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Out West Roundup: Arizona governor suspends Uber from autonomous testing

Author: Associated Press - March 30, 2018 - Updated: April 5, 2018

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A vehicle goes by the scene of a fatality where a pedestrian was stuck by an Uber vehicle in autonomous mode, in Tempe, Arizona, Monday, March 19, 2018. A self-driving Uber SUV struck and killed the woman in suburban Phoenix in the first death involving a fully autonomous test vehicle. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Arizona

Arizona governor suspends Uber from autonomous testing

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey suspended Uber’s self-driving vehicle testing privileges last week in the wake of a pedestrian fatality in a Phoenix suburb.

Ducey said in a letter to CEO Dara Khosrowshahi that video footage of the crash raised concerns about the San Francisco-based company’s ability to safely test its technology in Arizona. He said he expects public safety to be the top priority for those who operate self-driving cars.

The move by the Republican governor marks a major step back from his embrace of self-driving vehicles. He previously welcomed Uber and other autonomous vehicle companies to use Arizona as a place for testing under few, if any, regulations. In early March, he authorized self-driving vehicle companies to run tests without a person in the car to act as a safety operator.

On March 21, police in Tempe released a 22-second video showing a woman walking from a darkened area onto a street just before an Uber SUV strikes her. The Volvo was in self-driving mode with a human backup driver at the wheel when it struck 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, police said.

The human backup driver appears to be looking down until just before the time of the impact.

The fatal crash in Tempe was the first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle in the United States.

Uber immediately suspended its self-driving vehicle testing in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

If Uber resumes its self-driving vehicle testing, the governor’s decision means the company will still be prevented from doing so in Arizona, said Ducey’s spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.

Uber released a statement that said it will “continue to help investigators in any way we can, and we’ll keep a dialogue open with the Governor’s office to address any concerns they have.”

Utah

Conservative Utah lets women get birth control from pharmacy

SALT LAKE CITY — Women in conservative Utah will soon be able to get birth control directly from a pharmacist rather than visiting a doctor each time they want to obtain or renew a prescription, a move taken by only a few other states, many of them liberal.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert signed a measure into law this week allowing those 18 and older to get pills, the patch and some other contraceptive devices, putting Utah in line with a handful of other states that have passed similar laws, including California, Colorado and Oregon.

“I think five years ago, it wouldn’t have passed, but I think the world and Utah is changing,” Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler, who sponsored the measure, said. “People are more accepting of the fact that these things make sense and they actually save the state money.”

Public health officials say studies have shown that unplanned births can lead to more money being spent on social programs like Medicaid, which covers the costs of about one-third of all births in the state.

Utah is a Republican-dominated state where most lawmakers and an estimated 60 percent of residents are members of the Mormon church. While the church generally opposes abortion, birth control is treated differently.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourages married couples to have children but says specific birth control decisions are private between a husband and wife. While the church is against elective abortions, there are some circumstances where it can be permissible.

The new law, which unanimously passed the Legislature, takes effect May 8. It will require women to first fill out a form assessing their risks of taking birth control before getting the medication. They also will be required to check in with a doctor every two years to keep getting contraception.

New Mexico

New Mexico lawmakers call for task force on school safety

ALBUQUERQUE — Some of New Mexico’s most influential lawmakers last week proposed creating a task force to explore the challenges of school violence and classroom security after hearing from top law enforcement officers and administrators from a district where two students were shot and killed in December.

Officials gathered at the state Capitol for a hearing before the Legislative Finance Committee on school safety strategies.

Some said it’s the top issue for constituents in their districts and that simple efforts like having working locks on classroom doors will help.

Lawmakers during the recent legislative session approved $46 million for public school security projects over the next four years, but officials have acknowledged it will take more than building upgrades and surveillance cameras to restore a sense of security.

A briefing prepared by legislative analysts said there is no single strategy that can prevent another school shooting. Experts who study mass shootings indicate school violence-related fatalities are not happening more frequently, but are more deadly than past attacks.

The briefing also warns that mental health cannot be used as a single indicator of risk. The report cites other factors such as poverty, exposure to violence, child maltreatment and substance abuse as better predictors of a person’s potential for violence.

Judge quashes New Mexico congresswoman’s restraining order

ALBUQUERQUE — A state district judge has quashed a restraining order obtained by New Mexico Congresswoman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham against a former intern.

Lujan Grisham applied for the restraining order after Riley Del Rey disrupted her speeches at the recent state Democratic Party’s preprimary convention and another event.

In an order issued late last week, Judge Clay Campbell wrote that Del Rey has a constitutional right to political speech and isn’t accused of making any threats of violence against the congresswoman.

Del Rey is facing allegations that she became violent as officers removed her from the convention, where she shouted and sounded an air horn to disrupt the congresswoman’s speech.

Del Rey contends she was discriminated against and fired from her internship in 2015 for being transgender.

Kansas

‘Lowly staff pharmacist’ had an idea that led to $20M in free meds for poor Kansans

KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Tim Reel was tired of having to destroy perfectly good medicine.

Reel is a self-described “lowly staff pharmacist” at prescription drug services giant OptumRx in Overland Park, Kansas. In that role he gets shipments of unused medications sent back regularly. Some have dented or scuffed packaging. Others come from nursing homes or hospitals after patients no longer need them or have died.

“I asked my boss if we could donate it,” Reel said. “He said ‘I don’t think we can. There’s no law that allows it.’”

That was 10 years ago.

Last week Reel looked on from the back of a room at the Duchesne Clinic in Kansas City, Kansas, while leaders of OptumRx, United Healthcare and Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer celebrated $20 million in prescription drugs donated to tens of thousands of poor Kansans.

It all started with that conversation between Reel and his boss, who was a member of the Kansas State Board of Pharmacy, a regulatory group based in Topeka that licenses the state’s pharmacies.

The board worked with the Kansas Legislature on a bill to loosen the law and allow donations of unused, unopened prescription drugs.

Colyer, who was a legislator at the time, said most lawmakers didn’t even realize it was prohibited.

“A lot of people were just surprised, like, ‘Why do we have to do this?’” Colyer said. “And then it was like, ‘Yeah, let’s turn on the light.’”

The Kansas Unused Medication Donation Act, passed in 2008, was the first of its kind in the nation. It allows adult care homes, mail service pharmacies and medical care facilities to donate medication in its original packaging to 38 safety-net clinics and medical centers throughout the state that serve low-income and uninsured Kansans.

There are some exclusions: No expired medications and no controlled substances, such as opioid painkillers, are allowed.

But staff members at Duchesne Clinic said that other than that it’s just like ordering medicine from a private-sector supplier. But it’s all free, even the shipping, thanks to a grant from the state health department.

Associated Press

Associated Press