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Lower auto prices are finally giving Americans a break after years of inflationary increases

DETROIT (AP) — Price increases for cars and trucks in the United States, which helped fuel inflation for nearly three years, are slowing and in some cases falling, helping cool overall inflation and giving frustrated Americans more hope of finding an affordable vehicle.

Behind the price slowdown is a vastly expanded number of vehicles on dealer lots after years of severe shortages. With more autos available, the pressures that had sent prices surging have eased. At the end of January, American dealers had 2.61 million new cars, trucks and SUVs on their lots, according to Cox Automotive. By contrast, the supply a year ago was just 1.74 million.

Though inventories of new autos are still well below the roughly 4 million level that prevailed before the pandemic, analysts and dealers say the rising availability suggests that 2024 will be the most affordable year of the past five in which to buy a new car or truck.

“When the lots are empty, there’s not much of a bargaining position from a consumer standpoint,” said Glenn Mears, owner of a four-dealership group around Canton and Dover, Ohio. “But now that we have inventory, it’s much more competitive. Much more like it has been historically.”

The price spikes that followed the 2020 pandemic were caused mainly by a worldwide shortage of computer chips, which are vital to auto manufacturing and had forced plants to curb production. As vehicle availability shrank, prices soared. By 2021, some dealers had no new cars at all in stock. Many frustrated buyers turned instead to the used market. The resulting surge in demand for used cars caused those prices to surge, too, elbowing many people out of the auto market entirely.

But with computer chips now abundant, auto production is rising steadily, especially since the United Auto Workers returned to work after strikes last fall.

The average price paid for a new vehicle in the United States fell 1.2% in January from a year earlier, to $47,338, according to data collected by Edmunds.com. That’s down 2.4% from a peak of $48,516 set in December 2022. Though the drop is relatively modest, analysts predict that prices will keep falling this year, especially for new vehicles, as availability grows and automakers are compelled to lower prices.

The average price of a used vehicle — $27,297 as of last month — is down 3% from a year ago and 12% below the peak of $31,095 in April 2022. Analysts expect used-auto prices to fall further before rising slightly once the peak buying season resumes in the spring.

In January, automaker discounts on new vehicles, including rebates and low-interest financing, averaged $1,469 per vehicle — five times what they had averaged a year earlier.

“What we anticipate is that there will be significantly more discounting, more incentives,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Cox Automotive. “We’re already seeing that.”

When Gary Morrow of Pickerington, Ohio, started shopping for a new SUV earlier this month, he wasn’t prepared to receive any discount at all. But he was pleasantly surprised when Larry Scott’s dealership in Columbus, Ohio, offered a $500 cash incentive, plus a five-year 4% loan — far below the roughly 7% average new-car loan — on a Hyundai Palisade SUV that cost him around $47,000.

“You can’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” said Morrow, a retired teacher. “I was pretty comfortable with the final figure.”

Thanks to the lower-cost financing, Morrow said he managed to keep some money he had set aside for the new vehicle invested, where he hopes it will deliver a higher return than the rate on his 4% loan.

New vehicle prices didn’t rise at all from December to January, government figures show. Still, they’re up more than 21% since the start of 2020, when the pandemic erupted and triggered severe parts shortages. For used vehicles, the average price dropped 3.3% last month, though at just over $27,000 it remains 32% above the pre-pandemic average.

In contrast to conventional gasoline-powered vehicles, the average price of an electric vehicle actually rose 2% during the past year to $60,630, according to Edmunds, despite a growing supply of EVs. But analysts say that sharp price cuts by Ford and Tesla, along with the introduction of some more affordable models, should help lower average EV prices.

Scott, the general manager of Germain Hyundai in Columbus, said that before the pandemic, he typically had 400 to 500 vehicles on hand. That figure plummeted at the height of the computer chip shortage to just 30-50 vehicles during some months. By last year, his average supply was about 150. Now, it’s up to 250 to 275 — enough to compete with rival dealers who, like Scott, are offering discounts.

Even with prices edging down, Ivan Drury, director of insights at Edmunds, doesn’t foresee sales of new vehicles rising dramatically this year. Still-high loan rates mean that monthly payments remain burdensome for many at a time when buyers are seeking affordable options. Edmunds envisions U.S. sales rising a modest 0.5%, to about 15.7 million, this year, still short of pre-pandemic highs around 17 million.

