Dothan: Volunteers are needed to assist in the annual count of homeless persons in southeastern Alabama. The Southeast Alabama Coalition for the Homeless has arranged for the count to take place Saturday, Jan. 25, in the Dothan area. It takes roughly two hours starting at 10 a.m. Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development asks communities across the nation to count the homeless – those without a physical address for the annual Point-in-Time Count. Homeless persons are categorized in the count as sheltered, living in an emergency shelter or transitional housing, or unsheltered, living in a place not meant for human habitation. The count allows HUD and local agencies to identify trends in the number of homeless people and determine if the number is increasing or decreasing. The numbers can also be used for state and federal funding through grants.
Juneau: Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is working with Senate Democratic leader Tom Begich on legislation aimed at ensuring students are proficient in reading by third grade. Dunleavy said it’s a moral imperative to ensure children can read at a level that helps them advance through school and life. Details of the bill were outlined Wednesday at an Anchorage school, ahead of the new legislative session beginning next week. Begich, in a statement, said some things, such as the education of Alaska children, are more important than their political differences. Dunleavy defeated Begich’s brother, former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, in the 2018 governor’s race. The administration said the legislation would include screenings to identify students with potential reading difficulties, individual reading plans and various ways for students to demonstrate reading skills required to move to fourth grade.
Prescott: A couple says their senior living community won’t allow their orphaned grandson to keep staying with them because of age limits. The boy’s mother died in 2018, and his father took his own life two weeks later, said his grandmother, Melodie Passmore. Not long after, Collin Clabaugh, 15, moved in with his grandparents. The family received a letter last month from attorneys for the Gardens at Willow Creek homeowners association saying the community’s age restrictions must be followed. The minimum age to live there is 19. The Passmores have until June to move or find another home for their grandson. While some residents said they support Clabaugh living there, association board members said they also received complaints. Some residents said they’d consider taking action if the board doesn’t enforce the age limits, according to the attorney’s letter. Lawyers say forcing the teen to leave is legal under the Housing for Older Persons Act.
Little Rock: A 78-year-old man has been sentenced to a year of probation after mailing white powder and a threatening letter about slavery reparations to Republican Sen. Tom Cotton’s office in Washington two years ago. Henry Edward Goodloe, who is black, pleaded guilty in federal court last August to a count of conveying false information about possessing a biological weapon for the letter he mailed to the white senator. He admitted to mailing an envelope containing a modest amount of white powder, wrapped in plastic, to Cotton’s office, in addition to a note stating, “You ignored me. Maybe this will get your attention.” During Tuesday’s sentencing, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker told Goodloe that while “it’s reasonable to expect a response from your elected officials,” his method of complaining “is a crime.” A hazardous response team determined the powder was unbleached flour and starch, according to prosecutors.
Sacramento: The governor has restarted a project to build a giant, underground tunnel that would pump billions of gallons of water from the San Joaquin Delta to the southern part of the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration on Wednesday issued a Notice of Preparation for the project, which is the first step in the state’s lengthy environmental review process. Last year, Newsom halted a similar project that would have built two tunnels for the same purpose. The new project will have only one tunnel and carry less water. State officials don’t know how much it will cost. The San Joaquin Delta is home to nearly 750 species of plants and wildlife. It’s also a critical part of the breeding network of wild salmon. The Sierra Club California has opposed diverting water from the delta because the organization is concerned about the impact on fish and wildlife.
Durango: The school district is considering implementing a ban on cellphone use by middle school students, officials say. Durango School District 9-R may prohibit all student cellphone use, which would expand the existing policy, The Durango Herald reports. Current rules allow phone use between classes and during lunch, district spokeswoman Julie Popp says. Administrators at the district’s two middle schools asked the school board to consider the ban, Superintendent Dan Snowberger says. Durango High School has not expressed interest in a similar step, he says. Board members said they are open to the possibility of a policy change that could also include elementary schools and asked Snowberger to seek parent and teacher feedback. The school district last month announced a police investigation into widespread sharing of explicit and inappropriate photographs by middle school and high school students.
