big-money donors as the state prepares to become a 2014 battleground on an issue that has largely been decided in other states.

Indiana is one of just four states that ban gay marriage in statute only; 29 others have constitutional bans. But none of the other states with statutory bans - Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming - face the pressure in place in Indiana, where lawmakers must approve a proposed ban and send it to voters in November unless they want to restart the process from scratch.

That the issue's fate is even in question is remarkable in Indiana, which in recent years has become a model of conservative causes ranging from school vouchers to right to work. In 2011, state lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the amendment in the first of two required votes, and with Republican supermajorities in both legislative chambers, its final passage seemed a slam-dunk.

But the tides have shifted. Voters in Maryland, Maine, Washington and Illinois have approved gay marriage, and polls have shown increasing numbers of Indiana voters oppose a constitutional ban even though most still oppose gay marriage.

"Everyone else in the country is moving toward more equality. Indiana is kind of the last stand of folks that are trying to put something like this into their constitution," said Megan Robertson, a veteran Indiana Republican operative tapped to manage Freedom Indiana, a bipartisan coalition working to block the ban.

Opponents have argued for years that the constitutional ban is unnecessary and will paint the state as intolerant and hurt businesses' efforts to recruit top talent. They're especially concerned about a provision in the proposed amendment that also bans civil unions and employee benefits for same-sex couples.

Volunteers with Freedom Indiana are staffing nightly phone banks and calling lawmakers who supported the amendment the first time in hopes of changing their minds before the Legislature reconvenes next month. Top companies including drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co. and engine-maker Cummins Inc. have contributed $100,000 each to the campaign. And a recent fundraiser featuring Mary Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney who has been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage, was sponsored by some of the state's top GOP money men, including the campaign finance chairman for Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

Phil Cooper, a 63-year-old retired bus driver from Bloomington whose adult daughter has sometimes identified as a lesbian, said he has been making phone calls for Freedom Indiana two to three times each week since September.

"It really, really troubles me to see her being singled out because of that single characteristic," he said of his daughter.

He said he is "cautiously optimistic" about blocking the amendment and said getting more information out about its effects, including the ban on employer benefits for same-sex pairs, has helped turn the momentum.

At least two lawmakers who voted for the amendment in 2011 have said they will oppose it next year. Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said last year that placing the ban in the constitution would not be a "productive" use of time for state lawmakers. And state Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, told The Shelbyville News last month that he made a mistake in supporting the amendment last time and "to put that amendment in the constitution and to lock down generations with bigotry is wrong."

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he still supports the marriage ban but has been listening to his two sons, who oppose the measure. And while House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, says he expects a vote by lawmakers on the issue next year, he notably left the issue out of the House Republican Caucus' 2014 legislative agenda.

Supporters of the amendment, who have distributed fliers about the issue to churches, contend a constitutional ban would prevent future lawmakers from changing the law. They say Freedom Indiana's business argument is a scare tactic and point to reports showing top job growth coming mostly in states that already have constitutional bans on gay marriage.

Even if national attitudes on the issue have changed, they say, Indiana residents still firmly oppose gay marriage and should be allowed to weigh in.

"The future of marriage belongs in the hands of voters," said Micah Clark, executive director of American Family Association of Indiana.

Pence, who is well-known for his social and religious conservatism, says he supports traditional marriage but has largely stayed on the sidelines.

The outcome of the debate could hinge on which side winds up with the most clout: the fledgling Freedom Indiana group, with the weight - and money - of corporate Indiana behind it, or the supporters, who have decades of lobbying experience among them and deep ties in the Statehouse to trade on.

"We don't have a half-million dollars to pour into this, like the other side does," Clark acknowledged.

The pressure Indiana Republicans feel makes sense, given that they likely face the most peril in how the issue plays out. If the amendment fails in the Legislature, incumbent Republicans could face the wrath of conservatives in the May primaries. And if the issue makes it to the ballot, it has the potential to rev up the Democratic base in November's general election in a way that could ripple up and down the ticket.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

OVER 75 INJURED IN PARTIAL LONDON THEATER COLLAPSE

Friday, 20 December 2013 08:38 Published in National News

LONDON (AP) — Hunks of plaster and dust rained down on a packed audience when the ceiling of a London theater partially collapsed Thursday night. More than 75 people were injured — seven seriously, authorities said.

The collapse at the Apollo Theatre took place around 8:15 p.m. during a performance of "The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time" at the height of the Christmas holiday season. Plaster and masonry from a section of the ceiling tumbled down, bringing parts of the theater's balconies down with it onto the audience, police said.

More than 700 people were in the theater at the time, according to the London Fire Brigade.

Officials said most of the injured were "walking wounded" with upper-body injuries, and that all are conscious and breathing.

Police and fire officials said it was too soon to say what had caused the partial collapse of the ceiling, but that a full investigation is being carried out.

Dee Stephenson said she was seated near the stage and heard the main actor shout "watch out!"

"Then you could feel the debris literally coming down on you and then I got hit on the back by a large piece," she told The Associated Press. "It was a complete dust curtain. You couldn't see."

Scott Daniels, an American tourist who lives in the Dallas area, said he'd managed to buy a last-minute ticket to the acclaimed production just before show time.

"I was lucky to get one seat that they had left over," he told The Associated Press. About 40 or 45 minutes into the show, he said, he started hearing noises — and screaming.

"I thought, maybe this is part of the play," he said. "All of a sudden, plaster starts raining down, huge hunks of plaster ... The lights went out and everything filled with dust — everybody was coughing and choking."

He said he made it out with "a couple scrapes," though he saw others with more serious lacerations.

