Morning-after pill? It’s in the vending machine. Really.

Plan B, the so-called morning-after pill, is available in one college vending machine.

A central Pennsylvania college is surprised to find itself the center of media attention this week simply for selling Plan B, the so-called morning-after pill, from a vending machine.

After all, the machine has offered the pills for at least two years, said Peter Gigliotti, spokesman for Shippensburg University, a public school about 40 miles southwest of Harrisburg.

"This is nothing new," he said. "I have no idea why it's getting the reaction it's getting now."

But women's reproductive health has been a hot topic of late, and an Associated Press story on the vending machine was bound to get noticed.

Much is being made of the Obama administration's requirement that even Catholic organizations  provide contraception coverage to employees via their health plans. The requirement has drawn sharp criticism from some corners, and signs of support from others.

On Tuesday, a Public Policy Polling survey conducted for Planned Parenthood reported that 56% of voters agreed that health plans should cover the cost of contraceptives. Further, it found, a majority of voters said Catholic institutions should not be exempted from the requirement.

And last week, Susan G. Komen for the Cure suffered a public relations debacle of epic proportions when the cancer group pulled funding from Planned Parenthood, a move many say was motivated by the healthcare organization's support for abortion services.  

Gigliotti said the vending machine was installed at the urging of the school's student government after a survey found that 85% of students supported the effort.

"We value student input on matters that directly pertain to their health and safety, so these results were an important part of the decision-making process," he wrote in a statement.

The vending machine, which also dispenses condoms and pregnancy tests, is in a private room at the college's student clinic and is accessible only by students -- all of whom are 17 or older, the age at which Plan B is available without a prescription.

"The university is not encouraging anyone to be sexually active," Gigliotti said in a statement. "The university does strongly encourage all students to make wise and appropriate decisions in their lives, but we have no way to ensure that happens."

The school does not subsidize the cost of the drug, which sells at $25 a pop.

A message to the school's student senate was not immediately returned.

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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: A handout photo of a package of Plan B, a formulation of levonorgestrel.


Winter storm dumps 20 inches of snow on Nebraska, moves to Iowa

WinterStorm
A blizzard that dumped several feet of snow on Denver and northeastern Colorado on Friday moved across Nebraska overnight and into southwest Iowa on Saturday, causing dozens of accidents on highways as visibility was reduced to near-zero in some places.

The storm, the first major snowfall this winter for Colorado and the Midwest, pummeled Nebraska, dropping about 20 inches of snow in some areas, said Matt Masek, a National Weather Service meteorologist in North Platte, Neb.

By morning, the storm, with wind gusts up to 30 mph, had moved into southwestern Iowa, where snow totals had reached about 10 inches by midafternoon, Masek told The Times.

The slow-moving storm will continue to move eastward, reaching the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. by the early part of the week, but should weaken by then, producing rain instead of snow, Masek said.

The storm caused more than 600 flight cancellations Friday at Denver International Airport. It also led to dozens of accidents across the region, none major, authorities said. 

Travel across Interstate 80 in Nebraska and Iowa has been dodgy. Transportation officials in Nebraska had issued a "travel not advised" warning overnight but downgraded the advisory Saturday.

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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: A cyclist crosses the street during a snowstorm in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. Credit: Jacob Hannah/The Journal-Star


Indiana secretary of state convicted of voter fraud

CharlieWhite
After deliberating for 12 hours, an Indiana jury early Saturday morning found the state's top elections official, Charlie White, guilty of six of seven felony charges related to voter fraud.

White, who was elected Indiana's secretary of state in 2010, had been accused -- among other things -- of lying about his address on voter registration forms. He was indicted in March, two months after being sworn into office.

As the case unwound, White kept his post.  

The indictment alleged that White was living outside of the district of the Fishers Town Council where he served and continued drawing a salary. It also accused him of voting in the wrong district during the May 2010 primary.

Around 2 a.m. Saturday, the Hamilton County jury convicted White of false registration, voting in another precinct, submitting a false ballot, theft and two counts of perjury. The theft charge stems from the salary he received while living outside the district. He was acquitted on a more serious fraud charge, the Associated Press reported.

About an hour after the conviction, Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed Jerry Bonnet as interim secretary of state. 

"I have chosen not to make a permanent appointment today out of respect for the judge’s authority to lessen the verdict to a misdemeanor and reinstate the elected office holder," Daniels said in a statement. "If the felony convictions are not altered, I anticipate making a permanent appointment quickly."

Prosecutors argued that White used his ex-wife's address instead of a condo he had with his fiancee because he didn't want to give up his $1,000-per-month Fishers Town Council salary after moving out of that district, the Associated Press said.

