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TALKING POINTS

Federal appeals court blocks Trump rules on employers restricting free birth control

WORKPLACE

Federal appeals court blocks Trump rules on employers restricting free birth control

A divided US appeals court Thursday blocked rules by the Trump administration that allowed more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control. States were likely to succeed on their claim that the changes to President Barack Obama’s health care law were made without required notice and public comment, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said in a 2-1 decision. The majority upheld a preliminary injunction against the rules issued by a lower court judge last year. It, however, limited the scope of the injunction, applying it only to the five states in the lawsuit and not the entire country. Obama’s health care law required most companies to cover birth control at no additional cost, though it included exemptions for religious organizations. The new policy allowed more categories of employers, including publicly traded companies, to opt out of providing free contraception to women by claiming religious objections. It also allowed any company that is not publicly traded to deny coverage on moral grounds. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

AGRICULTURE

Romaine lettuce contamination linked to farm in central California

US health officials have traced a dangerous bacterial outbreak in romaine lettuce to at least one farm in central California. Food regulators said Thursday that other farms are likely involved in the E. coli outbreak and consumers should continue checking the label before purchasing romaine lettuce. The Food and Drug Administration said 59 people have now been sickened by the tainted lettuce. Officials said a water reservoir at Adams Brothers Farms in Santa Barbara County tested positive for the bacterial strain and the owners are cooperating with US officials. The government also narrowed the source of the outbreak to three California counties: Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Benito. The FDA said lettuce from other areas harvested after Nov. 23 should be safe to eat. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

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SPACE TRAVEL

Virgin Galactic spaceship climbs more than 50 miles above the California desert

Virgin Galactic’s tourism spaceship climbed more than 50 miles high above California’s Mojave Desert on Thursday, reaching for the first time what the company considers the boundary of space. The rocket ship reached an altitude of 51 miles before beginning its gliding descent, said mission official Enrico Palermo. The craft landed on a runway minutes later. Thursday’s flight takes Virgin Galactic a big step closer to turning the dream of commercial space tourism into reality. The company aims to take paying customers on the six-passenger rocket, which is about the size of an executive jet. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has said he wants to be one of the first on board. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

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MORTGAGES

Rates fall to lowest level in three months

Long-term mortgage rates fell this week to their lowest level in three months, an inducement to prospective homebuyers in a haltingly recovering market. Continued steep declines in the stock market pushed home borrowing rates lower, although they remain much higher than a year ago. Mortgage giant Freddie Mac says the average rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 4.63 percent from to 4.75 percent last week. The key rate stood at 3.93 percent a year ago. The rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans fell to 4.07 percent from 4.21 percent the previous week. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

TRAVEL

Carnival Cruise ship to offer roller coaster rides

Carnival Corp.’s new Mardi Gras ship will feature a first for a cruise line: a roller coaster at sea. The coaster will send four riders on motorcycle-like vehicles traveling at up to 40 miles an hour, almost 19 stories above the ocean. Cruise-line operators, which have a record number of new ships on order, have been in an arms race of sorts, trying to come up with more jaw-dropping attractions to lure guests. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. put what it calls the tallest slide on its new Symphony of the Seas, while Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.’s Bliss recently debuted a two-level, go-kart track. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

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COFFEE

Starbucks brings high-end cafe and roastery to NYC

Starbucks Corp. is bringing its high-end cafe and roastery concept to New York City, seeking to bolster its premium-coffee credentials in Wall Street’s backyard. The opening of the Reserve Roastery coincides with a Starbucks investor conference in New York. The concept is a key part of the company’s bid to bring some premium sparkle back to a brand that’s gone mainstream as it expanded across the United States and the world. The three-level coffee palace across the street from Chelsea Market includes a 60-foot bar offering $23 cocktails made with cold brew and Veuve Clicquot champagne. There are two areas where coffee is prepared and a Princi Italian bakery on site sells pastries and pizza. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

THEME PARKS

SeaWorld says DOJ has ended probe sparked by ‘Blackfish’

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. says it has been notified that the US Department of Justice is ending its probe into whether company officials misled investors about the negative impact the documentary ‘‘Blackfish’’ was having on its business. In September, SeaWorld and two former executives agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle federal fraud claims brought by the US Securities and Exchange Commission alleging they had made misleading statements about the documentary’s impact. The Orlando-based theme park company said Wednesday in a SEC filing that Justice Department has now notified the company that it won’t take any action. Attendance and revenue declined after the release of the 2013 documentary about the life of Tilikum, an orca that killed a SeaWorld trainer during a performance in Orlando in 2010. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

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FOOD DELIVERIES

Postmates to use robots to deliver food in LA

Your next meal could be delivered to you by a robot. Postmates Inc., which shuttles food from restaurants to hungry customers, unveiled Thursday a bright-yellow, Minion-looking cube on wheels dubbed Serve. The little rover will initially be deployed in Los Angeles, but Postmates aims to roll out more of them in other cities across the US in the next 12 months. San Francisco-based Postmates is betting that robots can drive down costs for consumers and is seeking to get out ahead in the ultra-competitive food-delivery business. Postmates currently does more than 4 million deliveries a month. It said Serve will enhance its fleet of 350,000 people and enable it to complete even more deliveries more efficiently. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

EMPLOYMENT

Jobless claims at lowest level since September

Filings for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest since September, returning to hover near an almost five-decade low and signaling the labor market remains tight after what some economists saw as possible cooling signs. Jobless claims dropped to 206,000 in the week ended Dec. 8, below the 226,000 median estimate in Bloomberg’s survey of economists, Labor Department figures showed Thursday. The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, decreased to 224,750. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

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