Hartford: Former Gov. John G. Rowland, who has served two stints in federal prison, has asked to be released early from the probationary period stemming from his most recent conviction so he can devote himself more fully to his job with a prison ministry. Rowland, 62, is director of development for the Northeast region for Prison Fellowship, a Christian group that ministers to convicts. In legal papers filed Tuesday, Rowland says as long as his three-year probationary term is in effect, he is prevented by security rules in some states from escorting donors and volunteers into prisons, according to the Hartford Courant. The Republican was Connecticut’s governor from 1995 to 2004. His first sentence stemmed from a public corruption scandal when he was governor and the second to a plot to hide political consulting work for two congressional campaigns.
Wilmington: The city is calling its new, GPS-equipped residential trash bins being delivered to households this week “state-of-the-art.” The “smart” technology, officials said in a news release, will allow the public works department to track garbage collection in real time and prevent bins from disappearing. Eventually, the city plans to make the data available in real time to residents. The new technology also puts a cap on residents’ trash, as they can put their refuse only in the new 65-gallon cans and not in bags on the street. Any amount of garbage exceeding those cans will not be collected, officials said, as residents are encouraged to “ensure (they) are recycling to the fullest.” Officials hope to reduce residential trash by 20%, which Public Works Commissioner Kelly Williams said would save the city $274,000 in landfill fees. The city is paying $330,800 a year over the next five years for the new bins and software, Williams said.
District of Columbia
Washington: Metrorail ridership numbers have gone up for the first time in nearly a decade, WUSA-TV reports, citing data released Wednesday by the transit agency. Transit officials say the 4% increase represents a turnaround in public opinion of Metro, beleaguered by slumping ridership driven by a yearslong safety overhaul and reliability issues. Officials say an average of 626,000 riders boarded trains each weekday in 2019, an extra 20,000 riders over 2018. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel says the increase happened despite “major headwinds” – a federal government shutdown that kept commuters home until the last week of January and a 100-day station rehab project that closed six stops in Alexandria. Metro thinks ridership gains were driven by service improvements for everyday commuters, ridership growth on weekends and major events. Officials say ridership peaked during Nationals postseason games in October.
Tallahassee: The state Senate unveiled a gleaming new piece of art at one of its most-visited corridors in the Capitol this week, after removing an old mural that included the Confederate flag. The new artwork – a huge piece of wood in the shape of the state – represents the latest effort by lawmakers to strip away the divisive symbol from its official emblems amid scrutiny in recent years over public monuments to the Confederacy. The original “Five Flags” mural was commissioned by the Senate in 1978. Senate officials said the renovation of the chambers in 2016 prompted the mural’s removal, but it was never returned to the space it occupied for nearly 40 years at the public entrance of the Senate gallery. The new artwork also includes the Senate’s revamped seal, which was also recently changed to remove the Confederate flag.
Atlanta: The Georgia Aquarium has announced that one of its beluga whales is a mother-to-be. A 20-year-old beluga named Whisper is expected to give birth to a calf in April, the aquarium’s vice president of animal health confirmed in a statement Tuesday. The gender of the baby won’t be revealed until birth. Whisper arrived in Georgia from Seaworld Orlando nearly a year ago, news outlets report. The aquarium is home to four other belugas, which are native to Arctic waters. Qinu, another of the aquarium’s female belugas, was expecting her first calf in June 2017 but experienced complications during labor, and the baby died. Two other newborn belugas died at the aquarium between 2012 and 2015. Still, the aquarium is “hopeful” Whisper will safely deliver a healthy baby in the spring and add to its growing community of belugas, the statement said.
Honolulu: Reports of a “ghost net” floating off the state’s coast have mariners, pilots and residents on the lookout for the large array of netting that poses a threat to sea life. The U.S. Coast Guard, state Department of Land and Natural Resources, and local boating companies have all been alerted, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The net with a yellow floater bucket was spotted west of Molokini islet Dec. 29, and a handful of nonprofit groups began planning its recovery. Poor weather has impeded searches for the drifting net, which is estimated to be 50 feet long and deep by 70 feet wide. Nikolai Maximenko, an oceanography researcher with the University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center, said ocean currents have been variable in recent weeks, and the net could have drifted anywhere from Oahu to Maui and Hawaii island.