Automakers, Drury said, are offering discounts mainly for slower-selling vehicles. But he said he thinks discounting will extend to additional vehicles in the coming months, meaning that buyers who don’t need a vehicle right now might be wise to wait.

Unlike with new vehicles, there’s still a limited supply of used cars, trucks and SUVs, which will likely serve to limit any price declines. That’s mainly because the sluggish sales of new cars since 2020 has resulted in fewer trade-ins and vehicles coming off leases into the market, thereby keeping used-vehicle supplies tight.

Prices for some 1- and 2-year-old vehicles, Drury said, are nearly as expensive as the prices automakers are charging for new vehicles. Low-mileage 2023 Honda Accord EX models, for example, are being advertised at close to $28,000. At $31,000, the base price for a new one, including shipping, is not much more.

With an average used-vehicle loan rate of 11.5%, Drury said, it might be more cost-effective to pay slightly more for a new vehicle in order to secure a reduced rate from an automaker’s finance arm.

For now, popular brands known for reliability, like Toyota and Honda, aren’t offering discounts as generous as others.

“If you’re willing to jump ship,” Drury said, “be brand-agnostic. You can find a deal. They do exist.”


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Supreme Court trains sights on US ban on gun ‘bump stocks’

By Andrew Chung and John Kruzel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday is set to consider the legality of a federal ban imposed under former President Donald Trump on “bump stock” devices that enable semiautomatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns in a case targeting another firearms restriction after a major gun rights expansion in 2022.

The justices will hear arguments in an appeal by President Joe Biden’s administration of a lower court’s ruling in favor of Michael Cargill, a gun shop owner and gun rights advocate from Austin, Texas, who challenged the ban that was put in place after a 2017 mass shooting that killed 58 people in Las Vegas.

The Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, has taken a broad view of gun rights, most recently in its landmark 2022 ruling striking down New York state’s limits on carrying concealed handguns outside the home.

The current case centers on whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a U.S. Justice Department agency, properly interpreted a law banning machine guns as extending to bump stocks. The rule took effect in 2019.

Federal law prohibits the sale or possession of machine guns, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Machine guns are defined under a 1934 law called the National Firearms Act as weapons that can “automatically” fire more than one shot “by a single function of the trigger.”

Bump stocks use a semiautomatic’s recoil to allow it to slide back and forth while “bumping” into the shooter’s trigger finger, resulting in rapid fire. The devices allow a shooter to fire up to 800 bullets per minute, a rate comparable to machine guns issued to American soldiers, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Cargill argues that the ATF exceeded its powers by impermissibly reading the statute to cover bump stocks. Unlike many other gun rights cases, this one does not involve whether the measure violated the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The United States is a country deeply divided over how to address persistent gun violence that Biden has called a “national embarrassment.”

The Supreme Court has expanded gun rights in three major rulings since 2008. Its 2022 ruling recognized for the first time that individuals have a constitutional right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense, adopting a stringent test that makes it harder for gun regulations to survive a Second Amendment challenge.

The court may soon offer clues on the new test’s practical impact in a separate gun rights case, also from Texas, that the court heard last November. The justices in that one appeared inclined to uphold a federal law that prohibits people with domestic violence restraining orders from having a firearm.

After a gunman used weapons outfitted with bump stocks in the shooting spree at a country music festival in Las Vegas, Trump’s administration took action to prohibit the devices.

“We’re knocking out bump stocks,” Trump, now cruising toward the Republican nomination to challenge Democrat Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election, told a White House news conference in 2018.

Cargill sued to challenge the rule, which required him to surrender his two bump stocks. He is represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance conservative legal group.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year sided with Cargill in a divided opinion, concluding that the law did not unambiguously favor ATF’s reading of the statute.

The 5th Circuit’s decision permits easy evasion of the machine gun ban and threatens public safety, the Justice Department said in court papers.

“Like other machine guns, rifles modified with bump stocks are exceedingly dangerous,” the department said, adding that the 5th Circuit’s decision could invite the legalization of more firearms long considered machine guns, including those with forced reset triggers.

Cargill’s attorneys said in a brief that the shooting cycle of a semi-automatic weapon with a bump stock is “exactly the same” as one without the device, just quicker.

