Tuscaloosa: Leaders of several American Indian tribes are asking the University of Alabama to return nearly 6,000 human remains and artifacts from the school’s archaeological park and museum. The Oklahoma-based Muscogee Nation has tried for six years to get the remains back, but bureaucratic red tape has slowed the effort, said RaeLynn Butler, the Muscogee Nation’s historic and cultural preservation manager. The situation is no different than if someone dug up a family graveyard and took the remains for study, said Del Beaver, second chief of the Muscogee Nation. “And then if somebody asked for their grandma back, and we said, ‘No, there’s too much red tape,’ ” Beaver told the news site Al.com. “Just give us our people back.” Communications with the university slowed during the pandemic, frustrating tribal leaders who believe the remains and artifacts at the university’s Moundville Archaeological Park should be reburied, Butler said. This week, a federal review committee is scheduled to consider the evidence linking the seven tribes to Moundville and will rule on whether they can claim the remains as their own. However, the committee can’t force the university to turn over the remains and artifacts, Butler said.
Juneau: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is extending through May a timeline to decide how or whether to proceed with proposed restrictions on mining in the state’s Bristol Bay region, known for its salmon runs. Acting Regional Administrator Michelle L. Pirzadeh, in a written notice, said an extension through May would allow time “to consider available information in order to determine appropriate next steps, which may include revising” restrictions that were proposed but never finalized under the Obama administration. The EPA, as part of a 2017 settlement with the developer of the proposed Pebble Mine, agreed to initiate a process to suggest withdrawing the proposed restrictions. The developer, the Pebble Limited Partnership, cast the proposed restrictions as an attempt to preemptively veto the copper and gold mine and said it wanted the project vetted through the permitting process. The company subsequently filed a permit application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 2019, during the Trump administration, the EPA withdrew the proposed restrictions, removing what it called an “outdated, preemptive proposed veto of the Pebble Mine.” That action was challenged in court, and the EPA earlier this year asked a judge to vacate the withdrawal decision and send the matter back to the agency for further consideration. The request was granted.
Phoenix: A union representing the largest group of food service workers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport went on strike Monday, during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, to amplify concerns about wages, health insurance and retirement contributions. HMS Host is the single largest concessionaire at the airport in Phoenix that served more than 45 million passengers annually before the coronavirus pandemic. Workers with UNITE HERE Local 11 voted overwhelmingly last week to go on strike. The strike won’t affect flights but will affect hungry travelers because HMS operates more than two dozen restaurants and coffee shops. The company said in a statement that it will offer prepackaged food and scale down offerings for sit-down service during the strike. Four years of negotiations on a contract have failed, the labor union said in a statement. Workers are seeking raises, affordable health insurance, a company-paid retirement contribution and protection from discrimination, according to union officials. HMS Host said it offered substantial wage increases and benefits that include paying 90% of employees’ health care costs. The union represents less than half of the company’s hourly employees, HMS Host said.
Little Rock: A lawsuit settlement has prompted the Arkansas State Police to clarify when troopers can try to slow a fleeing vehicle by striking it with a patrol car. Between 2016 and 2020, use of the tactic – which is intended to cause the fleeing vehicle to spin out of control – has increased every year, according to data provided by state police, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. The tactic came under scrutiny after a July 9, 2020, incident in which state Trooper Rodney K. Dunn tried to stop Janice Nicole Harper for speeding as she drove in Pulaski County. Denton and Zachary PLLC, the law firm representing Harper, say she was looking for a safe place to pull over on the strip of highway that was lined with concrete barriers when Dunn used the maneuver, known as precision immobilization technique, or PIT, and caused Harper’s car to flip over. State police reached a preliminary settlement with Harper on Friday. Due to the settlement, state police clarified their use-of-force policy, instructing troopers to judge whether using the technique is “objectively reasonable,” Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler told the newspaper. Since 2018, at least 1 in 4 pursuits has ended with a PIT maneuver, and police and officials have defended its continued use.
San Francisco: During a visit Saturday to Alcatraz Island, which became a symbol of the struggles of Native Americans for self-determination following its takeover in the 1960s, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said progress has been made by Indigenous people, but more remains to be done. Haaland visited the island off San Francisco’s coast on the 52nd anniversary of the occupation by Indigenous students who were demanding that the U.S. government recognize long-standing agreements with tribes and turn over the deed to the island. The group was removed after a 19-month occupation, but the takeover became a watershed moment in Native American activism. “Alcatraz was borne out of desperation,” said Haaland, accompanied by some of the dozens of people who occupied the island in 1969. “Out of this we gained a sense of community and visibility in the eyes of the federal government. But more than that, our Indigenous identities were restored.” Haaland, who is from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, said that thanks to the actions of those activists, Native Americans no longer have to resort to extreme measures to be heard. “The fact that I’m standing here today is a testament to that fact,” she said. “I am here. We are here. And we are not going anywhere.”
Denver: Coloradans with COVID-19 who are at high risk of severe illness will no longer need a doctor’s referral before getting antibody treatments designed to keep them out of hospitals, starting this week. Gov. Jared Polis made the announcement expanding access to monoclonal antibodies Friday, the Denver Post reports. Colorado’s hospitals have been stressed by high COVID-19 caseloads, and 2 in every 5 hospitals reporting to the state expected to be short on intensive care beds within the next week. Roughly 45% of hospitals said they were experiencing staff shortages. About 1 in every 62 Colorado residents is currently infected with the coronavirus. Still, the governor has resisted reinstating public health measures such as mask mandates or capacity limits on businesses, despite calls from local public health officials to take more aggressive action. On Monday, the health departments representing Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe counties – which have lobbied Polis to issue a new mask mandate for public indoor spaces – planned to consider enacting their own. Public health experts warn coronavirus cases could climb as people gather together during the holiday season. In Colorado Springs, public defenders are working remotely after employees in the office were sent home amid a possible COVID-19 outbreak.
