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Lucy: Mount Elden Middle School's smile machine

There’s one name that brings smiles to just about every face at Mount Elden Middle School: Lucy.

During the school day she can be found cruising the halls, checking in with friends at the lunchroom, playing ball at recess and comforting friends in the nurse’s office with Assistant Principal Donna Natseway. She gets paid in hugs, scritches and dog kibble.

Lucy is Mount Elden’s in-house therapy dog.

“Everyone just loves her,” Nasteway said. “The kids, the teachers, the staff and the parents. She loves coming to school each day.”

Lucy is a 3-year-old labradoodle, a mix between a Labrador retriever and poodle. The dogs were originally bred to be hypoallergenic guide dogs. According to petmed.com, they make great family pets, especially families with allergies, and shed less than most dogs.

With her big brown eyes and curly white and gold fur, Lucy’s a favorite at the school wherever she goes. Her sweet, quiet demeanor and soft fur just beg adults and students to bury their fingers in her coat and stroke her head.

“I sometimes have teachers come in during their prep time and ask if they can have ‘Lucy time.’ They’ll take her back to their classroom for a while and then return with a big smile,” Nasteway said. “I have a lot of people tell me that she’s the best part of their day. She immediately diffuses any negative feelings for both adults and students.”

MORE LAID BACK

Since Lucy stepped foot inside Mount Elden three years ago, the entire vibe of the school has changed, Nasteway said. Everyone -- teachers, staff, students and parents -- are more relaxed and the atmosphere in the school is more laid back.

Lucy also greets everyone who comes in the front door at the beginning of the school day with Nasteway and walks the halls between classes. She also makes trips to classrooms during lessons, wandering up and down the aisles of desks getting petting, rubbing and scratches from all sides.

“I think having her is kind of interesting, kind of cool,” said seventh grader Alaina Baca, who has several pets of her own at home. “It’s cool that she doesn’t shed. This is the first school that I’ve been to that has a dog.”

One of Lucy’s favorite places to visit is the school nurse’s office, where she likes to lean against students who might have a scraped knee or who are just not feeling well.

“She always knows when someone is upset,” Nasteway said.

Lucy will immediately start moving toward someone who is upset, including parents. Nasteway always asks students and adults if it’s OK that Lucy visits with them. Some people don’t like dogs or have had bad experiences with dogs or they may just be busy at the moment, Nasteway said. Interacting will Lucy is always voluntary. Lucy is also always on a leash and has an adult nearby wherever she goes. She’s not allowed to wander the school alone.

TRAINED IN THERAPY

Lucy actually belongs to Nasteway, who purposely got her to be a therapy dog for the school. She and Lucy went through basic obedience training and therapy dog training. She’s been a registered therapy dog for two years.

In order to become registered, Lucy and Nasteway had to be evaluated by Pet Partners, an organization created by two doctors and four veterinarians in 1970 to train volunteers and their pets how to become therapy teams. The organization registers 10 different species of therapy pets, including dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas, alpacas, birds, pigs and rats.

Lucy had to show that she could sit, lie down and stay on command. She also had to stay in place until she was called. Lucy also had to be comfortable with wheelchairs and walkers, loud noises, crowds and surprise guests dressed in weird clothing. Lucy and Nasteway also had to go through a walking pattern where an evaluator would ask them to randomly stop, lie down or sit and stay.

Once registered with the group, the animals and their handlers are able to work in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and a variety of other volunteer programs, such Northern Arizona University’s stress-free zones during exams. Nasteway is hoping to expand the number of places that she and Lucy volunteer in the near future, such as the reading program at the Flagstaff Library, once the two of them can find the time.


Washington
AP
Moscow meeting in June 2017 under scrutiny in Trump probe

WASHINGTON — Earlier this year, a Russian-American lobbyist and another businessman discussed over coffee in Moscow an extraordinary meeting they had attended 12 months earlier: a gathering at Trump Tower with President Donald Trump's son, his son-in-law and his then-campaign chairman.

The Moscow meeting in June, which has not been previously disclosed, is now under scrutiny by investigators who want to know why the two men met in the first place and whether there was some effort to get their stories straight about the Trump Tower meeting just weeks before it would become public, The Associated Press has learned.

Congressional investigators have questioned both men — lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer and former Trump business partner — and obtained their text message communications, people familiar with the investigation told the AP.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team also has been investigating the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which occurred weeks after Trump had clinched the Republican presidential nomination and which his son attended with the expectation of receiving damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. A grand jury has already heard testimony about the meeting, which in addition to Donald Trump Jr., also included Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, and his then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The focus of the congressional investigators was confirmed by three people familiar with their probe, including two who demanded anonymity to discuss the sensitive inquiry.

