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Associated Press

Uber’s final frontier: Upstate New York

Brian Cook‘s trip to Buffalo to cheer on Princeton’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament was, for him, a journey back to a simpler time, when hailing a ride meant standing on a corner and waving your hands to flag down a taxi.

“For a 19-year-old, that’s unknown,” said Cook, who flew in from Chicago to see his brother play in Princeton’s first-round game against Notre Dame. “I take Uber everywhere, always.”

Upstate New York, essentially everything outside of the metropolitan New York City area, is Uber’s final frontier: the largest area in the continental U.S. where app-based ride-hailing companies remain banned.

Many in such upstate cities as Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and Syracuse are hoping this is the year that distinction ends, but they will have to persuade the state’s legislature first. Previous efforts have repeatedly foundered, under pressure from the taxi industry and lawmakers who say they want more stringent regulations.

“I can go to New York City, Philadelphia, D.C. and I can utilize the app, but I can’t utilize it in my own city,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, one of nine upstate mayors to recently write to state leaders urging them to approve the expansion.

Currently, Uber and Lyft are banned outside of the New York City area. Every state except Alaska and New York now has statewide ride-hailing regulations — though the service remains unavailable in many rural areas. Austin, Texas, is the nation’s largest city without Uber. The company pulled out after local leaders required drivers to be fingerprinted.

New York’s decision on whether to allow ride-hailing statewide could come within weeks. Supporters and upstate mayors back proposals from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Republican-led Senate but have concerns about legislation in the Democrat-controlled Assembly. That bill would authorize local communities to pass their own regulations on ride-hailing, and impose higher taxes and insurance costs.

But Uber has faced a spate of recent controversies, including allegations that it routinely ignores sexual harassment, video footage of its CEO profanely berating a driver and most recently, accusations that it used data on its users to evade and deceive authorities.

“The headlines about Uber are indicative of a company that does not understand its responsibility,” said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a Democrat and the sponsor of the Assembly bill, which he said is fair to the company while ensuring protections for riders. “Uber has a lot of answering to do. And we need to be certain that we’re writing legislation for an industry and not one company.”

Taxi cab owners say lawmakers should delay ride-hailing regulations because of the allegations against Uber. They’ve long argued that Uber and Lyft should be held to the same standards and regulations as taxi cabs — and drivers should be fingerprinted and subjected to an independent background check.

“This shouldn’t be a matter of just saying, ‘Hey, come on in,'” said John Tomassi, president of the Upstate Transportation Association.

Uber is betting that March Madness might help tip the debate in its favor. Buffalo is hosting early round tournament games this year, the latest attempt by local leaders to showcase a city working to improve its image and reverse decades of population loss and economic stagnation.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Eight more spots open Sunday for Sweet 16

A look at some interesting things as we head into Sunday, when the NCAA Tournament will finalize its Sweet 16:

SOMETIMES …

Southern Cal‘s De’Anthony Melton got as philosophical as a basketball player can get. When asked about the Trojans’ second-round game with Baylor, he answered: “It doesn’t matter who’s better because sometimes the better team wins, the better team loses. So it just depends on who can play harder and who can get stops at the end of the game.”

CATCHING UP

The Trojans lead the nation in winning games in which they trailed by at least 10 points, including the Trojans’ two wins in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Andy Enfield has started to approach big deficits differently as the season has gone along.

“Early in the season we used to get really mad at our players for falling behind, especially with teams we thought we were equally talented or had more talent than,” he said. “But now, at halftime the other night, we said, ‘Hey, this is great, we’re only down 8. We were down 15 the other night. This is great.’ And our players started laughing.”

OVERRATED SLEEP

With quick turnarounds between games and long travel, sleep becomes a rarity especially for coaches and their staff.

“Sleep is overrated this time of year and this is what you work so hard for,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “So to get to this point, college coaches, we’re all – we were all the kind of guys that probably had to cram anyway back in our college days. We probably weren’t the best, most prepared students. So cramming is something I think we probably practice.”

STRANGE COINCIDENCE?

Kentucky and Wichita State face each other Sunday for the first time since they met in the NCAA Tournament since 2014. In that game Wichita State was the unbeaten No. 1 seed while the Wildcats were a No. 8 seed, a placing many said was well under what they should have been.

On Sunday, the 10th-seeded Shockers, a team many feel is underseeded, face third-seeded Kentucky, a team with national championship consideration.

