AP News in Brief 05-18-19

Missouri’s GOP-led Legislature passes 8-week abortion ban

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s Republican-led House on Friday passed sweeping legislation designed to survive court challenges, which would ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.

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If enacted, the ban would be among the most restrictive in the U.S. It includes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Doctors would face five to 15 years in prison for violating the eight-week cutoff. Women who receive abortions wouldn’t be prosecuted.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson pledged to sign the bill , but it’s unclear when he’ll take action. When pressed on the lack of exceptions for rape or incest, he told reporters that “all life has value.”

“I’m going to stand up for the people that don’t have a voice,” Parson said. “Everybody should have a right to life.”

The Missouri legislation comes after Alabama’s governor signed a bill Wednesday making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases.

No immediate plans to send migrants to Florida, officials say

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A proposal to send thousands of migrants to South Florida to ease the crisis at the Southern border is only part of a “contingency plan” that is still in the works, a senior official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Friday.

Officials in Broward and Palm Beach have expressed alarm this week that they could soon be inundated with an influx of undocumented immigrants.

A federal official tried to address those concerns Friday in a conference call with reporters, saying there is no imminent plan to send migrants to Broward and Palm Beach counties. The official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it remains a possibility under a contingency plan being developed.

“We do not have any aircraft flying into Florida at this time, but we are looking at capacity building,” he said.

“All we are looking at right now is where we have the capacity,” he added.

The official declined to identify the communities under consideration, other than to say the agency is examining facilities in coastal and northern border regions that could process the overflow of migrants at the southern border.

Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said he’s not aware of anyone from the federal government contacting county officials to clarify that there are no imminent plans. He questioned why the Trump administration is discussing its planning anonymously with reporters and not communicating with local officials.

“Just call us. We are not getting one phone call,” he said Friday evening. “We are still acting on the information until we are told otherwise.”

Trump lifts tariffs on Mexico, Canada, delays auto tariffs

WASHINGTON — Bogged down in a sprawling trade dispute with U.S. rival China, President Donald Trump took steps Friday to ease tensions with America’s allies — lifting import taxes on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum and delaying auto tariffs that would have hurt Japan and Europe.

By removing the metals tariffs on Canada and Mexico, Trump cleared a key roadblock to a North American trade pact his team negotiated last year. As part of Friday’s arrangement, the Canadians and Mexicans agreed to scrap retaliatory tariffs they had imposed on U.S. goods.

From wire sources

“I’m pleased to announce that we’ve just reached an agreement with Canada and Mexico, and we’ll be selling our product into those countries without the imposition of tariffs, or major tariffs,” Trump said in a speech to the National Association of Realtors.

In a joint statement, the U.S. and Canada said they would work to prevent cheap imports of steel and aluminum from entering North America. The provision appeared to target China, which has long been accused of flooding world markets with subsidized metal, driving down world prices and hurting U.S. producers. The countries could also reimpose the tariffs if they faced a “surge” in steel or aluminum imports.

In Washington, some were urging Trump to take advantage of the truce with U.S. allies to get even tougher with China.

Polls open in Australian election; opposition tipped to win

CANBERRA, Australia — Polling stations opened across Australia on Saturday in elections that are likely to deliver the nation’s sixth prime minister in as many years.

Opinion polls suggest the conservative Liberal Party-led coalition will lose its bid for a third three-year term and Scott Morrison will have had one of the shortest tenures as prime minister in the 118-year history of the Australian federation.

Morrison is the conservatives’ third prime minister since they were first elected in 2013. He replaced Malcolm Turnbull in a leadership ballot of government colleagues in August.

The center-left Labor Party opposition under its leader Bill Shorten has been campaigning hard on more ambitious targets to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas. It is also one of the world’s worst carbon gas polluters per capita because of a heavy reliance on coal-fired electricity.

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Utility, regulatory failures led to biggest US gas leak

LOS ANGELES — A blowout at a Los Angeles natural gas well in 2015 that led to the largest-known release of methane in U.S. history was the result of a corroded pipe casing, safety failures by a utility and inadequate regulations, according to an investigation report released Friday.

Southern California Gas Co. failed to investigate previous well failures at the Aliso Canyon storage field and didn’t adequately assess its aging wells for disaster potential before the Oct. 23, 2015, blowout, the report released by the California Public Utilities Commission said.

The disaster led to stricter state regulations and improved policies that would have addressed most of the causes, the report found.

Robert Bea, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said the report shows the blowout was a “predictable and preventable disaster” and likened it to oil spills, a dam spillway collapse and deadly wildfires he said were due in part to failures by regulators.

“Collectively, we seem to be using ‘reactive risk mismanagement’: Patch and Pray, Watch it Fail, Fix it Fast, Return to Business As Usual As Soon As Possible,” Bea said. “Several of my colleagues who live in other countries have called this approach as ‘stuck in stupid.’”

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Government audit: Carson’s $40K office purchases broke law

WASHINGTON — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson violated the law when his department spent more than $40,000 to purchase a dining set and a dishwasher for his office’s executive dining room, government auditors concluded.

In a report released Thursday, the Government Accountability Office said HUD failed to notify Congress before exceeding a $5,000 limit set by Congress to furnish or make improvements to the office of a presidential appointee. The dining set cost more than $31,000 and the dishwasher cost nearly $9,000.

Carson told lawmakers last year that he was unaware of the purchase and canceled it as soon as he learned about it in news reports. He also told a House Appropriations subcommittee that he left furniture purchasing decisions to his wife. But emails released by watchdog group American Oversight suggested that Carson and his wife, Candy Carson, both played a role in choosing the furniture.

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The GAO said HUD did not break the law when it paid more than $4,000 for new blinds for Carson’s office suite.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees HUD, said that while the amount of money may be small, it’s a “willful disregard for the appropriate use” of taxpayer dollars.

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