– March 2, 2015

Boehner sees will to act on immigration in House 

House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans will take a step-by-step approach to immigration reform.House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans will take a step-by-step approach to immigration reform.(AP) — House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday the "vast majority" of House Republicans believe they need to deal with immigration, but that they'll take a methodical, step-by-step approach and won't be held to any deadlines.

Legislation to secure the border and enforce immigration laws will come first, Boehner said. As for whether the House could ever agree to provide legal status or a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally, "Well, we're going to find out," Boehner said.

"Through all the conversations that have occurred, with my own members, with Democrat members, it's clear that dealing with this in bite-sized chunks that members can digest and the American people can digest is the smartest way to go," said Boehner, R-Ohio. "And so I'm much more concerned about doing it right than I am in meeting some deadline."

The Ohio Republican spoke at a news conference Thursday, a day after House GOP members met to hash out their way forward on immigration.

They emerged with a consensus on dealing with border security first and moving legislation in pieces, in contrast to the sweeping bill passed last month by the Senate on a bipartisan 68 to 32 vote. What to do about the millions already here illegally remained unanswered.

With Democrats insisting on a path to citizenship, that left it unclear whether Congress will be able to get any kind of immigration bill to President Barack Obama's desk. The issue is one of the president's top second-term priorities.

At the White House Thursday Obama met with two of the lead authors of the Senate bill, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican John McCain of Arizona.

Despite the uncertainty, Schumer and McCain both expressed optimism about where things stand in the House.

"The caucus sent out a message yesterday, which was the right message, which is, doing nothing is not an option," Schumer said.

Obama took a largely behind-the-scenes role as the bill moved through the Senate, and McCain suggested it could be a mistake for him to mount a more public campaign in support of immigration reform as the House takes it up.

"We want to be very careful that we have the president's participation but these members, these Republican House members — many of them are in districts that they will be representing for a long time — do not feel that they have been unduly pressured by the president of the United States," McCain said. "So I think the president is walking a careful line here, and I think it's the appropriate one."

It's not clear whether the House will take any action this month before Congress breaks in early August for its annual month-long summer recess. That would push the issue to the fall, when fiscal and other deadlines loom that could compete with immigration on the legislative calendar. If the issue is delayed until next year, the politics could become even trickier because it's a midterm election year when all House members will face voters.

Rep. Peter King of New York said that if any legislation came to the floor for a vote this month, it would deal only with border security.

Other lawmakers said even that approach raised concerns. Dealing with border security, they said, could lead to negotiations with the Senate that could morph into a compromise granting citizenship for some of the immigrants in the country illegally. They sought and received assurances from Boehner that he wouldn't let that happen, according to Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.

Boehner also said he won't put any bill on the House floor that doesn't have the support of at least half of the GOP rank and file, a pledge that only increases the challenge for Democrats and others who want to give a chance at citizenship to millions now in the country illegally

In explaining their piecemeal approach, Boehner and fellow GOP leaders said the administration's recent decision to postpone a key element of the health care law shows it can't be trusted to carry through on commitments, such as the one in the Senate immigration bill requiring the borders to be secured before anyone here illegally can get permanent resident status.

Unlike the comprehensive, bipartisan bill that cleared the Senate last month, the House Judiciary Committee has cleared four smaller measures in recent weeks, none of which would include the possibility of citizenship.

One would toughen enforcement of immigration laws and includes a provision that would permit local police officers to enforce such laws as part of an attempt to raise the number of deportations.

Other measures would create a new mandatory system for employees to verify the legal status of their workers, create a new temporary program for farm workers and expand the number of visas for employees in technology industries.

By contrast, the Senate bill would increase border security, provide a pathway to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million immigrants illegally in the country, expand the highly skilled worker program and set up new guest worker arrangements for lower-skilled workers and farm laborers.

