Montgomery: The state Senate passed a bill Thursday that would ban gender therapies such as prescription hormones or gender confirmation surgery for minors. The legislation would make it a felony for medical providers to prescribe puberty-blockers or hormones to anyone under age 19 or to perform gender confirmation surgery on minors. The bill, sponsored by Trussville Republican Sen. Shay Shelnutt, passed 22-3, news outlets report. The legislation now moves to the state’s House of Representatives, where a similar bill was also approved by a health committee last month. Proponents have said it would stop “vulnerable children” from getting medical procedures and medications with uncertain long-term effects. LGBTQ activists and opponents of the bill have countered it is discriminatory and spreads misinformation. The American Academy of Pediatrics advised in 2018 that such treatments can be part of certain care models for children.
Kodiak: Shoppers will no longer see a blue-sticker label on Gulf of Alaska cod after its sustainability certification is suspended starting in April. The label designates which fish are sustainably caught. Alaska’s Energy Desk reports the Marine Stewardship Council, which sets standards for sustainable fishing, will suspend the label starting April 5. Gulf of Alaska cod have had the certification for about 10 years. The impacts of losing certification are unclear. An independent audit found there were not enough young cod entering the gulf fishery, which led to the suspension. But auditors blame a climate change-caused heatwave from 2013 to 2016 for reducing gulf cod by more than half and pushing them to near-overfished status last year.
Flagstaff: The U.S. Forest Service has given final approval to a project to replace and upgrade a ski lift at the Arizona Snowbowl. The Forest Service’s decision allowing replacement of the current chairlift is based on an environmental assessment published in October. Forest officials concluded that replacing the new lift would not significantly impact the land and environment, despite claims that it would affect Native American cultural values, the Arizona Daily Sun reports. Arizona Snowbowl is located on the Coconino National Forest on the west side of the San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff. Arizona Snowbowl said the current chairlift will be replaced with a high-speed combination version that includes enclosed eight-person gondola cars and open-air six-person chair seats. The new lift will be installed in time for the 2020-21 season, the ski area said.
Bentonville: A film festival co-founded by Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis announced Friday that it’s moving to later in the year because of concerns about the new coronavirus. The Bentonville Film Festival, in northwest Arkansas, announced it will move this year’s festival, originally scheduled for April 29-May 2, to Aug. 5-8. The festival said it will honor passes and badges that have already been purchased for the festival. The official lineup will be announced by June, organizers said. “Our number one concern is the safety of our content creators and our community of attendees,” Davis, who is also the festival’s chairwoman, said in a statement. The Bentonville Film Festival began in 2015 and last year screened 162 films. Arkansas has not had any cases of coronavirus, which causes the illness called COVID-19.
Los Angeles: Los Angeles International Airport will experiment with a limited restoration of taxi pickups in the central terminal area beginning later this month. Taxi drivers have been pushing to resume pickups there since taxi and ride-hailing pickups were moved to a lot outside the terminal loop last fall to ease traffic amid major construction. Airport officials said one taxi pickup location will be established in a parking structure near the Tom Bradley International Terminal and adjacent Terminal 3. Another taxi stand will be put back into service for travelers passing through Terminals 7 and 8. Last October, the airport moved all taxi and ride-hailing pickups from curbside to a satellite lot, dubbed LAX-it. Airport officials said the move was necessary to reduce traffic for construction of an automated people-mover train and its stations, as well as redevelopment of every terminal. Passengers can walk there or take constantly circulating shuttles.
Denver: The owner-operator of a Denver-area oil refinery will pay $9 million to settle air quality violations dating to 2017, state officials announced Friday. The settlement with Calgary-based Suncor Energy is the biggest leveled by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to resolve air pollution violations. The Colorado Sun reports the settlement was announced by John Putnam, the agency’s environmental director, at a news conference. Suncor’s Commerce City refinery produces about a third of gasoline used by motor vehicles in Colorado and most of the jet fuel used at Denver International Airport. It processes about 98,000 barrels of oil daily, most of that from drillers along Colorado’s Front Range. On Dec. 11, the refinery released an ashy substance that blanketed adjacent neighborhoods. Suncor called the clay-like material catalyst and said it wasn’t hazardous.