“The bottom line is the only two guys that remember that game, other than you media people, are Coach Cal and I. Everyone else is new,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said of Kentucky’s John Calipari. “What I thought was really ironic that year is we were such a polarizing team. We deserve a 1 seed. We don’t deserve a 1 seed. And you’re either on one side of the fence or the other. Then we get the 1 seed, but we get Kentucky as an 8. I think they hedged their bet a little bit.

“But in the end, it took a loss to validate our team, which I think is really ironic and sad.”

30/30

Sunday’s game will be only the second time in NCAA Tournament history that 30-win teams have played against one another in the second round. Wichita State is 31-4, Kentucky is 30-5.

In 2008, No. 2 Tennessee (30-4) beat No. 7 Butler (30-3) in overtime, 76-71.

FAN FAVORITES

Few teams receive negative reaction from fans as Duke does. The old bumper sticker says: “My favorite team is Carolina. My second-favorite team is whoever’s playing Duke.”

On Sunday, when the Blue Devils play South Carolina, not only is the arena in Greenville, South Carolina, but there will also be a strong contingent of North Carolina faithful.

“We were playing in the ACC Tournament where we were playing a game and not only are the opposing fans there but Carolina’s fans are also there waiting to boo us, too. So we’ve played in games that are supposed to be neutral where it felt like an away game. There’s not much difference,” Duke’s Grayson Allen said.

NO No. 1

It isn’t easy being the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was the latest to find out, losing 65-62 to eighth-seeded Wisconsin in the second round.

For the 11th time in the past 14 years, the No. 1 overall seed won’t win the NCAA title and yet another reigning national champion fails to get past the Sweet 16. Florida was the last to do so when it repeated in 2007.

Besides this year, the No. 1 seeds to lose in the round of 32 are Kansas in 2010, Pittsburgh in 2011, Gonzaga in 2013, Wichita State in 2014 and Villanova in 2015.

“There should be nothing negative about this tournament. This is the greatest, I think, sporting event in our country,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Just being in it … we can’t take it for granted. It’s so special to be a part of it. Every time you win and you get a chance to advance, cherish it. You’re playing the best teams in the country. You’re going to come down to games like this. We had a game like this against Kansas last year and we came out of the good side of it. We had a game like this against N.C. State two years ago, and we had a shot to win it and we missed it.”

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

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Powerful constitution revision panel that could bring big changes gears up

A powerful panel that has the power to alter the Florida Constitution is getting down to work.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission is holding its first meeting on Monday.

The 37-member panel meets every 20 years and is allowed to propose changes to the state constitution. The commission’s amendments will go before voters during the 2018 election.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder as chairman. Beruff challenged U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in last year’s election.

The members of the commission are appointed by the governor, the president of the state Senate, the speaker of the Florida House and the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Attorney General Pam Bondi is automatically a member of the panel.

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Thousands show for Vern Buchanan town hall

Congressman Vern Buchanan was greeted with a huge turnout – and chants, boos and cheers – during a town hall meeting.

The Herald-Tribune reports that critics of President Donald Trump and the GOP agenda in Congress packed the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and peppered Buchanan for more than an hour with sharp questions Saturday. Nearly 1,800 people attended the event.

The event mirrored town halls held by GOP lawmakers across the country, which have drawn large, boisterous crowds of people unhappy with the direction of the federal government.

Most of the questions focused on Trump and the GOP effort to replace the Affordable Care Act, but the audience also brought up issues ranging from gun control to climate change and means testing Social Security.

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Trump admin’s contract notices call for 30-foot-high wall at Mexican border

The Trump administration wants to build a 30-foot-high border wall that looks good from the north side and is difficult to climb or cut through, according to a pair of contract notices posted to a government website further detailing President Donald Trump’s promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” at the Mexican border.

The notices were made public late Friday by Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security Department agency that will oversee the project and eventually patrol and maintain the wall. The proposals are due to the government by March 29.

One of the CBP contract requests calls for a solid concrete wall, while the other asks for proposals for a see-through structure. Both require the wall to sunk at least six feet into the ground and include 25- and 50-foot automated gates for pedestrians and vehicles. The proposed wall must also be built in a such a way that it would take at least an hour to cut through it with a “sledgehammer, car jack, pick axe, chisel, battery operated impact tools, battery operated cutting tools, Oxy/acetylene torch or other similar hand-held tools.”

The government will award a contract based on 30-foot-wide sample walls that are to be built in San Diego.