Hartford: Already facing higher fuel and salt prices, the state is looking for snowplow drivers to fill a shortage as winter approaches. The Connecticut Department of Transportation is seeking to hire nearly 140 more drivers to address a 13% driver shortage, The Day reports. DOT spokesperson Kafi Rouse told the newspaper the shortage is due to a recent spate of retirements and a shortage of applicants who have commercial driver’s licenses. It can be difficult to recruit snowplow drivers because of unpredictable scheduling, Rouse said. Kurt Hayes, owner of Hayes Services, a snow removal service in East Lyme, told The Day he has reduced his customer list due to supply shortages for snowplow parts. Fuel prices have doubled, and salt prices are up about 30%, said Rick Whittle, owner of Allied Snow Plowing Removal in Mystic. Whittle told the newspaper he has had to raise his prices by up to 15%. “Sometimes it can snow three times in a week, so it’s unpredictable to everyone involved, from the salt guy to the plow guy to everyone,” Whittle said. “That’s what makes it hard.”
Middletown: A blast heard throughout northern Delaware on Sunday was the result of an exploding rifle target that destroyed a nearby abandoned car, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office. The explosion near Middletown was reported shortly before noon in a farm field several hundred yards away from the main roadway in the 4700 block of Summit Bridge Road, officials said. No injuries have been reported. Prior to the explosion, several people gathered in the field for target practice with firearms until an explosive mixture, known as a “binary exploding rifle target,” was placed next to the abandoned vehicle. A long-range rifle detonated the target, leading to the vehicle being destroyed and fragments being scattered across almost 3 acres of farmland, officials said. The explosion sent shockwaves through social media as residents reported hearing a loud boom as far away as Newark and Bear. Numerous commenters also reported their houses shaking due to the explosion. Investigators canvassed the area to see if any property had been damaged as a result of the “misuse” of the target, officials said. The Delaware State Police Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit also assisted with destroying materials.
District of Columbia
Washington: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed millions of visitors through its doors since opening in 2016. Now, millions more can visit with the tap of a button, WUSA-TV reports. The museum launched its latest digital initiative, the Searchable Museum, on Thursday. The digital platform at searchablemuseum.com is aimed at capturing the in-house experience of the museum for anyone with access to a laptop, smartphone or other digital device. “This ongoing project provides a chance for Americans to realize our shared past, bringing the unique museum experience to their homes and on their phones,” said museum director Kevin Young. The digital project’s first exhibition, “Slavery and Freedom,” is based on an exhibition of the same name in the museum’s David M. Rubenstein History Galleries. Users will virtually experience recreations of striking moments from the gallery exhibition, including the History Elevator, which transports visitors back in time from the present to the early 1400s through images accompanied by the words of Maya Angelou. The Paradox of Liberty depicts Thomas Jefferson, U.S. president and principal author of the Declaration of Independence, surrounded by the names of the 609 people he enslaved over his lifetime.
Fort Lauderdale: A judge on Monday officially exonerated four young African American teens and men of the false accusation that they raped a white woman seven decades ago, making partial and belated amends for one of the greatest miscarriages of justice of Florida’s Jim Crow era. At the request of the local prosecutor, Administrative Judge Heidi Davis dismissed the indictments of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd, who were fatally shot by law enforcement, and set aside the convictions and sentences of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin. The Groveland Four, who ranged from 16 to 26 years old at the time, were accused of raping a woman in 1949. “We followed the evidence to see where it led us, and it led us to this moment,” said Bill Gladson, the local state attorney, following the hearing in the same Lake County courthouse where the original trials were held. Gladson, a Republican, moved last month to have the men exonerated. The men’s families said maybe this case will spark a reexamination of other convictions of Black men and women from the Jim Crow era. “We are blessed. I hope that this is a start because lot of people didn’t get this opportunity,” said Aaron Newson, Thomas’ nephew. He broke into tears as he spoke. “This country needs to come together.” Thomas was killed by a posse that shot him more than 400 times shortly after the rape accusation. The local sheriff, Willis McCall, fatally shot Shepherd and wounded Irvin in 1951 as he drove them to a second trial after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned their first convictions, saying no evidence had been presented. The sheriff claimed the men tried to escape, but Irvin said McCall and his deputy shot them in cold blood.
Athens: A newly launched program aims to provide people experiencing homelessness work for pay while also cleaning the city. “One of the things I think people can all come to common ground on is if some of the homeless are willing to work for these couple of hours, then that’s a win for everybody,” said James Scott, executive director of Sparrow’s Nest, a Christian ministry serving those in need. “It’s a win-win. A win for them, and also for the community in keeping Athens safe and clean.” Currently, the initiative pays members of the homeless community $10 an hour for about two hours once a week. It typically opens to the first 10 people to arrive at Sparrow’s Nest. Scott said the program has been running for more than a month, with hopes to expand it. “We want to increase it to two to three hours, or two to three times a week, or three to four hours, either-or, to be able to give people opportunity,” he said. Through expanding the program, Scott said, there’s hope that it can lead to building leadership and additional opportunities for participants. “My long-term hope is that we can begin to, because I’m in ministry, make disciples,” he said. “The guy who is picking up today, hopefully, he can be the guy when we move to 20 to be over a group of people.”
Wailuku: Some people on Maui want to limit bike tours they say create safety hazards, but company owners worry new restrictions would hurt business. Maui County Council Member Mike Molina introduced a bill last week to limit the times and number of people who could go on guided bike tours, The Maui News reports. Among the proposed rules is a ban on unguided tours and a requirement that guided tours operate only between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. The measure would also limit riders to 10 per group and cap the number of companies that can operate in certain districts to six. Jeremy Hall, co-owner of Haleakala Bike Company, said the proposal goes against small businesses and is anti-tourism. “We’re not some mainland company that’s popped up and is taking money out of the community, using public resources – we’re people who live Upcountry. My employees live Upcountry,” said Hall, whose business has been operating on Maui for 30 years. Some residents said the tours create traffic hazards. “These roadways were not built for bikes; these roadways are even risky for residents who live here,” said Haiku resident Jasmine Kilborn. “Visitors don’t know the area. They don’t know the road or what they’re getting themselves into.”
