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Dan Honda 

Half Dome as seen on Thursday from Olmsted Point in northern Yosemite National Park in the central Sierra Nevada mountains of California. 

Covered California kicks-off open enrollment

HANFORD — Covered California kicked-off its fifth open enrollment period Wednesday and will stay open for three months for anyone interested in purchasing a health insurance plan.

“While we know there is confusion because of the uncertainty in Washington, we want people to know that Covered California is rock solid,” said Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California, in a press release. “We’re offering stability, choice and affordable options in 2018 in the face of uncertainty in much of the country.”

Since 2014, legal residents who don’t have health insurance from either a government agency or their employer are eligible to purchase health insurance through Covered California, a state insurance marketplace.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most U.S. citizens are required to have health coverage. Citizens without health coverage are subject to a tax penalty.

Open enrollment is the one time of year when anyone who needs health insurance can enroll without needing to meet special qualifying conditions. Covered California’s open-enrollment period will continue until Jan. 31, 2018.

“While we encourage all consumers to sign up by Dec. 15 to get coverage that starts on Jan. 1, we will continue with open enrollment through Jan. 31 to give our consumers time to explore their options, change plans if they need to and shop for the health coverage that’s right for them,” Lee said.

For coverage to start by Feb. 1, consumers must sign up for a plan by Jan. 15. Signing up on any date between Jan. 16-31 means coverage will start March 1.

Covered California officials encourage people to go to its website to shop and compare pricing options because some 2018 rates have changed.

“For the 1.1 million Californians who enroll with us and get financial help, on average the price they pay will actually go down — even though their underlying rate is going up,” Lee said.

According to Covered California income guidelines, if someone makes less than $47,520 per year or if a family of four earns less than $97,200 per year, then they can qualify for government assistance based on their income.

Since 2014, more than 3 million people have purchased health insurance through Covered California and nearly 4 million have enrolled in the state’s Medi-Cal program, stated a press release from Covered California.

Current Covered California membership is at about 1.3 million enrollees.

Individuals and families can visit Covered California’s website to see if they qualify for either Covered California or Medi-Cal.

“The distant thunder in Washington is causing concern among Californians,” Lee said. “We want to make sure they know Covered California is stable, offering the same quality coverage in 2018 that we have offered since we opened our doors in 2014.”

Cooler weather headed our way

The National Weather Service is predicting cooler weather headed our way and maybe our first rain - and maybe even fog - of the winter.

William Peterson, a meteorologist technician at the National Weather Service in Hanford, said today's high should reach 67 degrees and a cold frontal system will bring clouds and cooler temperatures by Friday. 

With some rain and high pressure, Peterson said Hanford could start to see fog in the mornings by the middle of next week.

Highs for the rest of this week aren’t expected to edge out of the upper 60s in Hanford, and lows are expected to be in the mid-40s. Over the weekend, it’s expected too cool off some more with highs in the lower 60s and lows in the lower 40s.

The skies are expected to cloud up Thursday and Friday, and our best chance of rain is probably Saturday night when the National Weather Service gives it a 40 percent chance.

If you are traveling, be aware that winds with gusts up to 35 mph could cause problems in the Kern County mountains and west of I-5. 

The Sierra is expected to get rain, snow and gusty winds. The rain could cause flash floods and other problems in burn areas of the Detwiler and Pier fires.

The heaviest precipitation will likely be from Yosemite National Park to Kings Canyon. Snow levels start out above 7,500 feet and drop to 6,500 feet by Sunday.

An inch or two of snow is expected up in the lower areas and up to 8 inches above 8,000 feet.

There are no restrictions through the weekend on fireplaces, but burning is discouraged, according to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. 

Police looking for woman in connection to Lemoore shooting

LEMOORE — Earlier this month, two men were arrested after robbing and shooting a man in Lemoore and now detectives are looking for a woman who is possibly connected to the crime.

Officers said video surveillance showed a female, identified as Alejandra Maria Hernandez, as being with the two men after a crime occurred on Oct. 4 at a business in the 1100 block of North Lemoore Avenue. Surveillance from a building nearby showed the two men and Hernandez fleeing the crime scene.