This is the latest step in the Trump administration plan to build a border wall. Last month CBP put out a call for “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10.

Trump has bragged in recent days that the wall is ahead of schedule, though it’s unclear from the latest contract notices if any firms have submitted wall proposals or if any such submissions have been rejected.

The government has not said where the wall will be built, though the contract notices suggest some pieces of a new wall could replace existing fencing that stretches over about 700 miles of the roughly 2,000-mile border. The current fencing of mixed construction, including 15-foot steel posts set inches apart that are designed to keep people from crossing and shorter posts that are intended to block cars. Border Patrol agents are constantly repairing holes in the structure.

Trump has long promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, which he has said is necessary to stop the flow of immigrants crossing the border illegally and drug smugglers.

This week the president sent a budget proposal to Congress that included a $2.6 billion down payment for the wall. The total cost for the project is unclear, but the Government Accountability Office estimates it would cost about $6.5 million a mile for fence to keep pedestrians from crossing the border and about $1.8 million a mile for a vehicle barrier.

Congressional Republicans have said Trump’s wall would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion and Trump has suggested $12 billion.

An internal report prepared for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly estimated the cost of building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border at about $21 billion, according to a U.S. government official who is involved in border issues. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public.

That report proposed an initial phase that would extend fences 26 miles and a second wave that would add 151 miles, plus 272 “replacement” miles where fences are already installed, according to the official. Those two phases would cost $5 billion.

It is unclear how soon Congress might act on that request or how much money lawmakers will ultimately approve for the wall. Democrats and some Republicans have said a border-long wall is unnecessary.

The Department of Homeland Security reported earlier this month that the number of border arrests dropped about 44 percent from January to February, the lowest monthly tallies since at the least the start of the 2012 budget year.

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Prosecutors: No crime in Florida inmate’s hot-shower death

Prosecutors in Florida have found no evidence of a crime in the death of a prison inmate left for nearly two hours in a hot shower, concluding that he died accidentally in part because of undiagnosed heart disease and suffered no burn injuries.

The memo released Friday by the office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle ends a lengthy criminal probe into the 2012 death of 50-year-old Darren Rainey, a mentally troubled man serving a two-year sentence on a cocaine charge.

An attorney for Rainey’s family, Milton Grimes of Los Angeles, said in a statement that the family is “disappointed and heartbroken” no charges will be brought.

“This is not justice for Darren, for his family, nor for the mentally ill who have been subject to similar abuse and mistreatment,” Grimes said.

The investigation found no evidence that officers at the Dade Correctional Institution regularly used the hot shower to punish or torture inmates, as some of them claimed after Rainey’s death. Assistant State Attorneys Kathleen Hoague and Johnette Hardiman said in the 72-page memo that one inmate’s assertions that Rainey was screaming for help and had been scalded to death were unfounded.

“The evidence fails to show that any correctional officer acted in reckless disregard of Rainey’s life,” they wrote.

Rainey was taken to the shower on June 23, 2012, after he had smeared feces on himself, the walls of his cell and his bedsheets. The shower, which was operated from an adjoining room by a corrections officer to prevent inmates from turning it off, was activated but Rainey refused to stand under the water, according to the memo.

Officer Roland Clarke told Rainey he couldn’t go back to his cell until he washed off. Finally, Rainey said he would comply and asked for soap, which he was given, the memo says.

After starting to wash, Rainey said, “No, I don’t want to do this,” and leaned on a wall away from the water, Clarke told investigators. Officers continued to check on him, and finally after about two hours the decision was made to take Rainey out of the shower, but he was found lying face up in about 3 inches (8 centimeters) of water with no pulse and not breathing.

One inmate, Harold Hempstead, said he heard Rainey yelling and kicking at the shower door, saying, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it any more” and “I can’t take it no more.” The prosecutors found Hempstead’s claims, which he repeated to several news outlets, were not supported by other evidence, including video footage from inside the prison.

“Hempstead’s testimony is inherently unreliable and therefore not credible,” Hoague and Hardiman wrote.

Several witnesses said Rainey’s skin appeared to be peeled back or reddish in some spots — one inmate claimed he looked like a “boiled lobster” — but an autopsy found this “slippage” was most likely caused by friction or pressure on his moist and warm skin. This could have happened during efforts to revive him, such as chest compressions, or when officers carried him out of the shower initially, the memo said.