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Latest Local News

Written on 03/02/2015, 10:43 am by Business Journal staff
Yolanda Castro, 45, was arrested during her shift last week at the Internal Revenue Service in Fresno following an indictment by a grand jury on 10 counts...
Written on 03/02/2015, 10:41 am by Associated Press
(AP) — The Navy is turning over hundreds of human remains to a California Indian tribe after determining that the band has a historical connection to one of the Channel Islands. A report this week in the Federal Register said Navy officials have recognized that the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians has a connection to the history of the island. The designation means that the remains of 469 people and 436 burial objects that were removed from San Nicolas Island over the last century will be repatriated to the tribe in Temecula, a suburb 75 miles southeast of Los Angeles, according to the report. The Ventura County Star reports the decision came after more than two years of talks between Navy officials and tribal officials over the Navy-owned island, which is 65 miles off the coast. "What (this) decision means is that nearly 500 human remains, and hundreds of burial and sacred items will finally be afforded the respect and dignity they have long deserved under federal law," said Pechanga Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro, in a statement released Friday. The artifacts have been moving around museums throughout the state.
Written on 03/02/2015, 10:36 am by ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press
(AP) — Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Mexicans who were expelled from the country by immigration officials in Southern California will be allowed to return for a chance to make their case to stay in the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union said. A settlement approved by a federal judge in Los Angeles applies to Mexicans in Southern California who waived rights to a hearing when they were expelled — a procedure known as voluntary return. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Friday that it estimates that "a very small fraction" of roughly 30,000 people who returned voluntarily from Southern California during the period covered by the settlement will be eligible for another chance. ACLU affiliates in Los Angeles and San Diego sued the Homeland Security's secretary and other immigration officials in 2013, saying authorities used deceptive tactics. A settlement was reached in August, but the order by U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt defines who is eligible to make their case to immigration judges under the class-action lawsuit. The agreement applies to Mexicans who left voluntarily from June 2009 to August 2014 and have reasonable claims to remain in the country. They had to have been processed by officials in the Border Patrol's San Diego sector or by Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Los Angeles or San Diego field offices. The Border Patrol long offered voluntary returns to nearly all people it arrested. But in recent years, the agency has embraced procedures that carry stiffer administrative and criminal penalties, including formal deportation orders and criminal prosecution. Some Mexicans were not fully warned of the consequences of voluntary returns, which included a 10-year ban on applying to re-enter the country for one person who married a U.S. citizen and had a U.S. citizen child, said Gabriela Rivera, an attorney for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. In some cases, people were given forms with a box already checked that they agreed to leave the country voluntarily, she said. The August settlement requires the government to provide detailed information about the consequences of a voluntary return, establishes a hotline for questions, gives people an opportunity to contact an attorney or someone else they choose, and prohibits authorities from pressuring anyone to accept the offer, Rivera said. Homeland Security said Friday that its component agencies — ICE and Customs and Border Protection — do not tolerate deception or coercion. ICE is revising its literature for notifying people who are about to be expelled from the country. "In an effort to address the issues raised in this litigation, both agencies have agreed to supplement their existing procedures to ensure that foreign nationals fully comprehend the potential consequences of returning voluntarily to Mexico," the department said. Initially, only the nine plaintiffs were given a chance to return to the country. Rivera said they are living with their families in the U.S. while awaiting hearings before immigration judges. The Department of Homeland Security's press office did not immediately respond to a phone or email message left after business hours. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Michael Friel had no immediate comment. Advocates plan to promote news of the settlement extensively in Southern California and Mexico. Only the ACLU and organizations it approves will be allowed to submit applications to the federal government, Rivera said.
Written on 03/02/2015, 10:15 am by Business Journal staff
