Friday, March 19, 2010

360 Friday PM News Briefs

Obama and Company Lobbying Hard For Health Vote

President Obama and Democratic leaders lobbied intensively for historic health care legislation Friday, striving to resolve a last-minute dispute over Medicare while gaining another precious "yes" 48 hours ahead of a climactic vote.

With a showdown set for Sunday on the House floor, Democratic leaders still didn't command the 216 votes they needed, so every undecided lawmaker was the focus of personal attention from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House, and every "no"-to-"yes" conversion was trumpeted by party leaders.

Obama, who delayed an overseas trip to help ensure passage of the legislation, planned to meet with Democratic lawmakers at the White House Saturday afternoon. In an 11th-hour pitch, the president spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at George Mason University in Virginia, lobbing attacks at the insurance industry with his coat jacket off and sleeves rolled up.

Obama described the stakes in stark terms, using words uttered so rarely out of the White House that they seem all but banned: "If this vote fails." What then? "The insurance industry will continue to run amok," the president said, pointing to rising rates, denials of coverage and limits on care.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the vote-counting spotlight swung to Rep. John Boccieri, D-Ohio, who announced that he would support the bill despite voting against an earlier version. "I'm not worried about the election," he said. "I'm worried about doing what's right."

Boccieri became the fourth House Democrat to switch from "no" to "yes." Shortly after he announced his decision, Pelosi predicted: "When we bring the bill to the floor, we will have a significant victory for the American people."

The White House and Democratic leaders faced a last-minute snag as some lawmakers complained about a provision in the bill on how health providers are paid under Medicare. Pelosi and senior White House officials raced to find a solution.

Gov. Perdue: Vote 'No' On Health Care Bill

Georgia Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue is urging a pair of undecided Georgia Democrats to vote no on President Obama's health care plan. In a letter to U.S. Reps. John Barrow and Sanford Bishop, Perdue said the health bill's expansion of Medicaid would be devastating to Georgia's cash-strapped budget.

Perdue argued the proposal - which faces an expected U.S. House vote Sunday - would delay the state's economic recovery. Barrow is from Savannah and Bishop is from Albany. Barrow did not immediately return a phone call for comment Thursday. Bishop said Thursday he is inclined to support the bill.

Judge Rejects Ground Zero Settlement

A federal judge on Friday rejected a legal settlement of more than a half-billion dollars for people sickened by ash and dust from the World Trade Center, saying the deal to compensate 10,000 police officers, firefighters and other laborers didn't contain enough money for the workers.

"In my judgment, this settlement is not enough," said U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein.

The judge also said he was concerned too much of the deal would be eaten up by legal fees and that ground zero responders were going to be pressured into signing on before they knew how much they stood to receive.

The settlement proposal would have given the workers $575 million to $657 million, but each person's amount was based on a complicated point system that would give some workers only a few thousand dollars while others might qualify for $1 million or more.

Court: Anna Nicole Smith Gets None Of Oil Fortune

A federal appeals court says Anna Nicole Smith's estate will receive none of the more than $300 million that she claimed her late billionaire husband had promised her.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest stop in the 15-year legal battle over the $1.6 billion estate that oil magnate J. Howard Marshall left after his 1995 death at age 90. Smith had married Marshall the previous year.

The appeals court ruled Friday that a Texas jury's 2001 verdict should be honored because it had heard from all parties during the five-month trial. The jury ruled in favor of Marshall's son, E. Pierce Marshall.

The appeals court says subsequent federal court decisions that granted Smith various parts of Marshall's fortune should be ignored.

Actress's Twitter Account Part Of Suicide Help

Actresses Demi Moore and Nia Vardalos were linked to an online chain of Twitter posts that ultimately led to Florida authorities intervening Friday when a young man threatened to commit suicide.

Moore's Twitter account, mrskutcher, was among those responding to a message from a young man threatening to hang himself in Casselberry, north of Orlando. Moore - with more than 2.5 million followers - and husband Ashton Kutcher are both active on the social network.