“But that does not convert a semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun any more than a shooter with an extraordinarily quick trigger finger,” they wrote.

The justices on March 18 will hear yet another case touching on guns – a dispute over whether a New York state official stifled the free speech rights of the National Rifle Association by pressuring banks to avoid doing business with the gun rights group.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung and John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham)


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US Congress seeks to pass stopgap funding bill ahead of shutdown deadline

By Makini Brice and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress on Wednesday has three days to avert a partial government shutdown, as disagreements between the two parties and within the fractious House Republican majority delay lawmakers in their duty of funding federal agencies.

The two chambers’ top Democrats and Republicans had emerged from what they described as an intense Tuesday meeting with President Joe Biden vowing to avert a shutdown, but without agreement on how to do so – whether by reaching a deal covering the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, or by passing a fourth short-term stopgap.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives’ speaker, Republican Mike Johnson, have traded blame despite an agreement reached last month on $1.59 trillion in discretionary spending for the fiscal year.

“We believe that we can get to agreement on these issues and prevent a government shutdown. And that’s our first responsibility,” Johnson told reporters on Tuesday.

Hardliners within his thin Republican majority have sought spending cuts and policy changes, including some related to abortion and food aid, on the funding bills, which Democrats have balked at. Failure to reach an agreement will trigger a partial government shutdown beginning Saturday.

A second deadline on a larger group of federal agencies that would run out of funding on March 8 also looms.

Schumer told reporters on Tuesday lawmakers had made progress on talks to fund the government but had not finalized anything yet.

“There is no reason for a shutdown, not if both sides in both chambers cooperate in a bipartisan way,” Patty Murray, the Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said on Tuesday.

The impasse comes as the current national debt stands at $34.3 trillion and is rapidly rising. Rating agency Moody’ssaid in September a government shutdown would hurt the country’s credit rating.

In addition to the government funding bills, Congress is also struggling to pass a $95 billion national security funding bill, including new aid for Ukraine and Israel, that Biden has urged. The Senate passed a bill, but it has been held up in the House.

(Reporting by Makini Brice, Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Lincoln Feast.)


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US president’s son Hunter Biden to testify to Republicans’ impeachment probe

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden on Wednesday will testify behind closed doors at the impeachment inquiry into his father, which House Republicans are pushing ahead with even after the person who provided accusations at the heart of their case was charged with lying to the FBI.

House of Representatives Republicans for months had sought the younger Biden’s testimony, requests that he first rebuffed and then belittled by making surprise public appearances at the Capitol.

The hearing, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. (1500 GMT), comes just before the U.S. government will run out of money to keep all agencies open if Congress fails to act by week’s end.

Investigators are expected to ask Hunter Biden, 54, about his business activities, including his role with Chinese firm CEFC and on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

House Republicans have been probing the Biden family’s business dealings and have cited claims the former FBI informant made that he has now been charged with lying about, with prosecutors warning that he had contact with Russian intelligence agencies.

House Republicans allege that Biden, a Democrat, and his family improperly profited from policy decisions Biden participated in as vice president during President Barack Obama’s administration in 2009-17. So far they have not presented evidence to back up these claims.

Hunter Biden and the White House have denied wrongdoing and say the probe is politically motivated.

Donald Trump, who is the leading Republican candidate to take on Biden as both seek a second four-year term, has publicly encouraged the impeachment. Trump was the only U.S. president to be impeached twice, though he was acquitted both times by the Senate.

Most witnesses to testify to the inquiry have said the president was not involved nor had any direct or indirect financial interest in his family’s business activities.

“In every business venture in which I have been involved, I have relied on my own talent, judgment, skill, and personal relationships – and never my status as Joe Biden’s brother. Those who have said or thought otherwise were either mistaken, ill informed, or flat-out lying,” James Biden, the president’s brother, told lawmakers on Feb. 21.

Prosecutors have questioned the credibility of the former informant, Alexander Smirnov, who is now charged with lying to the FBI.

“He is actively peddling new lies that could impact U.S. elections after meeting with Russian intelligence officials in November,” prosecutors wrote in a court document.

House Republicans downplayed the arrest and prosecution after it took place. House Democrats, meanwhile, said the arrest was proof the impeachment inquiry should be abandoned.