Boise: Most of the state’s emergency medical services rely entirely on volunteers and don’t have enough resources to meet the needs of their communities, according to a new report from the Office of Performance Evaluations. Just 18% of EMS directors reported that their agency is able to maintain sufficient staff, according to the report released Friday, and 65% said they experienced delayed emergency response times because of staffing problems within the past year. Under state law, emergency medical services aren’t considered “essential,” so there is no guarantee that every community will have access to ambulances or paramedics in an emergency. Across Idaho, EMS programs are run by a variety of entities – including private organizations, fire departments, local governments and other groups – using a patchwork of funding. In rural Idaho, nearly 7 out of 10 EMS providers are volunteers. “Agency officials we interviewed consistently reported that not every Idahoan gets the level of care they need during an emergency. They cited insufficient staffing as the primary reason,” the Office of Performance Evaluation staffers wrote in the report. A 2010 report from the Office of Performance Evaluations found similar problems, but lawmakers didn’t follow through on many of the things the office recommended to address the issues.
Springfield: The state wants the public’s help to return nearly a dozen Purple Heart medals to their rightful owners. The medals are awarded to members of the U.S. military who are injured or killed while serving. Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs said the 11 medals each were left in a bank safe deposit box that went untouched for years. The treasurer’s office received them as part of the office’s unclaimed property program after the owners could not be found. “These medals personify honor, sacrifice and duty,” Frerichs said. “They belong in the loving care of families rather than hidden inside our cold basement vault.” His office released a list Thursday of the last names associated with the safe deposit box, the date in which the medal was recorded with the state treasurer’s office and the location of the bank. They include multiple banks across Illinois and one in Portland, Oregon. Frerichs asked anyone who may have a lead on locating a veteran or his or her family to contact his office.
Evansville: Hundreds of onlookers gathered Sunday morning to watch as a series of blasts brought down an 18-story office tower that had been the city’s tallest building for than a half-century. Crowds watching from a safe distance cheered as a cloud of smoke enveloped part of downtown Evansville after a rapid series of blasts collapsed the 420 Main Building in less than a half-minute. The office tower had housed Old National Bank’s headquarters from 1970 to 2004. But after the bank moved out, the tower’s occupancy dropped, its condition deteriorated, and efforts to rehabilitate it failed. Neil Chapman’s law firm was the building’s last tenant. He hosted a party Sunday morning to watch the implosion from his new office in the Fifth Third Center, which at 15 stories is now the tallest structure in the southwestern Indiana city, along the Ohio River. “This was a man-made structure, 18 stories tall, and to see it come down suddenly and violently within seconds is amazing. It brings out your inner 8-year-old,” Chapman said. Contractors said most of the 18,000 tons of rubble left will be crushed and reused in the site’s redevelopment. The implosion makes way for a planned retail and apartment development that will top out at four stories. Property owner Domo is leading that endeavor, called Fifth & Main.
Des Moines: State officials say they will continue to strive for fewer than 300 annual traffic deaths, but it won’t happen in 2021. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports that as of Friday, Iowa’s traffic death count stood at 312. Iowa Department of Transportation officials say that outpaces the death toll for the same date in the four previous years, but it was below the 350 count by the same time in 2016 – the last year highway crashes claimed more than 400 lives. Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau Chief Brett Tjepkes said a safety campaign will continue to urge drivers to slow down, buckle up, drive sober and remain distraction-free heading into the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel period. State officials cite speeding as a major problem, and the state patrol has been cracking down, issuing more than twice as many tickets in 2020 compared to 2019.
Topeka: Conservative legislators struggled Monday to build support among Republicans for a proposal to provide unemployment benefits to workers who lose their jobs for refusing COVID-19 vaccines. The GOP-controlled Legislature opened a special session Monday. The measure on unemployment benefits was tied to another that would make it easier for workers to claim religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Both are responses to mandates from President Joe Biden covering more than 100 million American workers. The push for unemployment benefits for vaccine-refusing workers comes after GOP lawmakers worried for months that the depletion of funds to pay claims last year during the pandemic would force an increase in the state tax that finances the benefits. There’s bipartisan concern that the unemployment proposal before lawmakers now could lead to such a tax increase. “Most of our employers are small businesses. That increase in taxes, on unemployment, will be difficult,” state Sen. Jeff Longbine, of Emporia, told fellow Republicans during a meeting Monday before the session convened.
Louisville: The chemical giant Chemours, moving to cut emissions of a climate super-pollutant from its facility in the Rubbertown neighborhood, has asked city officials to issue a permit for new abatement equipment that could release chloroform and other hazardous air pollutants. The company plans to capture the climate super-pollutant hydrofluorocarbon-23 and transport the gas to a Chemours plant in West Virginia for destruction. As part of the process to capture HFC-23, about 1,600 pounds a year of chloroform, hydrochloric acid, chlorine and hydrogen fluoride, all hazardous air pollutants, could be emitted into neighborhoods around its Louisville facility. While not a local air pollutant, HFC-23 is one of the most potent greenhouse gases warming the planet. The chemical byproduct is 14,600 times more potent for warming of the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the primary driver of climate change. Chemours and Louisville officials say the net effect of the abatement project will be a major reduction in greenhouse gases blamed for heating the planet and a plantwide reduction in hazardous air contaminants – even though the proposed construction permit shows a chloroform tank and other new equipment could result in the release of those air pollutants.