Vardalos' eponymous account included a message that she had called a suicide hotline and been connected to Florida police. "I gave his name+city. They went to home, helped him," one message read.

The Seminole County Sheriff's Office said authorities received two calls around 2:30 a.m., one from California and one from Vancouver, British Columbia. Both callers reported the suicide threat on Twitter. There was no record of the callers' names, Lt. Sonia Pisano said. Deputies went to a home and took an uninjured juvenile male to a hospital, Pisano said. She said she could not provide more specifics.

Moore's Twitter account was involved in a similar case last April, when a California woman messaged that she was going to kill herself. San Jose police said they took a woman to a hospital for "psychiatric evaluation" after someone called about a tweet sent to Moore threatening suicide.

Oregon Pizza Parlor Patrons Chase Robber

An armed robbery suspect in Oregon is a couple bucks richer after making off with cash from a Corvallis pizza parlor, but the store clerk and customers didn't make it easy for him, Portland TV station KATU reported.

Video footage shows the man sticking a gun in the clerk's side and demanding money. But when the robber tried taking cash from the register, the clerk started hitting his arms away. Customers heard the commotion, and tried to stop him.

The suspect did get away with some cash, but no one was hurt.

Police: 'Fake Firefighter' Shows Up For Work

A Hall County, Georgia man was a little too eager to become a firefighter, fire officials said. Officials said David Alan Spain, 25, reported for duty at Hall County Fire Station No. 13. on March 10.

Fire officials questioned Spain, out of suspicion, but he insisted he had been hired, according to Fire Chief David Kimbrell. The fire official asked Spain for his paperwork and said he would call the county offices to confirm the hiring, according to Kimbrell. Spain fled when the fire official made the phone call, Kimbrell said.

Spain faces charge of impersonating a public officer.

Rare Monkey Twins Born At Zoo Atlanta

A pair of golden lion tamarin monkey twins were born at Zoo Atlanta this week, helping international efforts to save the rare animals from extinction.

Zoo Atlanta spokeswoman Keisha Hines said the twins were born Thursday to parents Robin and Theo. The infants, each estimated to weigh about 2 ounces, are the first offspring for Robin and Theo. The babies will begin appearing in public next week.

Atlanta is one of just two zoos in the country that allow tamarin monkeys to roam freely in trees outside their indoor habitat starting in April each year. The monkeys are tracked with radio collars.

The endangered monkeys - similar in size to squirrels - are named for the vivid orange manes framing their faces. Wild populations of the monkeys have been on the increase in recent years through a coordinated effort of zoos and conservation organizations.

False Alarms Costing County Big Bucks

DeKalb County has missed out at least $500,000 from residents who are not paying fines when their home or business alarms go off accidentally.

For more than a year, the county has failed to bill anyone for having too many false alarms. These violations are also wasting valuable time and resources for the police and fire departments. Most Georgia counties, including DeKalb, have rules in place to collect fees from residents who have too many false police and fire calls that tie up resources.

Officials said that in 2009 more than 79,000, or 97 percent of calls to the police and fire departments were false alarms. Residents in DeKalb can have four false alarms before they are charged by the county.

For more than a year, DeKalb has not collected a dime from violators due to a computer glitch. Fleischer discovered DeKalb has had trouble making citizens pay for fines in the past, as well. She learned the county has billed, but failed to collect approximately $496,000 over the past five years. With the way the current law is written, there is no way for the county to force residents to pay up.

DeKalb County stated it has approved a $90,000 software program to fix the computer problem, in this year's budget. Officials are studying whether they need to toughen their rules about how much they charge and how often, as well.

Jeff Wiggs is a DeKalb officer and president of their Fraternal Order of Police Lodge. He told Fleischer with the county looking at massive budget cuts, it's a shame to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars uncollected. Precious police and fire resources are being wasted too, said Wiggs.

AP; WSB-TV, Atlanta; Reuters; KATU-TV, Portland.

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