It is not clear when or if House Republicans will make a decision on whether to draft articles of impeachment against the president.

Hardline Republicans have publicly called for the impeachment of Biden and other Cabinet officials. Earlier this month, the House approved the impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s top border official, accusing him of failing to enforce border laws. The Senate has not yet taken it up.

Hunter Biden faces other legal challenges. Prosecutors have levied charges related to tax fraud and for illegally owning a firearm as a drug user. The younger Biden, who has spoken publicly about previous substance abuse issues, has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)


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Biden administration offering $85M in grants to help boost jobs in violence-plagued communities

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is preparing to offer $85 million in federal grants meant to improve job opportunities for youth in communities affected by gun violence and crime.

It’s part of an administration effort to address not just the immediate needs of communities following acts of violence, but also to promote longer-term recovery and resilience.

Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, was expected to speak about the grants on Wednesday.

“It’s clear that with gun violence now being the number one cause of premature death for all youth in America, that we must take an all-of-government public health approach to address this crisis,” said Greg Jackson, deputy director of the White House office of gun violence prevention.

President Joe Biden has called gun violence “the ultimate superstorm,” affecting not just victims but the everyday lives of community members. His administration says the response should better resemble how the government acts after natural disasters.

Jackson said the grants will help provide key resources for community organizations and government leaders and will invest in those most at risk for violence. He said it was a way to address both “the lack of economic opportunity and the crisis of gun violence.”

The grants will be open to nonprofits, governments and civic leaders to fund education, skills training and paid work experience. The money is being made available through the Labor Department’s employment and training administration.


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Biden issues executive order to better shield Americans’ sensitive data from foreign foes

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday is signing an executive order aimed at better protecting Americans’ personal data on everything from biometrics and health records to finances and geolocation from foreign adversaries like China and Russia.

The attorney general and other federal agencies are to prevent the large-scale transfer of Americans’ personal data to what the White House calls “countries of concern,” while erecting safeguards around other activities that can give those countries access to people’s sensitive data.

The goal is to do so without limiting legitimate commerce around data, senior Biden administration officials said on a call with reporters.

Biden’s move targets commercial data brokers, the sometimes shadowy companies that traffic in personal data and that officials say may sell information to foreign adversaries or U.S. entities controlled by those countries.

Most eventual enforcement mechanisms still have to clear complicated and often monthslong rulemaking processes. Still, the administration hopes eventually to limit foreign entities, as well as foreign-controlled companies operating in the U.S., that might otherwise improperly collect sensitive data, the senior officials said.

Data brokers are legal in the U.S. and collect and categorize personal information, usually to build profiles on millions of Americans that the brokers then rent or sell.

The officials said activities like computer hacking are already prohibited in the U.S., but that buying potentially sensitive data through brokers is legal. That can represent a key gap in the nation’s national security protections when data is sold to a broker knowing it could end up in the hands of an adversary — one the administration now aims to close with the president’s executive action.

“Bad actors can use this data to track Americans, including military service members, pry into their personal lives, and pass that data on to other data brokers and foreign intelligence services,” the White House wrote in a fact sheet announcing the move. “This data can enable intrusive surveillance, scams, blackmail, and other violations of privacy.”

The order directs the Department of Justice to issue regulations that establish protections for Americans’ sensitive personal data, as well as sensitive government-related data — including geolocation information on sensitive government sites and members of the military.

The Justice Department also plans to work with Homeland Security officials to build safety standards to prevent foreign adversaries from collecting data. It will further attempt better checks to ensure that federal grants going to various other agencies, including the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, aren’t used to facilitate Americans’ sensitive data flowing to foreign adversaries or U.S. companies aligned with them.

The senior administration officials listed potential countries of concern as China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. But it is China — and TikTok, which has over 150 million American users and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd. — that U.S. leaders have been most vocal about.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, recently noted, “There’s no such thing as a private business in China.”

The senior administration officials stressed that the executive action was designed to work in conjunction with legislative action. So far, however, numerous bills seeking to establish federal privacy protections have failed to advance in Congress.

Wednesday’s move follows Biden’s executive order on artificial intelligence last fall that seeks to balance the needs of cutting-edge technology companies with national security and consumer rights.

That sought to steer how AI is developed so that companies can profit without putting public safety in jeopardy, creating early guardrails meant to ensure that AI is trustworthy and helpful, rather than deceptive and destructive.


