A Florida couple is behind bars after police said they attempted an armed robbery at a Cape Coral Lowe’s hardware store on Sunday, while wearing matching Cookie Monster pajamas.
According to the Cape Coral Police Department, Charlie Perez, 22, and Jalina Sepulveda, 19, went into a Lowe’s hardware store on Sunday wearing matching Cookie Monster pajamas bottoms and tried to leave the store without paying for several items.
When the pair were approached by the store’s loss prevention team, police said the man revealed a gun in his waistband, made threats and left the store.
Police canvassed the area, but were not able to catch the couple.
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On Monday, police were able to locate the couple and arrest them.
Perez and Sepulveda both remain in the Lee County Jail and bonds have not been set.
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Perez is facing a robbery with a weapon charge and Sepulveda is facing robbery with a weapon and battery charges.
Sepulveda was also arrested on October 2023 on a battery charge, according to Lee County Jail records.
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Alabama frozen embryo ruling will limit fertility treatment access, critics say
The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, a decision critics said could have sweeping implications for fertility treatment in the state.
The decision was issued in a pair of wrongful death cases brought by three couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic. Justices, citing anti-abortion language in the Alabama Constitution, ruled that an 1872 state law allowing parents to sue over the death of a minor child “applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.”
“Unborn children are ‘children’ … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” Justice Jay Mitchell wrote in Friday’s majority ruling by the all-Republican court.
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Mitchell said the court had previously ruled that fetuses killed while a woman is pregnant are covered under Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act and nothing excludes “extrauterine children from the Act’s coverage.”
The ruling brought a rush of warnings about the potential impact on fertility treatments and the freezing of embryos, which had previously been considered property by the courts.
“This ruling is stating that a fertilized egg, which is a clump of cells, is now a person. It really puts into question, the practice of IVF,” Barbara Collura, CEO of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, told The Associated Press Tuesday. The group called the decision a “terrifying development for the 1-in-6 people impacted by infertility” who need in-vitro fertilization.
She said it raises questions for providers and patients, including if they can freeze future embryos created during fertility treatment or if patients could ever donate or destroy unused embryos.
Sean Tipton, a spokesman with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said at least one Alabama fertility clinic has been instructed by their affiliated hospital to pause IVF treatment in the immediate wake of the decision.
Dr. Paula Amato, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said a decision to treat frozen fertilized egg as the legal equivalent of a child or gestating fetus could limit the availability of modern health care.
“By insisting that these very different biological entities are legally equivalent, the best state-of-the-art fertility care will be made unavailable to the people of Alabama. No health care provider will be willing to provide treatments if those treatments may lead to civil or criminal charges,” Amato said.
Gabby Goidel, 26, who is pursuing IVF treatment in Alabama after three miscarriages, said the court ruling came down on the same day she began daily injections ahead of egg retrieval.
“It just kind of took me by storm. It was like all I could think about and it was just a very stressful thing to hear. I immediately messaged my clinic and asked if this could potentially halt us. They said we have to take it one day at a time,” Goidel said.
She said her clinic is continuing to provide treatment for now, but said it will let her know if they have to change course.
Goidel said she turned to IVF and preimplantation genetic testing after the multiple miscarriages related to genetic issues.
“Without IVF, I would have to probably go through several more miscarriages before I even had an option of having a baby that is my own,” she said.
The plaintiffs in the Alabama case had undergone IVF treatments that led to the creation of several embryos, some of which were implanted and resulted in healthy births. The couples paid to keep others frozen in a storage facility at the Mobile Infirmary Medical Center. A patient in 2020 wandered into the area and removed several embryos, dropping them on the floor and “killing them,” the ruling said.
The justices ruled that wrongful death lawsuits by the couples could proceed. The clinic and hospital that are defendants in the case could ask the court to reconsider its decision.
Michael Upchurch, a lawyer for the fertility clinic in the lawsuit, Center for Reproductive Medicine, said they are “evaluating the consequences of the decision and have no further comment at this time.”
An anti-abortion group cheered the decision. “Each person, from the tiniest embryo to an elder nearing the end of his life, has incalculable value that deserves and is guaranteed legal protection,” Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action said in a statement.