Boise: People who are experiencing a mental health crisis can now dial a three-digit number to reach a suicide prevention hotline. Gov. Brad Little announced this week that suicide prevention help has been added to the existing 211 Idaho CareLine. Previously, people who called 211 seeking help for suicidal thoughts would be connected to an operator, who would then give them a separate 10-digit phone number to call. With the new system, people dialing 2-1-1 can be transferred automatically to the Idaho Suicide Prevention hotline via a phone tree or by asking an operator. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Idahoans ages 15 to 34, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “The statistic about Idaho and suicide is something none of us are proud of,” Little said. “But we have to continue to do all of these incremental things to help with mental illness challenges all over the state.”
Chicago: Lincoln Towing Service, reviled by owners of illegally parked cars and parodied in a 1972 folk song for its aggressive way of doing business, may stay in business, a Cook County judge ruled Wednesday. The judge ruled the Illinois Commerce Commission “violated fundamental fairness” when it failed to advise Lincoln Towing it could lose its license through the hearing process. The ICC voted in 2018 to revoke Lincoln Towing’s license for failing to conduct its business “with honesty and integrity.” A temporary restraining order allowed it to keep operating during its appeal. Lincoln Towing was dubbed the “Lincoln Park Pirates” in a 1972 song by Steve Goodman that parodied the company with the line, “There’s no car too heavy, and no one can make us shut down.” In its nearly 60 years of operation, Lincoln Towing has been targeted with lawsuits and slammed by consumers for the alleged unauthorized towing of vehicles.
Indianapolis: The State Board of Education is returning three Indianapolis schools and a Gary school to local control, ending state takeovers prompted by poor academic performance. Members of the board voted 6-2 Wednesday to allow Indianapolis Public Schools to regain control this summer of Emma Donnan Middle School and Thomas Carr Howe and Emmerich Manual high schools. Florida-based Charter Schools USA was hired in 2012 to turn around the three schools after the state assumed control of them following six consecutive years of low student scores on standardized exams. The Indianapolis school district plans to close Thomas Carr Howe this summer. District officials said a committee will then take about a year to “reimagine” what should happen to the campus. The board also voted unanimously to immediately return Gary’s Theodore Roosevelt College & Career Academy to the control of the Gary Community School Corp.
Iowa City: A man who has spent 43 years in prison for a murder his lawyers say his half-brother likely committed is requesting DNA testing on a hunting cap left at the scene of the deadly robbery and shooting in southeast Iowa. Gentric Hicks, 73, is serving a life sentence for the 1976 slaying of 28-year-old Jerry Foster at the Hill Crest Motel near Fort Madison. He is imprisoned at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, where he is considered a model inmate. The Midwest Innocence Project and the wrongful conviction unit of the state public defender’s office filed the petition on Hicks’ behalf this week. Iowa is one of 13 states that has never had an inmate exonerated by DNA, but tests on previously unexamined crime scene evidence are being sought or are underway in several cases dating back decades. Hicks’ case is the oldest yet.
Topeka: The state’s top prosecutor wants to crack down on indoor vaping. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Wednesday in a news release that he wants the Kansas Indoor Clean Air Act to also cover vaping and has crafted legislation to make the change. The law prohibits smoking in most public places, including workplaces, public buildings, bars and restaurants. “We see no logical reason to protect indoor vaping in public places where indoor smoking is already prohibited by law,” Schmidt said. “I suspect the reason indoor vaping is not already covered by the Clean Indoor Air Act is simply that nobody was thinking about vaping in 2010 when the law was enacted. Our proposal would update the law and close this loophole.” Schmidt said medical professionals suggest secondhand vape aerosol particles, like secondhand smoke, are harmful to people who inhale them.
Louisville: State officials are inviting a Planned Parenthood clinic to apply for a license to perform abortions after it was denied by former Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration. If a license is approved for the Louisville clinic, it would become only the second abortion provider in the state. Bevin, a staunchly anti-abortion Republican, had ordered abortions halted at the downtown facility after learning early in his term as governor in 2016 that it was performing the procedure. The two sides had battled in court since then. Bevin lost his reelection bid to Democrat Andy Beshear in November, and Beshear, who supports abortion rights, took office Dec. 10. After Planned Parenthood stopped providing abortions in 2016, the EMW clinic, also in Louisville, became the state’s only provider.