Fresno State's Urban Entrepreneurship students will host an open house event at the Pacific Southwest Building in downtown Fresno this Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m.  Guests are invited to tour areas of the building not regularly available to the public such as the underground vault, private movie theater, penthouse-style lofts and views from the 15th floor balcony.  The free event will be held in conjunction with Fresno's Art Hop and feature local art, live bands, raffle prizes and refreshments.  "We believe in Downtown Fresno and want to see it thrive. We realized that if people could see the grandeur of the [Pacific Southwest Building] and learn about the opportunities in the area, it would help them understand the remarkable personality of the area," said Nick Wiebe, event organizer.  The Pacific Southwest Building, previously the Security Bank Building, was purchased by Southern California developer Sevak Khatchadourian in 2011 and renovated for both residential and commercial use. 
Written on 03/02/2015, 10:14 am by Business Journal staff
Fresno's Great American Car Wash is accepting donations of new and gently used books in exchange for a free carwash. Customers can drop books off at 3854 N. Blackstone Ave. just north of Dakota Avenue to receive a free carwash coupon good toward a next visit. Today was originally the last day for the promotion, but due to rainy weather, Great American Car Wash is closed today so the donation period is extended through Tuesday. Customers can increase the value of the free car wash by donating more books. Great American Car Wash hopes to bring at least 500 books that will be donated to local elementary schools. The book drive is in celebration of Read Across America, an annual promotion of the National Education Association to motivate children and teens to read. “When you see a child opening a book, you know you just introduced them to a world of possibilities. They are developing skills, but most importantly, they are using their imagination,” said Great American Car Wash owner AJ Rassamni.
Written on 03/02/2015, 9:15 am by MATTHEW PERRONE, Associated Press MICHAEL FELBERBAUM, Associated Press
(AP) — One of the nation's leading medical researchers joined the Food and Drug Administration on Monday, taking on the agency's No. 2 leadership job at a critical juncture for prescription drugs, medical devices and tobacco products. Dr. Robert Califf comes to the job of FDA deputy commissioner after more than 30 years as a researcher and administrator at Duke University. But Califf, 63, is no stranger to FDA issues. For years he served on committees that advise the FDA on scientific and medical matters. And he was considered for the agency's top job at least twice, under the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The timing of his appointment has raised speculation that he may eventually be nominated to lead the agency. The week after announcing Califf's new position, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said she would be leaving the agency after nearly six years on the job. Currently, the FDA's chief scientist is serving as acting head of the agency. A leading expert in cardiology and medical study design, FDA watchers say Califf would be a natural fit for the job. "In terms of running clinical trials, there's nobody better in cardiovascular medicine than Rob Califf," says Ira Loss, an industry analyst. "So why not put the best guy out there in charge?" Regardless of his job title, Califf will inherit a raft of projects and potential challenges, including unfinished tobacco regulations and proposals from Republican lawmakers focused on streamlining product reviews. Here's a look at what awaits the FDA's newest leader: REPUBLICAN REFORMS With oversight of drugs and medical devices, Califf will need to respond to legislation from Congress designed to accelerate approvals for those products. A nearly-400 page draft bill released by House Republicans in January includes dozens of proposals designed to streamline FDA reviews, such as allowing the agency to approve drugs based on early-stage research. Such proposals, backed by industry, could shave years off product development times, boosting company profits. Califf's work at Duke's Translational Medicine Institute has focused on new approaches to structuring clinical trials. A presentation he delivered last May advocates "disrupting clinical research," suggesting he might be open to some of the proposals for remaking drug and device regulations. But FDA watchers say Califf will need to work with Congress to identify which ideas have scientific merit. "I think Califf will be good to give the real world opinion to these guys who are listening mostly to industry," said Loss. STRETCHED BUDGET Another challenge will be making sure Congress funds whatever new duties it assigns the FDA. For years, FDA scientists have taken on increasing responsibilities with few additional resources. For instance, the FDA is now implementing new regulations for compounding pharmacies, specialty businesses that were previously outside FDA's jurisdiction. Though the additional oversight is expected to cost $25 million, the agency has not received any new funds to carry out this work. "It's coming to the point where you can't run the agency anymore