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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri's most prolific political financier gave nearly $1.3 million to various political causes in the closing weeks of 2013.
 
Online state campaign finance reports show that retired investment firm executive Rex Sinquefield gave $750,000 to Teachgreat.org, $495,000 to Grow Missouri and $25,000 to Missourians for Excellence in Government during the final weeks of December.
 
Teachgreat.org is backing a potential ballot initiative that would end tenure protections for public school teachers and instead make their employment contingent on student achievement.
 
Grow Missouri is backing a potential ballot initiative that would cut Missouri's income tax rates.
 
Missourians for Excellence in Government is a political action committee that has funded candidates, most notably St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
 
Online records show Sinquefield gave more than $3.8 million in Missouri political contributions in 2013.
Thursday, 02 January 2014 13:46
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CHICAGO (AP) - The new year is bringing relief to some Illinoisans newly insured under the nation's health care law. Others still aren't sure whether they're covered.
 
The major benefits of the law took effect Wednesday. But problems with the federal website meant many people signed up at the last minute. Insurers haven't processed all the paperwork.
 
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois has been adding staff to keep up with calls. Worried patients without insurance cards are calling doctors like John Venetos in Chicago, who's decided to provide care and risk he won't be paid.
 
Stroke survivor Nancy Pace of Benton says she's relieved to have good insurance for the first time since 2005. She called Blue Cross on Wednesday, paid her premium and got her member number over the phone.
Thursday, 02 January 2014 13:44
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DENVER (AP) — Long lines and blustery winter weather greeted Colorado marijuana shoppers testing the nation's first legal recreational pot shops Wednesday.

It was hard to tell from talking to the shoppers, however, that they had waited hours in snow and frigid wind.

"It's a huge deal for me," said Andre Barr, a 34-year-old deliveryman who drove from Niles, Mich., to be part of the legal weed experiment. "This wait is nothing."

The world was watching as Colorado unveiled the modern world's first fully legal marijuana industry — no doctor's note required (as in 18 states and Washington, D.C.) and no unregulated production of the drug (as in the Netherlands). Uruguay has fully legalized pot but hasn't yet set up its system.

Colorado had 24 shops open Wednesday, most of them in Denver, and aside from long lines and sporadic reports of shoppers cited for smoking pot in public, there were few problems.

"Everything's gone pretty smoothly," said Barbara Brohl, Colorado's top marijuana regulator as head of the Department of Revenue.

The agency sent its new marijuana inspectors to recreational shops to monitor sales and make sure sellers understood the state's new marijuana-tracking inventory system meant to keep legal pot out of the black market.

Denver International Airport erected signs warning travelers that they could not take marijuana home with them.

Keeping pot within Colorado's regulated system and within the state's borders are among requirements the U.S. Department of Justice has laid out to avoid a clampdown under federal law, which still outlaws the drug.

The other state that has legalizes recreational pot, Washington, will face the same restrictions when its retail shops start operating, expected by late spring.

The states' retail experiments are crucial tests of whether marijuana can be sold like alcohol, kept from children and highly taxed, or whether pot proves too harmful to public health and safety for legalization experiments to expand elsewhere.

"This feels like freedom at last," said Amy Reynolds, owner of two Colorado Springs medical pot shops. Reynolds came to Denver to toast the dawn of pot sales for recreational use. "It's a plant, it's harmless, and now anyone over 21 can buy it if they want to. Beautiful."

Marijuana skeptics, of course, watched in alarm. They warned that the celebratory vibe in Colorado masked dangerous consequences. Wider marijuana availability, they say, would lead to greater illegal use by youth, and possibly more traffic accidents and addiction problems.

"It's not just a benign recreational drug that we don't have to worry about," said Dr. Paula Riggs, head of the Division of Substance Dependence at the University of Colorado-Denver medical campus.

The only problems reported Wednesday, though, were long lines and high prices. Some shops raised prices or reduced purchasing limits as the day went on. One pot shop closed early because of tight supply. Some shoppers complained they were paying three times more than they were used to.

Colorado has no statewide pricing structure, and by midafternoon, one dispensary was charging $70 for one-eighth of an ounce of high-quality pot. Medical marijuana patients just a day earlier paid as little as $25 for the same amount.

Medical pot users worried they'd be priced out of the market. Colorado's recreational pot inventory came entirely from the drug's supply for medical uses.

"We hope that the focus on recreational doesn't take the focus away from patients who really need this medicine," said Laura Kriho of the patient advocacy group Cannabis Therapy Institute.

Colorado has hundreds of pending applications for recreational pot retailers, growers and processors. So it's too soon to say how prices would change more people enter the business, increasing supply and competition.