One of those people said Akhmetshin told congressional investigators that he asked for the Moscow meeting with Kaveladze to argue that they should go public with the details of the Trump Tower meeting before they were caught up in a media maelstrom. Akhmetshin also told the investigators that Kaveladze said people in Trump's orbit were asking about Akhmetshin's background, the person said.

Akhmetshin's lawyer, Michael Tremonte, declined to comment.

Scott Balber, a lawyer for Kaveladze, confirmed that his client and Akhmetshin met over coffee and that the Trump Tower meeting a year earlier was "obviously discussed." But Balber denied his client had been contacted by associates of Trump before he took the meeting with Akhmetshin, or had been aware of plans to disclose the Trump Tower gathering to the U.S. government.

Balber said the men did not discuss strategy or how to line up their stories, and did not meet in anticipation of the Trump Tower meeting becoming public and attracting a barrage of news media attention.

He said Akhmetshin did convey during coffee the possibility that his name could come out in connection with the Trump Tower meeting and cause additional, unwanted scrutiny given that he had been linked in earlier news reports to Russian military intelligence, coverage that Akhmetshin considered unfair. Akhmetshin has denied ongoing ties with Russian intelligence, but acknowledged that he served in the Soviet military in the late 1980s as part of a counterintelligence unit.

"That was the impetus," Balber said of the men's get-together. "It had absolutely nothing to do with anticipation of the meeting coming out in the press."

The meeting in Moscow occurred during a tumultuous time for the administration. Mueller had been appointed as special counsel weeks earlier following the firing in May of FBI Director James Comey, and associates of Trump were under pressure to disclose any contacts they had with Russians during the campaign.

The June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower first became public on July 8 in a report in The New York Times.

The White House initially said the meeting, which also involved a Russian lawyer who for years has advocated against U.S. sanctions of Russia, was primarily about an adoption program, but days after the story was published, Trump Jr. released emails showing he took the meeting after being told he would receive damaging information on Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aide his father's candidacy.

Mueller's investigation has included scrutiny of the White House's drafting of the initial incomplete statement.

As part of their inquiry, congressional investigators are reviewing copies of the text messages between the two men that were turned over, Balber said. He declined to say what the text messages showed. One person familiar with the messages said they reflect the logistics of the meeting during a trip by Akhmetshin to Moscow.


Local
ARIZONA SUPREME COURT
Arizona Supreme Court upholds Medicaid expansion fee

PHOENIX -- The state's high court on Friday upheld the legality of an assessment on hospitals that helps pay for health care for 400,000 Arizonans.

In a unanimous decision, the justices rejected the contention by the lawyer for some Republican lawmakers that the levy, approved by the Legislature in 2013, was illegally enacted.

Attorney Christina Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute argued that it really was a tax, making it subject to a 1992 voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. The levy passed with a simple majority.

But Chief Justice Scott Bales, writing for the court, said the assessment does not fit within the legal definition of what is a "tax'' subject to the supermajority requirement.

He also said the constitutional provision does not apply in cases of assessments approved not by lawmakers but instead by a state agency. That, Bales said, is the case with the $290 million being raised here, with the levy being imposed on hospitals by Tom Betlach, director of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program.

And the justices also rejected Sandefur's arguments that even if the assessment is imposed by Betlach, the authorization for him to do that should have been approved by a two-thirds vote in the first place. The justices said that's not the way the constitution is worded.

Sandefur blasted the ruling, calling it "a major blow to taxpayer rights.''

"Essentially what this court has done is created a very dangerous loophole,'' she told Capitol Media Services.

"It allows legislators to call taxes 'assessments' and give away the taxing power to an unelected and unaccountable administrator,'' Sandefur said. "We believe this is exactly the opposite of what the voters intended.''

She said voters who want to plug that loophole will need to go back to the ballot with a new amendment.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, who opposed the Medicaid expansion and was one of the lawmakers who sued to overturn the levy, said he does not think voters wanted the exception to the supermajority requirement that the high court says exists.

"It is clear Arizonans support requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature when taking more of their money,'' he said. And Mesnard said that's particularly true in cases like this involving hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

But Mesnard said it he's not sure at this point if it will take yet another constitutional amendment to cure the problem -- if lawmakers can restrain themselves.

"It will be incumbent on the Legislature moving forward to resist the temptation to use the court's opinion in this case to circumvent the taxpayer protections intended,'' he said. "We must not abuse the flexibility they have given us.''