Chief Justice Tom Parker issued a concurring opinion in which he quoted the Bible in discussing the meaning of the phrase “the sanctity of unborn life” in the Alabama Constitution.
“Even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory,” Parker said.
Justice Greg Cook, who filed the only full dissent to the majority opinion, said the 1872 law did not define “minor child” and was being stretched from the original intent to cover frozen embryos.
“No court — anywhere in the country — has reached the conclusion the main opinion reaches,” he wrote, adding the ruling “almost certainly ends the creation of frozen embryos through in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Alabama.”
The Alabama Supreme Court decision partly hinged on anti-abortion language added to the Alabama Constitution in 2018, stating it is the “policy of this state to ensure the protection of the rights of the unborn child.”
Supporters at the time said it would have no impact unless states gained more control over abortion access. States gained control of abortion access in 2022.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Alabama decision reflected the consequences of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and blamed Republican elected officials from blocking access to reproductive and emergency care to women.
“This president and this vice president will continue to fight to protect access to reproductive health care and call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law for all women in every state,” Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One.
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Medicaid expansion in Georgia looks unlikely this year, but advocates want lawmakers to keep trying
Georgia’s house speaker cracked open the door to Medicaid expansion in the state, but now that door appears to be closing for 2024.
A bill introduced Tuesday by a top lieutenant to Republican House Speaker Jon Burns proposes to create a Comprehensive Health Care Commission that could clear the way for more health coverage in the future, but not this year.
Supporters of Medicaid expansion had already concluded that the odds were growing long for 2024, with more than half the legislative session having elapsed without a proposal being introduced by Rep. Butch Parrish, the Swainsboro Republican that Burns appointed to lead the discussions.
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Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision this month to sue the federal government to try to extend the life of his Georgia Pathways program was widely seen as a sign that he opposed an expansion of health care coverage. Georgia Pathways offers coverage to able-bodied adults earning up to the poverty line — $14,580 for an individual or $24,860 for a family of three. But people must document 80 monthly hours of work, study, rehabilitation or volunteering to be eligible.
Only 2,350 people enrolled in the program from July 1 to mid-December, far fewer than the 100,000 that the Kemp administration projected the program might cover. It would expire in 2025, but Kemp sued to extend it to 2028.
After North Carolina began offering Medicaid to uninsured adults on Dec. 1, there are 10 remaining states that don’t cover people with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty line. More than 430,000 uninsured Georgia adults could gain coverage if Medicaid is broadened, health research group KFF has projected.
“The governor’s getting entrenched,” said House Minority Leader James Beverly, a Macon Democrat. “In suing the federal government and in his continuing to say Pathways is the way, 500,000 Georgians are being left without health care for another year. And that’s a tragedy.”
Burns, a Newington Republican, said in a statement that he continues “to be 100% supportive” of Pathways but that Georgia should explore other options in case Kemp doesn’t win his court case. Burns has voiced support for using Medicaid money to buy private coverage for residents, as Arkansas does, a route that could boost payments to hospitals, doctors and other medical providers.
The speaker said that because Pathways could expire in 2025, “we also want to take the time to gather the facts, hear from policy experts and stakeholders, and craft the best policy possible to support our low-income, uninsured population across the state, which will help patients and providers alike,” Burns said.
Advocates called on lawmakers to keep working on expansion this year.
“There are people being diagnosed with cancer today who can’t wait for treatment,” Julie Vojtech, government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said in a statement. “It’s important we keep all options open and on the table during the 2024 legislative session.”
The group brought dozens of cancer patients, survivors and their family members to the state Capitol earlier this month to rally for Medicaid expansion, called on lawmakers to keep working expansion this year.
Supporters had hoped the state Senate might explore Medicaid expansion in exchange for reducing or eliminate permitting requirements for hospitals and health services. That’s been a top priority for Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, the Republican who presides over Georgia’s Senate, while the House has balked at loosening certificate of need rules.
Parrish’s bill proposes an incremental loosening of certificate of need standards. Most importantly, it removes dollar caps on how much existing hospitals can spend on new or remodeled buildings or new equipment, as long as they’re not offering new services. It also loosens rules on hospitals adding new beds, and lets them relocate up to 5 miles (8 kilometers) away without a new permit, up from the current 3 miles.