White, 42, has said the charges ignored a complicated personal life in which he was trying to raise his 10-year-old son, plan his second marriage and campaign for the statewide office he won that November. He said he stayed at his ex-wife's house when he wasn't on the road campaigning and did not live in the condo until after he remarried.

A date has not yet been set for sentencing. White's lawyers, however, have indicated they will attempt to reduce to the felony convictions to misdemeanors.

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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White, shown in a file photo, listens to a question during an Indiana Recount Commission hearing in Indianapolis. Credit: Darron Cummings/Associated Press


Vermont police find, belatedly, that inmates put pig on car decal

VermontPolicePig

The detail in the decal was so small that the Vermont state trooper cleaning his patrol car had to get face to face with it to confirm that what he saw was really what he thought he saw.

The trooper, not identified by police, noticed that the one of the spots on the cow depicted on the state seal was oddly shaped.

Then it hit him: He was looking at a pig. 

So he immediately reported it. 

As police began looking into the matter, they learned that about 30 other police cruisers had the porcine-shaped spot on their decals too.

So how did the pig -- often used as a derogatory term for police --  get there in the first place?

As it turns out, the emblems are printed by prison inmates with the corrections department's print shop, which also makes the state's stationary and license plates.

Inmates working there seem to have pulled a prank that Vermont police are not finding very funny.

"We understand that a lot of people will find humor in this," said Stephanie Dasaro, a Vermont State Police spokeswoman. "But the joke does come at the expense of the taxpayers."

Police are still trying to figure out how many cruisers carry the modified decal. Dasaro said it would cost about $800 to replace them. 

Dasaro said she found the prank "disrespectful," emphasizing that the prank is insulting to officers who serve the Green Mountain State.

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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: The state seal is seen on the side of a Vermont State Police cruiser. One of the spots on the cow in the state crest has been changed to the shape of a pig. Credit: Tony Talbot/Associated Press 


Blizzard moves east across Denver, dumps 2 inches of snow an hour

ColoradoBlizzard2

A blizzard moving across Denver and into parts of the Midwest is dumping 2 inches of snow every hour, prompting the cancellation of 600 flights at Denver International Airport and closing roads across northeastern Colorado. 

The fierce storm -- coming after a relatively mild and balmy winter -- is producing wind gusts of up to 40 mph and has forced closure of schools, businesses and government offices.

Denver's metro area has seen about 10 inches of snow so far, and snow totals are expected to hit about 2feet, said Chad Gimmestad, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Denver.

"It’s very slow moving," Gimmestad said. "It’ll be crawling across Kansas and Nebraska tomorrow. Here in Denver, we’re looking at least 36 hours of steady snow." 

The storm, the worst blizzard since 2006, has caused hundreds of accidents on Colorado roads and highways, said Capt. Jeff Goodwin, a spokesman for the Colorado State Patrol. 

"Mainly minor accidents, fender benders and spinouts," he said. 

Two Colorado troopers investigating accidents were rear-ended, Goodwin said. One was treated at an area hospital for minor injuries. 

Because of the winds, visibility was low -- in some places, only a few hundred feet, Goodwin reported. Denver International Airport said in a statement that about 600 flights had been canceled due to the storm.

The storm is expected to weaken and move out by Saturday night, the National Weather Service said. 

The snowfall was a boon to ski resorts in the area, which have been starved for snow.

At Eldora Mountain Resort, the Denver Post reported that several hundred snow sport enthusiasts lined up for the first lifts to open.

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Gay marriage: Fights have just begun in Washington, N.J., Maryland...

-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: Motorist Myron Balason takes a photo of his car on Highway 94 as he waits for a tow truck to pull his vehicle from a snowbank on Friday in Colorado Springs, Colo. Credit: Mark Reis / Colorado Springs Gazette


Gay marriage: Fights have begun in Washington, N.J., Maryland...

MarylandGayMarriage
Gay marriage measures are moving forward in Washington, New Jersey and Maryland, but neither activists for or against same-sex unions are considering those outcomes to be done deals. And even as they brace themselves for ongoing fights in those states, supporters and opponents are preparing for other battles across the country.

The battles are occurring not just in statehouses, but also on the streets. With lawmakers considering expansions of the right to marry, activists are working to amend some state constitutions to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Meanwhile, public opinion on the matter appears to be changing. Last May, a Gallup poll showed that, for the first time, a majority of Americans approved of gay marriage. In that survey, 53% of respondents said they approved of same-sex marriages, while 45% disapproved.

Here's a national round-up of legislation and upcoming, or pending, ballot initiatives, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay marriage advocacy group that tracks legislation and related efforts nationally.

-- Maryland: After a failed legislative attempt last year, a bill to legalize gay marriage is getting some traction this go-round. A senate committee held public debate this week on a bill introduced by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, and a committee vote is expected in a couple of weeks. Opponents of the bill have indicated they will try to put the issue to a referendum if it passes both chambers of the state's legislature.

