Huntsville: Some civic and political groups are urging Huntsville-area officials to stop criminally charging people who have marijuana. The Huntsville Times reports the Tennessee Valley Progressive Alliance and 20 other groups sent a letter to Huntsville and Madison County leaders urging police and prosecutors to stop enforcing laws against marijuana possession. The letter argues that stopping enforcement would ease racial disparities in policing, allow officials to focus on violent crimes and improve police-community relations. Signers included the Madison County Democratic Party, the NAACP of Huntsville and Madison County, and the League of Women Voters of the Tennessee Valley. Alliance leader David Odom says the letter received no responses. Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard said he dismissed the letter because he’s sworn to uphold the law.
Juneau: State taxes on motor and marine fuels would double and registration fees for electric and hybrid vehicles would rise under a bill passed by the Alaska Senate on Monday. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Click Bishop, said the measure would generate additional funds that could help address transportation infrastructure and maintenance needs. The motor fuel tax would go from 8 to 16 cents a gallon and marine fuel from 5 to 10 cents a gallon. Registration fees would go from $100 to $200 for electric vehicles and from $100 to $150 for hybrids, according to a fiscal analysis. The bill passed 12-5; no one who voted against it spoke during the floor debate. The measure next goes to the House.
Phoenix: The biggest bonuses awarded last year by state government went to a handful of employees who oversee some of Arizona’s lowest-paid workers. Seven employees of Arizona Correctional Industries, a prison work program, received bonuses ranging from $12,000 to $57,000, with the largest going to a sales representative for the operation. Inmates who work in construction, egg harvesting and other jobs for ACI, meanwhile, are paid between $0.10 and $5.25 an hour. Corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said ACI employee bonuses are paid by the private employers who use ACI to hire inmates, not taxpayers. Records show at least 52 Corrections employees associated with ACI received $384,221 in bonuses last year, averaging $7,389 – more than five times the average incentive pay for the 16,000 state employees who received bonuses in 2019.
Pine Bluff: A local man who served in the U.S. Army during World War II was awarded the medals he earned during the war during a ceremony Friday morning, more than 70 years after his discharge. Fulton Walker, now 97, who went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree and was the second African American to be appointed principal at an all-white school in Arkansas, received the Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three Bronze Service Stars, World War II Victory Medal, Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar and Honorable Service Lapel Button World War II from U.S. Sen. John Boozman. Walker was born Sept. 1, 1923, near Emerson. During his freshman year in college, he was drafted into the Army, where he served from 1943 to 1946.
Berkeley: The University of California, Berkeley has received a $252 million donation – its largest-ever single gift – to start construction of a new building for students and faculty studying computing and data science. The gift, made anonymously, will allow the university to start building the Data Hub on the north side of campus, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Another $300 million in donations will be needed to complete the building, which will house the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society, which teaches an increasing number of students across a variety of majors. More than 6,000 of the university’s 31,000 undergraduate students take data science classes each year. The Data Hub will house classrooms and offices and also may include robotics and artificial intelligence laboratories, research centers, public gathering areas and a large auditorium.
Pueblo: An armed man who tried to steal cars from multiple people, including an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, died after an officer-involved shooting Sunday night, police said. The deputy fired at the 35-year-old suspect when he tried to carjack the deputy’s vehicle, police said. An officer who arrived during that attempted carjacking also fired at the suspect, police said. The man died at the scene. The deputy and the officer were not injured. The suspect allegedly first stole a 2004 Dodge truck after hitting the victim with a handgun. After officers found the truck and were investigating that theft, the suspect allegedly got away in a black Cadillac Escalade, but it was disabled after a short chase, police said. The suspect then tried to steal two more vehicles, including the one driven by the off-duty Pueblo County sheriff’s deputy. The man was carrying an AR-15-style rifle, police said.
Meriden: Connecticut State Police are hoping to draw more women to their ranks with a special recruiting forum planned during the agency’s latest trooper application process. The forum is scheduled for Sunday and Monday at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden. Those interested in attending are urged to RSVP online. Female troopers will be on hand to share their experiences and answer questions. Public safety Commissioner James Rovella and top state police leaders will also talk to prospective applicants. According to state police statistics, women comprise only about 8% of the 922 state trooper positions, and officials say they want to significantly increase that percentage. The deadline to apply to be a state trooper in the current application period is March 13.