New Orleans: The director of New Orleans Emergency Medical Services is resigning after more than three years in the job, a spokesperson for the struggling agency said Friday. Dr. Emily Nichols told her paramedics she was leaving the agency, which has been hit by staffing shortages worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. Spokesperson Jonathan Fourcade said Nichols’ departure is expected in the next few weeks. Details about why Nichols quit weren’t immediately available, but Fourcade said she had not been forced out, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports. Mayor LaToya Cantrell appointed Nichols in May 2018. New Orleans Emergency Medical Services was already dealing with staffing shortages and employee burnout when the pandemic began in 2020. COVID-19 sparked even more shortages, with emergency medical technicians and paramedics either out sick or in quarantine. Many ambulances have also broken down. Recently, with only nine ambulances available from a fleet of 40, Nichols decided to send some paramedics and EMTs home despite the staffing shortfalls, leaving the agency unable to answer some emergency medical calls.
Bangor: More hunters are seeing purple as property owners use the color to mark land that is off limits to hunting without first obtaining permission. Purple paint can be used on trees, rocks or fence posts as an alternative to nailing a sign on a tree to let others know that no hunting is allowed without advance permission, said Mark Latti of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The state’s “purple paint law” has been around since 2011, but it’s being used more and more with each passing year. The marking is a single vertical stripe of purple paint. Hardware stores sell special paint for use in marking properties. According to state law, the signs must be no more than 100 feet apart at locations that are readily visible to people approaching the property, as well as at all vehicular access points off a public road.
Baltimore: Nursing students at the University of Maryland are getting an early jump on their postgraduate careers. The university’s nursing school is allowing its students who are scheduled to graduate Dec. 23 to leave a few weeks early and begin working in the field. The move is motivated by a nursing shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Baltimore Sun reports it’s the fourth time the school has approved such an early-exit program. This time, it was in response to a request from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. All 161 bachelor’s degree students and 11 master’s degree students will leave early during a period that runs from Friday to the first week of December. “Nurses throughout Maryland have served courageously on the front lines for over 20 months,” the school’s dean, Jane Kirschling, said in a statement. “I am proud of our entry-into-practice students for their willingness to support these efforts, and I applaud all of our students for their resiliency and for persevering in their studies during a difficult time marked by uncertainty and ongoing challenges.”
Boston: First responders would be allowed to treat and transport injured police dogs to veterinary hospitals under a bill unanimously approved by the state Senate. The bill dubbed Nero’s Law was named for the K-9 partner of slain Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon. Gannon was fatally shot in 2018 while serving an arrest warrant. Nero was also shot, but because of current state law, EMTs weren’t allowed to treat or transport him. Nero had to be rushed to the animal hospital in the back of a police cruiser and survived the shooting. “K-9 officers protect the men and women in law enforcement as well as the community at large,” said Democratic state Sen. Mark Montigny, lead sponsor of the bill. “These animals endure extreme danger from gun violence, narcotics and even explosive materials. Allowing our emergency personnel to provide basic treatment and transport is a commonsense measure that honors their contributions across the commonwealth.” The bill would permit emergency personnel to treat injured police dogs and bring them to veterinary facilities, as long as there are no injured people still requiring a hospital transport. The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House for consideration.
Marshall: The last Kmart has closed in the state where the former brick-and-mortar retail giant got its start. Sunday was the last day at a Kmart in Marshall, 100 miles west of Detroit, City Manager Tom Tarkiewicz said Monday. “They still had products they were selling,” Tarkiewicz said. An email seeking comment from Kmart’s corporate parent wasn’t immediately returned. The first Kmart store opened in Garden City, a Detroit suburb, in 1962. The chain grew to more than 2,000 stores across the U.S., but its fortunes changed as other big box retailers gained momentum. Kmart reorganized under bankruptcy protection in 2002-03 and began closing hundreds of stores before merging with Sears, Roebuck & Co. in 2004. Kmart’s website lists 21 stores remaining in the U.S. or U.S. territories. It also sells goods online. Tarkiewicz didn’t know why the Marshall store was the last in Michigan to stay open but said he had heard it was considered to be a profitable location. “It was busy,” he said. “We saw a lot of out-of-state cars. We’re only 36 miles from Indiana.”
St. Paul: About 50 parishioners protested outside Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on Sunday over what they say is the eradication of culture and tradition from Minnesota’s first Hispanic parish. Many of the demonstrators were third-generation members of the Roman Catholic church, which has a 90-year history in St. Paul. Among specific complaints, they say Aztec dancers are no longer allowed inside the church, there is no Sunday school or choir, masses previously led in Spanish are now in Latin, and women are not allowed on the altar. One of the protesters, Vincent Mendez, said that “it feels like we’re being forced out again” and that the parishioners “just want to save our church.” The Rev. Michael Tix, with the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, said in a statement that he and Archbishop Bernard Hebda are involved in conversations between parish leadership and parishioners, the Star Tribune reports. Tix said it is “through open and honest conversation that concerns will best be addressed and solutions reached for the good of everyone involved.”
Jackson: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has overturned the approval of a massive flood-control project in the south Mississippi Delta that officials said was erroneously greenlit in the final days of the Trump administration. In a letter to the Army for Civil Works, EPA officials said the past administration’s November 2020 decision to approve the Yazoo Pumps Project was in violation of the Clean Water Act and “failed to reflect the recommendations from the career scientists and technical staff.” Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for the office of water at the EPA, said the federal government is concerned about the serious impacts from flooding on people and the economy of the lower Mississippi Delta. But she said she wants to work with the Corps and others to find “a path forward that addresses flooding concerns in an environmentally protective manner.” The decision was cheered by conservation groups – American Rivers, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf – which had sued the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year over the construction of pumps in the Yazoo Backwater area north of Vicksburg.