New Orleans: The University of New Orleans is promising to fill any unmet financial need for tuition and fees for eligible city residents. The Privateer Pledge, as it’s being called, will go into effect starting in the fall 2020 semester, the university says. Orleans Parish residents who graduated from a public or private parish high school are eligible. “A University of New Orleans education can transform a student’s life,” President John Nicklow said in a news release. Students must be eligible for a Pell Grant, and their annual family income cannot exceed $60,000, the university says. Students must maintain a 2.0 GPA and be full-time students to remain eligible for the program. They must be admitted as a freshman to the university and have filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The pledge covers four years of unmet need for tuition and fees or until graduation, whichever happens first.
Augusta: The state reported a record number of Lyme disease cases last year, and the number could rise as data continues to trickle in, officials said Thursday. There were at least 2,079 cases in 2019, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports. It’s too early to say why the numbers grew last year. But the numbers underscore the importance of taking precautions to avoid tick bites, says Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC. Winter is a time of low tick activity. But ticks can be active when the temperature climbs above 40, as it did last weekend in Maine. The state also experienced increases in two other tickborne diseases, with 685 cases of anaplasmosis and 138 cases of babesiosis. Lyme disease is caused by bacteria carried by infected deer ticks. It’s often accompanied by a rash referred to as the “bull’s-eye” because of its shape.
Baltimore: An association representing libraries is honoring the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. A division of the American Library Association has added the Poe House to its national registry of Literary Landmarks. The museum will host a dedication ceremony Sunday, which coincides with the celebration of the 211th anniversary of Poe’s birth. The organization says the Poe House is the first literary site in Maryland to be included in the registry. The master of Gothic horror lived at the Baltimore house from 1833 to 1835. It became a museum in 1949 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971. The museum says “MS. Found in a Bottle,” “Berenice” and “Morella” are among the stories Poe wrote at the landmark.
New Braintree: Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled legislation Thursday aimed at overhauling the way Massachusetts State Police hires, promotes and disciplines troopers, as well as jettisoning a mandate that the agency’s commander be appointed from within. The proposed overhaul comes as the agency deals with corruption, mismanagement and misconduct scandals. The Republican governor made the announcement alongside recently appointed State Police Col. Christopher Mason at the State Police Training Academy in New Braintree. The bill would streamline the process for suspending officers without pay and let agencies recover damages from police officers who submit false claims for hours worked. The bill would also let external candidates apply for the post of colonel provided they have 10 or more years in law enforcement and five or more years in a police or military leadership position.
Detroit: Pens and pencils – which were prohibited in the 36th District Court in Detroit – are no longer contraband. Chief Judge William C. McConico gave the order Thursday and made a point of noting that the writing tools restriction had placed “an unnecessary hardship on the public,” with the potential harm of the ban outweighing the potential security benefit. A prohibition on writing tools, the judge said, had been in place since 2017. At the time, news outlets reported the ban was in place to prevent mural vandalization. Until now, if someone tried to enter the courthouse with a pencil or pen, it would be confiscated when they walked through metal detectors. The change illustrates how Michigan’s courts are wrestling with the competing values of freedom and security.
Minneapolis: Years of unchecked agricultural pollution have led Minnesotans to drink tap water contaminated with unsafe levels of nitrate, a chemical associated with cancer and other serious health problems. A report released this week by the Environmental Working Group found that 1 in 8 Minnesotans is drinking nitrate-tainted tap water, according to the Star Tribune. The environmental group says Minnesota is on “the brink of a public health crisis.” Nitrate, a chemical component in fertilizer and manure, is being washed away by rain and irrigation off crop fields and seeping into groundwater. Based on public records from the state Department of Health and Department of Agriculture, the nitrate contamination is far worse in privately owned wells, given they are not required to be periodically tested like Minnesota public water systems are.
Jackson: The state Supreme Court’s confirmation of a 12-year prison sentence for an African American man who carried his mobile phone into a county jail cell is being slammed as a brutal example of racial injustice. Even one of the justices who joined in the unanimous ruling said that while the sentence is legal, the prosecutor and trial judge could have avoided punishing the man entirely. Justice Leslie King, the only African American justice on the nine-member court, wrote that Willie Nash’s case “seems to demonstrate a failure of our criminal justice system on multiple levels” because it’s not clear whether Nash was properly searched or told not to take his phone into his cell when he was booked on a misdemeanor charge. Sentencing reform advocates have expressed outrage, and Leonard Pitts, a nationally syndicated Miami Herald columnist, published Gov. Tate Reeves’ phone number, urging readers to tell the newly inaugurated governor to “let my people go.”