Dover: After seeing a significant increase in car crash deaths last year, the state is on track to have even more roadway fatalities in 2020, according to the Delaware Department of Transportation. And that’s worrying state officials. Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan told lawmakers Monday that the state’s current highway safety plan is “going in the wrong direction.” “More needs to be done,” she said, without offering specifics. “We need to do better.” As of Tuesday morning, Delaware has had 18 total traffic deaths versus 10 at this time last year, DelDOT said. Ten of the 2020 traffic deaths were vehicle occupants, and eight were pedestrians, according to the data. This time in 2019, Delaware had seen five vehicle occupant deaths and five pedestrian deaths.
District of Columbia
Washington: The National Park Service says D.C.’s favorite trees have officially reached the first stage of the blooming process, WUSA-TV reports. The Yoshino cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin reached green bud, the first of six stages culminating in peak bloom, on Feb. 28, six days earlier than in 2019. However, that timing remains several days later than the green bud stage was reached in 2018 or 2017. Meteorologists say a mild winter could lead to an earlier peak bloom period, possibly before the Cherry Blossom Festival even begins March 20. The district’s 3,200 Yoshino cherry trees were a gift from Japan more than a century ago to commemorate the friendship and relationship between the two countries. Cherry blossoms are Japan’s national flower, symbolizing hope and peace.
Tallahassee: State lawmakers have advanced dueling proposals to require employers to check the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States, a key policy priority being pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who wants all employers in his state to use a federal database known as E-Verify. Republican lawmakers last year joined DeSantis, in his freshman year as governor, in advancing a ban against so-called sanctuary cities to prevent local governments from giving safe harbor to people who are in the country illegally. But the Legislature declined then to approve an E-Verify bill, partly because key lawmakers – including some top Republicans – expressed concern that the proposal would be a burden to business. Critics of E-Verify say the system remains riddled with outdated and inaccurate data.
Atlanta: A judge has declined to order election officials in Sumter County to use hand-marked paper ballots after election integrity activists raised concerns that the state’s new voting machines violate voters’ right to a secret ballot. In a lawsuit filed last week in Sumter County Superior Court against the five members of the county election board, the activists said the machines’ large, bright, vertical touchscreens and large font allow other people in the room to see a voter’s selections. In denying an emergency motion seeking a switch to hand-marked paper ballots, Sumter County Superior Court Judge Rucker Smith wrote in an order signed Monday that the activists hadn’t proven that it will be “impossible or impracticable” for the election officials to arrange the voting machines “in a manner that protects the secrecy of the ballot while allowing sufficient monitoring.”
Honolulu: A proposal to create a new state agency to build and renovate public schools is moving forward despite concerns the agency would be exempt from many legal safeguards. The School Facilities Agency would be responsible for development, planning and construction of capital improvement projects at public schools, taking over that work from the Department of Education, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The agency would be exempt from all county ordinances – except building codes – and from state laws focusing on historic preservation, environmental protection, budgeting and civil service. The facilities agency would also be exempt from parts of the procurement code and the Sunshine Law, which governs how state and county board conduct official business. Proponents see the agency as a way to expedite building modern schools and redeveloping old properties without bureaucratic delay.
Boise: Several news and legal organizations have told the Idaho Supreme Court that they believe state prison officials are required to reveal the source of drugs used in executions under public records law. The American Bar Association, the Idaho Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Idaho Press Club and others filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of a lawsuit that University of Idaho professor Aliza Cover brought against the Idaho Department of Correction. Several news organizations, including the Associated Press, the Idaho Statesman and Boise television station KTVB, joined with the Idaho Press Club in its brief. The Department of Correction didn’t have any comment on the filings, spokesman Jeff Ray said. Cover, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, sued after prison officials largely denied her request for execution-related records in 2017.
Rockford: A new bill would require schools that want to keep using Native American mascots and logos to receive approval from local tribes if they want to participate in playoffs, among other requirements. State Rep. Maurice West, a Rockford Democrat, pitched the plan to the Interscholastic Athletic Organization Act after students at Hononegah High School in Rockton led a protest over the use of the Princess Hononegah Indian mascot and other Native American imagery and iconography. West’s bill would prohibit Hononegah and other schools from using their Indian mascots and logos unless they complied with certain rules, according to the Rockford Register Star. Failure to meet them would make the school ineligible to participate in playoff competitions. Some of the requirements include getting written approval from a tribe based within 500 miles and offering Native American culture programs and courses at the school.
Lebanon: The slopes of a former municipal landfill could become a park laced with trails for mountain bikes. City engineer Kevin Krulik pitched conceptual designs for the project to Lebanon City Council members last week, telling them the proposed $500,000 mountain bike park would be geared toward families. “This is not a Red Bull racing facility. This is not an extreme mountain bike facility. This is very much family-focused, family-friendly,” Krulik said. The park would be built on a former 110-acre landfill along U.S. 52 in the Boone County city about 20 miles northwest of Indianapolis. That city-owned site operated as Lebanon’s landfill until 1984, when it was shuttered and capped. Lebanon is considering developing the park under a partnership with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, the Indianapolis Business Journal reports.
Springville: A deteriorating Revolutionary War monument will be restored this summer in eastern Iowa if the Daughters of the American Revolution can raise enough money, organizers say. The 16.5-foot marble and granite monument honors a Revolutionary War soldier buried in Linn County. It’s being held together with wire, and the concrete base is falling apart. The monument was damaged by a tornado in 1977. The monument was built in honor of Nathan Brown, a former soldier who settled in Springville in the 1800s. It was commissioned by his son in 1886. Three local Daughters of the American Revolution chapters and the Springville Historical Society have worked for six years to raise money, secure grants and find someone to do the restoration work on the monument. The estimated repair cost: $44,000.
Topeka: The number of women in prison in the state is growing far faster than the number of men, outpacing national trends, according to a new report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Kansas News Service reports that from 2000 to 2019, the women’s prison population in Kansas rose by 60%, while the men’s rose by 14%. It’s not clear why Kansas’ female prison population grew more than other states’ populations, but policy changes intended to reduce the number of people in prison likely have had different effects on men and women. Last year, 77% of women who entered Kansas prisons did so because they violated probation or parole, compared to 65% of men. According to a senior research analyst at the Kansas Sentencing Commission, the number of female prisoners grew after a 2013 state law that changed probation. Across the country, the population of women in state prisons rose by 26% from 2000 to 2016, while the men’s population rose by 8%.
Fort Knox: It’s going to get loud at Fort Knox. The U.S. Army says to expect more noise than normal at the central Kentucky post over the next couple of weeks as it hosts a training session March 3-16. The training will involve larger caliber weapons than usual, military aircraft and land vehicles, news outlets report, citing a post on the Fort Knox Facebook page. Fort Knox said it was posting the alert as a courtesy to residents in surrounding communities who should expect to hear increased noise and vibrations. “Military training involving aircraft, maneuvers and weapons firing in the daytime and nighttime hours is an important aspect of maintaining critical capabilities and readiness of all units,” the post said.
Baton Rouge: The voter registration deadline is nearing for the state’s presidential primary, and officials are reminding voters that the election is a rare closed primary that allows only registered Democrats and Republicans to cast ballots. Nearly all of Louisiana’s elections are open primaries, where all candidates regardless of party run against each other on the ballot – and all voters can choose among all the candidates. But the April 4 presidential primary is closed. Only Republicans can vote in the GOP primary to select the Republican nominee for president, and only Democrats can choose among the Democratic candidates for president. Those who aren’t registered with either political party cannot vote in the presidential primary. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s office said the deadline to register in person or by mail to vote in the election is Wednesday. The deadline for online registration is March 14.
Fort Kent: A Canadian musher crossed the finish line 35 seconds ahead of his closest competitor Monday to win the Can-Am Crown, a 250-mile dog sled race across the wilderness of northern Maine. Denis Tremblay, of Saint Michel des Saints, Quebec, was the Can-Am Crown runner-up four times before notching his dramatic victory. Second-place finisher Katherine Langlais, of Glenwood, New Brunswick, was 12 minutes behind at the start of the final 43-mile sprint, but she closed the gap to 35 seconds for the closest finish in race history, said Can-Am President Dennis Cyr. Neither Tremblay nor Langlais knew how close they were because the hilly course prevented them from seeing each other. The 250-mile Can-Am Crown kicked off Saturday in Fort Kent. The grueling course took mushers to Portage Lake and then to the town of Allagash before looping back to Fort Kent.
Annapolis: The state Senate has voted to ban a pesticide that has been found to damage children’s brain development. The Senate voted 31-14 on Tuesday for the measure, which now goes to the House. The Senate measure bans the pesticide called chlorpyrifos for four years, beginning Dec. 31. Supporters of a complete ban hope to make it permanent this legislative session. Supporters of the measure say the pesticide also poses threats to aquatic life and the Chesapeake Bay. The Maryland Department of Agriculture announced last month that it would develop regulations to phase out the regular use of the pesticide, but supporters of the legislation are pushing for a ban in the law. California, Hawaii and New York have approved bans on the pesticide.
Boston: The Boston area public transit agency has again taken several new rail cars out of service after identifying a potential problem, the agency announced Tuesday. “The new Orange Line trains have been temporarily taken out of service,” the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said in a tweet. “Inspectors identified a fault with the bolsters which is being corrected to ensure the vehicles are reliable & safe for the duration of their service lives.” The trains are expected to return to service later in the week. This is the third time the new train cars have been pulled since two sets of six cars made their debut in August. In September, when a door on one car came open while it was in motion, all were taken out of service to replace a part. They were taken out of service in December to address an “uncommon noise” coming from part of the wheel assembly. One of the new cars derailed in November when there were no passengers on board.
Detroit: A church in the city has been declared a basilica by Pope Francis, a rare honor for a Roman Catholic parish in the U.S., officials announced Sunday. Ste. Anne Church is one of only 86 churches in the United States, including three in Michigan, to carry the title of Minor Basilica, the Archdiocese of Detroit said. Ste. Anne parish, near the Detroit River, began in 1701 and is the second-oldest continuously operating Catholic parish in the U.S., with 575 families, the archdiocese said. The current church was built in 1886. “To demonstrate it met criteria for becoming a Minor Basilica, Ste. Anne extensively documented its heightened liturgical activity and its architectural stature. … It contains many artifacts from the so-called stone church, the church building that preceded the present structure,” the archdiocese said. Archbishop Allen Vigneron will celebrate the designation at a Mass on April 26.
Minneapolis: A police officer was justified in fatally shooting a man in a north Minneapolis neighborhood last August, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. In a statement released Monday, Freeman said he determined that the deadly use of force by Officer Jason Wolff was reasonable and therefore not criminal. Police responded to a call about 3 a.m. Aug. 2 and found 32-year-old Mario Benjamin kneeling next to an injured woman in the street. In his interview with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension conducted two days after the shooting, Wolff said at first he thought Benjamin was trying to help the woman. Then, Wolff saw Benjamin stand up with a gun in his right hand, Minnesota Public Radio News reports. Wolff’s body camera footage shows Benjamin holding the gun to his head while Wolff repeatedly orders him to drop the gun. Wolff said he shot Benjamin three or four times after he refused to drop the weapon.
Jackson: The Republican-led Legislature is trying to restrict the reasons women may seek abortion, after federal courts blocked time limitations that the state tried to put on the procedure the past two years. Abortion would be prohibited if a woman is seeking the procedure because of the race, sex or genetic abnormality of the fetus, under a bill that passed a state House committee Tuesday. The only exception would be in case of a medical emergency. Other states have been sued over similar laws, and opponents questioned whether Mississippi is inviting another lawsuit over abortion. House Bill 1295 moves to the full House for more debate. Anyone who performs an abortion because of race, sex or genetic abnormality could face one year to 10 years in prison. The woman having the abortion would not face penalties.
Sikeston: Strong winds from a thunderstorm are being blamed for the deaths of more than 1,000 birds, all of them found in this southeast Missouri town. The storm rolled through Sikeston on Sunday night. KFVS-TV reports Scott County Conservation Agent Andrew Mothershead and a conservation department biologist were called to the western part of Sikeston after a large number of dead birds were seen near the power plant. Mothershead said in a statement that they found carcasses of red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, grackles and European starlings in fields. They also found several other birds showing signs of injury.
Kalispell: Schools must test drinking water for lead content following state rule changes related to school health, officials said. Schools may begin this month, with a December 2021 deadline to complete testing, The Daily Inter Lake reports. Schools are required to test all fixtures providing water for human consumption or food preparation, including sinks, drinking fountains and water bottle refill stations. State officials encouraged elementary schools to begin testing first because young, developing children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure. Schools are required to test once every three years or submit requests for alternative schedules.
Omaha: Goodwill Omaha fired its longtime CEO in 2017 amid a scandal over his six-figure salary, $100,000 annual performance bonuses, a $519,000 lump-sum retirement payout and a country club membership. But after it parted ways with Frank McGree, he was paid an additional $610,000, according to Goodwill’s latest public disclosure statement, the Omaha World-Herald reports. He’d sued Goodwill in September 2017 because its board had refused to pay his negotiated severance. In 2018 the charity’s board acknowledged that it settled the lawsuit. Until now, the settlement figure wasn’t publicly known. Goodwill trains and employ people with disabilities and others who may have a hard time getting and keeping jobs. McGree received total compensation of more than $933,000 in 2014, and 13 Goodwill executives were paid more than $100,000, reducing the amount of money available for job training programs.
Reno: The state’s largest utility has filed a request for more than $30 million in rate reductions for ratepayers beginning in October. Under the request filed with the state Public Utilities Commission, ratepayers in northern Nevada would enjoy about a $24.1 million savings and those in southern Nevada about $6.7 million effective Oct. 1. Utility President and CEO Doug Cannon says the proposed rate cuts are in addition to earlier rate reductions effective April 1 that will reduce the cost of monthly electric bills about $2.10 for northern Nevada customers using 760 kilowatt hours of power. Southern Nevada residential electric customers using 1,092 kilowatt hours of electricity a month will see a decrease of $3.88 on their monthly bills. That reduction is tied to the lower cost of fuel used to produce power at NV Energy’s generating stations.
Lisbon: A 19th-century farm will be conserved forever by the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust. The trust has closed on the conservation easement of 30 acres donated by Dori Hamilton, the Caledonian Record reports. The farmhouse, dubbed Tranquil Vewe Croft, was built in 1885 and started by an Irish farmer, Hamilton said. The trust is working with retiring farmers to determine what will happen to similar properties, ACT Executive Director Rebecca Brown said. Brown said food security and potential disruptions to the supply chain are among the concerns being addressed in farmland conservation. “Can we grow all of our food locally?” Brown said. “No, that’s not realistic. But we have to do better than what we are doing now.”
Shamong: An emergency medical services crew will fight a $108,000 fine proposed by state officials for sending an unlicensed ambulance to 90 emergencies. Shamong Medical Services, part of the Indian Mills Volunteer Fire Company, operates two vehicles that are licensed through the state’s health department. An audit prompted by an anonymous complaint found that a third unlicensed ambulance had responded to calls between Oct. 7, 2018, and Oct. 9, 2019, according to a notice from the state. The state’s Office of Emergency Medical Services also found that Shamong didn’t staff its ambulances with at least two EMTs as required by state law on 36 occasions, according to the notice. Shamong EMS Chief Dave Taylor told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday that there was “a verbal understanding with the state” that the EMS could operate one unlicensed ambulance with one EMT as long as it did not bill health insurance companies.
Santa Fe: Low-income students who qualified for reduced-price school breakfast and lunch no longer have to come up with co-payments for the meals under a measure signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. In signing the bill Monday, the governor said that while many families meet the criteria for reduced fees, they still have difficulty coming up with the money when they have multiple children in school. “A 40-cent copay should never come between a child and the food they need to grow and learn,” she said in a statement. The legislation comes with a $650,000 appropriation that the state Public Education Department will use to reimburse school districts for the fees the children normally would have paid. Supporters say the change will make school meals accessible to an additional 12,500 students.
New Rochelle: After months of legal turmoil, the rebirth of the city’s long-vacant armory may be at hand. The city and a developer began renovations to the building last summer, with the intent of enticing another company to develop a project there. But a group of veterans, skeptical of the project, sued New Rochelle and the developer in charge of renovations, Twining, accusing the city of neglecting the armory and even planning to tear it down. If the lawsuit is successful, the city would be stopped from transferring the property to Twining. The city and Twining want the lawsuit thrown out, claiming that renovations have begun, including a new roof. A court date is set for Wednesday.
Duck: A surfer has won a legal battle to gain access to an 8-foot-wide path that cuts through private property to the ocean on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The Virginian-Pilot reports the legal battle was waged by Bob Hovey and his wife, Tanya, in the town of Duck. The couple had sued the Sand Dollar Shores Homeowners Association for the right to use the path where they go surfing. The walkway passes between two oceanfront houses. A sign said the path was private and only for homeowners and their guests. A judge in Camden Superior Court recently ruled in Hovey’s favor. The ruling could open up other access points at the end of streets near the ocean. Hovey, 50, said on Facebook: “It’s been a long struggle, but the public can now enjoy the beach in Duck.”
Bismarck: Community leaders in the state’s oil patch areas are ramping up efforts to encourage census involvement, noting that population totals have a decadelong impact on federal funding. County officials are hoping the next census, which begins this month, accurately reflects their population size, the Bismarck Tribune reports. Since the shale oil boom in places like Williston and Watford City, the population increase has not matched their official census counts. Williams County, which includes Williston, had 22,398 people for the 2010 census. Lindsey Harriman, co-chair of the Williams County Complete Count Committee, suspects the number was lower than the county’s actual population at the time, when the oil boom started. Officials estimate Williams County has more than 47,000 residents today, Harriman said. Under counting is also a concern in McKenzie County.
Dayton: A Ku Klux Klan group that caused tensions with a rally last year has applied to hold another one this year. The Honorable Sacred Knights of Indiana recently asked for a permit for a Sept. 5 rally in Dayton. Montgomery County’s administrator said the application hasn’t yet been approved, the Dayton Daily News reports. At least 10 people want to speak publicly while defending “white Christian American rights,” the application states. Fewer than 10 people rallied last May on Dayton’s courthouse square, badly outnumbered by hundreds of anti-Klan protesters. A massive police presence kept order without direct clashes or injuries after many downtown businesses shut down and roads were blocked. Mayor Nan Whaley said she’s incredibly frustrated and understands people in Dayton are upset and angry about the group’s plans to return. “Let me be clear: I’m angry too,” she said.
Stringtown: A prison was on lockdown with no visitation following what prison officials called a “disturbance” among about a half-dozen inmates, the state Department of Corrections said Tuesday. There were no serious injuries as a result of the disturbance Monday night at Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown, about 105 miles southeast of Oklahoma City, said DOC spokesman Matt Elliott. Elliott said the cause of the disturbance was under investigation, and the lockdown was ordered after investigators learned of more potential violence at other state prisons. “We’re trying to head off anything serious” at other facilities, Elliott said. All state prisons were locked down in September after an outbreak of apparent gang-related violence left one inmate dead and more than a dozen injured.
Salem: Leaders of an American Indian reservation shut down its casino and several other facilities Monday after an employee contracted coronavirus, and a state health official said the virus is likely circulating and will appear in additional locations in the state. The employee of the Wildhorse Resort and Casino on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is hospitalized and is the third such case to emerge in Oregon, state and tribal officials said. The previous two other known cases occurred in the Portland area and had household contacts with each other, but the casino is 215 miles east of the city. Meanwhile, dozens of employees of a hospital in a Portland suburb – Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center – have been quarantined at home after they may have had contact, unprotected, with the first Oregonian to come down with the virus, The Oregonian reports.
Harrisburg: The state-owned university system will implement a plan to reduce the size of its faculties by creating an early retirement incentive program. At least 200 members of the faculty at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education have indicated they will opt for the one-time incentive program, the system said in a statement Monday. The system’s governing board approved the plan in January to align staffing with the decrease in student enrollment. The incentive increases the maximum number of unused sick days for which retirees can be paid out. At least 200 full-time faculty members had to sign up in order to make the plan cost-effective. Faculty members who opted into the program will receive an additional payout of sick leave if they retire on or before Aug. 14, according to the statement.
Providence: The state is enacting tougher environmental regulations in an effort to contain the spread of invasive species. The state Department of Environmental Management introduced changes that prohibit the transport of any plants and $100 fine for each violation, The Westerly Sun reports. The state has more than 100 ponds and lakes and 27 river segments that are hosting at least one invasive plant species. The species disrupt the habitats of native plants and animals, degrade water quality and hurt recreation. The state’s initiative plans to align Rhode Island with other states in New England, says Katie DeGoosh-DiMarzio, an environmental analyst with state agency’s Office of Water Resources. The new regulations require that freshwater fishermen remove all plants, animals and mud from gear and equipment, as well as drain all water-containing devices. They must also dry equipment for 24 hours before using it again.
Columbia: The state once had one of the county’s highest rates of execution, even putting two prisoners to death in one night. But now it hasn’t executed a prisoner in nine years and lacks the drugs to carry out lethal injections for any of the 37 inmates on the state’s death row. Some lawmakers are pushing to give the state an option to start executing prisoners again by giving them no choice but to go to the electric chair. Currently, condemned South Carolina prisoners have a choice between lethal injection or electrocution, with lethal injection as the default if they do not pick. The bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday forces inmates to be electrocuted if lethal injection is not available, like the current situation in which South Carolina’s supply of lethal injection drugs has expired and no pharmaceutical companies will sell them any more without a guarantee they won’t be publicly identified. The proposal now heads to the House floor.
Pierre: State lawmakers and Gov. Kristi Noem floated vastly different cost estimates for legalizing industrial hemp Tuesday, presenting a final hang-up to the resolution of their yearlong dispute. The governor’s office argued that the legalization of industrial hemp would fundamentally change how the state enforces its marijuana laws and require an expansion of staff, drug testing and law enforcement across three state agencies. Lawmakers cast it as an agricultural program similar to other crops that would require oversight by just one person and part-time testing by law enforcement. Rep. Oren Lesmeister, a Democrat from Parade and a proponent of hemp, said the governor’s office inflated the numbers based on a false presumption that drug cases would “skyrocket” as a result of an industrial hemp program. He charged that the governor is using the high estimates as a tactic to thwart the bill.
Nashville: Eleven Nashville and Memphis parents are suing the state for its controversial Education Savings Account program, marking the second lawsuit filed contending the program is unconstitutional. The suit was filed Monday on behalf of the 11 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Education Law Center and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP. The petition, filed in Davidson County court, says the state’s program violates numerous provisions in Tennessee’s constitution. The lawsuit outlines similar complaints made in a February lawsuit by Nashville, Shelby County and Metro Nashville Public Schools. Education savings accounts, a voucher-style program, use taxpayer funds deposited for families who withdraw their children from public school. The program is limited to Memphis and Nashville and was a campaign promise of Republican Gov. Bill Lee.
Dallas: The Leaning Tower of Dallas, the nearly iconic remnant of a high-rise building implosion gone awry, finally collapsed in a cloud of dust Monday after two weeks of being whacked with a headache ball. The tower collapsed about 3:15 p.m. after a few last whacks with a wrecking ball swung by a high-rise crane. No injuries were reported. The tower was the core of an 11-story building that was imploded with explosives Feb. 16. The 11 floors surrounding the core duly collapsed, but the solid concrete core containing the stairway and elevator shafts remained standing at an angle. The demolition contractor has been whacking away at it ever since with a 5,600-pound wrecking ball. In the meantime, the tower drew hundreds of people who took often-whimsical photographs of themselves with the tower in the background.
Salt Lake City: A bill targeting a new Salt Lake County rule to require gun show vendors in county facilities to run background checks on customers passed the state House of Representatives. The bill passed without debate Friday aims to clarify state control over gun laws in Utah, The Deseret News reports. The bill would prevent cities or counties from being able to work around the state’s gun legislation. The bill passed after lawmakers approved an amendment clarifying guns can be banned in homeless shelters, as well as striking a clause allowing elected officials to be sued for voting to regulate firearms. The bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Cory Maloy, an outspoken Second Amendment supporter, and faces opposition from Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Democrats who argue local governments should be able to pass regulations. The bill will proceed to the state Senate for consideration.