Lemoore Police officers said earlier in the day, about 3 a.m., they were called to the 1000 block of North Lemoore Avenue for a report of a fight and a gunshot being heard in the area.

Police said a 29-year-old victim with a gunshot wound to his leg was found at the Fastrip gas station in Lemoore.

The victim told officers he had been in the 1000 block of Janine Way when two men approached him and demanded any property he had on him, police said.

Police said one of the men brandished a pistol and tried to rob the victim. A fight ensued and one of the suspects shot the victim in the leg during the robbery.

The men, identified as 35-year-old Beunju Moon and 24-year-old Ricardo "Ricky" Cervantes were later arrested after Lemoore officers recognized them as possibly being involved in the shooting.

Officials said Hernandez is currently a person of interest in this investigation and is asking anyone with information about her whereabouts to call Detective Sgt. Santos at 924-9574.

Truck attack suspect is charged with terrorism offenses

NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors brought terrorism charges Wednesday against the Uzbek immigrant accused in the truck rampage that left eight people dead, saying he was spurred to attack by the Islamic State group's online calls to action and picked Halloween because he figured streets would be extra crowded.

Even as he lay wounded in the hospital from police gunfire, Sayfullo Saipov asked to display the Islamic State group's flag in his room and said "he felt good about what he had done," prosecutors said in court papers.

Saipov, 29, was brought to court in a wheelchair to face charges that could bring the death penalty. Handcuffed and with his legs shackled, Saipov nodded his head repeatedly as he was read his rights in a brief court proceeding that he followed through a Russian interpreter. He was ordered held without bail.

Outside court, his appointed lawyer, David Patton, said he hoped "everyone lets the judicial process play out."

Late Wednesday, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to say that Saipov should get the death penalty.

Also Wednesday, Trump called for quick repeal of the 1990s visa lottery program that Saipov used to come to the U.S. in 2010, and the Republican said he would consider sending Saipov to the Guantanamo Bay detention center — an idea the White House reinforced by saying it considered Saipov to be an "enemy combatant."

Hours later, Saipov was charged in federal court with providing material support to a terrorist group and committing violence and destruction of motor vehicles, resulting in death. Trump's administration could, at least in theory, still send the suspect to the U.S. base in Cuba later, though such a step would be unprecedented.

"There's no legal impediment to that," said Bryan Broyles, the former deputy chief defense counsel for the Guantanamo military commissions.

Trump ordered still tighter scrutiny of immigrants already subject to what he calls "extreme vetting." But the White House offered no indication of what new steps the president might be planning.

"We have to get much tougher, much smarter, and less politically correct," Trump said. He also said the U.S. justice system for dealing with such cases must be strengthened, declaring, "What we have right now is a joke and it's a laughingstock." Again, there was no elaboration from the White House.

Trump took to Twitter early Wednesday to blame Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat who represents New York, for the bipartisan visa program used by the suspect to enter the country in 2010. Schumer did back the lottery program as a member of the House when it was approved with the support of both parties in 1990. It was signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush.

Meanwhile, the FBI was questioning a second person from Uzbekistan, 32-year-old Mukhammadzoir Kadirov. A law enforcement official said Kadirov was a friend of Saipov's and may not have any role in the case. The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Prosecutors said Saipov had 90 videos and 3,800 photos on one of his two cellphones, many of them ISIS-related pieces of propaganda, including images of prisoners being beheaded, shot or run over by a tank.

Saipov left behind knives and a note, in Arabic and English, that included Islamic religious references and said, "Islamic Supplication. It will endure," FBI agent Amber Tyree said in court papers. "It will endure" commonly refers to ISIS, Tyree said.

Questioned in his hospital bed, Saipov said he had been inspired by ISIS videos and began plotting an attack about a year ago, deciding to use a truck about two months ago, Tyree said.

During the last few weeks, Saipov searched the internet for information on Halloween in New York City and for truck rentals, the agent said. Saipov even rented a truck on Oct. 22 to practice making turns, and he initially hoped to get from the bike path across lower Manhattan to hit more pedestrians on the Brooklyn Bridge, Tyree said.

