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The Skinny

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OUR LONG DOWNTOWN NIGHTMARE IS FINALLY OVER

The City of Tucson and the Rio Nuevo Board have come to terms and signed an agreement to cease all those legal battles that have gone on since the Arizona Legislature created a new board in the wake of the city's missteps in downtown revitalization.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said the settlement "puts to bed 13 years of disputes and sets a platform for moving forward."

Here are the basic takeaways of the deal:

• All litigation between the city and the Rio Nuevo board has come to an end and the city is released from liability for anything that happened up until the signing of the agreement, so the Rio Nuevo Board won't be threatening any more eight-figure lawsuits.

• The Rio Nuevo Board will spend at least $6 million to spruce up the Tucson Convention Center, which is in dire need of some repair.

• The Rio Nuevo Board has 45 days to decide if it wants to take title to a property on Congress Street and I-10. There's been discussion in the past about building an arena on that spot, but at the moment, a developer has received the go-ahead to build a commercial and residential complex there, so the Rio Nuevo Board has to decide whether they want the hassle of unwinding that. Plus, it's currently home to the Greyhound Bus depot.

• The city gets the title to downtown's Depot Garage, which is located underneath the new MLK apartments on Fifth Avenue. The city will have to pay Rio Nuevo $16 million for the garage over the next 37 years.

• Rio Nuevo will spend no more than $1.1 million in completing the Mission Gardens project on the west bank of the Santa Cruz River.

• Rio Nuevo and the city will work together on a downtown hotel project.

"I'm happy that it's resolved," Rothschild said. "I've been in enough settlements where both sides would have liked to have gotten more or less or whatever. The fact that it's true on both sides here means that reason has prevailed."

The Skinny is not going to try to recap all the sordid Rio Nuevo history, but we will say this: Downtown is more lively than its been in decades. Construction is booming, nightlife is hopping, new hotels are in the works and great new restaurants are opening their doors (BTW: We're expecting a Big Announcement on that front in the near future).

In short: Downtown revitalization is real and it's happening. Let's hope that both the city and Rio Nuevo find ways to build on the momentum.


PLANNED PARENTHOOD WINS A ROUND

U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake has struck down a state law that attempted to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving any public funds to provide healthcare services for low-income women in Arizona.

The 2012 law sought to prevent women on the state's AHCCCS program or other state-assisted programs from using Planned Parenthood's clinics for any of their health-care needs—birth control, cancer screenings, STD treatment and the like.

The case largely rested on whether Planned Parenthood was "qualified" to provide the services. Federal law says that the state can't discriminate against qualified providers when deciding how to spend federal Medicaid funds. The new state law, passed during the 2012 session, declared that any organization that provided abortion services was not considered a "qualifed" provider.

Planned Parenthood sued, arguing that the state couldn't determine qualifications on that basis. It's a case that abortion opponents are making in other states. So far, they're losing in federal court.

In the ruling he issued on Monday, Feb. 11, Wake said the state overreached by basing the qualification criteria on whether a healthcare organization provided abortion services.

The state's attorneys "present a strained interpretation of the word 'qualified' that would include any reasonable criteria a state sees fit to impose, regardless of whether the criteria relates to the ability to provide Medicaid services," Wake wrote in his ruling. "That interpretation contradicts the plain meaning of the phrase '[providers that are] qualified to perform the service or services required,' which describes qualified providers as those providers that are competent to provide the needed services."

Planned Parenthood Arizona CEO Bryan Howard called the ruling "a victory for all Arizonans. This case has never been about Planned Parenthood Arizona—it is about the 3,000 AHCCCS patients we serve and all Arizona women." 

"Judge Wake's approval of our request for a summary judgment indicates that the law is on the side of women," Howard added in a prepared statement. "Politics should never interfere with a woman's breast exam or birth control. It is wrong for the state to tell Arizonans who can be their health care provider."


BULLET POINTS

A few bits from the gun-violence beat:

Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly were scheduled to be the guests of Congressman Ron Barber and Sen. John McCain at the State of the Union speech.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the political action formed by Giffords and Kelly to advocate for new federal gun laws, aired its first TV ad this week.

The 30-second spot featured Giffords talking about the need for new gun laws.

"We have a problem," Giffords says in the ad. "Where we shop; where we pray; where our children go to school. But there are solutions we can agree on, even gun owners like us. Take it from me: Congress must act. Let's get this done."

The Skinny isn't sure how much Congress is willing to do, but we're guessing that an expanded background check will be the low-hanging fruit.

• Barber signed onto the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act last week. The legislation would strengthen federal laws prohibiting people from purchasing firearms if the intent is to pass it along to a prohibited possessor.

"Many Southern Arizonans who live and work along the U.S.-Mexico border do not feel safe in their homes and on their land," Barber said in a prepared statement. "Heavily armed members of drug cartels remain a concern for my constituents. I fully support this bill which will help to address the serious and continuing problem of firearms trafficking along and across the border and throughout our country."

CULTURE SHOCK

U.S. District Court Judge David S. Bury issued a decision last week in the Tucson Unified School District's long-running desegregation case.

As Mari Herreras reported online at The Range: In part of his ruling, Bury said that TUSD had to offer "culturally relevant courses" that reflect Mexican-American and African-American experience as part of the core curriculum.

There's plenty of room for interpretation in there, so TUSD may not be bringing back the Mexican-American Studies courses in the same form that they existed before the program was eliminated last year. TUSD will still have to navigate how to create the classes without running afoul of a state law that targeted the classes by deeming them an effort to overthrow the government and teach kids how to hate Whitey.

The fight over Mexican-American Studies will get national attention again this week when the PBS program Need to Know focuses on the story. Anchor Ray Suarez will examine whether the program increased test scores for participating students or just encouraged subversive thinking. (We suppose it could have done both.)

Need to Know airs at 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, on KUAT, Channel 6.

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