if you're getting new responsibilities but without additional funding," said Wayne Pine, a former FDA official who now consults for Apco Worldwide, a public relations firm. TOBACCO REGULATION Many of the biggest challenges are still ahead on the agency's efforts to regulate tobacco. The FDA must assess the science for what would best improve public health, but it cannot ban nicotine or cigarettes outright. While the FDA has made some progress since it was granted authority to regulate the industry in 2009, it has yet to issue final regulations on popular electronic cigarettes, as well as cigars, hookah, nicotine gels, pipe tobacco and dissolvable tobacco. Last April, the FDA for the first time proposed a set of regulations for e-cigarettes, including banning sales to minors and requiring health warning labels, as well as approving new products. The agency has said its proposal sets a foundation for regulating the products, but the rules wouldn't immediately ban the wide array of flavors or styles of e-cigarettes or curb marketing. There's no timetable for the final rules. The industry also is awaiting the agency's newest proposals for graphic warning labels for cigarette packs, the first of which were shot down by legal challenges. The FDA also is continuing to evaluate the public health impacts of menthol cigarettes. The agency faces an April deadline to submit reports to Congress on the public heath impact of raising the minimum tobacco purchase age to over 18, and how well the public understands the health consequences of using tobacco products. It's also in the middle of evaluating a request by smokeless tobacco maker Swedish Match to certify its General-branded pouches of tobacco as less harmful than cigarettes under the agency's "modified risk" tobacco product application process.
Written on 03/02/2015, 8:41 am by MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — For its next technological trick, Google will show you what it's like to zip through trees in the Amazon jungle. The images released Monday are the latest addition to the diverse collection of photos supplementing Google's widely used digital maps. The maps' "Street View" option mostly provides panoramic views of cities and neighborhoods photographed by car-mounted cameras, but Google also has found creative ways to depict exotic locations where there are no roads. In its latest foray into the wilderness, Google teamed up with environmental protection group Amazonas Sustainable Foundation, or FAS, to explore a remote part of an Amazon rainforest. Google Inc. lent FAS its Trekker device, a camera mounted on an apparatus originally designed to be carried like a backpack by hikers walking on trails. FAS, though, sent the Trekker down a zip line. Google is renowned for going out on a technological limb, but even this project made the company nervous at first, said Karin Tuxen-Bettman, who oversees Google's Street View partnerships. The setup required FAS workers to tread through the rainforest to find a place where they could string the zip line so the Trekker wouldn't bump into tree trunks and branches as it zoomed through the thick canopy. With the help of some monkeys who joined their scouting expedition, FAS workers found just enough room to erect a zip line for the Trekker's trip. "One of the things that I love about working at Google is that if a partner comes to us with a crazy idea, we will probably try it," Tuxen-Bettman said. Since Google developed the Trekker camera in 2012, the device has been dispatched on other unusual journeys. The Trekker went scuba diving in the Galápagos Islands to take underwater photographs of the preserve, and traveled on a dog sled in the Canadian Artic to photograph the tundra. Google's Street View feature has raised privacy concerns through the years because its photographs have occasionally captured images of unsuspecting bystanders engaged in embarrassing activities or near places where they didn't want to be seen. Cars carrying Street View cameras also secretly vacuumed up emails and other personal information transmitted over unsecure Wi-Fi networks from 2007 to 2010, sparking outrage and legal action around the world. Privacy issues shouldn't be an issue in any of the photography taken by the zip-lining Trekker. Birds and insects are the only visible forms of life in the pictures it took.
Written on 03/02/2015, 8:39 am by Associated Press
(AP) — Shuttle drivers who ferry tech workers between Silicon Valley and San Francisco have voted for union representation. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that drivers working for Compass Transportation voted 104-38 in favor of joining the Teamsters union Friday. They voted at secret polling booths set up at several locations near driver rest areas in South San Francisco and San Jose. The company drives workers to Apple, Yahoo, eBay, Zynga and Genentech. Drivers who serve Facebook voted earlier to unionize. Union leaders said that tech shuttle drivers are underpaid, overworked and unfairly compensated for time spent on the job. "We need wages commensurate with what it costs to live in this area, but it's not just about wages," Tracy Kelley, a Compass driver, said in a statement. "It's about having better working conditions." Compass Transportation did not respond to requests for comment.San Francisco city officials said tech companies have obtained 500 permits to use public bus stops to pick up and drop off passengers. Google was the first tech company to provide shuttle service to workers who live in San Francisco to its Mountain View campus. The first buses made just two stops in the city and carried 155 passengers. Now more than a third of Google's employees in Mountain View catch a shuttle to work.