-- Washington: The state Senate passed a bill legalizing gay marriage Wednesday, and the Assembly is expected to advance it to Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, who has said she would sign the legislation. It's expected to reach her desk later this month. Opponents of gay marriage are working on a referendum that probably would place the issue on the fall ballot. The outcome of that election would determine whether same-sex marriages can actually take place. 

-- New Jersey: In the Garden State, lawmakers are working to lock down the number of votes needed to override Gov. Chris Christie's expected veto of a bill permitting gay marriage. New Jersey Democrats believe they have enough votes to pass a bill, but Christie, a Republican, has vowed to veto such a measure if it reaches his desk. He is urging lawmakers to leave the matter up to voters; lawmakers have said they have no intention of humoring the governor in such a way.

-- North Carolina: Voters in May will determine if the state's constitution will be amended to define marriage. But unlike many other states' existing constitutional amendments on the matter, the wording of N.C.'s amendment would virtually outlaw civil unions and domestic partnerships as well, said Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign. Of note, the May election is also a Republican primary, so Democratic turnout is expected to be light.

-- Minnesota: Conservative groups have placed on the upcoming November ballot a measure that could amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Gay marriage is already prohibited in the state, but conservative groups hope that an amendment would stymie future legislative efforts or court decisions from permitting gay marriage. 

-- And finally, in Maine: Legislators passed a gay marriage bill two years ago, which the governor signed, but in November 2009, voters reversed that effort via referendum by a margin of 53% to 47%. Based on favorable public opinion and a conservative shift in the Capitol, gay marriage advocates are now counting on voters in November to decide whether to allow same-sex marriage. Equality Maine, a gay rights group, has submitted signatures to place the referendum on the ballot. 

Same-sex marriage is already legal in six states -- New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont -- and the District of Columbia.

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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: Gov. Martin O'Malley, center, shakes hands Tuesday with Fred Mason, president of the Maryland AFL-CIO, before testifying at a state Senate committee hearing on a same-sex marriage bill in Annapolis. Credit: Patrick Semansky / Associated Press


November Reno fire caused by arcing power lines, report says

The Caughlin Ranch fire in Reno in November.
Fire investigators have confirmed that arcing power lines caused a November blaze that destroyed 29 homes in Reno, causing about $7.6 million in property damage.

The report, issued by the Reno Fire Department, confirmed authorities’ suspicion that the brush fire started when high winds caused power lines to spark.

The report, released Friday, says a tree branch probably was blown onto to lines, the Associated Press reported.

The ensuing fire was then stoked by gusts of winds that reached 85 mph and eventually scorched about 2,000 acres.

Another 29 homes burned this month in a wind-whipped fire south of Reno. In that blaze, a man later  came forward to say he might have caused the blaze by improperly discarding fireplace ashes.

Prosecutors are considering whether to file charges against him.

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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: Residents watch the Caughlin Ranch fire in Reno in November. Credit: Liz Margerum/The Reno Gazette-Journal

 


Arizona candidate with 'survival English' fights to get on ballot

Alejandrina Cabrera, a city council candidate in Arizona, is appealing a lower-court decision that barred her from seeking office because a judge determined that her English was too poor, one of her lawyers said Saturday. 

Cabrera's lawyers filed a notice to appeal late Friday, and will likely file an appellate brief Monday, Ryan Hengl, one of her attorneys, told The Times.

Cabrera hopes to run for City Council in San Luis, a small town of about 25,000 residents about 20 miles southwest of Yuma. 

Her case, believed to be the first of its kind in Arizona, has sparked much debate over how English-proficient a candidate for public office must be, particularly in border towns where much of the population primarily speaks Spanish. 

In San Luis, the population is almost 99% Latino and is predominantly of Mexican heritage, according to U.S. Census data. 

"Alejandrina definitely reflects the town," Hengl said. 

The challenge to Cabrera's candidacy was filed in December by San Luis Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla, who has said himself that his English is far from perfect. 

Some have speculated that the lawsuit was politically motivated because Cabrera has filed two recall petitions against Escamilla in the past, Hengl said. 

Last week, Yuma County Superior Court Judge John Nelson, relied, in part, on an evaluation by an Australian linguist from Brigham Young University to make his decision. William Eggington, hired by the city of San Luis, conducted interviews and other assessments with Cabrera to evaluate her English. In Egginton's opinion submitted to the court, he said the candidate had "basic survival English," but not enough conduct city business.

Her lawyers, who say they work with their client in English, disagree. 

Most states, including Arizona, require that public officials speak, read and write in English, but state law does is not specific, Hengl said. 

"It doesn't specify levels of English," Hengl said.