New Britain: The state’s wine and spirits industry has joined forces with environmentalists to reduce litter, especially mini bottles of wine and spirits known as nips. The anti-litter partnership, known as Three Tiers for Connecticut, plans to launch the retail portion of its “Don’t Trash Connecticut - Nip it in the Bin!” campaign Tuesday. The campaign will focus on signage at retail locations, urging consumers to properly dispose of the bottles. A news conference is planned Tuesday at CT Beverage Mart in New Britain. The partnership has already held two community cleanup events in Norwalk and West Haven. More more cleanups and initiatives are scheduled for the coming year. Wine and spirits companies and organizations in Connecticut formed the partnership last year with the group Live Green CT, a statewide environmental organization that’s dedicated to eradicating land-based litter by 2025.
Wilmington: A federal judge has refused to dismiss a whistleblower lawsuit against the state’s largest hospital system. The lawsuit filed by former Christiana Care compliance officer Ronald Sherman and backed by the federal government alleges that the hospital system defrauded taxpayers by funneling Medicaid payments to independent doctors as kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals. The judge denied Christiana’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit after holding a hearing Friday. Christiana Care argued that Sherman had no standing to file the lawsuit because he had previously executed a release discharging all causes of action against the hospital system when he was terminated in 2014. Christiana also argued that Sherman, on behalf of Christiana Care, had disclosed the allegations contained in his complaint to the government through compliance disclosure logs submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general’s office.
District of Columbia
Washington: A federal magistrate on Friday excoriated the government for refusing to turn over its investigative file in the death of a Virginia man shot by U.S. Park Police. The files are sought by the family of Bijan Ghaisar, who died in 2017 after he was shot by Park Police officers multiple times at the conclusion of a stop-and-go chase on the George Washington Parkway. Ghaisar’s family is suing the government and the officers who shot Ghaisar. At a hearing Friday, U.S. Magistrate Ivan Davis said the government had no right to withhold the file from the Ghaisar family’s lawyers. He ordered the government to turn over the entire file by next Friday. Government lawyers said they have been delayed in turning over the file because the material in the file is sensitive and voluminous. Judge Davis, though, was unsympathetic. “You’re required to produce, period,” Davis said. “You do not decide unilaterally for yourself” whether material should be turned over.
Key West: A woman who plays the French Horn in the Royal Canadian Navy took top honors in Key West’s 58th annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest on Saturday. Alliszon Zaichkowski of Victoria, British Columbia, won the women’s title performing excerpts from several melodies including composer Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” She’s such a fan of the quirky “instrument” that she had a large conch shell tattooed on her arm. “I like to think of the conch shell as my travel horn because I can’t bring my French horn everywhere, and you also don’t want to be playing a French horn at the beach,” she said. “So I always just take my conch shell with me, and that’s my vacation instrument.” In the men’s division, Vinnie Marturano of Big Pine Key tooted his way to victory by playing a portion of Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.” The fluted, pink-lined conch shell, an enduring symbol of the Florida Keys, has been used as a signaling device in the islands for centuries. Today, native-born residents are known as Conchs, and the Keys island chain is often called the Conch Republic.
Atlanta: Some students at a private school have been suspended indefinitely after a video surfaced showing them conducting an apparent mock lynching of another student with toilet paper in a school bathroom, officials said. Several boys at Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School were seen on video wrapping toilet paper around their heads and cutting holes for their eyes, news outlets report. Some were also seen wrapping what appears to be a toilet paper noose around another boy’s neck as he appears to pull up on a bathroom stall support beam as if being hanged. Officials at the college preparatory school acknowledged the incident Thursday. They said the act was reprehensible and wouldn’t be tolerated. They also said the students were suspended indefinitely while the school investigates. A school statement didn’t say how many youths were suspended, and the races of those involved weren’t immediately disclosed.
Honolulu: A million trees could be planted in the state each year under a proposed program to increase the number of noninvasive trees. The Legislature is considering backing the tree-planting project started by University of Hawaii geography professor Camilo Mora to offset carbon emissions, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The Carbon Neutrality Resources initiative is responsible for planting thousands of trees in Hawaii. The most recent project involved 2,000 volunteers planting 11,000 trees in December, Mora said, adding that he hopes to increase to 100,000 this year and plant a million in 2021. The bill would place the state Department of Land and Natural Resources in charge of a program to plant a million native trees statewide each year. It was approved by the Senate on Tuesday and passed its first reading in the House on Thursday.