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They’re a path to becoming governor, but attorney general jobs are now a destination, too

Instead of trying to keep their seats in Congress, two North Carolina politicians are vying for a high-profile office closer to home: state attorney general.

The career path that Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jeff Jackson are trying to follow was once a rarity but has become more common across the country as the attorney general position has become more prominent — and taken a more partisan tone.

The North Carolina race is among the most closely watched of the 10 attorney general elections across the U.S. this November. Bishop is the only Republican running in the swing state, but Jackson faces two other Democrats in the March 5 primary.

Differences between the candidates are stark. The attorney general has, among other things, a role in how to enforce state laws and whether to defend them when they’re challenged in court. And the North Carolina candidates couldn’t be more different in their approaches.

Jackson said he could, for example, follow the path taken by the Democratic incumbent and refuse to support a law adopted last year that bans most abortions after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. “I see the job as standing up for people in defense of their fundamental rights,” Jackson said in an interview. “I’m prepared to stand up to the state legislature.”

Bishop, on the other hand, said he would defend the law and others — even if he disagreed with them — unless “it is unconstitutional beyond any reasonable argument.”

Their state is one of six where the incumbent won’t be on the ballot, including Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. Incumbents are expected to try to keep their jobs in Indiana, Missouri, Montana and Vermont.

Most of the states with elections are dominated by one party, but purple Pennsylvania has a crowded April primary ballot for both Republicans and Democrats.

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The attorney general job has been a springboard to higher office for so long that there’s a joke that “AG” stands for “aspiring governor.” Current North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is running for governor, as are the top government lawyers in Washington and West Virginia. Former President Bill Clinton and current Vice President Kamala Harris have attorney general on their resumes, alongside a long list of governors and senators.

But over the past decade, a pipeline from Congress to attorney general has developed. Five sitting attorneys general — Maryland’s Anthony Brown, Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, Arkansas’ Tim Griffin, Idaho’s Raul Labrador and Indiana’s Todd Rokita — were all previously in Congress.

It’s a big change.

“You don’t have to go find 218 people to get a vote,” Ellison, a Democrat who was previously a six-term member of Congress, state lawmaker and director of a public interest law firm, said in an interview. “You say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, team.’”

Ellison said that his time in Congress helped him get to know the federal agencies he often interacts with now, but that his time as a trial lawyer was also important in preparing him for his current job.

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Duties vary by state but generally include roles as criminal prosecutor — representing the state in court and protecting consumers, with the latter often carried out through multi-state lawsuits against companies.

Attorneys general have in recent years been on the front line of lawsuits and settlements against drugmakers and others over the toll of prescription opioid painkillers; and most of them joined together last year to sue Facebook parent company Meta, claiming that features on its social media platforms are addictive.

It’s become more common over the past two decades, however, for attorneys general to join with colleagues only from their party to challenge federal government policy — mostly those put in place by presidents from the opposite party.

Bishop, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus who joined Congress after winning a special election in 2019, said that with an often gridlocked Congress, presidents are using regulations to create policy — and overstepping their bounds.

“It’s often falling to AGs to protect fundamental rights and to stop regulatory overreach,” he said.

Bishop said he supports the effort by the Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana to bar the FBI and other government agencies from contacting social media platforms such as Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, to urge that content be removed. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the case on March 18.

There have also been partisan broadsides against businesses. Last year, 13 GOP attorneys general warned CEOs of the 100 biggest U.S. companies that there could be legal consequences for using race as a factor in hiring and employment practices. But that hasn’t led to litigation so far.

Meanwhile, during Donald Trump’s presidency, Democrats repeatedly sued over policies such as a ban on travel to the U.S. from several mostly Muslim countries and allowing more employers to opt out of providing birth control coverage by claiming religious or moral objections. Democratic attorneys general also defended former President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul in court when Trump’s administration wouldn’t.

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Jackson, a TikTok-savvy politician in his first term in Congress, decided to enter the race after redrawn congressional maps removed him from the district west of Charlotte he’s representing.

It would have taken him years to build up seniority to have significant power in the House. But the job he’s seeking now is different, he said: “You reach your full influence upon being elected to attorney general,” he said.

