- - Thursday, December 27, 2012

An attorney for Hobby Lobby Stores said Thursday that the arts-and-crafts chain plans to defy a federal mandate requiring it to offer employees health coverage that includes access to the morning-after pill, despite risking potential fines of up to $1.3 million per day.

Hobby Lobby and religious bookseller Mardel Inc., which are owned by the same conservative Christian family, are suing to block part of the federal health care law that requires employee health care plans to provide insurance coverage for the morning-after pill and similar emergency-contraception pills.

“The company will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees,” Kyle Duncan, who is representing Hobby Lobby on behalf of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a statement posted on the group’s website Thursday. “To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.”

On Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied the companies’ request for an injunction while their lawsuit is pending.


Bush spokeswoman makes light of boss’s health situation

HOUSTON — Former President George H.W. Bush, who has been hospitalized for more than a month, is getting excellent medical treatment and would advise people to “put the harps back in the closet,” his longtime Houston chief of staff said Thursday evening.

But Jean Becker also pointed out in her statement that the 88-year-old Mr. Bush is sick and likely will be in the hospital for a while after a “terrible case of bronchitis, which then triggered a series of complications.”

Mr. Bush, the oldest living former president, has been in intensive care since Sunday. He was admitted to Methodist Hospital in Houston on Nov. 23 for treatment of what his spokesman, Jim McGrath, described as a “stubborn” cough.

Ms. Becker said “most of the civilized world” contacted her Wednesday after disclosures Mr. Bush had been placed in the intensive-care unit after physicians were having difficulty bringing a fever under control.

In the at-times lighthearted statement that made multiple references to jokes and the former president’s sense of humor, she said updates about Mr. Bush’s condition have been limited “out of respect for President Bush and the Bush family who, like most of us, prefer to deal with health issues in privacy.” She said another factor was “because he is so beloved we knew everyone would overreact.”


Gallup: NRA’s approval rating stands at 54 percent

The National Rifle Association, which has become entangled in the national debate over gun control in the wake of the recent shootings in Newtown, Conn., has a 54 percent favorability rating among Americans, according to Gallup.

Thirty-eight percent disapprove of the powerful gun lobbying group. Its favorability rating, tracked since 1993, has fluctuated from a low of 42 percent in 1995 to a high of 60 percent in 2005, the polling organization said.

“The National Rifle Association continues to have a majority favorable image in the eyes of the American public, as it has in all but one of the seven surveys in which Gallup has measured it since 1993,” wrote Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport. “The NRA’s image is highly politicized, with Republicans largely saying they have a favorable opinion, while a majority of Democrats view the association unfavorably. Most Americans with a gun in their household have a favorable opinion of the NRA, but one-fourth do not — and 49% of those with a gun in the household say the NRA represents their views on guns only sometimes, or never.”


Mortgage loans didn’t violate ethics rules

The House Ethics Committee says it found no violations by House members whose mortgage loans went through the VIP section of the former Countrywide Financial Corp.

The committee said nearly all the allegations involved loans that were granted so long ago that they fell outside the panel’s jurisdiction. The committee added that participation in the VIP program did not necessarily mean borrowers received the best financial deal available.

The committee said it was concerned with the actions of House staff members who may have reached out to Countrywide lobbyists for assistance with their personal loans.

The report said that if these staff loans had been more recent, there may have been disciplinary action.


Governor signs new law to permit emergency manager takeovers

DETROIT — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a law that gives distressed communities the ability to choose an emergency manager or other remedies to fix their finances.

The bill was approved by lawmakers after voters repealed an emergency-manager law in the fall election. Mr. Snyder’s office said Thursday that the law is among 19 signed by the governor, just a portion of the dozens of bills that still are on his desk.

If a review team finds that a financial emergency exists, local governments and school districts have four choices, including an emergency manager, bankruptcy or a reform plan with the state.

The law won’t start until late March. Under the old law, the power to send an emergency manager rested solely with the governor.


Mexico urges court to stop Arizona from enforcing law

PHOENIX — The Mexican government has urged a U.S. court to stop Arizona from enforcing a minor section of the state’s 2010 immigration law that prohibits the harboring of illegal immigrants.

Lawyers representing Mexico asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a filing Wednesday to uphold a lower-court ruling that blocked police from enforcing the ban. Mexico argued the ban harms diplomatic relations with the United States, undermines the United States’ ability to speak to a foreign country with one voice, and encourages the marginalization of Mexicans and people who appear to be from Latin America.

“Mexico cannot conduct effective negotiations with the United States when the foreign-policy decisions of the federal governments are undermined by the individual policies of individual states,” lawyers for the Mexican government said in a friend-of-the-court brief.

The harboring ban was in effect from late July 2010 until U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked its enforcement Sept. 5. Two weeks before Judge Bolton shelved the ban, she said during a hearing that she knew of no arrests made under the provision.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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