Jefferson City: Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday called for a new state savings fund and reaffirmed his support for gun rights in the face of a spike in violence in the state’s biggest cities. Parson identified both as top goals for the year in a State of the State speech to the Republican-led Legislature. Parson and other elected officials face heightened pressure to act after a particularly violent 2019. St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield all have seen spikes in gun crimes and homicides in recent years, and more than a dozen children were killed in gun violence in St. Louis in 2019. While Democrats have called for more restrictions on gun ownership and greater flexibility for cities to impose their own gun rules, the Republican governor made clear that’s not his plan, citing his time in the Army and law enforcement and lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association.
Bozeman: Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport saw more passengers than ever before in 2019 even as nearby Yellowstone National Park reported a dip in visitation. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports 1.57 million passengers traveled through the airport last year, a more than 17% increase from 2018. That marks the 10th consecutive year the airport has beaten its own record. Airport director Brian Sprenger says passenger numbers dipped in 2009 because of the economic recession but have been on the rise ever since. Meanwhile, Yellowstone National Park announced Wednesday that it recorded a little more than 4 million visits last year, the lowest number since 2014. The year-end figure marks an almost 6% drop since the park’s record-breaking 2016 season.
Omaha: Health officials say they’re investigating a string of tuberculosis cases in the area. The Douglas County Health Department said Wednesday that 13 people have tested positive for latent tuberculosis, and one child has a confirmed active case of the lung infection, television station KETV reports. The department says it has tested 31 people since December, when it learned a person from out of state staying with family was diagnosed with the disease. Tuberculosis is slow to develop, and it can take up to 10 weeks before a person who has been exposed tests positive for the infection. Common symptoms include unexplained rapid weight loss, profuse coughing, night sweats and fever. It is treated with a course of antimicrobial drugs.
Gerlach: The rural desert town that sold 1.16 million gallons of water during Burning Man last year is thirsty for a little more money in exchange for the town’s most precious resource. The General Improvement District for Gerlach, a 100-person town known best as the gateway to the Black Rock Desert, recently approved a 2-cent water rate increase, to 7 cents a gallon, for large-scale water vendors the week of Burning Man. “(Water) is invaluable. It’s the most important resource in Nevada, in the world,” said Susie Jackson, a member of the Gerlach General Improvement District. But the Burning Man Project is not thrilled about the price hike. Last year, Gerlach made $18,000 off the more than 357,000 gallons sold to the Burning Man Project; the town would make $25,000 off the same amount this year. Burning Man Associate Director Chris Neary has said that “unnecessarily increasing the price to consumers will drive business away.”
Concord: The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated eight of the state’s counties as primary natural disaster areas in response to the fluctuating temperatures in all but two of state’s counties this past year, which has left farmers with poor conditions for crops, New Hampshire Public Radio reports. Farmers in the designated counties saw at least a 30% loss of alfalfa, raspberry or blueberry crops. The farmers and producers who have been affected or suffered losses from the cold and temperature fluctuations last winter and early spring are eligible to apply for emergency loans. Carl Majewski, a field specialist at the Cheshire County University of New Hampshire’s extension office, said what is happening in these counties is supported by climate science, and winters are getting milder.
Jersey City: The Boss’ son is now officially a firefighter for the city. Sam Springsteen, the 25-year old son of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, was one of 15 new firefighters sworn in this week during a ceremony at City Hall. “It was a long road, and he was very dedicated,” proud pop Bruce said at the ceremony, according to the Hudson County View. “We’re just excited for him today.” Sam and his fellow new firefighters just completed five months of training at the Public Safety Training Academy in Morristown. “It wasn’t easy,” Sam said. There are now 666 firefighters in Jersey City.