Also on the primary ballot are Democrats Satana Deberry, a progressive district attorney, and Tim Dunn, a private-practice lawyer. Jackson has a major fundraising lead and the support of the Democrats in North Carolina’s congressional delegation.

James Tierney, a former attorney general in Maine, one of the seven states where attorneys general are appointed rather than elected, teaches about the office at Harvard Law School. He said people with the job need to be careful not to take only partisan action because it can weaken the office’s clout.

“If an AG acts like a congressman, they’re going to get treated like a congressman,” he said, “and they won’t get the deference from judges and the bar that an attorney general deserves.”


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Thousands expected at memorial service for 3 slain Minnesota first responders

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Thousands of law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics are expected to pack a Minnesota church on Wednesday for a memorial service for three first responders who were gunned down while responding to a report of a domestic incident at a home with seven children inside.

The Minneapolis suburb of Burnsville has been in mourning in the week and a half since police Officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge, both 27, and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, 40, were slain. Investigators say Shannon Gooden, 38, opened fire on them without warning during a standoff at his home, then later killed himself.

“On February 18th, our worlds were completely shattered. It was the darkest day in our police and fire department history. And it is still nearly impossible for us to comprehend,” Burnsville Police Chief Tanya Schwartz said at a briefing on service arrangements Monday, as she thanked the community for its outpouring of support.

The service will be at the nondenominational Grace Church in suburban Eden Prairie, one of the largest churches in the Minneapolis area. Because of the overflow crowd expected there, officials have encouraged the public to instead watch the livestream from home or at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville. The livestream will be viewable on the Grace Church website and its YouTube channel.

A procession of public safety vehicles will head from the Eden Prairie church after the service to Burnsville, where it will pass a fire station, police headquarters and the Burnsville church. Officials encouraged people to line the route to pay their respects.

“So much of this memorial service will be like nothing Minnesota has ever seen,” Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesperson Howie Padilla told reporters, citing the expected attendance of not only law enforcement officers but firefighters and paramedics as well.

Authorities have made only limited information about the incident public, citing the ongoing investigation.

According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is leading the investigation, police were dispatched to the home around 1:50 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 18. Gooden refused to leave but said he was unarmed and that he had children inside. Officers entered and negotiated with him for about 3 1/2 hours to try to persuade him to surrender. But just before 5:30 a.m., the BCA says, Gooden opened fire on officers inside without warning.

The BCA said Elmstrand and Ruge, and Sgt. Adam Medlicott, 38, are believed to have been first shot inside the home. Medlicott and another officer, who was not injured, returned fire from inside the home, wounding Gooden in the leg.

Ruge and Medlicott were shot a second time as officers made their way to an armored vehicle in the driveway, according to the BCA. Finseth, who was assigned to the SWAT team, was shot while trying to aid the officers, it said. Elmstrand, Ruge and Finseth were pronounced dead at a hospital. Medlicott survived and is recovering at home.

The BCA said Gooden had “several firearms” and shot more than 100 rounds before killing himself. A court document filed by a BCA agent said the initial 911 call was “regarding an alleged sexual assault allegation.” Authorities have not provided further details about that.

Court records show Gooden wasn’t legally allowed to have guns because of his criminal record and had been entangled in a yearslong dispute over his three oldest children. The children in the house were ages 2 to 15 years.


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States promise to help disabled kids. Why do some families wait a decade or more?

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — When Lilly Miller was in elementary school, teachers told her parents they needed to immediately sign up their youngest daughter, who has Down syndrome, for a wait list so the state would pay for a day program when she grew up. The teachers predicted a six-year wait.

The Millers have been waiting 10 years. Lilly is now 21 and has aged out of special education programs in the public schools in their hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Her parents, also teachers, have hired a home caregiver. A day program, where she would learn new job skills or flex existing ones while socializing, would cost between $1,500 and $2,000 a month, Marvin Miller said.

Across the U.S., hundreds of thousands of children, adolescents and young adults with physical or intellectual disabilities are waiting for state-covered services. In Kansas, legislative committees planned Wednesday to consider proposals for higher funding. But even with more funds, it could take years to eliminate the state’s waiting lists.

The services, which include day programs, employment assistance, and home care, are designed to foster independence and build work skills. Without them, Marvin Miller said, his youngest daughter isn’t getting enough social interaction. “We’ve actually seen her regress.”