Shoppers waiting in line Wednesday didn't seem fazed by the wait, the prices, or the state and local taxes that totaled more than 25 percent.

"This is quality stuff in a real store. Not the Mexican brick weed we're used to back in Ohio," said Brandon Harris, who drove from Blanchester, Ohio.

 

 

 

Kristen Wyatt can be reached athttp://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt .

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- A Texas-sized cloud of uncertainty looms over college football's biggest game of the season.

As No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn prepare in southern California to meet Monday in the last BCS championship game, the University of Texas is still looking for a new football coach. And until the Longhorns make a hire, just about every successful coach can be considered a candidate - including Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Auburn's Gus Malzahn.

"I've been amazed about how quiet this thing has been," ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said earlier this week. "Because of that it leads me to speculate and believe that somebody still involved in coaching, whether it's the NFL or college, must be one of their primary candidates."

"I think the longer this goes on I think it's very, very clear that it's somebody who's still coaching. Who that might be, I have no idea."

A few small leaks have sprung in the last couple of days, though it's impossible to know how seriously to take them.

Published reports out of Texas stated the Longhorns are interested in Fisher, Baylor's Art Briles, Vanderbilt's James Franklin and Louisville's Charlie Strong. Michigan State's Mark Dantonio has also been mentioned as a coach Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson is looking at. Patterson said he wants the search complete by Jan. 15.

"Texas, they're going to be calling on everybody they possibly can because they're going to try to get the best coach they possibly can," Florida State AD Stan Wilcox said. "Meanwhile, everybody's trying to keep their coaches because they all feel that the people that Texas is looking at are the best coaches out there."

Florida State hopes it has put all the speculation about Fisher's future to rest. The fourth-year head coach and Nick Saban disciple finally got around on Tuesday to signing a new contract that runs through the 2018 season and pays him about $4.1 million annually.

Auburn agreed to a new deal with Malzahn the day before the Southeastern Conference championship game last month. The six-year contract is worth $3.85 million annually to the first-year Tigers coach.

Briles got a 10-year deal in November from Baylor. Michigan State is working on a new deal for Dantonio that could double his $1.9 million salary.

And, of course, Saban, the object of so many Longhorns desires, agreed to a new multiyear deal with Alabama that will pay him $7 million a year after months of stories and speculation connecting the four-time national championship winning coach and Texas.

But what do those extensions really mean? Are Fisher, Malzahn, Briles and even Saban truly off the market?

"A contract is written to be broken," said Kansas State athletic director John Currie, who doesn't have to worry about his football coach, 74-year-old Bill Snyder, going anywhere.

The trend in college sports, especially college football, is for schools to quickly lock up successful coaches and hand out raises.

Mississippi extended Hugh Freeze's contract after a 7-5 regular season and bumped his pay to $3 million per year. Washington State's Mike Leach got the Cougars back into a bowl by winning six games in his second season at Pullman. He got a two-year extension for his work.

Texas A&M made the boldest move of all this season with coach Kevin Sumlin, who was drawing interest from NFL teams last year. The Aggies made Sumlin (20-6 in two seasons in College Station) a $5 million-per-year coach with a new six-year deal.

Arizona AD Greg Byrne said the contract numbers that make headlines can often be deceiving.

"When you get down into the details the interesting numbers are what's guaranteed, both sides. If the coach were to leave, what's the buyout? And then if you were to dismiss your coach without cause what percent of the contract is guaranteed?" Byrne said. "Sometime you'll see someone with an eight-year contract, but half the contract is guaranteed, so in some ways it's a four-year contract instead."

Currie said the NFL has played a major role in changing the salary structure for college coaches, but ultimately a school needs to decide what works best for it.

"Everybody else is doing it is not a reason to make a bad decision for your institution," he said.

But market pressures can be strong and big openings - such as the one at Texas - can drive up that market.

"I'm sure there's been a time where a school's reacted too slowly, but I think there have been times where a school has jumped ahead a little more in hindsight to where they want to be," Byrne said. "It's a challenging situation. I think the market place has gotten to such that there will be agents out there that will try to parlay one school against another. And I think that's driven up some of the numbers we're seeing today."

Florida State and Auburn have made their moves to protect their interests, and can spend this week focusing on what it takes to win a national championship. But until the Longhorns introduce a new coach, fans of the Seminoles and Tigers - and Bears and Cardinals, etc. - have reason to be at least a little distracted by what's going on in Austin.

---

Follow Ralph D. Russo at WWW.TWITTER.COM/RALPHDRUSSOAP

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Thursday, 02 January 2014 11:17
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