Tribune News Service

News Budget for papers of Sunday, February 16, 2020


Updated at 9 p.m. EST (0200 UTC).


These stories are recommended for weekend release, except where embargoes are noted. Please make sure you are adhering to embargoes on our stories in both your print and online operations.

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^It's words, not bullets, for the 'bear whisperer' of the Eastern Sierra<

BEAR-WHISPERER:LA — Steve Searles is not really a cop, not really a civilian; he lives in limbo between those two worlds.

And, man, does he live. Think of him as the Serpico of the Sierra, a little snarly and gruff and frayed around the edges — a ponytailed ex-surfer turned mountain man. A bit of a hillbilly intellectual without much formal schooling.

There are lots of contradictions to this 60-year-old wildlife officer, lots of ironies and surprising qualities that make him more than another town character.

Searles has carved out a niche and a career as Mammoth Lakes' "bear whisperer," a protector of the wild things that roam the night: the ubiquitous bears, deer, coyotes and all manner of high-country cat. He protects the residents and the 2.5 million annual visitors too, though they have the numerical advantage. They also have guns and cars warm beds and cozy, muffin-scented kitchens.

The wildlife sense this. They want decent food and cozy cabins too. Sometimes, they help themselves.

2600 by Chris Erskine in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.. MOVED



^Highway safety groups call for action on impaired school bus drivers<

IMPAIRED-SCHOOLBUS-DRIVERS:SH — Two national highway safety groups are urging government officials to do more to prevent school bus drivers from getting behind the wheel while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Responding to a recent Stateline investigation, the National Safety Council and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety each are calling for changes that include beefing up oversight and putting alcohol detection systems in school buses.

Stateline found that more than 1,620 school children in 38 states have been placed in harm's way since 2015 by school bus drivers arrested or cited for allegedly driving while impaired.

Police have caught at least 118 school bus drivers, and more than a third of the cases involved crashes, Stateline reported. Nearly three dozen children have been injured, some seriously.

1000 (with trims) by Jenni Bergal in Washington. MOVED



^'We're supposed to be Democrats': Black Trump supporters on why they back the president<

TRUMP-BLACKSUPPORTERS:PH — The Rev. Todd Johnson's parishioners in North Philadelphia deal with gun violence, poverty and a lack of affordable housing — much of which he blames on Democrats who have controlled the city for decades.

"I support Donald Trump not because he's perfect but he's a Republican and I believe in Republican ideology," Johnson said. "I believe in smaller government, I believe the government should get out of the way and let the free market do what it does."

Johnson also wants to see abortion rights scaled back. He's economically conservative and he believes in expanding charter schools to give parents more options for their kids. So when Trump's campaign needed a place to host an event focused on increasing support among black voters in January, Johnson gladly volunteered First Immanuel Baptist on Ridge Avenue.

1300 (with trims) by Julia Terruso in Philadelphia. MOVED



^Lawmakers open groundwater fight against bottled water companies<

ENV-BOTTLEDWATER-BATTLE:SH — Washington state, land of sprawling rainforests and glacier-fed rivers, might soon become the first in the nation to ban water bottling companies from tapping spring-fed sources.

The proposal is one of several efforts at the state and local level to fend off the fast-growing bottled water industry and protect local groundwater. Local activists throughout the country say bottling companies are taking their water virtually for free, depleting springs and aquifers, then packaging it in plastic bottles and shipping it elsewhere for sale.

1750 (with trims) by Alex Brown in Olympia, Wash. MOVED


^What it's like to be a Democrat in Trump Country<

PA-TRUMPCOUNTRY-DEMOCRATS:PH — His name appears on the bumpers of trucks parked outside the dollar store, and on political signs spiked into the snow where the grass meets gravel roads. On a large mural outside a dog-grooming business, President Donald Trump flashes a 6-foot smile.

Fulton County is Trump Country. In the 2016 election, he received 84% of the vote, making it the "reddest" of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. And it has only gotten redder — except for Michael Purnell.

Purnell, 57, was a lifelong Republican who grew up and worked on a dairy farm in nearby Wells Tannery. His family had always been conservative, he said. He watched the 2016 election unfold as many others did elsewhere in the country: He couldn't fathom Trump winning the GOP nomination, let alone the presidency.

When Trump won, Purnell became a Democrat.

1150 (with trims) by Jason Nark in Mcconnellsburg, Pa. MOVED




These stories moved earlier in the week and are suitable for weekend publication.


^Who's killing horses in Central Florida? A mystery terrifies owners<

FLA-HORSE-KILLINGS:PT — The Rottweilers' barking woke Brena Kramer in the darkest part of the January morning, but it was when they fell silent that she got worried. They were chasing something.

She stepped onto the big screened porch and looked toward the barn. Across the yard, she heard an unusual sound — one of the horses shuffling anxiously in his stall.

Five years earlier, Kramer had turned this property into her dream: a horse rehabilitation center.

They'd need to be fed soon, so she crossed the backyard. She kept the barn lights off —she could go by feel and save electricity. She worked her way around the stalls until she came to the last horse, Gus.

Kramer reached up to feed Gus and kicked a hay bag. Her senses lit up: She'd left the bag hanging on a hook in Gus' stall. She flipped on the lights, and the whole scene hit her at once: Gus was bound by ropes to two sides of his stall.

