National briefs: Firms offload pension plans

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WASHINGTON -- Strong stock market gains and slowly rising interest rates have left corporate pension plans in their healthiest state since the recession hit, a development that analysts say creates an opportunity for many firms to offload them.

The funding level for the nation's largest corporate pension plans increased sharply in 2013, with the ratio of assets to liabilities rising from 77 percent at the end of 2012 to 93 percent at the end of 2013, according to Towers Watson, a benefits consultancy. That has left corporate pensions in their best shape since 2007, when the average funding level for Fortune 1000 firms offering traditional pensions stood at 106 percent.

Firms are shedding plans either by paying out the pensions to workers as a lump sum or transferring the future liabilities -- and the money set aside to meet them -- to insurance companies.

Immigrant gets law license

SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Supreme Court granted a law license Thursday to a man living in the United States illegally who graduated from law school and passed the state bar exam.

Sergio Garcia had challenged a 1996 federal law that bars people living in the country illegally from receiving professional licenses from government agencies or with the use of public funds, unless state lawmakers vote otherwise. A new state law went into effect Jan. 1.

Snapchat targets hacking

NEW YORK -- Snapchat said late Thursday that it plans to put out a more secure version of its application following a breach that allowed hackers to collect the usernames and phone numbers of some 4.6 million of its users.

The disappearing-message service popular with young people said in a blog post that the updated version of its app would allow users to opt out of its "Find Friends" feature, which was apparently at the heart of the breach, and would stem future attempts to abuse its service.

Women's combat fitness

WASHINGTON -- More than half of female Marines in boot camp can't do three pullups, the minimum standard that was supposed to take effect with the new year, prompting the Marine Corps to delay the requirement, part of the process of equalizing physical standards to integrate women into combat jobs.

The delay rekindled sharp debate in the military on the question of whether women have the physical strength for some military jobs, as service branches move toward opening thousands of combat roles to them in 2016.

Priest-slaying case

EUREKA, Calif. -- Police arrested a suspect Thursday in the killing of a respected priest and educator who was found dead on New Year's Day in a church rectory in Northern California.

Gary Lee Bullock, 43, of Redway was taken into custody by Humboldt County deputies in the killing of the Rev. Eric Freed, according to a statement by Eureka police. Officials were still seeking a motive.

Chinese Consulate fire

SAN FRANCISCO -- Federal officials said Thursday that a fire at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco was ignited at the front of the building, leading to an arson investigation and calls from the Chinese government for better protection of diplomats in the U.S.

The blaze on Wednesday night was not being investigated as an act of terrorism, the FBI said. No one was hurt in the fire that charred a doorway, damaged the lobby and burned upward toward the roof.

-- Compiled from news services

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