Kansas City: The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday sent a letter demanding a school district return two LGBTQ-themed books to library shelves. The North Kansas City School District pulled “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “Fun Home” from high schools this month in response to parent complaints, the Kansas City Star reports. The district is reviewing the titles, and the books were expected to be discussed during a Monday school board meeting. In a letter to school officials, the ACLU of Missouri said removing the books violates students’ First Amendment rights by restricting their access to ideas. “Students must be free to access library books – without discrimination or censorship – that are LGBTQ+ affirming as well as books that provide an inclusive and accurate history of racism,” ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Luz María Henríquez said in a statement. Students also are petitioning to have the books returned. “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is a coming-of-age memoir about the author’s experience as a queer, Black adolescent. “Fun Home” is about the author’s relationship with her gay father.
Bozeman: A program in the resort community of Big Sky that offers landlords cash to convert vacation rentals or seasonal homes into long-term homes for locals converted 21 homes and housed 58 locals in its first three months. After a three-month trial of the Rent Local program, launched by the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, the nonprofit launched the full program Nov. 1. The success of the pilot program wasn’t a surprise, executive director Laura Seyfang said. “It’s what we were hoping for,” she told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. The program hopes to convince some 1,200 owners of seasonal homes or vacation rentals to rent to local residents by bridging the gap in money the homeowner might make with short-term rentals. The housing trust estimated homeowners make on average anywhere from about $3,800 to about $10,400 more annually on short-term rentals than long-term leases. “By providing this boost, it’s enough to make it even out,” Seyfang said. “We’ve put in place all these ways to make it easier for an owner to rent to a local worker, but then there was that cash difference. By making up that income difference, it takes away all these excuses.” The nonprofit estimates the incentive created new inventory 89% faster than through some of its other programs.
Omaha: A petition drive is underway to change the state’s constitution and eliminate its Board of Education. The proposal would shift oversight of the Education Department into the governor’s office and eliminate the elected board, but backers would have to gather roughly 125,000 signatures by next July to put the question on the November 2022 ballot. The Omaha World-Herald reports the measure comes after Gov. Pete Ricketts clashed with the Education Department at times in the past year. Ricketts spoke out strongly when the state board considered adopting new health education standards for schools that incorporated teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation. The board later abandoned those proposed recommendations for local school districts after it encountered strong opposition. Ricketts said in a statement that any changes to the current structure of the department would have to be approved by voters. “The Nebraska Department of Education should respect that parents are the primary educators of their children, and the agency must continue to be accountable to the people of Nebraska,” Ricketts said. Critics of the petition drive said it would concentrate too much power in the governor’s office and mess up a system that is working.
Las Vegas: A man has been accused of beating another customer over the head with a dog bone during a quarrel over a pet store’s mask policy, according to authorities. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police said 22-year-old Juan Hamilton was arrested on a warrant after the Nov. 8 incident that left the unidentified victim with a skull fracture. Court records show Hamilton was still being held on a $5,000 bond on suspicion of attempted murder, battery, abuse of an older person resulting in substantial bodily harm and burglary of a business. The Las Vegas Review-Journal also reports that witnesses told police Hamilton was in line behind another man when the two began arguing over the PetSmart store’s mask mandate. Witnesses said Hamilton left the store before returning and allegedly beating the victim over the head with a bone. PetSmart employees helped detectives identify Hamilton because he was a regular at the store. Hamilton told police he hadn’t been to the store for several months and then asked for a lawyer. It was unclear Sunday if Hamilton had an attorney who could speak on his behalf about the case. If Hamilton is released from jail, court records indicate he’ll be required to avoid all PetSmart stores.
Concord: The state’s bear population is on the move, and officials are asking residents not to detour the animals with snacks. The Fish and Game Department says the public should hold off on putting out bird feeders until December. Right now, bears are searching for high-fat, protein-rich food to sustain them as they head into their dens, and bird feeders are often a target. Andy Timmins, the state bear project leader, said reports of conflicts between bears and people were low this summer, but there has been an uptick in activity since late October, mostly involving bird feeders. He said a single feeding will cause a bear to return in other seasons, leading to property damage and the bears becoming nuisance animals. “Bears have an excellent sense of smell and good memories,” he said.
Atlantic City: The city’s nine casinos saw their gross operating profit more than double in the third quarter of this year, according to state figures released Monday. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement figures show the casinos posted a collective gross operating profit of more than $310 million in July, August and September. That is more than twice the $151 million profit they reported in the third quarter of 2020, when they were still operating under state-imposed capacity restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. For that reason, James Plousis, chair of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, said the results are not directly comparable. Instead, he compared them to the third quarter of 2019, before the pandemic hit, and found the casinos still did nearly 30% better in the third quarter of 2021. “Through efficiencies, every operator posted a profit in the third quarter, a great accomplishment coming out of an extremely challenging period,” he said in a statement. “Atlantic City’s recovery is gaining momentum and is on track for an impressive year.” Gross operating profit reflects earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and other expenses and is a widely accepted measure of profitability in the Atlantic City casino industry.
Albuquerque: The state’s exports are barreling toward an annual record this year, marking a sharp turnaround from last year’s pandemic-induced slowdown. Total state sales worldwide climbed 55% in the first nine months of 2021, from $2.77 billion in the January-September period last year to $4.28 billion this year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. If those trends continue, the state could well surpass its previous annual export record, reached in 2019, when global sales hit $4.68 billion. In fact, at $4.28 billion as of September, the value of state exports is already more than $1 billion higher than the January-September period in 2019, when sales abroad totaled $3.16 billion. “It’s looking really good,” said Jerry Pacheco, trade consultant and executive director of the International Business Accelerator at Santa Teresa in southern New Mexico. “I expect this to be our biggest year yet,” Pacheco told the Albuquerque Journal. “New Mexico exports are already well exceeding 2019, which was our flagship year before the pandemic.” The coronavirus pandemic markedly slashed exports nationwide in 2020 as consumers hunkered down at home, businesses temporarily shut down across the globe, and supply-chain disruptions slowed commerce worldwide.