Albuquerque: The state’s child poverty rate rose slightly and continues to rank near the bottom nationally despite improvements in the state’s economy, a child-advocacy group said Wednesday. The 2019 New Mexico Kids Count Data Book, released by New Mexico Voices for Children, found 26% of the state’s children in 2018 remained at or below the federal poverty line. That places the state back to 49th nationally in child poverty, where it ranked in previous studies. A similar study last year showed New Mexico ranked 48th. In addition, the report found 30% of the state’s Hispanic children were living in poverty, as were 41% of New Mexico’s Native American children. The findings come days before the Legislature is set to begin a 30-day session where issues related to child poverty and education are expected to dominate.
Albany: The state has become the 10th to allow adopted adults unrestricted access to their original birth certificates, a step that will help some investigate their family histories. A new law effective Wednesday does away with restrictions dating back to the 1930s that required an adoptee to seek a hard-to-get court order to access original birth records. Those rules had originally been intended to protect the privacy of parents who relinquished their children. But attitudes about the rights of adopted individuals have shifted, while social media and DNA technology have made it easier for long-separated relatives to connect. Some Catholic groups, adoption agencies, and some birth mothers and adoptive parents had opposed lifting the privacy restrictions over fear about traumatizing people – including survivors of rape and incest – who had given up their children.
Princeville: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to spend $39.6 million to help preserve a town founded by freed slaves that’s been damaged repeatedly by floodwaters from hurricanes. The project money, which comes from $740 million allocated to the Corps in a disaster relief funding bill approved in June, should help better protect Princeville, members of the state’s congressional delegation say. Princeville, a town with 2,200 residents about 75 miles east of Raleigh, was the country’s first town incorporated by black Americans. Repeated flooding has made it difficult for residents to remain. The money will help increase the elevations of highways and install levees around the Tar River, near where the town sits, according to the offices of Republican Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr.
Bismarck: Gov. Doug Burgum sees progress in state government’s relationship with American Indian tribes, but he acknowledges there is more work to do. Burgum talked about the accomplishments with the tribes since he took office in 2016 during a tribal conference in Bismarck on Wednesday. An oil tax revenue-sharing compact with the the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, updated agreements for child welfare services for Native American families, and the display of tribal flags at the Capitol are among the moves Burgum cited. “We know that there are serious gaps that still exist,” he said. Tribal leaders discussed the need for understanding issues such as addiction, unemployment, youth engagement and the upcoming 2020 U.S. census on reservations, the Bismarck Tribune reports.
Columbus: Ohio’s Statehouse would join a small number of others around the country with outdoor monuments dedicated to real women in U.S. history under a proposal Thursday by members of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission to create a memorial to Ohio women who fought for voting rights. Currently, all statues of historical figures outside the Statehouse are of men. “Who are these seven men?” asks a trivia question for tourists at the base of the Civil War statue, which is topped by a statue of a woman from ancient Rome whose sons were prominent in the military and politics. Around the corner, “Peace,” a winged female figure, stands on the north side of the Statehouse, remembering Ohio’s civil war soldiers “And The Loyal Women Of That Period.” Another statue of a generic woman, also representing peace, sits below a statue of President William McKinley, who was also an Ohio governor.
Oklahoma City: The death penalty would no longer be a sentencing option in the state under a bill filed this week. Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, filed the legislation that would eliminate the death sentence beginning Nov. 1. It would not apply retroactively to inmates already on death row. “Oklahomans are becoming more aware of the wasted costs of capital punishment, a system that provides no deterrent to crime while flushing millions down the drain that could be better spent on responses to violence that actually work,” Dunnington said in a statement. It’s unlikely the bill will pass the Republican-controlled Legislature, but Dunnington says the issue shouldn’t be partisan. The measure already has the support of The Most Rev. Paul Coakley, archbishop of Oklahoma City. Oklahoma has had one of the busiest death chambers in the country but hasn’t carried out an execution since January 2015.
Salem: The GOP leader in the state Senate says there could be another walkout by Republicans over legislation aimed at stemming global warming. “I’m still having conversations, but nothing is off the table,” Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. told reporters. He said a draft bill is similar to one Democrats introduced in 2019 that resulted in a nine-day walkout by the minority Republicans last June, preventing a quorum in the Senate. The Republicans fled the state under threat of being arrested by the Oregon State Police to compel their return. They returned to the Capitol only after Democrats announced the bill was dead because they lacked votes to independently pass the measure. Like its predecessor, the draft bill would force big greenhouse gas emitters to obtain credits for each ton of gas they emit and would create an overall cap for emissions allowed in the state.
