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American Scene: Assembly OKs adding bank settlement into law

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SACRAMENTO — State lawmakers have approved making California the first state to write into law much of the national mortgage settlement negotiated this year with the nation's top five banks.

The bill sent to Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday would expand the protections to all lenders.

The measure negotiated by majority Democrats passed despite opposition from business and lending organizations.

It requires large lenders to provide a single point of contact for homeowners who want to discuss loan modifications. It prohibits lenders from foreclosing while the lenders consider homeowners' requests for alternatives to foreclosure. It also would let homeowners sue lenders to stop foreclosures or seek monetary damages if the lender violates state law.

Many of the restrictions would become permanent, while those in the nationwide agreement end after five years.

ILLINOIS

Clerks to defend marriage law

CHICAGO — Two Illinois county clerks are seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by 25 same-sex couples who want to overturn the state's marriage law.

Christie Webb, clerk of Tazewell County, and Kerry Hirtzel, clerk of Effingham County, are scheduled to seek intervenor status at a hearing Tuesday before Judge Sophia Hall in Cook County Circuit Court.

The clerks already have filed papers asking the judge to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaints on grounds that the marriage law is valid and constitutional.

"All of the plaintiffs' claims" that the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act "violate the Illinois Constitution are meritless," said the clerks, who are represented by their states' attorneys and attorneys with the Thomas More Society.

The Illinois Family Institute also seeks to defend the state marriage law with assistance from lawyers with the Alliance Defense Fund.

The 25 gay couples filed their lawsuits in May with assistance from Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union; those lawsuits have been combined.

Illinois' marriage law was updated in 1996 to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and prohibit marriages "between 2 individuals of the same sex."

After the gay couples filed their lawsuit, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and other state officials said they would not defend the law because they agree with the plaintiffs that it is unconstitutional.

FLORIDA

Retired astronaut killed in jet ski crash

PENSACOLA — Officials say a retired astronaut died in a jet ski crash off Pensacola Beach.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said Capt. Alan G. Poindexter, 51, was riding on a jet ski with his 22-year-old son Sunday afternoon when his 26-year-old son crashed into them with another jet ski.

The Pensacola News Journal reported that Zachary Poindexter hit the rear of the jet ski, knocking his father into the water.

Wildlife agency spokesman Stan Kirkland said Mr. Poindexter was pulled from the water and taken to the beach where friends performed CPR. He died a short time later at a hospital. Zachary Poindexter and his brother Samuel were not injured.

The fish and wildlife agency is investigating the crash.

Mr. Poindexter piloted Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2008.

MICHIGAN

Talking urinal cakes deployed in DUI fight

DETROIT — Michigan hopes to keep drunks off the road with the help from a special message in men's bathrooms featuring an attention-getting woman's voice.

Talking urinal-deodorizer cakes have been distributed to Michigan Licensed Beverage Association members Wayne County, including Detroit, state officials announced. A recorded message will remind men who step up to the urinals to call a cab or a friend, if needed, to get home safely.

"Not only do we want to turn some heads and get people talking, we hope everyone takes the message to heart," Michael L. Prince, director of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, said in a statement.

Bay, Ottawa and Delta counties also are getting the devices. The motion-activated messages are part of a statewide Fourth of July education and enforcement effort. The federally funded drunken-driving crackdown runs through Sunday. It also includes stepped-up patrols in 26 counties involving multiple agencies.

NEW YORK

Free the bull, community board says

NEW YORK — A New York City community board is asking the city to remove metal gates around the famous Charging Bull statue in Lower Manhattan's financial district, saying the barricades are endangering tourists.

Community Board 1 passed a unanimous resolution against the barricades around the bronze bovine. The gates were put into place in September during Occupy Wall Street protests in the area.

The board says the barricades in Bowling Green force tourists to stand in the street to take photos of the sculpture.

The New York Post reported that the board also called for less-intrusive security measures.

A Department of Transportation spokesman said the agency is working to create additional pedestrian space around Bowling Green.

ALASKA

Anchorage mayor sworn in from Hawaii

ANCHORAGE — Wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan took the oath of office on Monday in Honolulu.

Mr. Sullivan had a previously scheduled family vacation to Hawaii. The city calls for a mayor to be sworn in on July 1 or as soon thereafter as practical. He doesn't return to Alaska until July 16.

He arranged to have a live video link established between Anchorage City Hall and a lawyer's office in Honolulu.

An Anchorage judge administered the oath, and Mr. Sullivan repeated it in Hawaii. Once that was completed, he donned a lei and then signed forms that were notarized by the Honolulu attorney.

Mr. Sullivan signed off the broadcast by saying, "Aloha."

PENNSYLVANIA

Archdiocese's ex-CFO pleads in $900K theft

PHILADELPHIA — A former financial executive of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $900,000 from the church.

Anita Guzzardi, 42, of Haddon Heights, N.J., pleaded guilty Friday to charges of theft by deception, unlawful use of a computer and forgery.

Prosecutors say Guzzardi used hundreds of church checks to pay personal credit card bills from 2005 to 2011. The investigation began after American Express contacted authorities.

Guzzardi worked for the Philadelphia Archdiocese since 1989 and had just been promoted to chief financial officer at the time of her arrest. Her sentencing was scheduled for Aug. 24.

Guzzardi's attorney did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

Prosecutors said they have recovered more than $250,000 of the funds.

ILLINOIS

NATO summit protesters plead not guilty to plotting attack

CHICAGO — Three NATO summit protesters have pleaded not guilty to charges that accuse them of plotting to attack President Obama's campaign headquarters in Chicago with Molotov cocktails.

Brian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Jared Chase of Keene, N.H., and Brent Vincent Betterly of Oakland Park, Fla., appeared at their arraignment in a Cook County courtroom Monday in jail jumpsuits with their legs shackled.

Their attorneys told Judge Thaddeus Wilson that the men were pleading not guilty to all 11 counts, including four filed under Illinois' never-before-used anti-terrorism statutes. The other counts include several arson charges.

The protesters have been jailed since May after being arrested days before the NATO summit began in Chicago. If convicted, each could spend decades in prison.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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