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Crack in Florida bridge deemed no concern just hours before collapse

Safety meeting discussed the crack but concluded the bridge, which later collapsed and killed at least six, was not compromised

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Crack in Florida bridge deemed no concern just hours before collapse” was written by Edward Helmore and agencies, for theguardian.com on Sunday 18th March 2018 04.24 UTC

Hours before a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University collapsed on Thursday, killing six people, engineers met the construction manager, state transportation officials and university representatives to discuss a crack on the structure.

The Miami-based university detailed the two-hour meeting in a statement released early on Saturday.

It said the session included a technical presentation by Figg Bridge Engineers that “concluded there were no safety concerns and the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge”.

The meeting ended at 11am. Three hours later, the bridge fell.

The Florida department of transportation (FDot) announced late on Friday that an engineer hired by the university left a voicemail message with the state agency two days before the collapse, seeking to draw attention to the crack.

In the call, which was not picked up until after collapse and has been released to the public, engineer W Denney Pate mentioned “some cracking that’s been observed on the north end” of the bridge but said he did not think it was a safety issue.

The state transportation department also said one of its consultants attended a meeting with the FIU bridge team hours before the collapse. It did not say the crack in the bridge had been discussed.

The National Transportation Safety Board chief investigator, Robert Accetta, said on Friday it was too soon to tell if cracks played a role in the bridge collapse.

“I would have to say that a crack in the bridge does not necessarily mean it’s unsafe,” he said.

University officials have said engineers had performed stress tests to determine the “resiliency of the concrete” in the bridge.

Late on Saturday police said that they believed they had recovered all the bodies of the victims of the collapse. Juan Perez, Miami-Dade police chief, told news media that they had recovered all five bodies of people in vehicles crushed under the bridge. A sixth person died at the hospital.

While police believed all victims had been accounted for, they nevertheless said the search and rescue was continuing.

One victim’s uncle raged against what he called the “complete incompetence” and “colossal failure” that allowed people to drive on the six-lane highway beneath the unfinished concrete span.

“Why they had to build this monstrosity in the first place to get children across the street?” said Joe Smitha, whose niece, Alexa Duran, was crushed. “Then they decided to stress test this bridge while traffic was running underneath it?”

Authorities have not released Duran’s name, but her family has said she died. The FIU freshman was studying political science.

In an emailed statement on Saturday night, the Florida International University president, Mark Rosenberg, said it would hold a moment’s silence for the victims at 1:47pm on Monday – the same time that the bridge went down.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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US Supreme Court Upholds Abortion Clinic Protest Zone Limits In Chicago, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday left in place policies in Chicago and Pennsylvania’s capital Harrisburg that place limits on anti-abortion activists gathered outside abortion clinics.

The justices declined to hear two appeals by anti-abortion groups and individual activists of lower court rulings upholding the cities’ ordinances.

The Chicago policy bars activists from coming within eight feet (2.4 meters) of someone within 50 feet (15 meters) of any healthcare facility without their consent if they intend to protest, offer counseling or hand out leaflets. The Harrisburg measure bars people from congregating or demonstrating within 20 feet (6 meters) of a healthcare facility’s entrance or exit.

Both cases pitted the free speech rights of anti-abortion protesters against public safety concerns raised by women’s healthcare providers regarding demonstrations outside clinics. There is a history of violent acts committed against abortion providers.

At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the ordinances violate free speech rights protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the Chicago ordinance, which was introduced in 2009. The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Harrisburg in 2019. That measure was enacted in response to disruptions by protesters outside two abortion clinics in the city.

The cases did not directly implicate abortion rights. In a major ruling on Monday, the struck down a Louisiana law placing restrictions on doctors that perform abortions.

Also on Thursday, the court directed a lower court to reconsider the legality of two Indiana abortion restrictions – one that would require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure at least 18 hours before terminating a pregnancy and another that would expand parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion. The lower court had struck down both measures.

Abortion remains a divisive issue in the United States. The Supreme Court in its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalized abortion nationwide, finding that women have a constitutional right to the procedure. In recent years, numerous Republican-governed states have sought to impose a series of restrictions on abortion.

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Federal Judge Reverses Trump Asylum Policy Due To Government Failing To Abide By Administrative Procedure Act

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(Law & Crime) — A federal judge appointed by President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening overturned the Trump Administration’s second and most restrictive asylum policy, all because the government failed to abide by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the judge reasoned.

In a 52-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly of Washington, D.C. held that in enacting the rule, which required immigrants to seek asylum in any country they passed through before they could claim asylum in the U.S., the Trump administration “unlawfully dispensed” with mandatory procedural requirements allowing the public to weigh in on proposed rule changes.

Kelly, who was appointed to the court in 2017, rejected the Trump administration’s assertion that the asylum rule fell within exceptions to the APA permitting the government to disregard the notice-and-comment requirement if there’s “good cause” such commentary is unnecessary or if the rule involves a military or foreign affairs function.

“[The court] also holds that Defendants unlawfully promulgated the rule without complying with the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements, because neither the ‘good cause’ nor the ‘foreign affairs function’ exceptions are satisfied on the record here,” Kelly wrote. “Despite their potentially broad sweep, the D.C. Circuit has instructed that these exceptions must be ‘narrowly construed’ and ‘reluctantly countenanced.’ The Circuit has also emphasized that the broader a rule’s reach, ‘the greater the necessity for public comment.’ With these baseline principles in mind, the Court considers whether either the good cause or foreign affairs function exception applies here. Neither does.”

According to Kelly, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) generally allows any person physically in the U.S. seeking refuge to apply for asylum — with some exceptions for immigrants who have committed certain crimes or who had previously been “firmly resettled” prior to arriving in the U.S.

“The Court reiterates that there are many circumstances in which courts appropriately defer to the national security judgments of the Executive. But determining the scope of an APA exception is not one of them,” Kelly wrote. “As noted above, if engaging in notice-and-comment rulemaking before implementing the rule would have harmed ongoing international negotiations, Defendants could have argued that these effects gave them good cause to forgo these procedures. And they could have provided an adequate factual record to support those predictive judgments to which the Court could defer. But they did not do so.”

Claudia Cubas, the Litigation Director at CAIR Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, praised the decision as removing an “unjust barrier to protection” for those in need.

“By striking down this rule, Judge Kelly reaffirmed two fundamental principles. The protection of asylum seekers fleeing for safety is intertwined with our national values and that the United States is a country where the rule of law cannot be tossed aside for political whims,” Cubas said.

Read the full opinion below:

Asylum Ban Decision by Law&Crime on Scribd

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US Supreme Court Rules Public Funds Allowed For Religious Schools In State Tax Credit Program

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USA Today writes:

The Supreme Court delivered a major victory Tuesday to parents seeking state aid for their children’s religious school education. The court’s conservative majority ruled that states offering scholarships to students in private schools cannot exclude religious schools from such programs.

The decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who has joined the liberal justices in three other major rulings this month. It was a decision long sought by proponents of school choice and vehemently opposed by teachers’ unions, who fear it could drain needed tax dollars from struggling public schools.

Read the US Supreme Court ruling here or below.

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