Harrisburg: A divided state House voted Wednesday to ban the use of handheld phones for all drivers to make calls, although police would not be allowed to stop motorists for that reason alone. Representatives voted 120-74 for the proposal that would expand current law, which bans any texting and prohibits the use of handheld devices to make phone calls for truckers and other commercial drivers. The prime sponsor, Rep. Rosemary Brown, R-Monroe, said she was disappointed that the House had amended the bill so that police could not stop drivers for using handheld phones, making it instead a secondary offense that would result in more severe penalties when paired with another violation. The proposal in the House split both the Republican and Democratic caucuses, unusual in a chamber where divisions usually follow party lines.
Providence: Native American arrowheads have been returned to the museum from which they were stolen nearly 30 years ago. Agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security located the 34 white-quartz arrowheads in an eBay advertisement, WPRI-TV reports. The couple who attempted to sell the arrowheads say they did not know there were stolen and claim to have traded a case of wine for the collection on Craigslist in 2017. Jason Langlais, a descendant of the archaeologist who discovered the arrowheads, says they are up to 3,000 years old and were a part of throwing darts. “These belonged to people who were able to survive our harsh winters using sticks, stones and bones,” Langlais says. “This is what fed their families and kept them from going cold in the wintertime.”
Columbia: As the state’s Democrats seek to unseat U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, their party unity got a boost Wednesday when one of their candidates dropped out to support the campaign of a former state party chairman. In a news conference at the Statehouse, Gloria Bromell Tinubu announced she would suspend her campaign and back Democratic National Committee associate chairman and former state party chairman Jaime Harrison in his effort to unseat the three-term Republican. Flipping a Senate seat from red to blue in South Carolina would be difficult and likely would require millions of dollars. National-level groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee would be crucial in raising that kind of money. Harrison has said he thinks it could take $10 million to win the race next year. South Carolina last elected a new Democratic senator in 1966, with Fritz Hollings.
Keystone: President Donald Trump says he might attend a fireworks show that’s returning to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota’s Black Hills on July 4. Trump mentioned the fireworks display during a signing ceremony for the U.S.-China trade deal in Washington on Wednesday. Fireworks shows have not been held at Mount Rushmore since 2009, when a pine beetle infestation killed thousands of trees in the Black Hills, which created a fire hazard, according to the Rapid City Journal. A recent U.S. Geological Survey report also cited past fireworks displays at the monument as the probable cause for elevated concentrations of contaminants in groundwater near the monument. Trump brushed aside what he said were dubious environmental concerns that had previously prevented fireworks at Mount Rushmore. “What can burn? It’s stone. Nobody knew why,” Trump said.
Nashville: The city’s airport saw 18.3 million travelers in 2019, registering a seventh year in a row of record-setting growth. Nashville International Airport says the traveler total was an increase of more than 2.2 million compared to the 2018 calendar year. Last year was the airport’s first to see an increase of more than 2 million passengers and its second to welcome more than 1 million passengers every month. By 2024, the airport plans to have finished additional parking garages, a new concourse and terminal wings, expanded central terminal and security checkpoint, a state-of-the-art international arrivals facility, a new concessions program, an administration building, on-site hotel, an enhanced airport roadway system and potential transit connection.
Dallas: An initiative from three of America’s biggest beverage companies that aims to improve the recycling and processing of plastic bottles is kicking off in North Texas with an investment of more than $3 million. The American Beverage Association announced Thursday that the Dallas-Fort Worth area will be the first region to get an investment from the “Every Bottle Back” initiative launched in the fall by Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper. Efforts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area will include an investment to upgrade a recycling facility with technology that includes optical sorters, distributing educational materials on recycling, a public service campaign, and helping fund new pickup services for housing complexes that don’t currently have them, in addition to providing containers and signage in those places.
Salt Lake City: Gov. Gary Herbert ordered state health officials Wednesday to stop distributing condoms with cheeky plays on state pride that were branded as part of an HIV awareness campaign. The governor’s office released a statement Wednesday evening saying he understands the importance of educating residents about HIV prevention, but he does not approve of using sexual innuendo as part of a taxpayer-funded campaign, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The prophylactics are labeled with phrases like “The Greatest Sex on Earth,” a spin on the famous license-plate ski slogan “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” About 100,000 of the condoms were to be handed out for free through the Utah AIDS Foundation, local health departments and University of Utah clinics. Community activists also planned to place them at bars, social clubs and motels. The campaign was created with federal funds.