Boise: The FBI is investigating after hackers stole as much as half a million dollars of state payments that were intended to go to contractors. Idaho State Controller Brandon Woolf’s office revealed the theft in a statement late Friday afternoon, saying the hackers posed as state vendors and then changed the vendor’s banking information, diverting the payments into the hackers’ bank accounts. The fraud was first noticed by a controller’s office employee Feb. 26, according to the office. Few details were released about exactly how the thefts occurred, but officials said the hackers were able to change the banking information by “navigating state procedures.” “Regular payments made to those vendors by 20 state agencies were then diverted and stolen,” the release said. “The State has recovered some of the funds to date, however, the total amount of funds diverted is under $550,000.”
Chicago: Officials from the city and the NHP Foundation celebrated the opening of a renovated historic housing unit offering affordable single-room occupancy. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday that restoration of the Mark Twain on Chicago’s Near North Side will help keep the city affordable. The city teamed up with the NHP Foundation, a nonprofit real estate organization dedicated to preserving and expanding affordable housing, in a $54 million rehabilitation of the building. It created 148 affordable apartment units with private bathrooms and added private kitchenettes. It has all new plumbing and electrical systems, a rooftop deck, a restored vintage facade and nearly 10,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. The Chicago Housing Authority will provide rental assistance to the Mark Twain’s occupants. Fifty residents who lived there before the renovation have returned; the rest of the units will be leased to people on the authority’s waiting list.
West Lafayette: The city will start supplying free feminine hygiene products in all city building restrooms, including men’s and gender-neutral restrooms. The decision came after Purdue University’s move to offer an assortment of menstrual care products for free in campus bathrooms. After the City Council approved a similar resolution, Mayor John Dennis said West Lafayette was ready to start stocking feminine products in all restrooms in city facilities, including the $31.5 million Wellness and Aquatic Center scheduled to open in early 2021. City Council members Shannon King and Kathy Parker sponsored the resolution. “The mayor gave us a thumbs up, and he really had our back,” King said. During a pilot project in restrooms at Purdue, the faculty-led University Senate found the building averaged $27 a month to restock menstrual care products used from seven dispensers.
Des Moines: The names of three nominees to fill a vacant state Supreme Court seat have been passed to Gov. Kim Reynolds, who now has 30 days to appoint one of them as the high court’s next justice. The Judicial Nominating Commission on Friday afternoon announced the finalists: Mary Chicchelly, District Court Judge in the Sixth Judicial District out of Cedar Rapids; Matt McDermott, an attorney at Belin McCormick, P.C. in Des Moines; and David May, an Iowa Court of Appeals Judge in Polk City. The commission, composed of eight individuals elected by Iowa lawyers and nine commissioners appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, interviewed 15 applicants Friday to fill the seat that will be left empty upon former acting chief justice David Wiggins’ retirement in the coming weeks. The finalist will be Reynolds’s fourth appointment to the court since taking office in May 2017.
Lawrence: A couple hundred million years ago, an ocean covering Kansas teemed with prehistoric life. Yet for millennia, Kansas has been a dry, sometimes even dusty place. The ocean is long gone, but traces of that long-ago aquatic life were captured for the ages in fossil form. Now, paleontologists from the University of Kansas have an app they hope will help motivate people to go out and find that evidence, reports the Kansas News Service. The Digital Atlas of Ancient Life app was created by a group of paleontologists and researchers led by KU ecology and evolutionary biology professor Bruce Lieberman. The app boasts an extensive database with detailed pictures of fossils common to Kansas. KU owns thousands of fossil specimens, especially trilobites, cephalopods and ancient clams. The app is one way to share all of that information to smartphones around the world. If it motivates people to go out and find some of their own, Lieberman said, all the better.
Frankfort: The state House overwhelmingly passed its version of a new two-year budget Friday, but some lawmakers said the unwillingness to tap into more revenue sources would shortchange many of the state’s pressing funding needs. The GOP-crafted spending plan drew bipartisan support in clearing the House 86-10. The measure now goes to the Republican-dominated Senate, which will put its imprint on the budget. The differences will likely be ironed out by legislative leaders in a conference committee. The House version changed Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s proposed pay raise for teachers to spread it to other school employees. It boosted school-security funding to hire hundreds of counselors. The House plan also scaled back Beshear’s proposal to add more social workers but offered salary enhancements to hire and retain more of them working in child protective services. The only new revenue source to help support the House spending plan would come from new taxes on vaping and tobacco productions, which would raise nearly $50 million over two years.