She called the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and told deputies what she thought had happened. Someone had tried to kill her horses.

2450 by Jack Evans in Zephyrhills, Fla. MOVED


^God and a Glock: Texas churchgoers are training to fight off attackers wielding guns<

RELIG-TEXAS-CHURCHES-GUNS:DA — Beneath the Christmas lights still hanging in the church's fellowship room, Jack Mills pointed a Glock handgun at his enemy's chest and pulled the trigger.

A loud crack rang out as a shell casing flew from the weapon, but the man facing the gunfire didn't fall. Instead a red light on his high-tech vest began blinking, signaling a hit from the laser in Mills' gun.

A U.S. Air Force veteran, Mills began designing the equipment a year ago to help armed churchgoers learn how to confront a gunman. Shooting a paper target is one thing, Mills said. Firing at a real person is another.

"If you haven't shot somebody in the face, how do you know you can?" he said.

Mills is part of a growing cottage industry in Texas that uses policelike tactics to train churchgoers who fear the next attack could target their house of worship.

1750 by Allie Morris in Hurst, Texas. MOVED


^In Joshua Tree, the county is cracking down on vacation rentals, sparking a backlash<

JOSHUATREE-RENTALS:LA — This high-desert gateway to Joshua Tree National Park is in an uproar over what some see as heavy-handed enforcement of a new California law aimed at reining in hundreds of Airbnb units and other short-term rentals created during a construction boom.

The controversy erupted in January when San Bernardino County enforcement officers armed with clipboards, cameras and laser measuring devices started prying into the bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens of once sleepy neighborhoods, where some homeowners had ignored building and safety codes for decades.

The inspections are required under the new law, which took effect in December, in order to obtain a permit to continue operating a short-term rental in this town of about 9,000 residents.

1100 by Louis Sahagun in Joshua Tree, Calif. MOVED


^Rising seas already overwhelm the Bay Area. Here is the desperate bid to avert disaster<

ENV-BAYAREA-SEALEVEL:LA — When Jeff Moneda first started working for Foster City, where trails wind along the town's scenic lagoons and the nicest homes perch along its picturesque canals, he received an email from federal emergency officials that jolted him into action.

"The first thing in my inbox was a letter from FEMA that said, 'You need to raise your levee or we're going to place the entire city in a flood zone,'" said Moneda, the city manager.

For a city of 34,000 that was built on filled-in marshland along San Francisco Bay, the future hinges on the strength of an eight-mile-long levee that for decades has held back the rising sea. But with every tide and storm, the water keeps trying to move back and reclaim the town. Flood maps, even in more moderate scenarios, show much of the city inundated if nothing is done.

1200 (with trims) by Rosanna Xia in Foster City, Calif. MOVED


^The halfway underground homes of 'Parasite' are real spaces of desperation and dreams<

SKOREA-PARASITE-SEMIBASEMENTS:LA — For nine years, South Korean poet Shin Hyun-rim and her daughter resided in a netherworld seven steps below the street.

In the heart of Seoul, a stone's throw from the presidential residence and skyscrapers housing the likes of Samsung, Shin and her daughter lived in a banjiha — a semi-basement apartment with scant sunlight and dirt-cheap rent, that for many South Koreans is a last resort, a rite of passage or a low slung pit stop on the way to something better.

The halfway underground banjiha home figures prominently in South Korean director Bong Joon Ho's dark comedy "Parasite," a stark depiction of the rock-bottom existence the movie's Kim family tries to claw out of.

1150 (with trims) by Victoria Kim in Seoul, South Korea. MOVED


^San Francisco bans most cars from Market Street. Will other cities follow?<

CITIES-STREETS-CARS:LA — As California cities move to reclaim their streets from automobile domination, Market Street in San Francisco is the most ambitious effort so far.

Lined by skyscrapers, landmark buildings, tech powerhouses and ornate street lamps, Market cuts through the heart of San Francisco and has long had the traffic jams that come with the prime real estate. Generations ago, many of the city's streetcar and cable car lines were pulled out to make way for the mighty automobile.

A few weeks ago, there was a dramatic shift when San Francisco banned private cars on the busiest section of Market Street.

"There is a generational transformation that has occurred here," said Malcolm A. Heinicke, chairman of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's board of directors. "You have people who are really looking at having a city where they're not driving."

It's part of a growing trend across North America.

1600 (with trims) by Rong-Gong Lin II in San Francisco. MOVED


^Women shouldn't get a bill for an IUD, but sometimes they do<

^MED-IUDS-COST:KHN—<After a few months on daily contraceptive pills, Erica M. wanted something more reliable. She wanted an intrauterine device, a form of long-acting reversible contraception that doctors call one of the most effective forms of birth control. (Erica's last name has been withheld due to privacy concerns.)

It shouldn't have been a problem. Erica, 23 at the time, had insurance through work. Under the Affordable Care Act, most health plans must cover all methods of birth control without any cost sharing. In fact, the birth control pills she was using were fully covered — she paid nothing out-of-pocket.

But a few weeks after her June 2018 appointment, she found herself on the receiving end of an IUD bill for about $1,900.

Stories like hers are difficult to track. There is little research on how often women see surprise bills for IUDs, though an analysis of private insurance claims data suggests it's not common. For those who are slapped with a fee, though, the prices are sky-high — and growing.

1100 by Shefali Luthra. MOVED




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