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California storms bring rain, threat of floods
Written by Associated Press   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 17:31

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Much-needed rain fell on downtown San Francisco and elsewhere in California on Wednesday at the outset of what the parched state hopes is the start to a one-two punch of stormy weather.

The storm was expected to move down the coast, dumping a half-inch to an inch of rain in southern areas late in the day, forecasters said.

A potentially stronger storm moving in late Thursday could bring thunder and dump up to 2 inches of rain in central and southern valleys, 2 to 4 inches in the foothills and up to 6 inches in some mountain spots.

State water officials plan Thursday to survey the anemic mountain snow pack, and will likely find that California's precipitation is badly lagging what's needed to quench the region's thirst.

After 2013 ended as the state's driest year on record, all that predicted rain and snow should be nothing but good news. But there also was a risky side of the downpours.

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Even GOP leaders say tax overhaul not likely in 2014
Written by STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 17:28

WASHINGTON (AP) — A sweeping House Republican plan to overhaul the nation's tax laws would wipe out a slew of popular tax breaks to help pay for lower overall tax rates, a politically risky move in an election year that drew quick opposition Wednesday.

The plan would repeal deductions for state and local taxes, medical expenses and moving expenses. Tax credits for child care, adoption services and energy-efficient upgrades to homes would be gone. The mortgage interest deduction would be reduced for people buying houses costing more than $500,000.

In exchange, income tax rates would be cut and the standard deduction, which is used by most taxpayers, would be nearly doubled. The child tax credit would be increased and a complicated series of tax breaks for education expenses would be consolidated and simplified.

The plan borrows ideas from President Barack Obama and other Democrats. But here's a reality check: It has almost no chance of becoming law this year. Even House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, distanced himself from the details Wednesday.

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Army study gives women taste of combat tasks
Written by LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press RUSS BYNUM, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 07:19
WomenInCombat_Pool_rotator
Spc. Karen Arvizu, left, puts on her hydration pack in preparation for her role as a volunteer in a physical demands study, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in Ft. Stewart, Ga. The Army is conducting a study that will determine how all soldiers, including women, for the first time, will be deemed fit to join its fighting units from infantry platoons to tank crews. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) — Standing just over 5 feet, Army Spc. Karen Arvizu is barely a foot taller than the anti-tank missile she carries in both arms and loads into an armored vehicle. She stands on her tip-toes to wrestle open the 300-pound top hatch.

"I have to step on the seat to get the missile into the launcher," said Arvizu, a 24-year-old soldier from Los Angeles. "It's half my body weight."

Arvizu typically drives Humvees or transport trucks at Fort Stewart in Georgia, but for the past three weeks, she and 59 other women soldiers have been getting a taste of what it takes to serve in combat. By spending their days lifting 65-pound missiles and .50-caliber machine guns, all while wearing 70 pounds of body armor, they're helping make history as part of an Army study that will determine how all soldiers — including women, for the first time — will be deemed fit to join the front lines.

The Pentagon ordered last year that women must have the same opportunities to serve in combat jobs as men, with thousands of positions slated to open to both genders in 2016. And while an Army survey shows only a small fraction of women say they want to move into combat jobs, it also revealed soldiers from both genders are nervous about the change.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 12:04
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Texas gay marriage ban latest to be struck down
Written by CHRIS TOMLINSON, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 17:27

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal judge declared a same-sex marriage ban in deeply conservative Texas unconstitutional on Wednesday, but will allow the nation's second-most populous state to enforce the law pending an appeal that will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Orlando Garcia issued the preliminary injunction after two gay couples challenged a state constitutional amendment and a longstanding law. His ruling is the latest in a tangled web of lawsuits across the country expected to end up in the Supreme Court next year.

"Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution," Garcia wrote. "These Texas laws deny plaintiffs access to the institution of marriage and its numerous rights, privileges, and responsibilities for the sole reason that Plaintiffs wish to be married to a person of the same sex."

Garcia said the couples are likely to win their case and the ban should be lifted, but said he would not enforce his ruling pending one by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which already is hearing two other states' cases. He also will give Texas time to appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

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Arizona governor returns home amid furor over rights bill
Written by BOB CHRISTIE, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 07:01

PHOENIX (AP) — Gov. Jan Brewer returned to Arizona on Tuesday and faced a pressing decision about a bill on her desk that has prompted a national debate over religious and gay rights.

The Republican governor has been in Washington the last five days for a governors conference, and she is returning to a political climate that is much different from just a week ago.

The Arizona Legislature passed a bill last week allowing businesses whose owners cite sincerely held religious beliefs to deny service to gays. It allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination.

The legislation has caused a national uproar. The chorus of opposition has grown each day, with the business community, the state's Super Bowl Committee and both Republican U.S. senators calling for a veto. Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was the latest prominent voice to weigh in and urge Brewer to veto the bill.

Brewer will likely spend the next day or more pondering Senate Bill 1062 before deciding whether to sign or veto the legislation.

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