“Someday, I won’t be around anymore, and that’s a parent’s greatest fear,” Miller said during an interview. “I want her to be at the place where, if something should happen in 15 years when I’m gone, she will still have a community of supports and friends and all the things that we take for granted when we work in jobs and and have neighbors.”

Parents across the U.S. have been stalled getting services for toddlers who are delayed developmentally. But many parents of children with intellectual or physical disabilities also must think years into the future.

At least 692,000 people with physical or intellectual disabilities are waiting for services in at least 40 states, according to a November 2023 survey by KFF, a health policy research group. Federal law doesn’t require states to provide home and community based services, and what they cover varies.

Kansas expects to spend $776 million under its current budget on such services for the disabled. That funding would have to jump by roughly 54% to about $1.2 billion annually to eliminate waiting lists.

But Kansas also has seen its budget surpluses balloon since mid-2020 and they’re now projected to approach $4.5 billion by the end of June. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and the Republican-controlled Legislature both advocate big tax cuts, although they haven’t been able to agree on the details.

Neil Romano, a National Council on Disability member, said it’s “simply responsible” to help families so parents can be more productive in their jobs or attend to more family needs — even take weekend breaks.

“You’re not just providing help for that family and that child,” he said. “You’re providing help for the community.”

Kansas has separate in-home and community services programs for physically and developmentally disabled residents, together serving about 15,000 people. As of mid-February, the two waiting lists totaled about 7,500 people. That figure has grown 37% over the past five years, even with increases in funding.

Outside Topeka, Rick and Anna Elskamp’s oldest daughter Sheridan is now 23, and the family recently received word in December that she was off the waiting list for intellectually disabled Kansas residents — after 10 years. A month later, after more administrative hoops, they said, they were still paying for day services themselves.

They said navigating the state’s social services system has been time-consuming and, Rick Elskamp said, “All their acronyms and abbreviations are a whole new language.”

The budget committee in the Republican-controlled Kansas Senate was set Wednesday to consider a proposal from the Democratic governor for an additional $23 million to shrink the state’s waiting lists by a total of 500 people.

When Kelly outlined her proposal earlier this month — weeks after presenting a proposed $25.6 billion budget without it — Republicans in the GOP-controlled House already had been working on a plan twice as large. That plan was on the House budget committee’s agenda Wednesday.

But disability rights advocates want lawmakers to be even more aggressive, particularly in attacking the more persistent and larger waiting list for people with intellectual disabilities. They’d like to spend roughly $85 million more in the next budget, reduce both lists by a total of 1,600 people and eliminate both lists in five years.

Instead of shrinking the waiting list for people with intellectual disabilities by 250 or 500, their plan would reduce it by 1,100 people.

“Very typically, 300 to 400 people can be added to the waiting list in any one year,” said Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, a former legislator. “So 500 slots may not reduce the waiting list much at all.”

Oklahoma struggled for years to provide services to residents with intellectual disabilities and had 5,100 people on a waiting list, with some families waiting up to 13 years. With state revenue collections at record highs in 2022, lawmakers increased provider rates by 25% — and poured extra money into covering more people. It hopes to provide services to everyone who was on that list as of this spring.

Kansas lawmakers approved an additional $283 million over the past five years on home and community-based services — but 90% of it went to increasing rates paid to providers, according to legislative researchers.

Officials said the state needed first to build up its network of providers and make sure they could attract enough workers.

“It is very difficult to solve the waiting list problem without also addressing the workforce problem,” said Alice Burns, associated director of KFF’s program on the medically uninsured and state Medicaid programs.

But Nichols and other advocates said Kansas has seen its waiting lists grow because it hasn’t at the same time committed funds specifically to covering more individuals. Burns agreed that states have to do that as well.

The funding issues in Kansas aren’t likely to be resolved for at least another month. Parents like Miller, Padding and the Elskamps are juggling their advocacy with their jobs and caring for their children.

Sheridan Elskamp’s parents said they don’t leave her at home alone because cognitively, she’s 6 or 7 years old. When she was in high school, they arranged their work schedules so one of them was home when she was out of school and Anna Elskamp took a demotion at her credit union job so that her schedule was flexible.