The bill would let new hospitals be built in counties with less than 50,000 residents, as long as they agree to provide a certain amount of charity care, join the statewide trauma system, provide “comprehensive behavioral health services” and agree to serve as teaching hospitals for medical students.
A standoff between Jones and Burns last year partly revolved around a plan to build a new hospital in Butts County, where Jones lives. The existing hospital there opposes the plan.
But Parrish’s measure would still require a state permit to offer new service, a safeguard many hospitals say is needed to prevent new operators from skimming off the most profitable services.
Jones said in a Tuesday statement he was “glad to see the House take up this effort to increase competition in the health care marketplace and reduce costs for Georgia families.
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Georgia proposal for parental oversight of library books advances, critics cry censorship
A proposal that would require school libraries to notify parents of every book their child checks out was advanced by Georgia senators Tuesday, while a proposal to subject school librarians to criminal charges for distributing material containing obscenity waits in the wings.
The measures are part of a broad and continuing push by Republicans in many states to root out what they see as inappropriate material from schools and libraries, saying books and electronic materials are corrupting children.
Opponents say it’s a campaign of censorship meant to block children’s freedom to learn, while scaring teachers and librarians into silence for fear of losing their jobs or worse.
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Georgia senators are also considering bills to force all public and school libraries in the state to cut ties with the American Library Association and to restrict school libraries’ ability to hold or acquire any works that depict sexual intercourse or sexual arousal. Neither measure has advanced out of committee ahead of a deadline next week for bills to pass out of their originating chamber.
The state Senate Education and Youth Committee voted 5-4 Tuesday to advance Senate Bill 365 to the full Senate for more debate. The proposal would let parents choose to receive an email any time their child obtains library material.
Sen. Greg Dolezal, the Republican from Cumming sponsoring the bill, said the Forsyth County school district, which has seen years of public fighting over what books students should be able to access, is already sending the emails. Other supporters said it was important to make sure to guarantee the rights of parents to raise their children as they want.
“I can’t understand the resistance of allowing parents to know what their children are seeing, doing and participating in while they’re at school, especially in a public school system,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, a Dahlonega Republican.
Opponents said it’s important for students to be able to explore their interests and that the bill could violate students’ First Amendment rights.
“This is part of a larger national and Georgia trend to try to limit access,” said Nora Benavidez, a board member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and lawyer for Free Press, a group that seeks to democratize the media. “The logical endpoint of where this bill, as well as others, are taking us is for children to have less exposure to ideas.”
The proposal to make school librarians subject to criminal penalties if they violate state obscenity laws, Senate Bill 154, is even more controversial. Current law exempts public librarians, as well as those who work for public schools, colleges and universities, from penalties for distributing material that meets Georgia’s legal definition of “harmful to minors.”
Dolezal argues that school librarians should be subject to such penalties, although he offered an amendment Tuesday that makes librarians subject to penalties only if they “knowingly” give out such material. He argues that Georgia shouldn’t have a double standard where teachers can be prosecuted for obscenity while librarians down the hall cannot. He said his real aim is to drive any such material out of school libraries.
“The goal of this bill is to go upstream of the procurement process and to ensure that we are not allowing things in our libraries that cause anyone to ever have to face any sort of criminal prosecution,” Dolezal said.
Supporters of the bill hope to use the threat of criminal penalties to drive most sexual content out of libraries, even though much sexual content doesn’t meet Georgia’s obscenity standard.
“If you are exploiting children, you should be held accountable,” said Rhonda Thomas, a conservative education activist who helped form a new group, Georgians for Responsible Libraries. “You’re going to find that our students are falling behind in reading, math, science, but they’re definitely going to know how to masturbate.”
Robert “Buddy” Costley, of the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, said the bill won’t solve the content problems that activists are agitated about.
“My fear is is that if we tell parents that this is the solution — your media specialists, the people that have been working for 200 years in our country to loan books, they’re the problem — we will have people pressing charges on media specialists instead of dealing with the real problem,” Costley said.
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