Written on 03/02/2015, 8:36 am by GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press
 (AP) — Gas prices are soaring in California in a classic example of supply and demand after an explosion stopped gasoline production at an Exxon Mobil refinery while another remains offline due to labor unrest. Average retail gas prices in the state have surged 25 cents a gallon in less than a week, from $2.98 per gallon for regular on Monday to $3.23 per gallon on Friday. That caps a run that saw the price of regular unleaded go up 60 cents per gallon since Jan. 30 as refineries prepare to shift to a summer blend of fuels. In some areas of Southern California, gas station owners were forced to pass price hikes of 24 cents per gallon along to consumers on Thursday after seeing wholesale prices shoot up. Prices in Northern California lagged a day, but by Friday were also rising; an independent operator with a chain of gas stations around the San Francisco Bay area boosted prices 20 cents a gallon for regular on Friday, to $3.19. The situation underscores the frustrating complexity of the gasoline market in California, where state environmental regulations mandate a specialized blend of fuel that isn't used anywhere else in the U.S. Because of that, California is economically isolated and can't easily or quickly purchase fuel from outside the state in a crisis. "Your market in California has about as much margin for error as Jennifer Lopez's Academy Awards dress," said Tom Kloza, global head of energy at the Oil Price Information Service. "If you're not a refiner who had a problem with a refinery this month — if you're not Exxon Mobil — you have been rewarded with incredible profits this month. That's just the way the market works." A unit of the Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance that's critical to producing California-grade gasoline exploded on Feb. 18, causing a fire and stopping new production there while the state investigates. The blast injured four contractors and rained a fine white ash on nearby homes and cars. State air quality regulators confirmed last week that the ash was not toxic. At the time, another Tesoro oil refinery in Martinez, in Northern California, wasn't producing oil due to labor unrest. The two facilities combined make up 17 percent of the state's crude oil processing capacity, said Gordon Schremp, a senior fuels specialist with the California Energy Commission. Refineries in a few other places have the ability to produce gasoline that would meet California's strict standards — including parts of Canada and Korea — but most refineries don't want to because it's expensive and prevents them from making other types of gasoline, he said. Also, the product would have to travel to the market, a process that could take weeks. "It takes a while to get some significant supplies from outside," Schremp said. "It's very normal that we'd see a significant price spike." Two state Senate committees will hold oversight hearings in late March on oil price volatility and the explosion at the Southern California refinery. A state Senate joint committee hearing on refinery blast is also set for March 5 in Torrance. Gas station owners, meanwhile, chafed at having to pass the costs on to consumers. The profit margin for station owners was 18.5 cents per gallon in California on Friday, a break-even or money-losing proposition for many independent retailers, said Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores. In Torrance, station owner Frank Scotto was forced to increase his prices by 24 cents per gallon on Thursday. He hasn't seen such a spike since he went into the gas station business in 1967, he said. "I printed out the price change and I'm framing this thing because I've never seen this kind of thing in all my years," said Scotto, who owns a Mobil and Exxon station.
Written on 03/02/2015, 8:29 am by BRANDON BAILEY, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — Hewlett-Packard is buying wireless networking company Aruba Networks for about $2.7 billion, the biggest acquisition by HP in recent years. Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP said the deal will boost its commercial technology business as it prepares to split into two companies, one focused on selling commercial computer systems and the other selling personal computers and printers. Aruba, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., makes wi-fi networking systems for shopping malls, corporate campuses, hotels and universities. HP is paying $24.67 in cash for each Aruba share. That is slightly below its close of $24.81 on Friday. The deal announced Monday is HP's biggest since CEO Meg Whitman launched a turnaround effort aimed at reorganizing in the face of declining revenue.

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