Marvin Miller considers his family fortunate, although he and his wife haven’t been able to save for retirement and he drives a 1999 truck. Besides teaching, he’s an ordained Assemblies of God minister, filling in at rural churches or for churches that are between permanent pastors.

“As a society, I think we owe it to take care of…” he said, searching for the right words, “our most vulnerable members, and to help them become successful.”

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Associated Press Writer Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed.


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Texas inmate facing execution for 2000 fatal shooting says new evidence points to his innocence

HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas inmate who has long said he’s innocent and claims that his conviction more than 20 years ago was based on false testimony and questionable evidence faces execution Wednesday for fatally shooting two people, including his cousin.

Ivan Cantu was condemned for the killing of his cousin, James Mosqueda, 27, and his cousin’s girlfriend, Amy Kitchen, 22, during a November 2000 robbery at their north Dallas home. His execution by lethal injection is set to take place at the state penitentiary in Huntsville.

Prosecutors have said Cantu, 50, killed Mosqueda, who dealt illegal drugs, and Kitchen as he tried to steal cocaine, marijuana and cash from his cousin’s home. Convicted in 2001, Cantu has claimed a rival drug dealer killed his cousin over a dispute about money.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday denied Cantu’s request to stay his execution, dismissing his petition on procedural grounds and without reviewing its merits. Cantu’s lawyer was expected to submit a final appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7-0 against commuting Cantu’s death sentence to a lesser penalty. Members also rejected granting a four-month reprieve.

Efforts to delay Cantu’s execution have received the support of faith leaders, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and actor Martin Sheen, and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, and his brother, former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro.

Three jurors from Cantu’s trial have also asked for an execution delay, saying they now have doubts about the case.

Cantu’s scheduled execution is one of two set to be carried out in the U.S. on Wednesday. In Idaho, Thomas Eugene Creech is set to receive a lethal injection for killing a fellow prisoner with a battery-filled sock in 1981.

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis, whose office convicted Cantu, said evidence presented at trial proved Cantu’s guilt.

“I remain fully convinced that Ivan Cantu brutally murdered two innocent victims in 2000,” Willis said in a statement.

But Gena Bunn, Cantu’s attorney, wrote in Cantu’s clemency application that new evidence “impugns the integrity of the State’s case for guilt and raises the specter that the State of Texas could execute an innocent man.”

In Cantu’s apartment, police found bloody jeans with the victims’ DNA and a key to the victims’ home. Police found Cantu’s gun at his ex-girlfriend’s home. Mosqueda’s blood was found on the gun’s barrel, while Cantu’s fingerprints were found on the gun’s magazine.

In a 2005 affidavit, Matthew Goeller, one of Cantu’s trial attorneys, said Cantu admitted to him “he had indeed killed Mosqueda for ‘ripping him off’ on a drug deal” and that Kitchen was killed because she was a witness.

Cantu’s then-girlfriend, Amy Boettcher, was the prosecution’s main witness. Boettcher, who died in 2021, testified that Cantu told her he was going to kill Mosqueda and Kitchen and later took her back to the crime scene after the killings.

But Bunn alleges Boettcher’s testimony was riddled with false statements, including about Cantu stealing Mosqueda’s Rolex watch and Cantu giving her an engagement ring he stole from Kitchen.

Another prosecution witness, Jeff Boettcher, Amy Boettcher’s brother, told authorities in 2022 his testimony implicating Cantu was false and he wasn’t a credible witness due to his drug abuse history.

Bunn said new witness statements also help confirm Cantu’s claim that a man who had supplied drugs to Mosqueda had threatened him two days before the killings.

Bunn has credited an independent probe by Matt Duff, a private investigator, with uncovering much of the new evidence. Duff has chronicled his findings in a podcast called “Cousins By Blood.”

Willis’ office has said in court documents “Amy Boettcher testified truthfully” and Cantu’s lawyers “misconstrued” Jeff Boettcher’s 2022 interview with authorities.

Of the new evidence presented by Cantu, Willis’ office has said “none of it destroys the cornerstones of the State’s case.”

Kardashian and others have asked Gov. Greg Abbott to issue a reprieve to delay Cantu’s execution.

Abbott can grant a one-time 30-day reprieve. But since taking office in 2015, Abbott has halted only one imminent execution. A spokesperson for Abbott didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

If Cantu’s execution proceeds, it would be the first this year in Texas.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70


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