Lafayette: The opening of an urban park is being delayed because the nonprofit organization behind the project has obtained more money for additional features. Lafayette Central Park Inc. initially hoped to open Moncus Park this spring, but with an extra $5 million in money raised, the organization is planning to open later in the year. Features already completed include a dog park. Features being added this year are an amphitheater and a “family area,” which includes a tree house, splash pad and playground. The nonprofit has received some contributions earlier than expected. For example, plans for the amphitheater were put into motion when Iberia Bank advanced a pledge of $1 million to the park, which wasn’t expected for another three years. With the additional money, the nonprofit and its board had to consider whether to push back the park’s opening date; use sporadic openings of sections; or have construction underway while the park is open.
Bar Harbor: A historical museum that is part of the state’s popular Acadia National Park will be closed to the public this season as it undergoes rehabilitation work. The Islesford Historical Museum has been in the midst of rehab since November 2019. The National Park Service said the work will “allow for the protection and longevity of a historic building and for the safe exhibition of historical objects.” The museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and opened in the summer of 1928. The rehab work will include replacement of the original slate roof. The park service said money for the $1.1 million rehab is coming from entrance passes purchased at Acadia National Park and the service’s repair and rehabilitation funds. The service said the museum is scheduled to reopen during the following season with an exhibit about the Cranberry Isles.
Annapolis: A comprehensive education measure that will cost billions of dollars over the next decade with the goal of making the state’s K-12 schools among the world’s best was approved by the House of Delegates on Friday night. The House voted 96-41 for the bill, which still needs Senate approval. The legislation, known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, is based on the recommendations of a state commission that worked for three years on the proposal. The plan focuses on five policy areas: expanding early childhood education like pre-K; increasing teacher salaries; college and career readiness; aid for struggling schools; and accountability in implementation. The proposal would be phased in over a 10-year period. It would cost an additional $4 billion in fiscal year 2030, with a majority of the cost paid by the state while local governments also contribute.
Westborough: Fish and wildlife officials have started stocking the state’s ponds, lakes and rivers with more than 500,000 trout raised in five hatcheries. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife stocking program began last week with bodies of water on Cape Cod, as well as in southeastern Massachusetts and areas west of Boston. Some of the places stocked with rainbow trout include Spectacle Pond in Sandwich, Lake Cochituate in Natick and Houghton’s Pond in Milton. Other bodies of water will be stocked with brook, brown and tiger trout raised in hatcheries in Sandwich, Palmer, Belchertown, Sunderland and Montague. These fish, coupled with the more than 60,000 stocked last fall, will provide some excellent fishing in the coming months, the agency says. Most of the trout are longer than 12 inches, with more than 600 brown trout and 500 brook trout over 18 inches.
Detroit: Five people who worked in a wildlife disease lab have been diagnosed with a latent form of tuberculosis, a spokesman said Friday. The Department of Natural Resources’ lab processes thousands of deer heads during the annual hunting season to check for chronic wasting disease and bovine TB. An illness caused by bacteria that attack the lungs, TB can be fatal, although a latent form shows no symptoms, doesn’t make people feel sick and is not contagious, according to federal health experts. It typically involves treatment to prevent full-blown TB. The DNR learned about the infections last year, including three people in June and two later in the summer, spokesman Ed Golder said. He said it was the department’s “working assumption” that the workers got TB from infected deer, “but we can’t say for sure.” The lab is located at Michigan State University.
St. Paul: Overall graduation rates for the state’s high school students have hit a historic high. The state Department of Education released data Thursday that shows a graduation rate of 83.7% for the class of 2019. That’s up half a percentage point from the prior year and up nearly 1.5 points over the past five years. Minnesota Public Radio News reports black and Hispanic students made the biggest gains, with improvements of more than 3 percentage points for Hispanics and more than 2 points for black students. Racial and socioeconomic disparities persist, with graduation rates higher for white students than they are for students of color. The data shows the rate for Native American students fell slightly this year. The rate remains the lowest among Minnesota high school students at just over half.
Jackson: State legislators have killed bills that would either ban or regulate kratom, an herbal drug that can be used for pain relief. Kratom is currently unregulated in most parts of the United States but has been outlawed by a few local governments in Mississippi amid concerns that it can be harmful. Kratom is derived from a tree that’s native to Southeast Asia. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says the leaves can be crushed and then smoked, put into capsules, or taken with water or other liquids. The DEA characterizes kratom as one of its “drugs of concern.” The agency says people have used it to relieve muscle strains and as a substitute for opium; the drug has also been used to manage withdrawal symptoms from opioids. Bills to either ban or regulate kratom died Tuesday when committees did not consider them before the first big deadline of the legislative session.
Clayton: More than 170 firearms seized or recovered by police during an eight-month period last year were purchased from a single St. Louis-area pawn shop, federal authorities said in announcing charges against three men connected to the shop. Carlos Jones, 31; Robert Thornton, 36; and Steven Johnson, 44, were charged Thursday with unlawful transfer of firearm to a convicted felon and making false statements on firearm records. All three men worked at Piazza Jewelry and Pawn in Overland, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb. The federal complaint said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives traced 170 seized and recovered guns to sales at the pawn shop, with 102 of those guns recovered in the city of St. Louis. ATF Special Agent Chad Foreman wrote in an affidavit released Thursday that six of the confiscated guns were used in homicides, four in robberies and 20 in weapons offenses and were found in 36 cases in which a prohibited person was in possession of a firearm.
Billings: A landslide was blocking a BNSF Railway freight line in eastern Montana on Friday. The slide happened about 10 p.m. Wednesday about 10 miles west of Miles City, BNSF Railway spokeswoman Maia LaSalle said. Dirt covered about 800 feet of railway that runs along the Yellowstone River. Crews were still working Friday to clear the tracks, but the slide activity had not been stabilized, LaSalle said. Freight traffic was being rerouted around the blockage on Montana Rail Link tracks. The track that is blocked is part of a path that connects trains from North and South Dakota to southern routes through the Powder River region into Wyoming, The Billings Gazette reports. No trains were in the area at the time of the slide, and no injuries have been reported, BNSF said.
Ogallala: The state game and parks commission will vote March 20 on banning both alcohol possession and consumption at Lake McConaughy and neighboring Lake Ogallala in western Nebraska. The alcohol ban in the state-controlled areas is among several agreements the state worked out with local leaders to avert drastic cuts in access, The North Platte Telegraph reports. The commission had been considering access restrictions following complaints about overcrowding and rowdy behavior last Fourth of July. The proposed changes, which would have taken effect later this year, were meant to address the overcrowding on the lake’s beaches. But the commission delayed action in January after hundreds of people showed up for a hearing on the proposed rules. Most said they wanted more law enforcement and greater attention to checkpoints, not a crackdown to limit access.
Reno: Social media comments about protecting bears that were posted by Lake Tahoe activists and referred to a longtime wildlife biologist as a murderer constitute “good faith communications” protected as free speech, the state Supreme Court says. The recent opinion doesn’t end a lawsuit filed in Washoe County District Court in Reno. But it settles a key legal question in the dispute between Carl Lackey, a Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist, and Carolyn Stark, who administers a Facebook page that posts criticism of the state’s bear control tactics. The lawsuit is the latest development in a yearslong legal and public relations battle between the agency and a group of activists who oppose state methods for managing bears. In 2018, a judge issued a protective order to keep Stark away from another state biologist who says Stark stalked her in a dispute over the capture of nuisance bears.
Concord: Gov. Chris Sununu has written to congressional leaders asking for continued funding of the State Opioid Response Grant program, which helped New Hampshire create a new “hub and spoke” caregiver system. The state used its $45.8 million share of funding to set up its Doorway program of nine regional recovery centers. Sununu, in his letter Friday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said the program served more than 7,300 people in 2019 and provided more than 3,200 clinical evaluations to identify needed services. Of that group, over 2,400 people had opioid-related needs, and more than 5,000 referrals were made to medication-assisted treatment, outpatient, residential and peer recovery services.