The medical examiner, Emma Lew, attributed Rainey’s death to a combination of his schizophrenia, heart disease and confinement in the small shower space. She said schizophrenic people can have nervous system reactions that trigger a heart attack if they have an underlying condition.

“It is not substantiated that the temperatures inside the shower room were excessively high,” Lew wrote.

The prosecutors determined that corrections officers did not commit murder or manslaughter in Rainey’s death and that taking him to the shower was appropriate under the circumstances.

“Placing an inmate who has defecated upon himself in a shower to decontaminate himself is not conduct that is criminally reckless,” they wrote. “There was no evidence of any intent to harm Rainey.”

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Look for comedic parents in NCAA Tournament crowd on Saturday

A look at some interesting things as we head into Saturday, the first day of the second round of the NCAA Tournament:

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

There will be plenty of parent shots during two games Saturday.

No. 12 seed Xavier and assistant coach Luke Murray, son of actor-comedian Bill Murray, faces third-seeded Florida State in Orlando, Florida.

Meanwhile, Charlie Hall, son of former SNLers Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Brad Hall, plays for eighth-seeded Northwestern, which faces top-seeded Gonzaga in Salt Lake City.

TURNING IT OVER

How’s this for a matchup? Fifth-seeded Notre Dame, tied for fifth in Division I in fewest turnovers, faces fourth-seeded West Virginia, which is No. 1 in forcing turnovers.

“They don’t let us pick (who we play),” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “I mean, if you’re asking me, would we have picked them? Absolutely not. … I guess that’s why you play.”

Notre Dame point guard Matt Farrell will be the focus of West Virginia’s defense, one game after facing Florida State.

“Being in the passing lanes, contesting full-court pressure. I think there’s a little more difference, a little more havoc, I would say, or reckless, you got guys everywhere,” he said. “So, we just need to stay poised with the ball. We need guys to be receivers.”

ST. PATRICK’S DAY

Seems the Irish holiday means something to college coaches as well.

“There’s always a little buzz around our university and our place on St. Patrick’s Day. There’s no question about it,” Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey said. “St. Patrick’s Day is great when you’re still alive in the NCAA Tournament. It sucks when you’re not.”

OVERSEEDING

Overall No. 1 seed Villanova continues its defense of its national championship by facing No. 8 seed Wisconsin in the second round on Saturday. The Badgers have won more tournament games than any other team in the last four years (11 entering this tournament). Wildcats coach Jay Wright couldn’t have answered the question enough about whether the Badgers were under-seeded.

“I agree with you exactly. I agree with you 100 percent,” Wright said. “They are a great 8 seed. … We just look at it like next game. We love playing great teams, we really do, and we look forward to it.”

HEIGHT ADVANTAGE

Iowa State‘s tallest starter is 6-foot-8 and Purdue will counter with its impressive front line featuring 6-9, 250-pound double-double machine Caleb Swanigan and 7-2 reserve Isaac Haas. One of the Cyclones was able to steal some information via cable TV.

“With their size and their height and their ability, no one person can do that,” Iowa State forward Naz Mitrou-Long said of stopping the Boilermakers. “They’ve been a force down there all year long. We’ve been watching them, especially with the Big Ten Network, we were able the see a bunch of their games.”

VIDEO GEEK

Xavier players and coaches were giving their video coordinator plenty of praise – and coach Chris Mack even confessed about his own abilities.

“Our video coordinator, Ty Sampson, he’s incredible at what he does,” Mack said. “Not only is he good at getting instant film, he’s that type of guy, when your computer goes out and you’re offline, he can get it back. He hits Control X, Z, F1 and it’s back up and running. He’s special. He does a great job.

“I’m not that bad, though, with technology. I’m not going to sit up here like a dinosaur and act like I don’t know technology, but when things go offline, I usually get frazzled.”

NERVES & JITTERS

Virginia‘s London Perrantes, who has advanced to the round of 32 each of the last four years with the Cavaliers, explained the difference of how players feel from the first-round game to the second round.

“First game, obviously, nerves come into play,” he said. “… It’s always those first-game jitters of a big tournament like this. We got those out of the way now.”

CENTURY MARK

North Carolina and Kansas are the kings of the 100-plus teams. The Tar Heels’ 103-64 win over Texas Southern on Friday was their fifth game scoring more than 100 points. Kansas got its fifth with a 100-62 victory over UC Davis on Friday night.

Kentucky is next with three.

