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Members of Nebraska Task Force 1 finish structural collapse training course

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Members of Nebraska Task Force 1 finish structural collapse training course

Members of Nebraska Task Force 1 finished a two-week structural collapse training course Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 80-hour course for structural collapses was completed by 15 new rescue specialists from Southeast Nebraska. The two-week course is just a small part of the two years of training the firefighters have gone through to become rescue specialists.

The training comes in the wake of a Davenport, Iowa, apartment collapse earlier this week. While the timing of the training was coincidental, the course occurs every three to five years to prepare for unexpected catastrophes.

“That’s why we train,” Capt. Ashley Engler said. “It can happen at any point in time, that’s why we have to be ready.”

Battalion Chief Brad Thavenet has been deployed several times across the country, including for the deadly 2021 building collapse in Surfside, Florida.

“It really helps you set up the scenario based on what can happen in the real world,” Thavenet said of the training.

On Friday, their final scenario included a simulation of a parking garage collapse near Pinnacle Bank Arena as crowds exit after a concert. The simulation took place at a training facility in south Lincoln used by the task force and Lincoln Fire and Rescue, with storage units transformed into fallen concrete structures with displaced cars, fires, explosions and trapped victims. The exercise posed a threat not only to victims, but to first responders as they had their abilities tested in concrete breaching, breaking, shoring, lifting and rigging. Two trapped victims were placed amid the simulation.

The trainees were divided into two squads working on similar simulations with instructors nearby to coach and instruct. The instructors checked over each step to break the habit of cutting corners and running steps together and to build muscle memory to help the team in the long run.

Structural Engineer Aaron Buettner was among the instructors checking over the work of cutting wood to build stabilizers for the structure.

“The techniques that we’re learning today will be instrumental to learning how to get into that structure safely and recover victims who are trapped inside,” Buettner said.

The simulation is carefully built to allow the instructors to track progress and time spent to ensure the squads are working effectively.

Four search and rescue dogs were also at the scene Friday to undergo their own training of finding buried victims. Thavenet said the dogs practice nearly weekly in piles of rubble. The rubble, consisting of rough fragments of concrete, stone and debris, comes from construction companies and busted projects. The pile is consistently moved around to provide a new course for the dogs.

The training included a victim hiding in a hole in the rubble for each of the dogs to sniff out and alert their handler for a reward. Lead canine search specialist Andrew Pitcher said the dogs are all highly driven and have a strong desire to work.

Most of the dogs come from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, where the dogs were taken in from shelters to be trained before they reach two years old.

“They come from being vulnerable dogs to valuable dogs,” Pitcher said.

The dogs are seen as advanced search tools to the team as they can enter collapsed structures after a tornado or hurricane and pinpoint victims down to about 10 feet in an unstable scene within minutes. The constant training is vital for the dog and handler to understand one another.

“It’s critical for the whole team,” Pitcher said. “You've got to build a lot of trust and respect between the team members and the canine.”

In addition to their quick skills, the dogs are also considered a part of the family as they often travel across the country to high-tension situations.

“The dogs come along and it’s good emotional support for the team,” Pitcher said.

There is no ‘practice of filming pornography’ in Arizona schools 

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Photo via Getty Images

A Republican state senator is urging the Arizona governor to sign a bill that would end the “practice of filming pornography in K-12 schools,” something that is currently not allowed or encouraged at public schools in the state. 

Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, put out a statement earlier this week asking Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs to sign his Senate Bill 1696, which would make it illegal for sexually explicit acts to be filmed or facilitated on property owned, leased or managed by the state or any other government entity in Arizona. 

But the bill also stops workers for any government agency in the state from referring minors to sexually explicit materials, which could stop public librarians from referring teens to some classic works of literature and even informative books about reproduction and puberty. 


“I think we are in good order to cover both topics at once,” Hoffman said during a Senate Government committee meeting in February. “I don’t want minors in Arizona being exposed to sexually explicit materials.” 

While Hoffman’s recent statement seemed to imply that the filming of pornography at public schools was a widespread issue, the bill is based on one incident in Mohave County last year. The two teachers involved were a married couple who both worked for Lake Havasu Unified School District. 

“Certainly calling one isolated incident a ‘practice of filming pornography’ is misleading,” Democratic Sen. Priya Sundareshan, of Tucson, told the Arizona Mirror. “Hopefully the governor will veto it. This is definitely not a widespread practice.” 

Hoffman told the Senate Government Committee in February that he believed the bill was necessary after a science teacher at Thunderbolt Middle School filmed explicit content for her OnlyFans channel, a subscriber-based service often used by adult content providers, after hours, at the school. 

The teacher resigned Oct. 31, after students found her OnlyFans content online. Her husband, who was sometimes featured on her channel and who worked at another school in the district, was let go several days later. 

“Astonishingly, there is no law that prohibits this from happening,” Hoffman said in the statement. “These are places where our children go to learn, they should not be locations for the adult entertainment industry. It’s an egregious misuse of taxpayer-funded property, and it needs to end.”

Hoffman did not respond to an interview request for this story. 

Robert J. Campos, a former Maricopa County prosecutor in the sex crimes division and currently a Phoenix defense attorney, agreed with Hoffman’s take that there are not likely any crimes on the books in Arizona that specifically outlaw filming sexually explicit material on school property. 

But in his eyes, this issue would be better served through employer policy than criminal law.

“It sounds like overkill to me,” Campos told the Mirror. “I think it sounds rather drastic to pass a law when you’ve had one incident.”

