Mobile: The state’s oyster harvest is back underway near Dauphin Island after a shutdown prompted by high water levels. The state conservation agency said in a news release that boats resumed harvesting oysters by the sackful last week. Reefs are more productive than expected, and young oysters are being left undisturbed for next year, said Scott Bannon, director of the Marine Resources Division. Boats had gathered about 9,500 sacks of oysters before health officials closed the season in late December as a precaution to prevent bacterial contamination from high water levels. “The 9,500 sacks harvested in this season to date has been good,” Bannon said. “That was more than the last five years combined. I feel like we’re turning a corner.” Elevated water levels last year resulted in a shutdown of oyster production across much of the northern Gulf Coast.
Anchorage: A hotel chain plans to begin construction in May of a $60 million, aviation-themed hotel, officials say. The 13-story building downtown will be the first major hotel construction in the city since the Anchorage Marriott Downtown was built in 1998, The Anchorage Daily News reports. The project by national chain Hotel Indigo is expected to be completed in mid- to late 2021. The building site is a short walk from the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts and the Denaina Civic and Convention Center. Rooms will be pre-built in China and shipped by barge to Anchorage to speed up construction, project officials say. The pre-constructed rooms will include furniture, art, plumbing, and electrical and heating features, says Monica Sullivan, one of the building’s designers. The building will also feature 32 one- and two-bedroom apartments, also to be constructed in China.
Flagstaff: An agreement to drop a lawsuit over federal oil and gas leases in eastern Arizona won’t do much to stop companies from exploring for helium in the region. The two companies that won the U.S. Bureau of Land Management leases already have access to other plots of state and private land nearby where they plan to drill that aren’t covered by the lawsuit. The bureau approved the trio of leases last September in Navajo and Apache counties. The agency later suspended them, citing a lawsuit by environmentalists that accused the agency of failing to adequately analyze the potential impact on local communities, public lands, animals and water resources. The oil and gas industry’s renewed interest in helium is driven by a shortage in the light, versatile gas used for balloons as well as in aerospace, electronics and the medical field.
Little Rock: The city’s schools shut down for two days starting Monday after hundreds of staff members called in sick, though the local teachers’ union hinted the absences are tied to ongoing complaints about the state’s control of the district. The Little Rock School District announced late Sunday afternoon it had canceled classes for the first two days of the week after more than 250 staff members called in sick. The 23,000-student district said the number of absences nearly doubled from recorded absences the previous week. The decision comes after other Arkansas school districts closed because of the flu. Little Rock last week closed two elementary schools for two days because of a large number of sick students. Flu activity has been high in Arkansas, and the state Department of Health says at least 36 people have died from the flu this season.
South Lake Tahoe: A gust of 209 mph was recorded atop a peak Sunday, a potential state record that wowed forecasters monitoring a cold storm that moved south through California dumping snow, rain and hail. The blast of wind was captured about 7:45 a.m. by an instrument at 9,186 feet on Kirkwood Mountain south of Lake Tahoe, said National Weather Service forecaster Alex Hoon. He and his colleagues at the NWS office in Reno, Nevada, watched in surprise as wind speeds across the crest of the Sierra Nevada hit 150 mph and kept rising. “It went up and up,” Hoon said. It could take months for state climatologists to verify the record, he said. “But the way that the winds did ramp up, it looks legitimate,” Hoon said. “It’s an exciting moment for sure.” The previous record was a gust of 199 mph at Ward Mountain west of Lake Tahoe on Nov. 16, 2017.
Steamboat Springs: A massive firework launched over the ski resort town has set a record for the world’s largest aerial firework. The 2,800-pound shell flew 2,200 feet above the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival before it burst, turning the sky bright red and drawing gasps from the crowd, The Steamboat Pilot & Today reports. Tim Borden of Steamboat Springs headed the team that developed the firework over seven years. Borden first attempted to set the world record last year but failed when the shell exploded inside the mortar without lifting off the ground, the newspaper reports. Guinness World Records representatives witnessed both attempts. Christina Conlon of Guinness says she verified the shell launched Saturday was the world’s largest. The firework was 400 pounds heaver than the previous record-holder, a 2,397-pound explosive launched in the United Arab Emirates in 2018.
Middletown: Politicians called for action to make workplaces safer as they gathered Sunday to mark the 10th anniversary of a deadly explosion at a natural gas plant. The memorial service was held near the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Middletown to honor the six lives lost in the Feb. 7, 2010, explosion. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told the crowd that those killed “didn’t give their lives. Their lives were taken from them as a result of a workplace that was unsafe,” The Hartford Courant reports. “We can grieve the dead, but we need to fight like hell for the living,” Blumenthal said. Politicians were joined at the remembrance event by labor union members and family members of those who were killed in the explosion, which occurred during construction of the plant. Authorities said crews were using natural gas at a high pressure to clean out pipes, and something sparked an explosion.
Dewey Beach: A young gray seal pup was rescued by volunteers Saturday after it was found injured on the beach near the Lifesaving Station south of Dewey Beach. The Lewes-based Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute was called Saturday afternoon to help the pup, which was found with serious wounds around its neck. Suzanne Thurman, executive director of MERR, said in a Facebook post that the seal still had the soft, baby fur called “lanugo” on it, indicating that it was extremely young. Seals tend to shed that fur at about 3 or 4 weeks old. Eight MERR volunteers helped in the rescue of the seal, crating it and transporting it to a local rehabilitation facility. Seal sightings used to be rather rare in Delaware, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says they’ve become a rather common occurrence over the past decade.
District of Columbia
Washington: A man was taken into custody after a barricade situation that affected traffic and forced two schools to be placed on lockdown, WUSA-TV reports. Police say the barricade started about 7:45 a.m. Monday after police tried to execute a search warrant in the area. It ended shortly before 11:30 a.m., officials say. There was no indication anyone else was with the man, police say. Traffic was affected for several hours, and the situation prompted a lockdown for several hours at MacFarland Middle School and Theodore Roosevelt High School, police say.
St. Augustine Beach: The city is looking to amend its code to allow for emotional support animal requests, allowing the family of a 9-year-old boy with disabilities to keep his eight chickens at their residence. The need arose after Jennifer Wildasin requested a variance hearing in front of the Planning and Zoning Board to allow her to keep chickens for her son, who has a traumatic brain injury. City code prohibits the keeping of bees, insects, reptiles, pigs, horses, cattle, goats, hogs or poultry. At the PZB meeting in November, the board discussed how a variance was not the appropriate route to allow for the exception to city code. The board voted unanimously to deny the variance but approve the request, allowing Wildasin to keep the chickens. But a neighbor of the family appealed the board’s decision, bringing the case in front of the City Commission last week.
Fort Benning: The state’s two U.S. senators are urging military leaders to choose Fort Benning for the Army’s fourth corps headquarters. Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler called the busy Army post outside Columbus an excellent location for its “unmatched training, support and command facilities.” They also noted Fort Benning’s ability to rapidly send troops overseas with an Army airfield on post and Atlanta’s busy civilian airport about a 90-minute drive away. “Fort Benning is a crown jewel of the Army uniquely qualified to host the new corps headquarters,” the senators’ letter said. The Army recently announced Fort Benning is among three finalists to house the new corps headquarters, which will be led by a three-star general and oversee various Army divisions. The other finalists are Fort Drum, New York, and Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Hilo: Two bills introduced to the state Senate seek harsher penalties for parents, spectators and athletes who assault or terrorize sports officials such as referees, umpires and coaches. They would expand the state’s second-degree assault law to include causing injury because of a sports official’s performance at events, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. Second-degree assault is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. The bill would establish the offenses of first-, second- and third-degree assault of a sports official, as well as terroristic threatening against a sports official. First-degree assault against a sports official would be punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Second-degree assault against a sports official and the terroristic threatening charge would carry potential five-year prison terms. Third-degree assault against a sports official would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
Boise: The state’s residents are buying less beer and more liquor, according to the state Liquor Division. Director Jeff Anderson told the Legislature’s budget-writing committee on Friday that the Liquor Division returned a record dividend of more than $83 million in fiscal year 2019, the Idaho Press reports. That’s about $6.8 million more than the previous year. Idaho residents’ purchases mirror a national trend, Anderson said, with consumption of spirits increasing at the expense of beer. But Idahoans still consume less liquor overall compared to national averages. “Responsible stewardship, low outlet density and limited by convenient hours of operation again led to per-capita consumption of spirits that remains well below national averages,” Anderson said.