The record for points is 117 by Arkansas in a 41-point win over Georgia State in 1991.

DAVID SPEAKS

Northwestern won its first-ever NCAA Tournament game and the Wildcats’ second-round reward is top-seeded Gonzaga. One of the Wildcats used an old tale to explain their feelings.

“They’re one of the best teams in the country, so you kind of understand that narrative that people are trying to give off. I would be OK with being the David in this situation, just from my upbringing, I understand the backstory of that one. That would mean a lot to everybody in the program and I think it would be a great story for the country,” Bryant McIntosh said.

“It’s going to be tough. It’s not going to just be one stone that we have to throw in order to beat them. We’re going to have to play a really great 40 minutes and try and keep them out of transition, try and limit their paint touches and keep them off the boards. So it’s going to be really a tough task.”

AUSSIE, AUSSIE

Team meetings are a little different at Saint Mary’s. Seems the natives of Australia outnumber the Americans.

“It’s the best,” Australia Joe Rahon said. “We outnumber them eight to seven. So we’ll hold court.”

Aussie Calvin Hermanson jokingly agrees with Rahon.

“It’s important that we hold down the majority in the locker room,” he said. “We keep them in their place.”

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

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Boot, wheelbarrow, thimble ousted from Monopoly board game

The boot has been booted, the wheelbarrow has been wheeled out, and the thimble got the thumbs down in the latest version of the board game Monopoly. In their place will be a Tyrannosaurus rex, a penguin and a rubber ducky.

More than 4.3 million voters from 146 countries weighed in on which tokens they wanted to see in future versions of the property-acquisition game, which is based on the real-life streets of Atlantic City. Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based Hasbro announced the winners Friday morning.

Jonathan Berkowitz, Hasbro’s senior vice president of marketing, grew up playing the game with his family.

“While I’m sad to see the iconic thimble, boot, and wheelbarrow tokens go, it will be fun to have some new, fan-sourced tokens in the mix,” he said. “Personally, I’ve always especially liked the boot token, but I’m excited to move onto the T. rex.”

There were 64 contenders, including a winking emoji, a hashtag, a clunky ’80s-style cellphone and a pair of bunny slippers.

The existing Scottish Terrier, battleship, racecar, top hat and cat tokens will carry on.

The Scottie was top dog in the competition, leading all contenders with 212,476 votes. The T. rex was second with 207,954, and the hat was third with 167,582. The car was fourth with 165,083; the ducky was fifth with 160,485; the cat was sixth with 154,165; the penguin waddled into seventh place with 146,661; and the battleship made the final cut with 134,704 votes.

The closest unsuccessful candidate was the tortoise, which fell nearly 5,700 votes short.

A rain boot got the least support, with 7,239 votes.

The next version of the game will go on sale with the new tokens in the fall.

The board game was “born” on March 19, 1935, when Parker Brothers acquired the rights to it. In the decades since, an estimated 1 billion people have weighed the merits of buying up utilities and railroads or trying to hit it big with Boardwalk hotels.

The original 10 tokens were an iron, purse, lantern, racecar, thimble, shoe, top hat, battleship, cannon and a rocking horse.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Florida’s economy still growing, but budget cuts loom

Florida’s economy is continuing to grow according to new preliminary estimates from state economists.

State officials are meeting Friday to draw up new forecasts to predict how much the state will collect in taxes.

The forecasts will be used by state legislators when writing this year’s budget.

Preliminary forecasts prepared by economists predict the state’s main budget account will grow by as much as 4.5 percent during the fiscal year that ends in June. Those forecasts estimate growth of around 4 percent for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

If the forecasts hold, legislators could have nearly $180 million more to spend.

But it probably won’t be enough to stop legislators from considering budget cuts. Citing a potential shortfall over the next few years, House Republicans are planning to cut $1.4 billion.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone involved in hit-and-run

Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone says a car he was riding in this week in Florida was struck by a hit-and-run driver.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Stone described the incident as “suspicious,” coming as he is under scrutiny for his communication with the Russian-linked hacker Guccifer 2.0.

Stone tweeted that he was uninjured in the crash except for blurry vision in his right eye.

Stone says the car he was riding in was “T-boned” by a large, gray four-door car with a tinted windshield.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office says the driver the vehicle did not stop or make any attempt to exchange information. Police says Stone was a passenger in a car driven by John P. Kakanis, 29, of Hallandale Beach, Florida.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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