New York: Job candidates rarely know when hidden artificial intelligence tools are rejecting their resumes or analyzing their video interviews. But New York City residents could soon get more say over the computers making behind-the-scenes decisions about their careers. A bill passed by the City Council this month would ban employers from using automated hiring tools unless a yearly bias audit can show they won’t discriminate based on an applicant’s race or gender. It would also force makers of those AI tools to disclose more about their opaque workings and give candidates the option of choosing an alternative process – such as a human – to review their application. The measure aims to open a window into the complex algorithms that rank the skills and personalities of job applicants based on how they speak or what they write. “I believe this technology is incredibly positive, but it can produce a lot of harms if there isn’t more transparency,” said Frida Polli, co-founder and CEO of New York startup Pymetrics, which uses AI to assess job skills through game-like online assessments. Her company lobbied for the legislation, which favors firms like Pymetrics that already publish fairness audits. But some AI experts and digital rights activists are concerned it doesn’t go far enough to curb bias and implicitly gives the city’s OK to the technology.
Raleigh: A human rights group is suing the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, alleging its staff censors magazines inmates receive by mail, especially those with articles about prison misconduct. Human Rights Defense Center in Florida filed the suit in U.S. District Court, The News & Observer reports. The nonprofit publishes Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News, which focus on inmates’ rights, court rulings and other criminal justice issues and circulate to 232 people in state correctional facilities. The group claims that 23 magazine issues or annual reports were banned between 2019 and August. The department’s policy allows material to be kept from offenders because of “threats to institutional safety and security,” but the content can’t reasonably be considered to contain such threats, the lawsuit says. Last month, a contractor began converting prisoners’ letters to digital files, but it doesn’t handle magazines. The nonprofit claims the state violated its free speech and denied access to readers without notice or opportunity to appeal. It argues the department is suppressing its political message and costing subscriptions. It seeks a declaration that such actions are unconstitutional and an end to the practice.
Bismarck: The city’s only Democrat in the Legislature won’t run for reelection next year. State Sen. Erin Oban announced Thursday that she won’t be seeking a third term, citing the divisive nature of current politics. The Bismarck Tribune reports her departure opens up one of seven seats held by Senate Democrats, who have dwindled to their smallest minority in 50 years in the Republican-controlled Legislature. “It’s obvious that the extreme rhetoric and divisiveness of the national scene have seeped into our state,” Oban said in a statement. “The North Dakota Senate has been a place that, for the most part, has maintained decorum and respected the rules that govern the way in which we do business. For that, I am grateful. But it was also considered the more ‘serious’ legislative body, the chamber with far less tolerance for distractions, nonsense, and political theater, and over the last few years, that’s been changing.” Oban, 39, is a former junior high math teacher. She was first elected in 2014. Her announcement came a week after Bismarck GOP Sen. Nicole Poolman said she won’t seek reelection. Poolman, an educator, said she wants to spend more time with her family and students but also cited an eroding civility in politics.
Columbus: Public health officials are asking folks in Greater Columbus to make sure one particular unwanted guest doesn’t crash any Thanksgiving gatherings this year. To help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Columbus Public Health is offering free, at-home testing kits from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday in a drive-thru event at the Celeste Center on the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Franklin County residents can get up to 12 home test kits at the event, while supplies last, according to the health department. People are encouraged to test themselves and guests the day of gathering or traveling to someone else’s house. People who test positive should stay home, follow guidance on isolating and notify others with whom they were in close contact, according to the health department. “Testing before you gather adds another layer of protection, especially for those who are at greater risk of serious illness and those too young to get vaccinated,” said Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts. Along with the drive-thru, free at-home tests are available at local libraries and recreation centers, according to a health department release. Thanksgiving approaches as Ohio is seeing yet another rise in COVID-19 cases. Getting vaccinated is “the safest way to celebrate” the holiday, Roberts said.
Oklahoma City: The Oklahoma City Thunder announced Monday that beginning Dec. 1, fans attending games in person will no longer be required provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. “We have decided to lift our vaccination/testing requirements,” a team statement said, citing a decline in coronavirus cases and an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations in Oklahoma County. “Since we announced the protocols in September, the Oklahoma Department of Health reports the percentage of Oklahoma County residents 12 and older who are fully or partially vaccinated has risen to 85%,” according to the statement. “The number of COVID cases statewide has dropped approximately 60% and hospitalizations have declined at similar rates.” The requirements remain in place for games scheduled for Wednesday and Friday. The NBA suspended the 2020 season in March that year after two Utah Jazz players tested positive for the coronavirus prior to a scheduled game in Oklahoma City.
Salem: The state Supreme Court on Monday dismissed two challenges filed by Republicans to new legislative districts approved by the Legislature in September. The lawmakers passed new legislative and congressional boundaries that included a new, sixth U.S. House seat. The ruling Monday was specifically about the 90 state legislative districts that will likely enable Democrats to continue to hold majorities in the House and Senate but will not guarantee the party the three-fifths supermajorities it currently holds. Republicans throughout the redistricting process accused Democrats of gerrymandering. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that in petitions challenging the maps, Republicans alleged that Democratic lawmakers drew districts for partisan political gain and to help incumbents. In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the GOP failed to show that the new districts violated state law.
Harrisburg: Sean Parnell, a U.S. Senate candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump, on Monday suspended his campaign after he lost a court fight over custody of his three children in which the judge said he believed allegations of abuse by Parnell’s estranged wife. In a statement, Parnell said he was devastated by the judge’s decision and planned to ask the judge to reconsider, but he cannot continue his campaign. The high-stakes campaign in the battleground state could help determine control of the U.S. Senate in next year’s election. A Pennsylvania seat is opening up with the retirement in 2023 of two-term Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, and both Republicans and Democrats have a big field of candidates in the politically divided state. Parnell’s withdrawal comes as many in the state Republican Party remain undecided about their field, which includes conservative commentator Kathy Barnette, real estate investor Jeff Bartos and Carla Sands, Trump’s ambassador to Denmark. Also swirling is a suggestion from Mehmet Oz – the cardiac surgeon and longtime host of TV’s “Dr. Oz Show” who gained fame as a protege of Oprah Winfrey – that he is being encouraged to enter the Republican primary.