Montpelier: The state is continuing to be among the top states in the country in the per capita production of Peace Corps volunteers, the organization says. The latest statistics released Wednesday for 2019 show that Vermont, with a per capita rate of 8.1 volunteers per 100,000 residents, is only behind the District of Columbia, which had a rate of 18.2 volunteers per 100,000. Vermont has ranked among the top five states since 2011. Rounding out the top five are Montana, Virginia and Maryland. New Hampshire ranks seventh, followed by Maine. Currently, 51 Vermonters are serving abroad in the Peace Corps. Since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, 1,629 Vermont volunteers have served abroad. Nationally, the Burlington-South Burlington metropolitan area ranks fourth in the country for the number of volunteers per capita.
Virginia Beach: The city will have to consider multibillion-dollar infrastructure projects and other efforts to face the threat of sea-level rise, according to a study. The $3.8 million study also points to restricting new development in some parts of the city and purchasing properties in danger of flooding, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk reports. Dewberry, an engineering consulting firm, presented the report to the City Council on Tuesday. It was based on two sea-level rise estimates: 11/2 feet for the years 2035 to 2055 and 3 feet for 2065 to 2085. City Council and the planning commission still need to approve the report, which will serve as a framework for the city’s overall plan moving forward if finalized. Both bodies are planning to vote on it in February.
Seattle: Officials want the owners of about 150 properties along a lake to remove docks, boat lifts, decks, driveways, fences, landscaping and other amenities that stand in the way of completing a long-anticipated paved trail through the area. King County sent letters this week to the property owners along the East Lake Sammamish Trail, east of Seattle, telling them to remove any personal property by September so construction can begin as planned next year. The county said if the homeowners don’t, it will – and it may charge them for it. In addition, the county filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the owners of several million-dollar properties, seeking a declaration that the county owns the former railroad corridor where the trail is being built and that their boat docks and other structures must be “ejected.” The trail is part of a larger system that will link Seattle’s waterfront to the Cascade Mountains and the Iron Horse Trail, which runs across the state.
Charleston: Many voters casting ballots in the state in 2020 will do so on new voting machines. Secretary of State Mac Warner announced Wednesday that the state has used a $6.5 million federal Help America Vote Act grant to help upgrade voting systems, Charleston Gazette-Mail reports. The state spent about $13 million on the upgrades, including more than $11 million for touchscreen voting systems, Warner said. The state is also preparing to get a new round of $4 million of HAVA matching grants, and county commissions and county clerks will be able to decide how to use that funding, Warner said. He added that 64% of voters will cast a 2020 ballot on a new voting machine. That would be an increase from 16% of voters in 2016.
Madison: The state Assembly approved a bill Wednesday designed to help police better deal with time-consuming emergency mental health detentions. Officers have complained for years that they spend too much time waiting in emergency rooms for doctors to clear detainees for transport and driving them to facilities. The bipartisan bill would clarify state law to expressly allow police departments to contract with other law enforcement agencies, ambulance companies or other third parties to transport emergency detainees to facilities. The measure also requires state health officials to seek any federal approval they may need to provide Medicaid reimbursement to counties for transportation costs. If they obtain approval or discover they don’t need any, they would have to reimburse the counties for their costs. The Assembly passed the bill on a voice vote. It goes next to the state Senate.
Casper: State lawmakers in the new legislative session will have another opportunity to permanently shift the state to daylight saving time. A change to Mountain Daylight Time would essentially add an extra hour of daylight between November and March, The Casper Star Tribune reports. The shift would not take effect immediately if approved by state lawmakers, who are scheduled to meet in Cheyenne beginning Feb. 10. The federal government would also need to ratify the change. Republican Rep. Dan Laursen sponsored House Bill 44, which says the biannual time change between Mountain Standard Time and Mountain Daylight Time disrupts commerce and the daily schedules of residents. Laursen’s bill closely resembles similar legislation he proposed during the 2019 legislative session, which passed the House of Representatives but failed on two consecutive votes in the Senate.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports