Cash tower leak, underwater plaque, library union: News from around our 50 states

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Thomasville: The whole town celebrated in 2020 when, early in the coronavirus pandemic, Thomasville Regional Medical Center opened, offering state-of-the-art medicine that was previously unavailable in a poor, isolated part of the state. The timing for the ribbon-cutting seemed perfect: New treatment options would be available in an underserved area just as a global health crisis was unfolding. In the end, that same timing may be the reason for the hospital’s undoing. Now deep in the red two years into the pandemic, the 29-bed, $40 million hospital with a soaring, sun-drenched lobby and 110 employees is among three medical centers in the United States that say they are missing out on millions in federal pandemic relief money because the facilities are so new they lack full financial statements from before the crisis to prove how much it cost them. In Thomasville, located in timber country about 95 miles north of Mobile, hospital officials have worked more than a year to convince federal officials they should have gotten $8.2 million through the CARES Act, not just the $1 million they received. With a total debt of $35 million, the quest gets more urgent each day, said Curtis James, the chief executive officer. “No hospital can sustain itself without getting the CARES Act money that everybody else got,” James said.


Juneau: A state court judge has said a majority of members on the board tasked with redrawing Alaska’s political boundaries appeared to have adopted a map that splits the Eagle River area into two Senate districts for “political reasons,” and he ordered a new map to be used this year. Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews in a decision made public late Monday ordered the Alaska Redistricting Board to adopt on an interim basis a map that in part pairs the Eagle River area House districts into a Senate district. The decision comes in a second round of redistricting challenges. The map that the judge ordered be adopted was the other option the board had considered when weighing a revised map. Matthews said he expected a quick review of his decision by the Alaska Supreme Court. The candidate filing deadline for the August primary is June 1. The Alaska Supreme Court in March found constitutional issues with elements of a map drawn by the board last fall. In one of the instances, the court ruled that a state Senate district pairing part of east Anchorage and the Eagle River area constituted an “unconstitutional political gerrymander.”


Phoenix: The state Senate on Monday opened an ethics investigation into a firebrand Republican member who tweeted inflammatory comments about last weekend’s racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket that left 10 people dead. The referral of Sen. Wendy Rogers of Flagstaff to the Ethics Committee was in lieu of the immediate expulsion that Democratic lawmakers were planning, GOP Majority Leader Rick Gray said. Due process considerations require no less than an ethics investigation, he said. But Democrats were furious, noting that Rogers was just censured in March for a repeated series of tweets and statements that embraced white nationalism and called for violence. On Saturday, as news came out of the mass shooting by a white suspect who had posted a racist screed on the internet and driven about 200 miles to a primarily Black neighborhood in Buffalo, Rogers tweeted: “Fed boy summer has started in Buffalo.” Many in both parties took that tweet to mean that Rogers was blaming the attack on the federal government, especially in light of Rogers’ history of embracing conspiracy theories and posting of racist tropes. GOP Senate leaders tried to get in front of the controversy Monday, putting out a statement condemning the violence and “all hate speech that has served as an inspiration for these kinds of heinous crimes.”


The Kingsland, Ark., water tower adorned with native son Johnny Cash’s silhouette has been leaking for almost a week.
The Kingsland, Ark., water tower adorned with native son Johnny Cash’s silhouette has been leaking for almost a week.

Kingsland: The silhouette of “The Man in Black” is painted on the side of the town’s water tower. But someone shot the painting of Johnny Cash just to watch it leak. The tower was still leaking the town’s drinking water Tuesday. The gunshot hit the image of the iconic country singer in the crotch. The water tower in Kingsland, a small town of 400 about an hour south of Little Rock, features a mural of country music legend Johnny Cash, according to the Cleveland County Herald. The shooter fired the shot May 11, and repairs continued this week. The town had just spent $300,000 on the water tower. Cash was born in 1932 in Kingsland. The Cleveland County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the case of vandalism. Anyone with information can call the sheriff at 870-325-6222.


San Francisco: Homelessness increased nearly 9% in the San Francisco Bay Area over the past three years, despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent to keep people off the streets during the coronavirus pandemic, preliminary numbers released Monday show. San Francisco proper appeared to be the one bright spot, seeing homelessness decline slightly. Alameda County, which includes the city of Oakland, reported a 22% increase in this year’s point-in-time survey, while neighboring Contra Costa County saw a 35% jump in people spotted living in shelters, vehicles or outdoors. The largest county in the region, Santa Clara, reported a 3% increase from 2019, including an 11% increase in the city of San Jose. San Francisco reported a 3.5% decline to nearly 7,800 homeless residents, which housing advocates chalked up in part to a wealth tax approved by voters in 2018. In total, seven of the Bay Area’s nine counties reported counting more than 35,000 people experiencing homelessness in late February. The count is required every other year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and helps determine funding. San Mateo and Solano counties did not report preliminary numbers Monday. Housing advocates said increases across the region would have been worse without strong and speedy intervention from the state and local government.


Denver: The partner of an embattled former police chief in suburban Denver is accused of falsely reporting that a vocal opponent of the chief was sexually abusing her son, authorities alleged in court documents filed Monday. Robin Niceta, a county social worker at the time, allegedly made an anonymous call to a child abuse hotline Jan. 28 alleging that she saw Aurora City Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky inappropriately touching Jurinsky’s son, an affidavit for an arrest warrant for Niceta said. The call came a day after Jurinsky called for police Chief Vanessa Wilson to resign, saying on a talk radio show that Wilson was “trash.” An investigation cleared Jurinsky of any wrongdoing, and she told investigators she thought the tip was retaliation for her comments about Wilson. According to an affidavit seeking Niceta’s arrest, the call came from Niceta’s personal cellphone on file with the county, and a search of her laptop showed a search for the hotline number and Jurinsky’s address just before the call was made. Niceta denied making the call. She said Wilson and her two children also had access to her phone, though she said her children would not have called. When pressed about who could have called, Niceta said that “it wasn’t me,” the affidavit said.


New Britain: A fire official has been fired and seven other firefighters have been disciplined following an investigation into drug use at firehouses around the city, the mayor said. The investigation began after the apparent drug-related death of a 36-year-old off-duty firefighter in his home in January. A lieutenant in the department was fired in February after an investigation showed he was “knowingly supplying, giving, selling, sharing and using illegal drugs and (his) prescription Adderall pills,” according to a termination letter from Mayor Erin Stewart that was first obtained by The Hartford Courant. The other seven, including four with the rank of lieutenant or above, have been required to take 30 days of unpaid leave, demoted to the rank of private and placed on probation for three years, during which time they cannot seek promotion and will be subject to random drug testing, according to the mayor’s office. The drugs involved include prescription Adderall as well as fentanyl, heroin and marijuana, Stewart said. A criminal investigation is ongoing, but no charges have been filed. Several other firefighters have resigned since January’s death. The results of toxicology tests were pending, but officials have said it was an apparent drug overdose.


Dover: A judge has refused to dismiss a criminal charge accusing the embattled state auditor of deliberately breaking up payments for a contract into which she entered with a former campaign consultant in order to avoid compliance with state procurement law. In a ruling dated Friday, Superior Court Judge William Carpenter Jr. ruled that an indictment against Kathleen McGuiness sufficiently alleged that she willfully fragmented or structured the payments to circumvent the state procurement code. Defense attorney Steve Wood argued that the indictment failed to charge an offense or provide fair notice of what McGuiness needed to defend against. He also argued that the indictment failed to allege that she structured two or more no-bid contracts and that it didn’t specify which section of the procurement code or state Budget and Accounting Policy Manual she intended to violate. McGuiness, a Democrat who was elected in 2018 and is responsible for rooting out government fraud, waste and abuse, was indicted in October on felony counts of theft and witness intimidation, as well as misdemeanor charges of official misconduct, conflict of interest and noncompliance with procurement laws. A trial is scheduled to start later this month. McGuiness has denied any wrongdoing.

District of Columbia

Washington: Karine Jean-Pierre held her first briefing as the new White House press secretary Monday, crediting “barrier-breaking people” who came before her for making it possible for a Black, gay, immigrant woman like herself to rise to one of the most high-profile jobs in American government. “I stand on their shoulders. If it were not for generations of barrier-breaking people before me, I would not be here,” Jean-Pierre said. “But I benefit from their sacrifices. I have learned from their excellence, and I am forever grateful to them.” President Joe Biden entrusted Jean-Pierre, 47, with the responsibility of being his chief spokesperson earlier this month. Jen Psaki, who had held the job since the start of the administration, stepped down last Friday. Jean-Pierre, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, is the first Black woman and the first openly LGBTQ person to serve as White House press secretary. She had been the principal deputy press secretary and led the briefing on several occasions, making history in May 2021 when she first subbed for Psaki. She also held regular off-camera “gaggles” with the much smaller group of reporters who travel aboard Air Force One with the president.


Key Largo: The 20th anniversary of the storied intentional sinking of a former Naval ship to become an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary was celebrated Tuesday. The 510-foot-long Spiegel Grove earned international notoriety when it sank prematurely May 17, 2002, and landed with its upside-down bow protruding above the ocean’s surface about 6 miles off Key Largo. A massive remediation effort began, resulting in the former Landing Ship Dock being fully sunk on its starboard side June 10, 2002. Three years later, strong currents and waves generated from Hurricane Dennis when it was east of Cuba pushed the ship into the intended upright position on the ocean bottom about 130 feet below the surface. “Ultimately, the Spiegel Grove is a story that Hollywood would never have been able to script in a million years,” said Rob Bleser, a Key Largo dive operator and the vessel’s sinking project manager. Bleser and other key individuals planned to gather Tuesday evening at a local cultural center for a reception and panel discussion on the fascinating events surrounding the ship. On Sunday, divers affixed a commemorative plaque to the Spiegel Grove, sponsored by a group of Navy veterans who had served on it, recognizing the multimillion-dollar project’s supporters, as well as military personnel who were stationed on the ship commissioned in 1956.


Atlanta: Several Black students who were suspended for trying to protest Confederate flag displays at their school have filed a federal lawsuit against the school district and its board members, accusing them of allowing an extensive pattern of racism including “overt bigotry and animosity by some white students and teachers against African American students.” The students, joined by their mothers as plaintiffs, already made news when their protest at Coosa High School was stifled last fall. Now, in their lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Floyd County school district and its board members, they allege an extensive pattern of racism, including white students reenacting the murder of George Floyd and posting it on social media, as well as a student who carried what appeared to be a whip and told a Black student, “We used to whip you.” They also allege unfair punishment: Students are banned from wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, but Confederate flag apparel is acceptable under the school’s dress code, the lawsuit says. The suit faults administrators for “deliberate indifference to acts of racial animosity toward black students perpetrated by white students and teachers; as well as the school’s viewpoint discrimination in its dress code and the inconsistent administration of disciplinary policies to the detriment of Black students.”


Honolulu: The state is on course to receive $14 million in federal funding to help protect endangered forest birds and other species, officials said Monday. U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, said the funding will help the state fight mosquitoes that threaten birds found nowhere else in the world. There are an estimated 45 akikiki left on Kauai and 135 kiwikiu remaining on Maui, said Lainie Berry, the wildlife program manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. “This tremendous level of additional federal dollars will go a long way toward supplementing and increasing earnest efforts already in place to save these species, as well as the akekee and akohekohe, whose wild population numbers are slightly higher,” Berry said. Avian malaria carried by mosquitoes is wiping out Hawaii’s forest birds. Neither the disease nor the mosquitoes that carry them are native to Hawaii. An April report from federal and state conservation officials concluded the birds have grim prospects without intervention. There are fewer of these birds compared to the past two decades and even years. Their available range has been significantly reduced as species move higher into the mountains to escape mosquitoes.


Boise: A hospital that went on lockdown in March after far-right activists protested outside is suing Ammon Bundy, Diego Rodriguez and their various political organizations for defamation and “sustained online attacks.” St. Luke’s Health System filed the lawsuit Wednesday against Bundy, his gubernatorial campaign and his People’s Rights Network organization. The hospital system is also suing Rodriguez – the grandfather of the child involved in the protection case – as well as Rodriguez’s website Freedom Man Press and the Freedom Man political action committee. Rodriguez is an associate of Bundy who has been active in Bundy’s political campaign. The child protection case involved a 10-month-old baby who was temporarily removed from family custody in March after officials determined the infant was “suffering from severe malnourishment” and at risk of injury or death, the Meridian Police Department said at the time. The baby’s parents had refused to let officers check on the child’s welfare after the family canceled a medical appointment, the police statement said. Bundy, well-known for participating in armed standoffs with law enforcement, was arrested the following day on a misdemeanor trespassing charge after he protested at a different hospital where he believed the baby was being treated. He also asked his followers to protest at the hospital and the homes of child protection service workers, law enforcement officers and others involved in the child protection case.


Chicago: Three women who were found dead at a senior living facility on Chicago’s North Side amid high heat have been identified, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office said Monday. The women found dead Saturday were 76-year-old Delores McNeely, 72-year-old Gwendolyn Osborne and 68-year-old Janice Reed, the office said. All three women were found unresponsive over a 12-hour span at the James Sneider Apartments, where residents started complaining of oppressively hot conditions days earlier. Alderwoman Maria Hadden said she believes a lack of air conditioning in the building likely caused the deaths. Paul Roldan, the president and chief executive of the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, said his team was “deeply saddened” by the news of the deaths. “The safety and security of our residents has always been our highest priority at HHDC,” Roldan said. Hadden said she went to the building Thursday and learned no one had air conditioning. She said a facilities manager told her the company was still running heat to avoid potentially being cited by the city for shutting it off too early. A city ordinance requires rental properties to be at least 68 degrees during overnight hours between Sept. 15 and June 1.


Palmyra: Two men were fatally shot after a police officer and two good Samaritans stopped along a southern Indiana highway to help a driver who was stopped in the roadway, police said. The shooting happened Monday night after an officer with the Palmyra Police Department stopped to assist the “apparent stranded motorist” on State Road 135, Indiana State Police said, but they didn’t say what precipitated the gunfire or who fired the shots. As the officer arrived, two good Samaritans also stopped in a pickup truck to help, but “within seconds of exiting their cars, shots were fired” at the scene just south of Palmyra, about 20 miles northwest of Louisville, Kentucky, police said in a statement. State police did not provide additional details, saying in the news release that investigators have not said how many weapons were involved, how many shots were fired or who fired them. The shooting killed the SUV’s driver, 31-year-old Justin Moore of Owensboro, Kentucky, and one of the good Samaritans, 24-year-old Jacob Tyler McClanahan, of Corydon, Indiana, police said. Autopsies were scheduled for Wednesday, according to Indiana State Police, who were investigating at the request of Harrison County authorities.


Des Moines: Elaine Bohling, of Creston, earned the title Iowan of the Day in 2015 for her volunteer work. Ralph Hodson, of Ackworth, never missed a fair since 1947, but it was his volunteer work that earned him the honor in 2018. Even former Gov. Robert Ray earned the honor – a first for an elected official – in 2014. With less than 100 days until the Fairgrounds open for the Iowa State Fair, the Blue Ribbon Foundation and Cookies Food Products are ready to find a new group of Iowans to select for the honor. The tradition, now in its 25th year, honors Iowans with a “strong work ethic, loyalty to helping others, and an exceptional sense of Iowa pride.” The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation founded the Iowan of the Day in 1997 to celebrate the dedication residents have for their communities all over the state. Every year, the foundation selects 10 Iowans, who are celebrated on 10 out of 11 days of the State Fair. Anyone can nominate someone to become Iowan of the Day by going to for the nomination form before July 1. Nominations must come with references attesting to the nominee’s efforts along with supplementary materials to showcase the nominee’s awards, photos, articles or documents that showcase their work. Even letters of recommendation can be part of the nomination.


Topeka: In a historic first, lawyers faced off before the Kansas Supreme Court on Monday over the constitutionality of a set of GOP-authored congressional maps struck down by a lower court judge last month. It was unclear from the arguments which way the justices are set to rule on the matter, which marks the first time they have been asked to adjudicate whether the Kansas Constitution can be interpreted to apply to redistricting. Attorneys defending the maps argued politically slanted lines were an inherent part of allowing legislators to handle redistricting, though this perspective earned pushback from some members of the high court. Meanwhile, lawyers representing three sets of challengers to the maps’ allowability argued they were produced from a clear intent to hamstring certain racial and political groups, clashing with one of the court’s conservative judges in the process. At issue is whether the district lines illicitly divide the Kansas City, Kansas, area or improperly place Lawrence in the sweeping 1st Congressional District dominated by western Kansas. The maps were enacted by the Legislature over the veto of Gov. Laura Kelly but were later struck down when Wyandotte County District Court Judge Bill Klapper ruled the maps to be racial and partisan gerrymandering in an April ruling.


Pineville: The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has cited the owners of an eastern Kentucky surface mine where a worker was killed by a falling tree, according to a published report. Nally & Hamilton Enterprises was cited for not following a plan that required removing trees on top of the mine’s high wall and for failing to identify, report and correct a hazardous situation, the federal agency said, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. A tree fell from the high wall above the roadway at the Bell County mine in January and struck a vehicle with two workers as it passed. One worker died, and another was seriously injured. The federal agency said Nally & Hamilton did not make sure that trees were cleared a safe distance from the edge of the top of the high wall. In addition, inspections for possible hazardous conditions at the mine were inadequate and contributed to the accident, the mine safety agency concluded. Weather conditions also likely played a role, with heavy precipitation and cycles of freezing and thawing that caused conditions which loosened support for the tree, the report said.


New Orleans: Now is the time to head off a COVID-19 surge like the one that swamped area hospitals last summer, the head of the New Orleans Health Department said Tuesday. Case counts average 155 a day, five times higher than a month ago, and wastewater tests show increased coronavirus concentrations in both residential and tourist areas, Dr. Jennifer Avegno said. She noted that many people use home tests, so the case count “is a big underrepresentation.” She asked residents and visitors to mask up in indoor public spaces, get tested if they have been exposed to someone with the disease and get treated if appropriate. “We’re not surprised at a summer surge. This is the third year in a row,” Avegno said in a livestreamed news conference. “But none of us want to have the surge we did last year” from the delta variant of the coronavirus. She said the city is not ordering masks and noted that many residents followed previous recommendations. “Short-term but widespread indoor masking can return to not needing masks much quicker,” she said. Wastewater testing for coronavirus concentration, new since last summer, let the city “see this coming and predict the rise in cases and mobilize resources more quickly than we have in the past,” Avegno said.


Bangor: Attorney General Aaron Frey said the state is preparing for a lawsuit against manufacturers of so-called forever chemicals. Frey said at the Democratic State Convention last weekend that steps are being taken to “hold these chemical manufacturers to account.” He said an announcement could be made within weeks. The Bangor Daily News reports that the attorney general is enlisting outside counsel to assist his office. In September, the state asked law firms to submit proposals for the work. The last time that happened was during negotiations on the multistate tobacco settlement of 1998, Frey said. The lawsuit is expected to target manufacturers of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances and similar chemicals that have been used in a variety of products. PFAS-contaminated soil has been found in several locations around the state. Gov. Janet Mills and lawmakers set aside $60 million of a $1.2 billion spending package this year for PFAS relief.


The Black-Eyed Susan pulls away from the Pocomoke dock to go under a bridge.
The Black-Eyed Susan pulls away from the Pocomoke dock to go under a bridge.

Snow Hill: The Black-Eyed Susan riverboat will undergo partial repairs. Town Council members voted 2-1 in favor of committing to repairs that would allow the stern-wheel paddleboat to stay in service at a reduced capacity while officials seek additional funding for a full restoration. The move will preserve the boat’s purpose “as a tourist attraction and economic driver for the Lower Eastern Shore,” according to a news release from Town Manager Rick Pollitt. Snow Hill purchased the riverboat in 2020 using a combination of grant money and loans from the county and state. The Black-Eyed Susan was then in the fourth year of a five-year mandated U.S. Coast Guard inspection routine, the release said. Voyages started in August 2021 with Washington’s Inc. as the operator responsible for catered cruises along the Pocomoke River. The Black-Eyed Susan was then taken in February to Colonna’s Shipyard in Norfolk for an extensive inspection that revealed multiple issues with the hull, hydraulics system and paddlewheel frame, according to the release. Repairs were estimated at more than $600,000, a price tag outside the town budgetary means. Consultation with legal counsel determined it would also be expensive for the town to try to sell the Black-Eyed Susan on the open market.


Boston: The state has agreed to pay $56 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by the families of veterans who died or became sick after contracting COVID-19 at a state-run veterans’ care center during one of the deadliest outbreaks at a long-term care facility in the U.S., officials said Thursday. The families of 84 veterans who died during the outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home will receive a minimum of $400,000 each, while 84 veterans who contracted the disease and survived will receive a minimum of $10,000 under terms of the settlement that requires a federal judge’s approval. “The suit contends that what happened at the Soldiers’ Home was so severe that it rose to the level of a deprivation of the veterans’ constitutional rights to be free from harms recklessly created by the government,” Tom Lesser, one of the families’ attorneys, said in a statement. “No amount of money can bring back the veterans who died or erase the pain and suffering that this tragedy needlessly caused those veterans and their families, but justice required that those wrongs not go unaddressed,” he said. “This settlement recognizes that the tragedy was preventable and never should have happened.”


Detroit: A judge on Tuesday suspended the state’s dormant, decades-old ban on abortion, which means the procedure would not be illegal in Michigan even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its historic Roe v. Wade decision. The Michigan law, which makes it a crime to assist in an abortion, has been on the books since 1931. But it has had no practical effect since the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. The court, however, could throw out that landmark ruling before July, leaving abortion issues for each state to decide. Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth Gleicher granted a preliminary injunction sought by Planned Parenthood of Michigan, saying the abortion ban likely violates the state constitution. “After 50 years of legal abortion in Michigan, there can be no doubt but that the right of personal autonomy and bodily integrity enjoyed by our citizens includes the right of a woman, in consultation with her physician, to terminate a pregnancy,” the judge said. “From a constitutional standpoint, the right to obtain a safe medical treatment is indistinguishable from the right of a patient to refuse treatment.” Gleicher said other Michigan laws regulating abortion will remain in full effect.


St. Paul: Former broadcaster Cory Hepola, who’s running for governor with the upstart Forward Party of Minnesota, named school administrator Tamara Uselman as his running mate Tuesday. Uselman, who lives in Pelican Rapids, is director of equity and inclusion for Fargo Public Schools in North Dakota. Before that, she was assistant superintendent for Moorhead Public Schools in Minnesota. She has also been superintendent of Bismarck Public Schools in North Dakota and superintendent of Perham-Dent Public Schools in Minnesota. “I’m pretty passionate about creating an education system that is ready to deliver what kids need today,” Uselman said at a news conference. “I also believe strongly that taxpayers deserve an academic return on their investment for education.” Hepola said he will unveil an education platform next month that will include “streaming schooling” as an option so kids, no matter where they live, can choose to focus on things like science, technology, engineering, mathematics or language arts. He said it would be in addition to in-person classes, not like the distance learning that schools used earlier in the pandemic. Democrats have criticized Hepola as a spoiler because of the chance he could peel away votes from incumbent Gov. Tim Walz in what’s expected to be a close election.


Jackson: Nearly 45 million gallons of untreated wastewater were released into the environment over a four-month period due to sewer failures in Jackson, according to the latest quarterly report the city submitted to federal regulators. The report, required under Jackson’s sewer consent decree, covers the period from Dec. 1 through March 21, WLBT-TV reports. It was submitted April 30. During the reporting period, 259 sewer overflows were reported in Jackson, which released more than 44.7 million gallons of sewage into the environment. An estimated 33.9 million gallons went into waters classified as “Waters of the U.S.” Under terms of its sewer decree, the city is fined for each overflow that reaches one of those waters. Jackson entered into the decree in 2012 with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice to bring its sewer system into compliance with federal water quality laws. According to the city’s annual report, Jackson does not have the funding or the manpower to address overflows or other decree mandates. City officials said Jackson also has equipment issues. According to the report, two of the city’s four trucks used to clean grease and solids out of clogged lines were down for repairs.


Columbia: Workers at a public library system based in the city are voting this week on whether to become the only active public librarians union in the state. If employees at the Daniel Boone Regional Library, which has branches in Columbia, Fulton, Ashland and Holts Summit, ratify the union, they would join a growing movement toward unionization across the country, sparked in part by the coronavirus pandemic. The issues supporters cite are typical of most union efforts: the need for better pay and benefits, career opportunities, and safety concerns, as well as a lack of communication with administrators. Union supporters say the pandemic produced a variety of issues and underscored some that already existed: high staff turnover, differing treatment of employees, abuse of staff by patrons over masking, and a lack of clear direction for pandemic-related work. Tori Patrick, a full-time circulation assistant at the library, said there was strong support for the union but acknowledged some employees do not think a union is necessary, particularly in the smaller branches outside Columbia. “That was a hard connection to make. We didn’t know who worked there and how to talk to them,” Patrick said. “We have made some strong inroads, but we’re still facing a difficult path to connection with some workers.”


Warm Springs: The state health department confirmed Tuesday that it is investigating an allegation of a patient-on-patient sexual assault that occurred at the Montana State Hospital over the weekend, the Daily Montanan reports. According to an employee who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, the alleged assault happened about 11 p.m. Friday. When a nurse checked on patients at shift change, the nurse found two male patients in the unit’s TV room, where one patient was sexually assaulting the other, according to the employee, who spoke to the nurse about the incident and relayed the information to the Daily Montanan. The employee said police were called, and the hospital’s new administrator, Carter Anderson, was aware of the incident. While Jon Ebelt, spokesperson for the Department of Public Health and Human Services, would not comment on the specifics of the matter, he confirmed that the state was investigating and that police had been called to the facility, as reported to the Daily Montanan by two staff members. “Due to confidentiality, we cannot comment on the matter at this point in time,” Ebelt said in an email.


Omaha: Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said he would push to outlaw abortion, without exceptions for rape or incest, if the U.S. Supreme Court follows through with a draft opinion suggesting it plans to overturn Roe v. Wade. Ricketts told “State of the Union” host Dana Bash on CNN on Sunday that Roe was a “horrible constitutional decision” and, when pressed about the possibility of the exceptions, said that “they’re still babies,” according to the Omaha World-Herald.


Las Vegas: A judge has vacated the murder conviction of a 78-year-old Las Vegas woman who spent 20 years in prison for the 1994 killing of her millionaire husband before she was paroled. Margaret Rudin was found guilty in 2001 of murder in the death of real estate mogul Ron Rudin. Prosecutors said he had been shot in the head as he slept and his body dumped in the desert. U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware ruled Sunday that Margaret Rudin had received ineffective assistance of counsel from her late defense attorney, Michael Amador, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. The Clark County district attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press about whether prosecutors were considering appealing or retrying her. Rudin, who maintained her innocence all along, was paroled in 2020. “I will be 79 years old at the end of this month, so I am very, very grateful,” she told the newspaper Monday. A socialite antiques shop owner the media later dubbed the “Black Widow,” she was indicted in 1997 in what authorities portrayed as a crime committed for financial gain. She vanished before she was indicted and spent two years as a fugitive until a tip generated by a “most wanted” TV show led to her arrest in 1999 in Massachusetts.

New Hampshire

Concord: State House and Senate negotiators approved yet another congressional map Monday with time running out to meet both legislative and judicial deadlines. New Hampshire is one of a few states that have yet to complete the redistricting process required every 10 years to bring districts in line with population changes. Democrats hold both U.S. seats, but Republicans hold majorities in the Legislature and thus control the redistricting process. Lawmakers passed a plan in March that would have given the GOP an advantage in the 1st District, but Republican Gov. Chris Sununu promised to veto it. The House later passed a second plan that would clump together communities along the I-93 corridor, but the Senate rejected it, sending the matter to a committee of conference to come up with a compromise. Under the plan approved by the committee Monday, the 1st District would cover the southeast corner of the state, while the 2nd District would cover the western half of the state and the north country. Lawmakers said it would give Republicans an edge in the 1st District, though not as prominently as the previous plans. The only Democrat on the conference committee, Sen. Donna Soucy, of Manchester, said putting the state’s two largest cities in the same district was a disservice to rural communities.

New Jersey

New Jersey officials announced plans for a $125 million film and production facility to be built in  in Newark and anchored by Lionsgate studios.
New Jersey officials announced plans for a $125 million film and production facility to be built in in Newark and anchored by Lionsgate studios.

Newark: More than a century after its birth in North Jersey, the film industry is in the midst of a Garden State resurgence. Gov. Phil Murphy and local officials were in Newark on Tuesday to announce the latest project: a $125 million film and television studio to be built over the next two years at the site of a former public housing project in the South Ward. The facility, to be anchored by Lionsgate Studio, is expected to create more than 600 jobs for the region, with a priority given to Newark residents, as well as internships and educational opportunities to be overseen by the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, state officials said. “One of my administration’s priorities has been to enhance New Jersey’s film industry and create new revenue streams for our state,” Murphy said in a statement released Tuesday. “With the addition of the Lionsgate Newark Studio, New Jersey will cement its position as a hub for television and film production.” Set to open in 2024, the 300,000 square-foot facility will be a joint project by Lionsgate, the arts center and Great Points Studio, a studio management business that will own the site. The property has sat unoccupied since 2015, when the Seth Boyden Housing project was abandoned. The buildings were demolished in February.

New Mexico

Albuquerque: In a marked departure from his recent findings, the independent monitor overseeing the Albuquerque Police Department reforms wrote in his latest report that he saw – “perhaps for the first time” – a serious willingness to identify and correct behavior that is counter to the effort. Also for the first time, the chief and his top brass have articulated an end date to the process. In an interview with the Albuquerque Journal, Police Chief Harold Medina said their goal is that the department will be in full compliance with the Court Approved Settlement Agreement in two years. The agreement made between the city of Albuquerque and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 lays out the requirements for reforming APD after federal investigators found officers had a pattern and practice of using excessive force. “We may not meet that goal, and we could get criticized later that we didn’t meet our goal,” Medina said. “But we’re going to set the goal. … We’re going to believe in ourselves, and we’re going to try our best. If, two years from now, we recognize we need one more period, well, you know what, it’s a whole lot better than anybody else has done.”

New York

New York: A court-appointed expert has released a draft of new congressional maps for the state that are more favorable to Republicans than the original gerrymandered political maps drawn by Democrats. The draft maps released Monday would help the GOP by creating five districts that lean Republican and at least four other districts where Republicans would be competitive. Maps drawn by the Democratic-controlled Legislature as part of the redistricting process occurring every 10 years would have given Democrats a strong majority in 22 of 26 congressional districts, starting with this year’s election, but those maps were struck down by a court. Currently, the state has 27 congressional districts but is losing one as a result of the 2020 census. Republicans hold eight of those seats. The proposed maps could also pit several incumbents against each other or force them to run in new areas. The new maps are a blow to national Democrats’ plans draw favorable maps in New York in order to maximize the number of seats they could win in the U.S. House of Representatives. Last month, New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled those maps and others for the state Senate were unconstitutional and failed to abide by an anti-gerrymandering process approved by voters.

North Carolina

Raleigh: Last fall, the General Assembly approved $30 million to address a lack of air conditioning in the state’s prison system. But with summer approaching, none of the actual construction has begun. WRAL-TV reports that although most prisons have at least some air conditioning, about 15,400 beds are in rooms without it, according to a breakdown provided by the state. Prison officials in Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration hope to have the first three projects complete around the start of next year. At the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women in Raleigh – the system’s largest facility for women – three-quarters of the beds don’t have air conditioning. Kristie Puckett Williams, the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for engagement and mobilization, said the temperature can surpass 100 degrees inside the prison in the summer. The campus will be one of the first prisons retrofitted with air conditioning. Prisons spokesman John Bull said Dan River Prison Work Farm and Caswell Correctional Center are also top priorities. Bull said several things complicate the effort, including the high demand right now for construction crews across the economy, as well as supply chain issues.

North Dakota

Bismarck: Despite millions of dollars in promised subsidies, a unit of the state’s only Fortune 500 company says it won’t pursue plans to build a natural gas pipeline from western North Dakota’s oil patch to the eastern part of the state. WBI Energy, a subsidiary of Bismarck-based MDU Resources Group, said the project is not viable due to regulatory uncertainty, limited in-state demand, and rising construction, labor and land-acquisition costs. In a letter to North Dakota Pipeline Authority Director Justin Kringstad, the company said materials and construction costs have risen up to 50% in just the past nine months. “The recent and potential future inflationary pressure presents a significant challenge to a large-scale pipeline project from western to eastern North Dakota,” the company said. “This challenge is further compounded by the fact that the actual construction of a major pipeline project, if it were to proceed, would occur four to five years in the future, following an uncertain siting/regulatory process.” The Legislature in November set aside $150 million in federal coronavirus aid to help construct such a trans-state pipeline for natural gas, which is a byproduct of oil production. The idea, backed by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, was to help cut down on the wasteful flaring at well sites and send the gas elsewhere to spur industrial development.


Cleveland: High school principals in the state have overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to allow prep athletes to sign deals cashing in on their name, image and likeness, the Ohio High School Athletic Association said Tuesday. In voting that began May 1 and finished Monday, principals from OHSAA member schools voted 538-254 not to allow the marketing deals for high school athletes. Students would lose their athletic eligibility were they to sign such a deal. The principals could vote again on the deals at a later date. “If NIL is going to enter the Ohio interscholastic landscape, we want the schools to be the ones to make that determination,” said OHSAA Executive Director Doug Ute in a statement. “Whatever we do moving forward, it will include discussion on this issue with our school administrators, Board of Directors, staff and leaders of other state high school athletic associations.” OHSAA spokesperson Tim Stried previously said the organization opposed marketing deals for high school athletes. While there are exceptions, the amounts college athletes are earning from NIL deals are small. According to data gathered by Opendorse Deals, the average payout since July for large-school Division I athletes is $664. It’s just $59 for Division II athletes and $43 for Division III athletes.


Tulsa: The three known living survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre are receiving a $1 million donation from a New York philanthropic organization. Business for Good co-founders Ed and Lisa Mitzen say 108-year-old Viola Ford Fletcher, 107-year-old Lessie Benningfield Randle and 101-year-old Hughes Van Ellis will share the donation. Ed Mitzen, a businessman and philanthropist, told reporters in Tulsa that he was prompted to make the donation after reading news reports about the massacre. Business for Good did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment Tuesday. Fletcher, Randle and Ellis previously received $100,000 each from the Justice for Greenwood Foundation, a Tulsa-based nonprofit. The three and descendants of victims are currently suing the city of Tulsa and other entities for reparations for the destruction and lost wealth as a result of the massacre, in which a white mob attacked and killed hundreds of Black residents. The mob destroyed what had been the nation’s most prosperous Black business district in the northeastern Oklahoma city. A Tulsa judge earlier this month rejected a request to dismiss the lawsuit.


Portland: The state remains poised to see a potentially “challenging” wildfire season this summer, despite a wet and cool spring in much of western Oregon, one of the state’s top fire watchers said Monday. The rain and snow have helped to push back a fire season that threatened to start as early as this month, according to Mike Shaw, fire chief with the Oregon Department of Forestry. But he noted much of the precipitation on the coast and in the Willamette Valley hasn’t made it over the Cascade Mountains to central, southern and eastern Oregon, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. Expanding drought conditions there have set the stage for fires to spread rapidly later this summer, Shaw said. “This will likely translate to a very challenging fire season,” Shaw said at a news conference. “The fires that start in these regions will be very hard to suppress.” Gov. Kate Brown said climate change has added complexity to the state’s wildfire response. She has declared drought in 15 counties – the earliest Oregon has seen that level of water scarcity in recent history. The state is preparing with help from Senate Bill 762, which Brown signed into law last year. The bill provided for additional firefighting aircraft and money to hire more wildland firefighters. Crews are expected to be strategically placed around the state.


Lancaster: It will take several days for Lancaster County to count all its mail ballots because some of them will not scan, officials announced at a news conference Tuesday. Elections officials found Tuesday morning that many of the mail ballots would not scan because they contained the wrong identification code, according to a news release. The county faced a similar problem in the 2021 primary with a different mail ballot vendor, which the county fired. As of early Tuesday morning, the office had received more than 21,000 completed mail ballots, said Christa L. Miller, chief registrar/chief clerk of elections. To fix the issue, the elections staff will remark the affected mail ballots so they can be scanned into the scanner, but it will take longer than normal, Lancaster County Vice Chairman Commissioner Joshua G. Parsons said. The last time this happened, Miller said, it took about four days. “We’ll do it as fast as possible, but our main priority is accuracy and not how fast we can do something,” Miller said. A Pennsylvania Department of State spokesperson said it is not aware of any other counties reporting this problem. Lancaster County has the sixth-largest population in the state.

Rhode Island

Providence: State lawmakers unveiled changes Tuesday to a bill to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana, aiming to ensure the legislation passes the General Assembly. The amended bill was released Tuesday in advance of committee votes scheduled for Wednesday. Both the House and Senate are expected to vote next week. The bill now provides for the automatic expungement of any prior conviction for possession of cannabis that would be decriminalized by the legislation, without requiring a person to file a request, pay a fee or have a hearing. The expungements would occur by July 1, 2024, with an expedited process offered for anyone who wants to have their record expunged sooner. In the original bill, an expungement had to be requested. The start date for recreational sales was pushed from Oct. 1 to Dec. 1. The amended bill would eliminate current fees charged to patients and caregivers for registration in the state’s medical marijuana program. Lawmakers also changed how people would be appointed to the commission that would oversee the industry, to address concerns raised by the governor about separation of powers.

South Carolina

Columbia: The governor has quietly signed into law a bill that would ban transgender students from playing girls’ or women’s sports in public schools and colleges as the state joins about a dozen others that have passed similar laws in the past two years. The bill was one of 43 acts Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law Monday with no fanfare or ceremony. McMaster posted on Twitter the next day that he was proud to enact the proposal to protect young men and women. Just before the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed the proposal earlier this month, McMaster said that “I think the girls ought to play girls, and the boys ought to play boys. That’s the way we’ve always done it.” When asked if he meant biological boys, the Republican governor responded: “Are there any other kind?” The law requires transgender students to compete with the “biological sex” listed on their birth certificates “filed at or near the time” of birth. Supporters of a ban warn that in a rapidly changing society, transgender girls would have an unfair biological advantage from having been born stronger males. Opponents of the bill said it is a cruel idea, singling out students who are not elite athletes but are just looking for a way to be a regular student, hang out with friends and learn life lessons through competition.

South Dakota

Sioux Falls: In a private 2020 meeting, Republicans in the state Senate planned how to achieve an already-negotiated outcome to a committee investigating a pair of lawmakers for being intoxicated during legislative proceedings even before the committee had a chance to meet, according to a television report. A transcript of the April 2020 Republican caucus meeting obtained by KELO-TV showed how Republicans held a private caucus meeting to discuss how to quickly and quietly resolve a legislative investigation into the two most powerful senators at the time, Sens. Kris Langer and Brock Greenfield. The pair were accused of showing up intoxicated at a legislative session that had stretched into the early morning hours as lawmakers discussed the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For critics of Republican rule in South Dakota’s Statehouse, the revelation of the meeting’s details provided an egregious example of how the fate of bills and the workings of state government are often decided in closed-door GOP meetings. “It’s very closed, very secretive,” said Peggy Gibson, a former Democratic House member who spent years advocating, mostly without success, for ethics reforms in the Legislature. “Everything is decided ahead of time.”


Nashville: A federal judge on Tuesday struck down the state’s first-of-its-kind law requiring businesses to post special signs if they allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger makes permanent her previous decision from July 2021 that blocked enforcement of the law just days after it took effect. Businesses had sued over the law, arguing the signs would violate their First Amendment rights by compelling them to communicate language they find offensive. In her latest decision, the judge deemed the law “a brazen attempt to single out trans-inclusive establishments and force them to parrot a message that they reasonably believe would sow fear and misunderstanding about the very transgender Tennesseans whom those establishments are trying to provide with some semblance of a safe and welcoming environment.” The 2021 law was signed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who has approved a wide range of bills targeting the LGBTQ community with the support of the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature. In the past several years, Tennessee has enacted more anti-LGBTQ laws than almost any other state in the country, with five approved last year and more signed this year.


The top leaders of the Texas Public Utility Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas say they are working to improve the state's power grid and to restore public trust.
The top leaders of the Texas Public Utility Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas say they are working to improve the state's power grid and to restore public trust.

Austin: With an unseasonably hot May giving the state’s strained power grid about all it can handle, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas says it’s ready for demand for electricity to hit anticipated record levels amid even hotter temperatures this summer. ERCOT, the state agency charged with operating the grid, said this week that generation capacity is expected to be sufficient to serve peak summer demand “under normal system conditions” and most of the scenarios it has modeled for moderately worse to extreme weather and grid conditions. But it remains to be seen if Texans will find the agency’s annual summer assessment of the grid reassuring. ERCOT issued a call for conservation Friday, urging people to turn up thermostats and avoid using big appliances during peak hours through Sunday. It attributed the need for conservation to high demand amid hotter-than-normal temperatures and unanticipated outages at six generation plants. In addition, ERCOT has spent much of May asking power generators to postpone taking their plants offline for scheduled maintenance. Power generators in Texas often perform maintenance in the spring to prepare for the hot summer months.


Kanab: A teenager visiting Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park died Sunday after he was entrapped beneath a sand dune that had collapsed on him a day prior. Ian Spendlove, a 13-year-old from the St. George suburbs, was pronounced dead Sunday after not regaining brain activity lost in the incident, the Utah State Parks Department said Monday. After a family member alerted authorities, park rangers arrived at Spendlove’s location Saturday evening to dig him out from what they said was about 6.5 feet of sand. Rangers said they believed Spendlove had been digging a tunnel into the sand dune when it collapsed on him. After rangers and Kane County Sheriff’s deputies rescued him and found he had a pulse, Spendlove was transported to St. George Regional Hospital and then to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, where he was declared dead. The department said the incident remains under investigation and urged visitors to be safe, wear helmets or life jackets, and alert others of recreation plans when in state parks. “The Utah Division of State Parks extends our condolences to Ian Spendlove’s friends and family impacted by this tragedy,” it said in the press release.


Montpelier: Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced Tuesday that he’s running for reelection. Scott said he is seeking a fourth two-year term in November because there’s much more work to do. The governor said in a campaign email that he has worked to bring people together at a time when the country seems more polarized than ever. “We’ve proven that when we put politics aside and pull together, we can successfully navigate a once-in-a-century pandemic better than most every other state across the country,” Scott said. He said his priority will be on doing his job as governor and not campaigning. “I’ve never run a negative campaign and never will, because Vermonters, and all Americans, deserve a better and more civil political space – if for no other reason than to be better role models for our children, because they’re watching us,” he said. No candidates have filed paperwork with the state yet, but activist Brenda Siegel, a Democrat, has announced she is running for the seat.


Orange: The board that manages former President James Madison’s Montpelier estate has elected 11 new members representing descendants of people once enslaved there. Monday’s vote came two months after the board had retracted a commitment to share power with a group representing African Americans who trace their roots to the historic estate. New members were selected from 20 nominees submitted last month by the Montpelier Descendants Committee, a nationwide group drawn from the descendants’ community of the historic site in Orange County, Virginia, the Culpeper Star-Exponent reports. The new board members include scholars, historians, two university deans and former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien. They will oversee management of the home of Madison, the fourth president known as the father of the Constitution; his wife, Dolley; and their enslaved workers. The committee and the foundation’s new appointees invited the candidates who were not chosen to join an advisory council so they all can help, said Cultural Heritage Partners, a law firm representing the descendants committee. All of the candidates agreed to serve. The board now has 25 members, including 14 endorsed by the committee, according to Greg Werkheiser of Cultural Heritage Partners, general counsel to the committee.


Olympia: State Supreme Court Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis announced Monday that she will be on family medical leave for the court’s spring term to concentrate on her health, but officials with the court didn’t release additional details, citing the justice’s desire for privacy. The high court’s spring oral arguments began Tuesday and end June 28. “I look forward to returning to the Court as quickly as possible and would like to express my appreciation of the support of my staff and colleagues during this time,” Montoya-Lewis said in a statement released by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Wendy Ferrell, associate director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, said in an email that Montoya-Lewis has been meeting with her medical team “and appreciates privacy during this time while she concentrates on her well-being.” Montoya-Lewis, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Isleta who is the court’s first Native American justice, was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee in December 2019 and sworn in the following month to fulfill the remaining year of the late Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, who had been battling cancer and stepped down to focus on her treatment. Fairhurst died in December at age 64.

West Virginia

Charleston: A city has been ordered to stop opening its council meetings with the Lord’s Prayer. U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. ruled Tuesday that Parkersburg City Council’s practice of opening its meetings with the New Testament prayer violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government from favoring one religion over others. The judge issued a permanent injunction against the prayer recitation and awarded $1 in damages to each plaintiff. Copenhaver ruled in a lawsuit filed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The Madison, Wisconsin-based group and two of its members sued the city in 2018. The judge issued a permanent injunction against the prayer recital and awarded $1 in damages to each plaintiff. The lawsuit said residents stood at each Parkersburg City Council meeting to recite the prayer with council members. Plaintiffs Daryl Cobranchi and Eric Engle of Parkersburg attended some meetings, remained seated and did not participate in the prayer’s recital.


Madison: Two Democratic electors and a voter on Tuesday sued Republicans who attempted to cast electoral ballots for Donald Trump in 2020 despite Joe Biden’s victory in the battleground state. Their lawsuit filed in Dane County Circuit Court alleges a conspiracy by Trump and his allies to overturn his loss in the presidential race, calling it “as legally baseless as it was repugnant to democracy.” It seeks up to $2.4 million in damages as well as disqualifying the Republicans from ever serving as electors again. The plaintiffs say it’s the first such lawsuit in the seven swing states where GOP electors falsely declared Trump the winner and cast their votes for him in December 2020. “It’s essential to have accountability and to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Jeffrey Mandell, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “We have heard in the more than a year since the fraudulent electors met the excuse that what they did was not wrong, it was totally fine. We want a court to make clear that is not true.” Republican electors named in the lawsuit who have spoken publicly about what they did have long argued that they weren’t trying to change the Wisconsin result. Instead, they said, they were trying to preserve all their legal options in case a court ruled in favor of Trump.


Jackson: The state has the nation’s worst rate of workplace fatalities, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reports. Wyoming ranked worst in the U.S. in 2020 and consistently has one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities, according to U.S. Labor Department data cited by the newspaper. From 2008 to 2018, the state saw one worker die every 12 days, the News&Guide reports.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cash tower leak, underwater plaque: News from around our 50 states