- - Thursday, March 24, 2011

ARIZONA

Judge won’t halt mental exam of suspect

PHOENIX | A federal judge won’t reconsider his order sending the suspect in the Tucson shooting rampage to Missouri to have a competency exam at a federal medical facility and that it be videotaped.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns also rejected requests by attorneys for Jared Lee Loughner that he delay the exam while they appeal.

Judge Burns wrote in Thursday’s order that the defense requested the taping and that providing copies to both the prosecution and defense is only fair. He also says the federal facility in Springfield, Mo., is the best and closest place for the exam and won’t harm the defense.

Mr. Loughner was flown from Tucson to Springfield Wednesday. The exam will determine whether he understands the nature of the charges against him and can assist in his defense.

CALIFORNIA

L.A., unions reach deal on givebacks

LOS ANGELES | Striving to ease a budget crisis, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a watershed deal Thursday with city unions that will require civilian workers for the first time to pay part of their salary toward retiree health benefits.

The tentative health care agreement with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions could generate $64 million over three years and help City Hall avoid sweeping municipal layoffs, as the mayor and City Council try to close a projected $500 million budget shortfall.

A sickly economy, double-digit unemployment and a housing crisis have left the nation’s second-largest city starved for cash, and unions faced a stark choice: Agree to concessions, or see jobs eliminated. Already, the city has cut library hours, reduced park maintenance and cut loose employees to save money.

“Los Angeles has a message for Madison, Columbus, Indianapolis and every city or state capital where public employee unions have been vilified as the cause of budget problems and economic woes: Collective bargaining works,” Mr. Villaraigosa said in a statement. “Unions are our partners, not our enemies.”

MISSISSIPPI

Planned speech by Farrakhan blasted

JACKSON | Some advocates for racial equality are criticizing the selection of Louis Farrakhan as the keynote speaker for an annual convention of civil rights veterans in Mississippi.

Mr. Farrakhan leads the Chicago-based Nation of Islam, which published two books last year on what Mr. Farrakhan calls the “anti-black behavior” of Jews.

Leaders of two dozen churches and synagogues signed a statement condemning this Friday’s keynote choice as “offensive” and noting Mr. Farrakhan’s past statements on Roman Catholicism, Judaism and homosexuality.

During the civil rights struggles of the 1960s in Mississippi, Christian and Jewish leaders played critical roles.

A spokesman for the Nation of Islam wasn’t available for comment. Owen Brooks, director of the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

MISSOURI

Group: End disparity in cocaine sentences

KANSAS CITY | More than a dozen states should eliminate the disparities they maintain in sentencing people charged with crack and powder-cocaine crimes, gaps that persist despite changes to federal law last year, a national group that advocates for criminal justice reform said Thursday.

The Sentencing Project said in a report that treating the two types of the same drug differently is not only a fairness issue, but a monetary one.

The disparity is unfair to black drug users who are more likely to be charged with crack-cocaine offenses and end up with longer prison terms than cocaine users of other races, the Washington, D.C.-based group said. It also leads to long sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders that cost cash-strapped states millions of dollars in prison expenses that could be saved if the disparities were removed.

Until August, the federal government had a 100-to-1 ratio in sentencing people for possession of the two cocaine types. That meant someone caught with 5 grams of crack cocaine was sentenced the same as someone caught with 500 grams of powder. The Fair Sentencing Act signed by President Obama reduced the federal ratio to 18-to-1.

OHIO

Funeral home sues to liquefy bodies

COLUMBUS | The first U.S. funeral home to publicly offer a cremation alternative that dissolves bodies with lye and heat has filed a lawsuit alleging Ohio regulators don’t have authority to block it from using the procedure.

The National Funeral Directors Association says Edwards Funeral Service in Columbus is the only U.S. funeral business offering alkaline hydrolysis.

A state board recently determined that’s not an acceptable way to dispose of bodies, and the Ohio Department of Health issued a memo that blocks the funeral process if that method is used.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday says those decisions have kept the funeral home from using the method on a woman’s remains as requested by her husband.

The board did not respond to a message Thursday, and an ODH spokeswoman declined to comment.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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