Friday's ruling is more than an assurance that government-paid healthcare will continue for the nearly 400,000 Arizonans who were added to the state's Medicaid rolls because of the assessment. It also is a significant victory for former Gov. Jan Brewer who came up with the plan to expand the state's Medicaid program.

"Medicaid restoration honored the will of the voters, saved lives, prevented rural hospitals from closing and preserved the Arizona economy,'' the former governor said in a statement.

But the ruling is more mixed for current Gov. Doug Ducey.

On one hand, Ducey's administration defended the legality of the assessment in court.

But Ducey, who was state treasurer at the time of the 2013 vote, never wanted the expansion of Medicaid, actively opposing the legislation. In fact, he charged that Scott Smith, his foes in the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary, was too liberal on Medicaid expansion.

That ambivalence was reflected in Ducey's own statement.

"The court has spoken, and I respect its ruling,'' the governor said. "The state of Arizona will continue to follow the law passed by the Legislature in 2013.''

It was Brewer who decided in 2013 to take advantage of a provision of the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid coverage.

That law provided for the federal government to pick up most of the costs for expanding health coverage to those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, currently about $28,180 for a family of three. Before expansion, AHCCCS covered only those below the poverty line, or $20,420 at current levels for the same-size family.

But to qualify for those federal dollars, the state had to first restore coverage for childless adults. Enrollment for them had been frozen years earlier in a budget-savings maneuver.

To cover that cost and other state expenses, Brewer proposed giving Betlach authority to impose a charge on hospitals.

Hospitals did not object because Betlach crafted the levy so that every hospital chain actually would make money from the deal: More patients with government-provided insurance coverage means fewer bills written off as bad debt because of a person's inability to pay.

The plan was adopted by a simple majority of the House and Senate, with the Republican governor cobbling together a coalition of Democrats and some members of her own party to vote for it.

But the Republican lawmakers who voted against expansion sued, contending the levy was illegally enacted. And enough of them opposed the assessment to block it if actually required a two-thirds vote.

Sandefur told the justice at arguments last month that 1992 constitutional amendment requires a supermajority for anything that increases state revenues. But the high court did not see it that way.

Bales said the mandate first applies to "the imposition of any new tax.''

He conceded that word is not defined. But Bales said he and his colleagues said they do not believe it applies in this case.

"The assessment is imposed only on hospitals, which cannot pass on the costs to patients or third-party payors,'' Bales wrote. And he noted Betlach even was given the power to exempt certain hospitals who might not benefit because they take few Medicaid patients, like the Mayo Clinic.

And Bales said while the levy does serve a broad public purpose -- more people with health insurance -- it was designed to provide financial relief to hospitals, the very group paying it.

The justices also dismissed Sandefur's contention that it takes a two-thirds vote for the Legislature to authorize a state agency to impose a fee in the first place. They said that's not the way the 1992 amendment is worded.

That leads back to Sandefur's belief that another amendment may be necessary.

"It's important to go back to the voters and make sure that their voice, which they made loud and clear over 25 years ago, is actually heard,'' she said. "It's a shame that the voters would have to do that and would have to clarify to the court that when they said that a two-thirds supermajority should be required for any revenue-raising measures, that they meant it.''


News
top story
Man involved in Flagstaff road-rage shooting found dead from self-inflicted gunshot wound

A man accused of shooting a person during a parking dispute in Railroad Springs killed himself last week.

William Frost, 69, was found dead Nov. 9 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the backyard of his home on West Zephyr Avenue.

He was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on Oct. 5 after allegedly shooting William Cummings, 21, in the cheek on Oct. 3 during a road-rage incident.

Frost pleaded not-guilty to the charge in Flagstaff Justice Court and had bonded out of jail at the time of his death.

Frost almost hit Cummings' car while it was idled on Northwestern Street. Cummings’ injuries were described by police as “non-life-threatening.”

According to Flagstaff Police Public Information Officer Sgt. Cory Runge, Frost was turning left onto Northwestern Street from Route 66 when he nearly hit Cummings, a resident of a nearby townhouse complex.

A friend of Frost told police that Frost had been upset about his recent arrest and was suffering from an unnamed medical condition, according to the police report.

Police did not find a suicide note in Frost's home but his friend said he received an email from Frost on Nov. 9 stating that he would rather die than speak to a family member.

Police could find no personal statements from Frost mentioning his recent arrest.

Frost had grown increasingly agitated with people parking on the street near his home and was described by Runge as a “vocal complainer” about the parking situation in the Railroad Springs neighborhood.


Benji Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun file 

Northern Arizona’s Elijah Marks (3) prepares to stiff arm a defender last Saturday against Montana State at the Walkup Skydome.


 Scott Bales


William Frost