He added that laws regarding sexual behavior and minors in Arizona typically pertain to sexual activity when a child is present, or involved, or exposing minors to sexually explicit materials, but not to filming content when children are not present. 

The rest of the bill, pertaining to exposing minors to sexually explicit material, has caused concerns for some Democrats. 

Their most significant concerns had to do with the breadth of the bill, which could essentially mean a ban on public libraries making classic works of literature available to minors if those works contain any sexual content, Sundereshan said. 

Sundareshan, who has had two children in the past three years, said that she checked out a book from her local library that extensively covered the process of pregnancy, to help her understand how her body would change. And that book included descriptions of the entire process of pregnancy, including how it begins. She worries informational books like those would no longer be available at public libraries if this law is passed. 

“I benefited from public libraries having the ability to provide me with scientifically accurate information,” she said. 

While SB1696 would apply to schools, the legislature already passed a bill last year, when Republican Doug Ducey was in the governor’s office, that bars schools from using sexually explicit content or referring students to it. 

During a House Government Committee meeting on March 15, Republican Rep. John Gillette, of Kingman, said that he believed some sexually explicit books should be banned, saying that one book intended for middle schoolers included photos of sex acts that he did not believe was appropriate to show to sixth graders. Gillette did not share the name of the book. 

The bill was approved by the House May 15 and the Senate March 2, both along party lines. It was sent to Hobbs to either sign or veto on May 30. 


The post There is no ‘practice of filming pornography’ in Arizona schools  appeared first on Arizona Mirror.

Biden celebrates bipartisanship, 'crisis averted' in Oval Office address

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Biden celebrates bipartisanship, 'crisis averted' in Oval Office address

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden celebrated a "crisis averted" in his first speech to the nation from the Oval Office Friday evening, ready to sign a budget agreement that eliminates the potential for an unprecedented government default that he said would have been catastrophic for the U.S. and global economies.

The bipartisan measure was approved by the Senate late Thursday night after passing the House in yet another late session the night before. Biden is set to sign it at the White House on Saturday with just two days to spare until the Treasury Department has warned the U.S. wouldn't be able to meet its obligations.

"Passing this budget agreement was critical. The stakes could not have been higher," Biden said. "Nothing would have been more catastrophic," he said, than defaulting on the country's debt.

The agreement was hashed out by Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, giving Republicans some of their demanded federal spending cuts but holding the line on major Democratic priorities. It raises the debt limit until 2025 — after the 2024 presidential election — and gives legislators budget targets for the next two years, in hopes of assuring fiscal stability as the political season heats up.

"No one got everything they wanted but the American people got what they needed," Biden said, highlighting the "compromise and consensus" in the deal. "We averted an economic crisis and an economic collapse."

Biden used the opportunity to itemize the achievements of his first term as he runs for reelection, including support for high-tech manufacturing, infrastructure investments and financial incentives for fighting climate change.

"We're cutting spending and bringing deficits down at the same time," Biden said. "We're protecting important priorities from Social Security to Medicare to Medicaid to veterans to our transformational investments in infrastructure and clean energy."

Biden also made a renewed pitch for his governing style, which he described as less shouting and lower temperatures after four years of President Donald Trump.

"I know bipartisanship is hard," he said. "And unity is hard. But we can never stop trying."

Even as he pledged to continue working with Republicans, Biden also drew contrasts with the opposing party, particularly when it comes to raising taxes on the wealthy, something the Democratic president has sought.

It's something he suggested may need to wait until a second term.

"I'm going to be coming back," he said. "With your help, I'm going to win."

Biden's remarks were the most detailed comments from the Democratic president on the compromise he and his staff negotiated. He largely remained quiet publicly during the high-stakes talks, a decision that frustrated some members of his party but was intended to give space for both sides to reach a deal and for lawmakers to vote it to his desk.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that Biden was using the occasion to deliver his first address to the nation from behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office because "he just wanted to make sure that the American people understood how important it was to get this done, how important it was to do this in a bipartisan way."

Biden praised McCarthy and his negotiators for operating in good faith, and all congressional leaders for ensuring swift passage of the legislation. "They acted responsibly, and put the good of the country ahead of politics," he said.

Overall, the 99-page bill restricts spending for the next two years and changes some policies, including imposing new work requirements for older Americans receiving food aid and greenlighting an Appalachian natural gas pipeline that many Democrats oppose. Some environmental rules were modified to help streamline approvals for infrastructure and energy projects — a move long sought by moderates in Congress.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates it could actually expand total eligibility for federal food assistance, with the elimination of work requirements for veterans, homeless people and young people leaving foster care.

The legislation also bolsters funds for defense and veterans, cuts back some new money for Internal Revenue Service and rejects Biden's call to roll back Trump-era tax breaks on corporations and the wealthy to help cover the nation's deficits. But the White House said the IRS' plans to step up enforcement of tax laws for high-income earners and corporations would continue.

The agreement also imposes an automatic overall 1% cut to spending programs if Congress fails approve its annual spending bills — a measure designed to pressure lawmakers of both parties to reach consensus before the end of the fiscal year in September.

In both chambers, more Democrats backed the legislation than Republicans, but both parties were critical to its passage. In the Senate the tally was 63-36 including 46 Democrats and independents and 17 Republicans in favor, 31 Republicans along with four Democrats and one independent who caucuses with the Democrats opposed.

The vote in the House was 314-117.