Chicago: State officials are allowing medical marijuana businesses to stay open later amid complaints that users have been at a disadvantage since a new state law allowing recreational sales took effect this year. The department also reminded retailers to prioritize medical cannabis patients during product shortages in a separate statement released last week. Problems due to limited supply have been widespread, leading some dispensaries to limit the amount of product people can purchase and to cut back on their business hours. The law broadly permitting adults to purchase and use marijuana products took effect Jan. 1. The statement said dispensaries can’t designate products only for recreational customers to purchase. It also said retailers limiting the amount of marijuana that customers can purchase should use higher caps for medical marijuana customers than for recreational.
Evansville: An experimental stem cell treatment appears to be helping a monkey at the Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden heal from spinal arthritis. After two of the cutting-edge treatments, K.J., a 17-year-old male colobus monkey, is showing considerable improvements, says Dr. Carrie Ullmer, staff veterinarian at the zoo. “We are seeing him doing several things he hasn’t been able to do for months,” she says. K.J. came to live at the zoo in August 2019. But by the fall, he was starting to have trouble moving around. Testing revealed age-related spinal arthritis was causing weakness in K.J.’s hind legs, Ullmer says, and CT scans showed he also had some bulging or ruptured intervertebral discs, conditions more often seen in humans. She says the stem cells were grown from a small piece of fat tissue taken from another colobus monkey at Mesker Park Zoo who was already scheduled for a routine surgery.
Clive: A former governor and U.S. agriculture secretary claimed a $150,000 Powerball prize Monday. Tom Vilsack picked up his winnings at the Iowa Lottery’s headquarters in Clive. His ticket matched the Jan. 22 Powerball number and four of the remaining five numbers. He just missed out on the estimated $347 million jackpot. “Occasionally, when the Powerball gets above $250 million, I think, ‘What the heck?’ You know, you can dream, like everybody else,” he told lottery officials. He’d bought the ticket at a grocery store in Waukee, the Des Moines suburb where he and his wife live, then forgot about it for several days. “Then I woke up 10 days later on a Saturday morning, and I said, ‘Oh, geez, I wonder how I did?’ ” Before serving in the Obama administration, Vilsack was a two-term governor of Iowa, a state senator and the mayor of Mount Pleasant. He is president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. His church will share some of his winnings, he said.
Wichita: The city is considering banning plastic bags or implementing a citywide tax to curb their use, officials say. The City Council voted unanimously last week to form a task force to consider how to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic bags in Wichita, noting how they’re difficult to recycle and are not biodegradable. Several other cities in the U.S. have either banned or taxed plastic bags in recent years. San Francisco and Portland have banned plastic bags entirely. Denver imposed a 10-cent tax per bag, while Chicago has a 7-cent bag tax. Of Kansas’ neighboring states, only Colorado has plastic bag ordinances. Wichita would be the first city in Kansas to ban or tax the use of plastic bags, The Wichita Eagle reports. City Council member Brandon Johnson said he was surprised by how many people and business support a ban.
Frankfort: For the first time in the state’s 228-year history, a life-size statue of a woman will be displayed in the Capitol this summer. The nearly 7-foot bronze statue will be that of Nettie Depp of Barren County, a pioneer in Kentucky education in the early 1900s. She became an elected school superintendent in 1913, seven years before women got the right to vote. The sculptor, Amanda Matthews, of PROMETHEUS Foundry in Lexington, told the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission that Depp’s statue is “a proxy for all women who have contributed large or small to Kentucky.” Matthews says her only request is that the large statue be “physically carried” into the Capitol a few days before its Aug. 22 unveiling by women in the military and emergency units. It weighs about 400 pounds. Depp is a great-great-aunt of Matthews and actor Johnny Depp.
New Orleans: The city’s main shelter for homeless men is planning a move to a new home. Since 1955, the Ozanam Inn has been in its current building in an area that was once considered run-down. Now, it’s a part of the city where development of hotels and apartments is booming. The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports that the building’s owners – the Society of St. Vincent de Paul – sold it in November. The plan is for Ozanam Inn to move into an old medical building not far from the Superdome in an area largely occupied by light industrial workshops and warehouses. Clarence Adams, Ozanam Inn’s chief executive, said the plan is to move later this year after renovation work is completed on the new building. The Ozanam Inn provides meals and accommodations for hundreds of homeless men, as well as feeding and providing Salvation Army vouchers to homeless women, children and families.
Augusta: A legislative committee has approved a proposal designed to help rural hospitals in the state hire more emergency medical technicians. The bill clarifies state law to allow the EMTs to practice within the scope of their training under the employment of a hospital, supporters said in a statement. The Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee unanimously approved the proposal, made on behalf of Cary Medical Center in Caribou in northern Maine, last week. The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson, said the change will help fill gaps in the state’s health care worker shortage. Some hospitals in Maine are hoping to hire EMTs and paramedics to address the workforce shortage. The proposal will now head to the full Legislature for a vote.
Frederick: School officials are investigating after a Nazi flag was pictured hanging in a classroom window over the weekend. Witnesses saw the flag while attending a basketball game at Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, and photos of it quickly spread online, news outlets report. The Nazi flag was used in a World War II history class and left hanging in the window, visible to the outside, Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Theresa R. Alban said in a statement obtained by news outlets. Alban said officials would “take appropriate action” to figure out what led up to the flag being hung there. “The flag was removed as soon as our administrators were made aware. An apology was sent to the community,” Alban told WTTG-TV. “This does not reflect the values of our school system.” Principal Daniel Lippy said in an email to the school community that the administration has taken steps “to ensure that this never occurs again.”
Boston: There’s a silver lining to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s coronavirus-induced cancellation of its Asia tour: free pop-up concerts back home. The acclaimed orchestra will throw open the doors to Symphony Hall free of charge Sunday for an impromptu performance dubbed “Concert for Our City.” It’s also planning a number of concerts at schools, homeless shelters and hospitals that won’t be open to the public. The orchestra had been scheduled to go on a four-city tour that included Seoul in South Korea, Taipei in Taiwan, and Shanghai and Hong Kong in China from Feb. 6 to 16. But last week, it backed out amid concerns about the deadly virus in China. The Asia trip was to be the orchestra’s first visit to Seoul since its founding in 1881. Sunday’s concert will include selections by Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Ginastera and George Walker, and it will feature Chinese composer Huang Ruo as vocal soloist in selections from his own “Folksongs for Orchestra.”
Detroit: The city has opened enrollment for an annual summer employment program for young people ages 14-24. The sign-up period for Grow Detroit’s Young Talent runs to May 1. About 8,000 youth are expected to be hired. Employers also are being sought. More than 8,200 Detroit youth were employed at 548 work sites last year. Organizations and companies can sponsor six-week paid work experiences for $1,800 per youth. Youth also can be hired through existing employment opportunities or summer employment programs already operating. Financial contributions to the program also are accepted. “Having a summer job is about so much more than just earning money,” Mayor Mike Duggan said. “Grow Detroit’s Young Talent is changing lives. One day, hundreds of future leaders will look back at their time with GDYT as the experience that set them on their path to success.”
Minneapolis: Thousand of janitors and security guards who work at Twin Cities retail stores and office buildings have authorized a strike if the two sides cannot reach an agreement. Members of the Service Employees International Union voted Saturday to authorize a walkout. The vote does not mean a strike is certain. The two sides continue to negotiate. SEIU Local 26 President Iris Altamirano told Minnesota Public Radio News that sick time is a key issue and that negotiators also remain far apart on wages. Attorney John Nesse, who represents the cleaning contractors, said they’re disappointed with the vote. “We have been meeting with the union since November,” Nesse said. “They have over 100 proposed changes to the contract that remain open at this point. We do expect to make significant progress in the near future.” More bargaining sessions are scheduled in the next two weeks, Nesse said.
Biloxi: A contractor is threatening to stop work on a Mississippi Margaritaville Amusement Park, alleging developers haven’t paid in months, amassing $5 million in outstanding bills, according to a federal lawsuit. The Tindall Corp. is building a parking garage and a platform for rides at the Biloxi amusement park set to open in 2021, The Sun Herald reports. The company filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Gulfport against Biloxi Lodging LLC, owner of Margaritaville, and the Stewart Family Trust, saying the companies stopped paying in July for work that was still being performed, the newspaper says. Margaritaville developers responded that the dispute is over how much work has been completed by Tindall, and they are in negotiations to resolve the issue. The $140 million project, an expansion of the existing site, is set to include a second hotel tower and an elevated amusement park to go with a current arcade, pool and indoor playground.
Jefferson City: State agriculture officials are asking for funding to hire more staff to address a backlog of nearly 600 complaints from farmers who claim dicamba-based herbicide drift has damaged their crops. The Missouri Department of Agriculture last week asked state lawmakers for money to hire four investigators and two staff members to review the cases, some of which date back to 2016, St. Louis Public Radio reports. “We had a team that was the right size for an average year of around 100 complaints, and the number of (dicamba complaints) coming in has been the No. 1 complicating factor,” said Sami Jo Freeman, the agriculture department’s spokeswoman. Farmers across the country have complained that dicamba drifts from other fields and damages their crops, particularly soybeans. In Missouri, most of the damage has been in southeastern counties.
Billings: U.S. Forest Service officials have given conditional approval to a Canadian company to conduct exploratory drilling at 35 sites in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains. Vancouver-based Group Ten received authorization for the work over the next seven summers, pending acquisition of a reclamation bond, The Billings Gazette reports. The sites are outside Nye along the Beartooth Front, where the company acquired 282 mining claims. The company is working to determine the quantity and quality of precious metals in the area, including platinum, palladium, gold, nickel, copper and cobalt. Group Ten aims to assess the ore body and sell the development rights to another firm.
Gretna: The state’s bird lovers are being invited to the Great Backyard Bird Count event Saturday at the Schramm Education Center south of Gretna. Participants will join people across the nation in counting birds and submitting checklists to be used by researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. The 9-11 a.m. and 12:30-2:30 p.m. sessions include instruction on bird identification basics, a feeder watch count and a guided bird hike count. Families may stay and count birds for as much time as they wish. A limited number of binoculars will be available. Registration is not required but recommended. Register by calling 402-332-5022, emailing email@example.com, or signing up at the Great Backyard Bird Count on the Schramm Facebook page.
Reno: Conservationists at Lake Tahoe have agreed to drop a lawsuit challenging plans to build a 2.2-mile gondola connecting two ski resorts in exchange for neighboring land purchases and other wildlife protection measures. The resorts, including one that hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, and a wilderness protection group finalized the agreement last week as part of the U.S. Forest Service’s final approval of the gondola that will skirt federally protected wilderness that is home to an endangered frog. As part of the settlement with the Granite Chief Wilderness Protection League, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows agreed to permanently protect 27 acres of habitat for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and contribute about $500,000 over the next decade toward land purchases and other protection efforts. It also prohibits any road construction within the Tahoe National Forest’s neighboring Granite Chief Wilderness Area and dictates the gondola will operate only during the winter.
Manchester: An annual event celebrating things that grow in the state is adding the word “Garden” to its title. Now in its 37th year, the New Hampshire Farm, Forest and Garden Expo is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Manchester. “We found that some people mistakenly think that you need livestock to be a farmer or acres of trees to own a forest,” said A.J. Dupere, chair of the expo and urban forester at the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands. “Adding ‘Garden’ to the name of the event more accurately explains what our attendees are interested in, as well as the focus of the expo’s exhibits and programming.” Three divisions from the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources are participating at this year’s expo: the Division of Forests and Lands, the Division of Historical Resources and the Division of Parks and Recreation.
Trenton: The state’s new law requiring public schools to teach about the contributions of LGBTQ individuals doesn’t take effect until this fall, but a backlash is already brewing, with religious groups leading the opposition. From Jersey City to Paterson to Little Egg Harbor, clergy and parents are citing their faith in resisting the measure, which mandates that schools teach about social, economic and political contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. “By implementing this curriculum, you are breaking the First Amendment as it will be forced upon our children to learn something that is against our values, our freedom and our faith,” said the Rev. Thomas Nashed, of the St. George and St. Shenouda Church, at a Jersey City school board meeting last month packed with Coptic Christian and Muslim parents opposing the law.
Albuquerque: A spray-painting vandal has hit the headquarters of the New Mexico Republican Party. Surveillance video shows a man tagging the Albuquerque headquarters about 2:30 a.m. Saturday before fleeing in an SUV. Officials discovered Monday that the vandal had painted the words “still traitors” in front of the building. New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said the headquarters has been struck a number of times in recent months, and the party has installed cameras. “I don’t think it’s an organized effort by any party,” Pearce said. “But it has no place here.” He said footage of the vandalism, which shows the man’s face, has been handed over the Albuquerque police. No arrests have been made. Democratic Party of New Mexico spokesperson Miranda van Dijk denounced the vandalism and called it sad.
New York: The city is considering using traffic-camera violations to curb reckless driving by requiring frequent violators to attend a safety course. The City Council will vote this week on legislation that would require drivers with five red-light camera tickets or 15 speed-camera tickets in a year to complete the safety course or risk having their vehicle impounded, The New York Times reports. “The folks that this program will target are the worst offenders, they are the people that continue to continue to speed, speed, speed, violate, violate, violate,” said Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker and a proponent of the bill. The city has red-light cameras at 150 intersections along with more than 600 speed cameras and plans to add 2,000 speed cameras by 2021, according to the publication. The National Motorists Association advocacy group says traffic cameras are unconstitutional.
Ocracoke: More than 9,000 dump truck loads of debris have been hauled away from an island battered by Hurricane Dorian five months ago, according to numbers released last week. All of the lingering storm debris is set to be cleared from Ocracoke Island by the end of February, Hyde County emergency management director Justin Gibbs told The Virginian-Pilot. Crews have already disposed of about 6,650 tons of waste, including thousands of damaged trees, parts of hundreds of ruined homes, and even household appliances like refrigerators and washing machines, Gibbs said. The September storm inundated the Outer Banks island with waters surging to a record 7 feet in some places, according to news outlets. The storm heavily damaged homes, businesses and other infrastructure, and the recovery effort has been ongoing.
Bismarck: The state’s Pardon Advisory Board is seeking more applicants under its new policy wiping criminal records clean for people with low-level marijuana convictions. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum pardoned 16 qualified offenders in January under the marijuana policy adopted last year. People can petition to have their records expunged if they avoid unlawful behavior for five years. The pardons erase the convictions altogether, and records are shielded from public view. In the first two rounds of applications, 26 people applied. State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem listed a few reasons for why the number is so low: Word has not traveled far enough, some offenses took place so long ago that people might not care to apply, and some people may have not encountered barriers to housing or employment because of their convictions. Stenehjem estimated that as many as 175,000 cases, dating back decades, could be eligible.
Cincinnati: An organization that distributes playing cards featuring homicide victims and descriptions of where their murders occurred to try to help solve the crimes unveiled two new decks Sunday. The new Cold Case Playing Cards decks were unveiled at a news conference at the Hamilton County Justice Center in Cincinnati. Members of the advocacy group UCanSpeakForMe said they are placed in Ohio prisons, jails and other lockup facilities as crime-fighting tools. The group’s CEO, Hope Dudley, said she hopes they will spark conversations among inmates and encourage people to come forward with tips to help law enforcement solve the cases. The cards feature photos and information on homicide victims from Hamilton, Butler and Montgomery counties in southwest Ohio.
Oklahoma City: Gov. Kevin Stitt has commuted the sentences of 147 people imprisoned for simple drug possession charges that would not be felonies if brought today. The Republican governor signed papers Friday to commute the sentences of 119 people to time served and another 28 sentences to one year, The Oklahoman reports. Steven Bickley, executive director of the state Pardon and Parole Board, told the paper that most people in the first group will be released Thursday. Those in the second are set to be let out as they finish their sentences over the next several months, he said. The commutations are the latest under a 2019 law that retroactively applied misdemeanor sentences for simple drug possession and low-level property crimes that state voters approved in 2016. Last year, more than 450 people walked out the doors of prisons across Oklahoma in the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. history.
Astoria: The Port of Astoria has secured the state’s conditional approval for a plan that would provide more than $20 million to fix sinking docks that are critical to the seafood industry. The strategic business plan must be approved by the state before Business Oregon will offer any more financing. The Astorian reports. Business Oregon has already provided nearly $20 million since 2001 and backed several large infrastructure grants. Seafood processors at the port employ hundreds of workers each summer, but critical repairs are needed. The warehouses are slowly sinking because of a failing seawall where fishermen deliver their catch, and a causeway substructure is so rotten it’s been closed to all traffic. The port spends more than any other similar agency on dredging to remove sediment flowing down the Columbia River and filling up slips and marinas. It could also face millions to clean up petroleum contamination along the central waterfront.
Scranton: Current and former employees of the city’s school district claimed in a lawsuit filed Monday that officials knew for years that unsafe levels of lead and asbestos posed potential health risks for students and staff but never disclosed the information to them or the public. The plaintiffs are asking for a medical monitoring program for current and former Scranton school district students and staffers, as well as undisclosed damages. They are also seeking class-action status. The lead plaintiffs are an elementary school principal, a reading specialist and a retired maintenance worker. In the suit, they allege the district received test results from environmental studies, starting in at least 2016, that made officials aware of the issues, but they never informed students, parents, and staffers until last month. District officials have announced high lead levels at 38 sinks and water fountains in several schools.
Providence: More than 1,200 residents who were victims of violent crimes received financial assistance from a program in the state treasurer’s office in 2019. The beneficiaries of the program last year, including about 200 children, received more than $1 million in total financial assistance from the Crime Victim Compensation Program, managed by the office of Treasurer Seth Magaziner. “The toll of being a victim of violent crime is high enough without the victims having to endure financial costs to overcome the challenges they face,” Magaziner said in a statement last week. According to his office, there were 42 victims of domestic violence among those who received assistance from the program in 2019, and they received emergency relocation funding to immediately escape unsafe, life-threatening living situations. The program also paid for mental health counseling for 36 minors who witnessed acts of domestic violence or homicide.
Columbia: A state lawmaker who once had his passenger window shattered by a piece of metal thrown up by a roadside lawn mower is pushing a bill to require contractors to clean up trash before they mow near highways. Rep. Richie Yow’s bill would also require contractors to make sure the highway is clear of grass and other debris after the workers finish mowing, The Post and Courier of Charleston reports. The Chesterfield Republican was driving on a rural highway in his district when the metal was flung onto his window. “If the window would’ve been down, it could’ve been dangerous,” Yow said at a subcommittee hearing on the bill last week. And the aftermath of mowing can be dangerous too. Columbia attorney Chad Fuller said he is representing a Horry County motorcyclist whose medical expenses have topped $400,000 after breaking his leg in four places after wrecking his bike on a clump of mowed grass in the road.
Pierre: Legislation aimed at stopping physicians from providing puberty blockers and gender confirmation surgery to transgender children under 16 failed to get enough support Monday in a state Senate committee. A Republican-dominated Senate committee voted 5-2 to kill the proposal, likely ensuring the issue won’t be considered by the Legislature again this year. Proponents already had amended the bill to get rid of criminal charges for doctors who provide gender confirmation treatments, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery. But it would have allowed children to sue if they later regretted the treatments. LGBT advocates and Democrats argued that the proposal would have stopped children with gender dysphoria from receiving medically necessary health care that improves their mental health. They demonstrated outside the Capitol before Monday’s Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting. Quinncy Parke, a 17-year-old transgender teenager, testified before the committee and had one word to describe the feeling of seeing the bill die: “ecstatic.” “It’s gone,” Parke said. “I don’t have to worry about it until next year.”
Nashville: Authorities say they busted a well-organized burglar after he allegedly dropped a notebook during a break-in that contained a list of other places he planned to target. Robert Shull Goddard, 49, is accused of smashing a glass door and breaking into a Nashville-area home Jan. 29, stealing a TV and a gun from the residents, according to records filed in Davidson County court. But prosecutors said Goddard left something behind that allowed authorities to solve the case – a notebook that listed multiple addresses, including one for another home a few miles away that had been burglarized that same day. Investigators were able to identify the suspect, in part, through notes his daughter left in the journal, along with her address. Goddard was caught on video kicking in the back door of another house the next day, court records state.
Arlington: Police say a 16-year-old boy was fatally shot by another teen who the victim had stopped from bullying another boy a few days earlier. Police Officer Christopher Cook told reporters Friday that Samuel Reynolds had said that “he started having some trouble with the suspect” in the days after stopping the suspect from bullying a smaller boy. During a Friday night vigil for Reynolds outside Arlington High School, student Russell Laniyan said Reynolds once gave him shoes during a soccer game so he could play while Reynolds sat out. “I think this just encourages us to go out and to be like Sam and to follow the example that Sam has set for us,” Laniyan said during the vigil. Cook said the shooting was captured on security video, and a .40-caliber shell casing was found at the scene, but the weapon has not been located. Police said the suspect is being held in a juvenile detention center on a pending murder charge.