Providence: About 1 in 6 households across the state struggles to put enough food on the table – significantly lower than during the height of the pandemic last year but higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to a report released Monday. Black and Latino households were particularly hard-hit this year, with 34% each unable to meet basic food needs, according to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s 2021 Status Report on Hunger. Hunger is also “alarmingly high” in families with children, as 1 in 4 cannot meet basic food needs, the report said. The number of food-insecure households in Rhode Island is expected to grow as government programs that supported low-income families during the COVID-19 pandemic end. “Post-pandemic recovery simply doesn’t apply to the lives of many Rhode Islanders,” Andrew Schiff, chief executive officer of the food bank, said in a statement. “As supportive government programs and benefits disappear, the ripple effects of COVID-19 continue to be seen on the kitchen tables of people across the state.” The numbers are based on the RI Life Index, compiled by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and the Brown University School of Public Health.
Charleston: Federal agents are looking for someone who used a metal detector and dug 19 holes earlier this month looking for artifacts at a historic site that was once the Charleston-area plantation of a signer of the U.S. Constitution. Rangers at the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site found the holes all over the park Nov. 13, the National Park Service said in a statement. Some of them had discarded metal artifacts nearby, and some did not, leading rangers to think a thief was using a metal detector to steal selected artifacts, investigators said. The digging also caused damage to resources at the park, said Kate Funk, chief of resource management at the site. It is illegal both to dig without permission and to have a working metal detector at a national park site, officials said. “Archaeologists make a great effort to record the context from which artifacts are recovered to better understand their use and disposition and the wider historical picture. All this important information is now lost because of this illegal excavation,” Funk said. The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site was once a Lowcountry plantation that produced rice and indigo and was owned by the man sometimes called one of the forgotten signers of the U.S. Constitution. The site also tells the story of how slaves were treated.
Sioux Falls: Local police say they’re staffed and ready to run security for the Parade of Lights in light of recent events out of Wisconsin. The Parade of Lights is returning to downtown Sioux Falls for its 29th celebration this year. The parade is slated to start at 7:30 p.m. Friday, bringing lights, floats and music to downtown. Last year’s celebration was canceled amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In a police briefing Monday, Lt. Andrew Siebenborn discussed potential changes to security for the parade given recent events in Wisconsin that led to multiple deaths and more than 40 people injured in a parade. “We always staff for the worst-case scenario,” Siebenborn said. The incident in Waukesha, Wisconsin, happened during a Christmas parade Sunday. An SUV rammed through the parade, striking a high school band, children’s dance group and the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies. Siebenborn said he couldn’t discuss specifics about the security detail at Sioux Falls’ parade Friday but said weeks and sometimes months of planning go into security protocols. “Credit goes out to our chief and command staff erring on the side of almost overstaffing an event in the interest of safety,” he said.
Nashville: The ex-girlfriend of the man who detonated an explosive in downtown Nashville last Christmas has filed a lawsuit, saying she should receive $284,000 in rewards offered after the blast. Pamela Perry filed suit Friday in Davidson County Chancery Court seeking the reward because she came forward “at great personal risk to aid law enforcement in identifying” Anthony Warner as the bomber. Warner parked an RV in the middle of a tourist district early Dec. 25 before setting off the blast that killed him, injured several others and heavily damaged dozens of buildings, including a key AT&T network facility. After the blast, Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis offered a $250,000 reward and Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. offered $34,500 to anyone who came forward with information identifying the bomber. The Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. gave the $34,500 it raised to law enforcement organizations including the Metro Nashville Police Department. On Friday, convention officials said they hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment, but CEO Butch Spyridon told WTVF-TV in May that hundreds of tips were called in, and an FBI report thanked law enforcement but didn’t identify citizens who gave tips. “I don’t have documentation to say this helped more than anything else,” Spyridon said.
Corpus Christi: A late October land transaction helped to complete one of the largest land purchases and donations of unspoiled coastal land in the state. The final 1,360 acres of the Powderhorn Ranch donated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will be added to nearly 15,000 acres donated to TPWD in 2018 by the Texas Park and Wildlife Foundation. The transaction conserves one of the state’s largest “unspoiled coastal prairies in Texas,” and it one day will become a state park. “It demonstrates how Texas’ community of conservationists can work hand-in-hand with the state to preserve an extraordinary piece of our natural heritage for generations to come,” said Dan Friedkin, chairman emeritus of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. According to a 2015 story published by Texas Monthly, the land’s history dates back nearly 500 years. The Karankawa hunted there, and the explorers Rene Robert Cavelier and Sieur de La Salle lost a ship to a storm in 1686, according to the story. Included in the land is nearly 11 miles of coast along Matagorda Bay, and the site is near the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, making one of the longest stretches of unspoiled coastline in Texas.
Salt Lake City: For decades, the U.S. Forest Service’s practice of putting out wildfires was a huge success. But the policy backfired, setting the stage for the massive destructive wildfires that have flared with increasing regularity across the West. While putting out fires remains a priority, deliberately setting them is becoming more common, especially in Utah, as a more cost-effective and ecologically sound strategy for fixing forest health, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The pitfalls of fire suppression are evident across Monroe Mountain in central Utah. The plateau’s historically abundant aspen stands are disappearing under thickets of fir and other conifers that have long impeded fresh aspen growth that should be succeeding the aging trees but aren’t. In the hopes of restoring the historic role of fire, at least three Utah national forests plan to sharply expand the use of “prescribed fire” to nurse sickly forests back to health. Like much of the West’s wooded terrain, large parts of the Fishlake National Forest are ecologically wired to burn from time to time. To thrive, aspen groves need to get wiped out from time to time, said Richfield District Ranger Jason Kling of the Fishlake National Forest. “That keeps the fuels in check, not allowing the overgrowth to occur, keeping the landscape open, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor,” Kling said.