Burlington: The city has a new public official whose job is part of Burlington’s long-running effort to advance equity. The hiring of Tyeastia Green, whose formal title is director of racial equity, inclusion and belonging, was announced last week by Mayor Miro Weinberger. “Breaking down the barriers of institutional racism and implicit bias requires hard, detailed and sustained organizational work,” Weinberger said. Green brings to Vermont her experience working with municipal employees on race and equity issues in Bloomington, Minnesota. There, she worked with a team to create the city’s first Racial Equity Toolkit, a policy document to inform decisions the city makes through the lens of racial equity. She also developed the Start Seeing Color campaign to bring visibility to race. Green said she is excited for her new position in Burlington because of its focus on inclusion.
Richmond: A solar array at an elementary school is the first to receive the highest possible designation under a new program that encourages pollinator-friendly solar development. The Department of Conservation and Recreation announced Monday that Cople Elementary School in Westmoreland County had been awarded a Gold Certified Pollinator Smart Project label. The program includes recommendations to plan, build and monitor solar facilities that attract pollinators, lessen stormwater impacts and increase the visual appeal of the installations, according to the department. A key focus is the use of Virginia native plant species. Charlottesville-based Sun Tribe installed the project. The company said in a news release that the ground-mounted solar system meets 100% of the school’s energy needs and will save Westmoreland County Public Schools an estimated $3.6 million in energy costs.
Spokane: The City Council has adopted a new law that seeks in part to dampen the loud protests outside the Planned Parenthood Spokane Health Center. The Spokesman-Review reports the ordinance passed 6-1 on Monday night, with Councilman Michael Cathcart casting the only “no” vote. Council members who supported the measure stressed it was not intended to restrict anti-abortion protesters’ rights to march, hold signs and pray. “All we’re asking is that you keep the noise down to a reasonable level,” Councilwoman Karen Stratton said. The ordinance was proposed in part because a group called the Church at Planned Parenthood has regular gatherings of anti-abortion activists who sing and pray outside the clinic’s walls. Planned Parenthood has said the demonstrations can be heard through its walls and interfere with the services it provides to patients, which include abortion but also STD and cancer screening, pregnancy testing and birth control.
Charleston: It could soon be easier for power companies to use solar energy under a bill passed Tuesday in the House of Delegates. Lawmakers voted 75-23 to approve the measure after about an hour of debate that revolved around whether it’s better to focus on coal or renewable energy sources. The state commerce department pushed for the bill, saying big companies want to know that they can use renewable energy sources before relocating to a state. The proposal would create a regulatory program for utilities to use a small amount of renewables. The measure makes several nods to the coal business and says nothing in the bill can “displace any current levels of coal-fired generation capacity.” The bill now moves to the Senate for the chamber to approve some minor House amendments. Senators unanimously approved the measure last month.
Oak Creek: A survivor of a shooting at a suburban Milwaukee Sikh temple that killed six worshippers in 2012 has died of complications stemming from a bullet wound to his head. Baba Punjab Singh’s death Monday ties the temple shooting with a 2005 church shooting as the deadliest mass shootings in Wisconsin in the past 20 years. White supremacist Wade Michael Page burst into the temple in Oak Creek on Aug. 5, 2012, and shot 10 people, killing six and wounding four. He ultimately killed himself during a firefight with an arriving police officer in the temple parking lot. “I think, collectively as a community, (Singh’s death) reopens a lot of wounds that might have scabbed over,” said Pardeep Kaleka, whose father, temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, was killed in the shooting. “But we express condolences to his family and just hope that they over the next couple weeks can have some closure.”
Casper: The state had the second-highest suicide rate in the United States in 2018, a new report says. An American Association of Suicidology study released earlier this month found 25.4 out of every 100,000 Wyoming residents took their own lives in 2018, The Casper Star-Tribune reports. The figure fell from 2017, when Wyoming had more than 27 people per 100,000 people who died by suicide. The 2018 national suicide rate was 14.8 per 100,000 people. New Mexico had the highest rate with 25.6 that year. Wyoming’s age group with the highest rate of suicide was between 20 and 24 years old. There were 16 cases of suicide in that group in 2018. The association found more than 73% of Wyoming residents who died by suicide used a firearm. The national percentage was 50%. Wyoming has been in the highest five of state suicide rates since 1996.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Can-Am Crown, basilica declaration: News from around our 50 states