He even considered displaying ISIS flags on the truck during the attack but decided it would draw too much attention, authorities said.

John Miller, deputy New York police commissioner for intelligence, said Saipov "appears to have followed, almost exactly to a T, the instructions that ISIS has put out."

It was not clear whether Saipov had been on authorities' radar. Miller said Saipov had never been the subject of a criminal investigation but appears to have links to people who have been investigated.

In Tuesday's attack, Saipov drove his speeding truck for nearly a mile along a bike path near the World Trade Center, running down cyclists and pedestrians, then crashed into a school bus, authorities said. He was shot in the abdomen after he jumped out of the vehicle brandishing two air guns, one in each hand, and yelling "God is great!" in Arabic, they said.

The attack killed five people from Argentina, one from Belgium and two Americans, authorities said. Twelve people were injured; nine remained hospitalized in serious or critical condition.

On the morning after the bloodshed, city leaders vowed New York would not be intimidated and said Sunday's New York City Marathon, with 50,000 participants and some 2 million spectators anticipated, will go on as scheduled, with increased security.

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Kings County business
Pitman Family Farms plans expansion to Kings County

That chicken dinner on your plate is more likely to come from Kings County in the future. Sanger-based Pitman Family Farms continues to grow its ranches and poultry barns in both Kings and Tulare counties this year.

The fast-growing poultry company applied in October to Kings County for conditional-use permits for 70 new barns at four existing county ranches - increasing the production of its meat chickens overall by four-fold.

One ranch will go from the production of 120,000 birds at one time to 1.02 million. Chickens grow fast with a turnover of five to six weeks. The company waits to raise the next batch at the ranch after varying times. Considering this there might be a turnover of four or five flocks a year or 4 or 5 million birds could come from this one ranch.

In 2016, the Kings County Crop Report says total yearly poultry production was 5.2 million head.

A similar expansion is underway in Tulare County says economic development staffer Mike Washam who estimates Pitman is increasing capacity by about 30 percent at three different sites. In 2016, the county’s poultry flock was 13.5 million.

Fresno County historically has been the largest player with a flock of well over 100 million at any one time.

Pitman, a family-owned company, built a new Hanford feed mill in the past few years, able now to receive 100 car unit-train shipments of corn to supply its expanding kingdom of ranches.

But not everyone is cheering Pitman’s approach.

The company has gained popularity for its Mary’s Chickens brand because it advertised that the chickens have “free range” to go outside the barn and spread their wings, are not fed antibiotics and are slow growing.

A 2012 a San Francisco Chronicle story reported that "Besides the quality of the poultry, the Pitman Farms have become known for the way they treat their birds, before and during slaughter. All of the birds are free to leave the barn, and unlike traditional methods, the chickens are gassed before having their throats slit at slaughter. The technique, used in only one other American chicken operation, is considered more humane and is sanctioned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals."

But in September an activist group, Direct Action Everywhere, videotaped a number of Pitman chicken ranches in the Central Valley reporting that there was “no sign that birds could go outside" and that they were “packed shoulder to shoulder” in the barns.

Responding to these claims in a publication called The Intercept on Sept. 15, Pitman’s David Rubenstein said the chickens in the video were not raised for Whole Foods as the article claimed, nor were they being monitored by a third party, Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit animal welfare organization funded by Whole Foods where they sell Pitman’s Mary’s Chickens brand.

Instead, he said the ranches they videotaped were for other customers.

Calls to Rubenstein, David and Ben Pitman, were not returned.

It is clear that Pitman Farms have hung their hat on the idea of animal welfare and the notion that chickens are better off being able to spread their wings outside for some of the time.

A reading of the management plans for the four new ranches in Kings County offers no proof any of them will be spending any time outdoors.

In fact, the plan filed with the county says chickens will have about a square foot of space each - a 27,000-square-foot barn will raise 27,000 chickens and adds that ”chickens will stay in the same building their whole life of production.”

A new application for a 1.14 million bird poultry ranch in Pixley in Tulare County - does say, however, that these particular barns will have "free range" openings every 50 feet and chickens can move in and out of the barn "freely."