Provo: Mothers are challenging a ban on children and breastfeeding at Brigham Young University’s annual Women’s Conference, and they are asking The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to change the rule. School officials say kids and babies are not allowed at the event at the Marriott Center at BYU, an arena that doesn’t ban children under 16 for any other event, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. The two-day conference begins April 30 and is considered the largest gathering of Latter-day Saints women. Topics include sisterhood, marriage and the gospel around family. “It’s just really bizarre that at a conference about family and womanhood that they wouldn’t allow nursing children to be there,” said Nataly Wixom-Burdick, a member of the church and mother of an 11-month-old. It’s unclear when the policy was implemented.
Montpelier: The youngest member of the Vermont State Police bow-wowed people at the Statehouse on Friday. Loki, the 10-week-old Plott Hound puppy, handler Detective Christian Hunt and top police officials visited the Statehouse in Montpelier, where the dog licked faces and warmed hearts. Loki is set to begin 15 weeks of training to serve as a state police tracking dog. The state police organized the Statehouse visit after the big-eared puppy was introduced to the public last week, and people considered going to the extreme to meet her. Due to the deteriorating weather conditions, a second public appearance scheduled for Friday afternoon at the state police barracks in Williston was postponed until Tuesday.
Richmond: A conservative state lawmaker, irked that Democrats might mess with Virginia’s Confederate monuments, filed a bill that boiled down to a dare: If you want to take down statues, start with one of your own, The Washington Post reports. But legislators across the aisle have embraced that proposal, prompting Del. Wendell S. Walker, R-Lynchburg, to try to kill his own bill. House Bill 1305 calls for ridding Richmond’s Capitol Square of a 10-foot statue of Harry Flood Byrd, a former Democratic governor, U.S. senator and kingmaker who was also a renowned segregationist. “It’s kind of like playing chess,” said Walker, who hoped the bill would make Democrats think twice about removing any statues. “You’re just calling somebody’s bluff.” Turns out, some Democrats are calling his instead, saying Walker’s bill is a great idea and moving to keep his legislation alive, despite his newfound desire to back down.
Spokane: Democratic state lawmakers are pushing to create an office on firearm-violence prevention in order to improve data sources, collection methods and sharing mechanisms statewide. The Seattle Times reports Senate Bill 6288 would also help fund local evidence-based violence-reduction initiatives. The measure passed its committee vote in January and is currently in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. King County is home to many of these initiatives, which work with community partners to intervene in the lives of young people who may be headed toward violence or crime. Proponents of the bill say it would allow communities to decide how best to address their unique experience with gun violence. For example, some rural communities may face more gun-related suicides than interpersonal violence. But some Republicans say the bill is a partisan push for gun control.
Charleston: The state was awarded more than $22 million in federal funding to clean up and repurpose abandoned coal mines in fiscal year 2020. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the grants from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement last week. The agency provides grants to the 25 coal-producing states and three tribes based on past and current coal production, the Interior Department said in a news release. The grants are funded in part by a fee collected on all coal produced in the U.S., the agency said. The funds have helped close more than 45,000 abandoned underground mine shafts and openings, eliminate over 960 miles of dangerous highwalls, and restore over 850,000 acres of clogged streams and land, the release said.
Madison: Farmers in the state would receive up to a $7,500 tax break this year under a bill that’s part of a fast-moving package of proposals Assembly Republicans unveiled Monday to dovetail with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ special session call to help the struggling agriculture industry. It’s unclear whether the measures will have enough support to pass the Senate or be signed by Evers. The governor is reviewing the proposals and glad that lawmakers are working on efforts to help rural Wisconsin, said Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff. Republicans touted their package of five new bills building off what the governor proposed as being “bigger and bolder” than the Evers plan but did not have a total cost estimate. The Evers proposals would cost $8.5 million over two years but did not include a pair of tax breaks Republicans are seeking.
Laramie: University of Wyoming trustees will now be able to revoke honorary degrees. Reasons for revocation include conduct that is inconsistent with the university’s mission or values or that harms the university’s reputation. Misrepresenting or undermining accomplishments cited as the basis for the honorary degree also may result in revocation. Trustees voted for the change during their January meeting, the Laramie Boomerang reports. Provost Kate Miller proposed the change after other universities recently revoked honorary degrees they’d given to disgraced public figures including comedian Bill Cosby. Schools have revoked dozens of Cosby’s honorary degrees after numerous women accused him of sexual abuse. He was convicted in 2018.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cold case cards, firework record: News from around our 50 states