Dust-covered theatergoers, many with bandaged heads, were treated by dozens of emergency workers in the street outside the Apollo and at a nearby theater.

City buses were commandeered to usher some of the wounded to hospitals.

Injuries ranged from head wounds to cuts and scrapes to breathing problems.

Initially, London Ambulance Service said more than 80 people had been injured. But noting that the initial situation was confusing, it later adjusted that number to say it had treated 76 patients, 58 of whom were taken to hospitals.

Of those, 51 had suffered minor injuries and seven had suffered "more serious injuries." There were no fatalities and none of the injuries are believed to be life-threatening, officials added.

The fire department said no one was trapped in the theater, explaining that rescuers had helped evacuate some theatergoers who had been trapped "by the nature of their injuries" where they had stood when the ornate plastering came down.

Chief Superintendent Paul Rickett said that "so far, we know that a number of items of masonry have fallen down from the ceiling.

"There is no suggestion at this stage that this was as a result of a criminal act, however, at this stage we are keeping an open mind," he added.

Shaftesbury Avenue, normally one of London's busiest streets and teeming with pedestrians, was completely shut down by emergency workers.

The Apollo Theatre, named for the Greek and Roman god of music and the arts, was built in 1901 and has 775 seats.

The show, which is aimed at young people as well as adults, is about a boy with Asperger's who sets out to solve a crime.

Prime Minister David Cameron said via Twitter that he was being updated regularly on the crisis. He praised the city's emergency services — who were on the scene within three minutes — for their "fast work" in helping the injured.

London Mayor Boris Johnson also thanked emergency services for their "incredible response in very difficult conditions."

Nimax Theatres, which owns the Apollo, described the incident as "shocking and upsetting" and said an investigation into what caused the ceiling collapse is under way.

___

Associated Press writers Kyle McKinnon in London and Jackie Quinn in Washington contributed to this report.

NYC EXPANDS SMOKING BAN TO INCLUDE E-CIGARETTES

Friday, 20 December 2013 08:37 Published in Health & Fitness

NEW YORK (AP) -- With smokers exiled 12 years ago to New York City's sidewalks, some took up electronic cigarettes as a way to come in from the cold. They could puff away once again in restaurants, offices or even libraries without running afoul of the city's ban on smoking in indoor public places.

Now they're down to their last few puffs with the City Council's 43-8 vote Thursday to expand the smoking ban to include e-cigarettes. Outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign the measure, which he has pushed throughout his 12 years in office. The ban would then take effect in four months.

Also Thursday, the council paved the way for an eventual ban on plastic foam containers and approved the creation of a website that will help the public track federal dollars budgeted for Superstorm Sandy-related damages. The flurry of activity - more than two dozen introductions and resolutions were passed - came on the council's last legislative session of the year.

Speaker Christine Quinn said before the vote on e-cigarettes that the evidence on whether nicotine inhalers are truly safe is insufficient. She said allowing the devices in places where cigarettes are now banned also could "renormalize" smoking and undermine the public perception that the habit is now acceptable only in the privacy of one's own home.

"We don't want a step backward with that," she said.

The vote came amid sharp disagreement within public health circles over how to treat e-cigarettes. The tobacco-free smokes heat up a chemical solution and emit vapors while giving smokers their nicotine fix.

Manufacturers say the mist is harmless, and most scientists agree that regular smokers who switch to e-cigarettes are lowering their health risk substantially.

The devices, though, aren't heavily regulated. And experts say consumers can't yet be sure whether they are safe either for users or people exposed to second-hand vapor puffs.

Like regular cigarettes, the nicotine in e-cigarettes is also highly addictive. People who use them may be unable to quit, even if they want to. That has raised concerns that a new generation of young people could gravitate toward e-cigarettes and wind up hooked for life or even switch to tobacco cigarettes.

The Food and Drug Administration has said it intends to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products but has yet to issue any rules, leaving manufacturers free to advertise while regular cigarette ads are banned.

Several states, including New Jersey, Arkansas, Utah and North Dakota, have already expanded their indoor smoking bans to include e-cigarettes. Other bans have been proposed in several big cities. About half of the states restrict sales to minors.

At a City Council hearing earlier this month, city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley urged the council to approve a ban, saying the city couldn't risk rolling back the progress it has made driving down smoking rates.

The American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids agreed. Other public health advocates did not. They said that in a nation where roughly 1 in 5 adults are hooked on indisputably deadly cigarettes, safer alternatives should be embraced, not discouraged, even if science hasn't rendered a final verdict.

E-cigarette manufacturers say they don't believe their products will be used as a gateway drug to cigarettes, and they have criticized New York's proposed ban as a rush to judgment.

"Companies like us want to be responsible, but when you have municipalities prematurely judge what should be and what shouldn't be, based not on the science, I think it does the public a disservice," said Miguel Martin, president of e-cigarette brand Logic.

While the measure's advocates say e-cigarettes resemble tobacco smokes enough to confuse restaurateurs trying to enforce smoking laws and send a message of social acceptability, manufacturers say that reasoning is muddled.

"That's like saying we shouldn't be able to sell water because it looks like vodka," Martin said.

The foam bill allows lawmakers to ban the product - technically called expanded polystyrene foam - if after a yearlong study the commissioner of the Sanitation Department finds the material can't be recycled effectively. It takes a long time to break down in landfills, and there's debate over how readily it can be recycled once it's soiled by food.

An online database to track the use of Sandy funds already exists and is operated by the Bloomberg administration. Thursday's bill will update the website, creating a searchable, interactive online tool that allows users to look-up by zip code information about how federal Sandy dollars are being spent.

---

Associated Press writers David B. Caruso and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

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