He added: "It's not up to the court to determine English levels. It's up to voters. If voters don't think she is qualified, they won't vote for her."

A date for oral arguments has not been set, but Hengl said her legal team is hoping to schedule a hearing soon -- before the Feb. 2 deadline for the printing of San Luis' ballots. 

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-- Ricardo Lopez


35 pounds of cocaine found in U.N. mailroom

UnitedNations

There was something odd about two sacks that showed up this month in the United Nations mailroom, even if they did have what appeared to be the distinctive U.N. seal, with its globe framed by olive branches. It was blue, but a shade lighter than usual, and the sacks did not include the words "United Nations."

What's more, the sacks had no return address, or even an addressee. Package handlers at a U.N. mail room ran the bags through an X-ray screener.

Inside were 14 hollowed-out textbooks, each containing a little more than 2 pounds of cocaine, New York police told The Times on Friday. 

U.N. security officials notified the New York Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency, which seized about 35 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $440,000, said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne.

Officials do not believe the cocaine, which was delivered to the U.N. complex last week by DHL, was intended for a diplomat.

"There’s some theory that was this was an attempt to disguise this as a diplomatic pouch," Browne said. "If so, it was a very amateurish one."

Diplomatic pouches bear the words "diplomatic mail" and "United Nations," Browne said. These two bags had no text on them at all and looked obviously different from official pouches.

"Any experienced personnel at the U.N. would know instantly that this was a fake," he said.

The investigation is ongoing, but at this point, no arrests have been made. Browne, who has 20 years in law enforcement, said he could not recall a case like this at the U.N.

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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: Gregory B. Starr, undersecretary general of the United Nations for Safety and Security, displays a photo of two bags that contained 35 pounds of cocaine seized last week at the U.N.'s mail intake center. Credit:  Paulo Filgueiras / United Nations via Associated Press 
 

 


No fetuses in food: Oklahoma lawmaker explains intent behind bill

He’s being lampooned on blogs, news sites, Twitter and Gawker.

But state Sen. Ralph Shortey, the Oklahoma lawmaker who introduced a bill banning the use of human fetuses in food, is surprised his legislative effort has gotten so much attention.

The Twitterverse was abuzz this week with tweets reading: "This just in: my husband Kevin went to high school with Ralph 'fetus food' Shortey." Another: "Too much aborted human fetus in YOUR food? Senator Ralph Shortey can help!"

The bill was among 70 measures an assistant filed for Shortey last Thursday, the deadline for introducing legislation. 

On Monday, after returning from tending to family matters and a weekend quail hunt, he was met with a phone that was ringing off the hook, and, in only a few days, a deluge of 400 emails flooding his inbox.

“I’ve gotten so much hate mail,” Shortey said Thursday in a phone interview from Texas. (The freshman senator said he was on his way to Austin with a youth group with which he volunteers.)

The Oklahoma City Republican explained that the bill was introduced after he did some research online and found reports of a 2010 boycott of Pepsi Co. by Children of God For Life, an anti-abortion group based in Florida.

The boycott backers claim that Pepsi Co. was contracting with Senomyx, a San Diego-based company, that allegedly was using human embryonic stem cells in the testing of artificial flavors.

Pepsi and Senomyx have denied those allegations, but Shortey was undeterred.

“Are fetuses being chopped up and put in our Doritos?” he asked. “No.”

But he said he believes these embryonic stem cells are being used in research by private companies.

“I want a serious conversation about this,” Shortey told the Los Angeles Times. “This wasn’t an open invitation for the country to chime in. This was an invitation to my colleagues to have this discussion.”

The bill -- a couple of paragraphs his assistant wrote up and he reviewed -- reads: "No person or entity shall manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients."

Shortey said he intends to revise the bill, known as SB 1418, before pushing for the measure to be heard in committee.

Federal food safety officials have never heard of such a thing. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the agency has never gotten any reports of fetuses being used in food production.

Shortey, elected in 2010, has introduced a spate of controversial bills, including one that would deny Oklahoma citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the state. Another bill he wrote would have allowed police to confiscate the homes and cars of illegal immigrants. He also tried to advance a bill that would have required presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship before being allowed on Oklahoma's primary ballot.

None of Shortey's controversial bills have become law.

As news began circulating this week of his latest legislative priority, Twitter users and humor sites were rife with disbelief and amusement. "Way to keep the crazy title for OK," wrote one person.

But the lampooning doesn’t bother Shortey. “The first attack is to make that issue or person look ridiculous,” he said. “And I’ve got thick skin. I don’t care what people think about me.”

Asked if he believes everything he reads on the Internet, Shortey said: “Absolutely not. I don’t just look at something and say this must be true. But I’ve done some digging.”

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-- Ricardo Lopez


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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