Killington: Killington ski resort is making final preparations to host women’s World Cup ski racing on Thanksgiving weekend. The event was postponed last year amid the pandemic. This year tickets are being sold to control attendance, and proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative coronavirus test taken within the prior 72 hours is required to attend. “We usually have about 15,000 people each day, and we are trying to cut that in about half. Even though it is an outdoor event, we really wanted to be able to get people to be careful in terms of being too close to each other,” said Mike Solimano, Killington’s president and general manager. Snow guns have been blasting, and race organizer FIS gave Killington a positive snow control Wednesday, which means the race is on. “We’re feeling confident. I mean it’s definitely been warm, and it’s been a struggle, but it looks like we’re gonna make it,” Solimano said last week.
Manassas: Reports of black bears afflicted with mange are growing in Northern Virginia. What used to be fewer than 10 sightings a year in 2018 has grown to more than 100 annual reports. “Those are just the ones that people see. We’re sure there are quite a few more bears that are out in the woods that are not encountering a person,” said Katie Martin, a deer, bear and turkey biologist for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. The area where most cases are reported is confined to a dozen counties roughly north of Interstate 64 and west of U.S. 29, including Fauquier, Culpeper, Loudoun and Prince William counties. Infestations of sarcoptic mange can be mild, fatal or anywhere in between. “And if it’s a severe case, and they lose all their hair, and they stop eating and become emaciated, then obviously that bear going into the winter is going to have a much harder time surviving,” Martin said. Preventing bears from congregating and spreading the disease to one another has proven to be a challenge. Residents are being asked to do their part. Anyone who has seen a bear near their property is asked to take down bird feeders for a minimum of two weeks after the sighting to prevent the bears from returning. Martin said she believes no one should have bird feeders out at all between April and November.
Olympia: Steve Hobbs was sworn in Monday as Washington’s 16th secretary of state, the first person of color to head the office and the first Democrat to hold the position in 56 years. Hobbs, who is of Japanese descent, is leaving his Senate seat representing the 44th legislative district to replace Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman. The fifth consecutive GOP secretary of state in Washington dating back to 1965, Wyman is taking a key election security job in the Biden administration. Hobbs was sworn in by state Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu in the state reception room at the state Capitol, after which he thanked Wyman in his speech, saying she understood and dealt with the threats of cyber and information warfare in the elections sphere. “I’m going to build upon that,” he said. “And I’m glad that we’ll have a partner in Washington, D.C., to build upon that.” Wyman will serve as the election security lead for the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the agency responsible for safeguarding U.S. elections. In the role, she will serve as the federal government’s top liaison to the states. Hobbs said that in addition to building upon cybersecurity efforts in the state, he plans to create a plan to respond to misinformation and disinformation that hits elections.
Charleston: Tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike will increase at the beginning of next year, officials said. The rate for most passenger vehicles will rise by 5% on Jan. 1, going from $4 to $4.25, West Virginia Parkways Authority Executive Director Jeffrey Miller told a legislative committee, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The E-Z Pass annual program will also see an increase from $25 annually to $26.50, Miller said. The proposed fee schedule for the turnpike allows up to a 5% increase every three years, he said. Voters approved selling up to $1.6 billion in bonds to fund the Roads to Prosperity program in 2017, and the Parkways Authority has returned $595 million from tolls to the state to support projects for the 10 counties affected by the Turnpike, Miller said.
Madison: A judge says the state Department of Natural Resources violated the law by not immediately scheduling a wolf hunting season after federal protections were removed in February. In an order Thursday, Jefferson County Judge Bennett Brantmeier said the agency must hold a hunt immediately any time federal protections are lifted during the statutory hunting season, which runs from November through February. The injunction was issued in response to a lawsuit brought by Hunter Nation Inc. that challenged the agency’s decision not to hold a hunt as soon as the gray wolf was removed from the endangered list in January, the Wisconsin State Journal reports. Brantmeier is the same judge who last winter ordered the DNR to hold a hunt in the final days of February. State-licensed hunters killed at least 218 wolves in less than three days, more than the state and tribal quotas combined. However, wolf hunting in Wisconsin remains on hold while a Dane County judge considers a lawsuit filed in August by a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups seeking to stop the hunt and invalidate the law requiring it. In a ruling last month, Judge Jacob Frost said the law creating the wolf season is constitutional, but the DNR failed to create permanent regulations enacting it.
Kemmerer: With just four years left before its coal plant shutters, this southwestern Wyoming town, population 2,750, has been bracing for a seemingly inevitable loss. Along with the neighboring coal mine, the Naughton Power Plant is one of the biggest employers in Kemmerer. Its closure was expected to cut local jobs, slash revenue and force some residents to move away for work. Then nuclear developer TerraPower announced last week that it would build a next-generation nuclear reactor in Naughton’s place and staff the new facility with the existing Naughton workforce. Kemmerer and three other candidate coal towns – Glenrock, Gillette and Rock Springs – had waited six months for the decision. Over those months, the prospect of getting an advanced nuclear reactor has injected new optimism into a community used to weathering the booms and busts of the state’s energy industry, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. “We’re absolutely ecstatic,” Mayor Bill Thek said. “We’ve been hopeful from the beginning, and as time went on, we became more and more hopeful.” Some people are apprehensive about living near a demonstration nuclear reactor, he said, but few are outright opposed.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: AI hiring bias, dog bone beating: News from around our 50 states