RELIGION: The Roman Catholic Church will choose a new pope after Pope Benedict XVI announced his plans to resign Monday in a ritualized system of balloting with a long history.
The pope is chosen through a closed, elaborately regulated gathering called a conclave, which brings together cardinals at the Sistine Chapel. The new pope will be chosen in unusual circumstances, since it has been centuries since a pope has stepped aside.
The conclave normally begins 15 days after the death of the pope, and can be held no longer than 20 days after his passing; a Vatican spokesman said Monday. The exact date had yet to be set, but "obviously there will be no need to wait the normal eight days of mourning" and a new pope would be chosen "in time for Easter."
Cardinals who are younger than 80 are allowed to take part in the election; Benedict XVI himself, who is 85, will not be involved, the Vatican said. Some other people are also allowed into the gathering, including nurses for ailing cardinals, but they must swear to "absolute and perpetual secrecy" about the proceedings, according to Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J., senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
The cardinals themselves also take an oath pledging to keep proceedings secret and to prevent interference in the balloting. After the oath is taken, Reese writes, the Sistine Chapel is closed to outsiders with the Latin words "Extra omnes" -- "Everybody out!"
Caltrans seeks public input
SACRAMENTO -- Caltrans is asking its passengers what they think about the state's rail systems.
The department will host five public open houses -- including one in Fresno -- and a statewide webinar this month to solicit input on the draft California State Rail Plan (CSRP), which will lay out a vision for freight, passenger and high-speed rail in the state. The draft plan is available on the Internet -- californiastaterailplan.com -- and comments can be submitted through March 11.
"Each year, nearly six million passengers ride the trains in California," said Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty. "It's important that we find out what our citizens have to say about rail, because their input will help us build a truly connected California."
Ridership on California trains is up 56 percent since 2002, and California has about 18 percent of all Amtrak riders.
The Fresno meeting will be from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Hugh M. Burns State Building, Assembly Room 1036.
The webinar will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 26 at Online Webinar. The password is: RailPlan1.
SACRAMENTO -- State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, was appointed vice chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) by unanimous vote of the Senate Rules Committee.
"I am happy to once again serve on this committee whose vital role includes being the investigative arm of the legislature," said Lara. "The work of this committee helps streamline processes in the state and ensures that the entities that receive taxpayer funds are working transparently and effectively to carry out the work of the people."
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) will honor freshman Congresssman Joaquín Castro with its Presidential Award and Utah state Sen. Luz Robles at its annual Legislative Conference Feb. 13.
Among those attending the conference will be Eduardo Medina-Mora, the Mexican ambassador to the U.S.