Margate: Residents in a Jersey Shore town that hates its new sand dunes will get a chance to say whether they support building a boardwalk. Margate’s government decided late Thursday to authorize a nonbinding referendum during the November general election asking voters whether they support building a boardwalk in the wealthy town south of Atlantic City. The proposal arose from widespread unhappiness with a beach replenishment project completed in 2017. Mayor Michael Becker said Friday that the town is not committing itself to building one if the vote goes that way. Rather, he said, there needs to be a mechanism for the town’s voters to clearly express their preference, and the commission will then weigh the pros and cons before deciding. Margate had a boardwalk in the early 1900s; it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1944.
Magdalena: The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is canceling group tours of its Very Large Array to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The observatory said Friday that the visitor center and gift shop will remain open, and self-guided walking tours will continue. But a semi-annual open house, guided tours and special tours for school groups will be put on hold between March 15 and May 31. The move is meant to protect visitors and the workers who keep the facility running, Tony Beasley, the observatory director, said in a news release. “Our first priority is the safety and health of our visitors and our staff, and these cancellations are being done to minimize the risk of exposure to this virus,” Beasley said. Astronomers use the Very Large Array to observe natural radiowaves from distant stars and planets.
New York: Video showing New York City police officers arresting a young black man sparked outrage and elicited questions about the amount of force used to make the arrest in a city where mistrust of police remains high more than five years after Eric Garner’s death from an officer’s chokehold. Fitzroy Gayle, 20, pleads for help in the video, recorded by a woman who then tweeted it, as several officers wrestle him into submission Wednesday evening on a Brooklyn sidewalk. When Gayle asks a lone plainclothes officer why he was being stopped, the officer does not appear to answer before uniformed backup rushes in. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said he was ordering an internal investigation. The man in the video had fled officers who approached him and another man as they were smoking marijuana in a park about 7 p.m., Shea said. The officers were responding to an automated alert to gunshots, Shea said. Both men were later apprehended, but there is no indication they were linked to the gunfire, he said.
Raleigh: The state’s residents are getting more site-specific information this year about the air that they breathe and whether it might make sense to keep inside. The state Division of Air Quality announced last week that daily air-quality forecasts will now be issued for 91 of the state’s 100 counties and two mountain ridge zones. In the past, forecasts have been regional. A website provides real-time air quality index measurements, while next-day and extended forecast products will be posted each afternoon and updated in the morning. Index readings correspond to a color-coded advisory system that describes when the air can be unhealthy for some or many. Last week started what’s considered the ozone season, or when concentrations of the gas can be highest in the air as days get warmer. The division says ozone concentrations have been declining due to emission reductions from power plants, cars and industry.
Fargo: New rules for the state’s presidential caucuses are likely to drive up turnout and could shrink Bernie Sanders’ organizational advantage over Joe Biden when the state’s Democratic voters get their say this week in what has essentially become a two-man race. North Dakota is the smallest prize of the six states holding caucuses or primaries Tuesday, with only 14 pledged delegates at stake. As a result, it hasn’t gotten much attention from either candidate. What’s new for North Dakota voters in 2020 is that the system is more like a primary than a traditional caucus. People are free to vote and leave. Democrats can vote at 14 locations across the state, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. MST. Republicans will have seven polling places open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. local time, where voters can express their support for President Donald Trump. And in a boon to rural voters, mail-in ballots will be accepted.
Toledo: A tree that appeared overnight during the 1979 U.S. Open to become a part of golf lore has met its end. The Black Hills spruce known as “The Hinkle Tree” was partially uprooted by a gust of wind last week at Inverness Club in Toledo and was cut down. The tree dated to the 79th Open, when a journeyman pro named Lon Hinkle came up with a way to outsmart the course during the first round. Hinkle noticed he could take a shortcut by hitting through a gap of trees near the eighth tee and drive his ball on the adjacent 17th fairway, shaving 75 yards off the dogleg hole. It made for an easy birdie, but U.S. Golf Association officials were not amused. The USGA dispatched the course’s greens chairman to bring in a tree from a nursery and block the shortcut. Overnight, the Black Hill spruce, about 20 feet tall, appeared in the gap. But during the next round, Hinkle and his playing partner, Chi Chi Rodriguez, decided to hit their tee shots over the tree.
Tulsa: A man who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018 has been found guilty of assault and battery for shooting a process server trying to give him legal documents. Jurors on Thursday rejected Christopher Jonathan Barnett’s argument that he shot and wounded the man who came to his Tulsa home in July in self defense. On the stand, Barnett asserted the process server presented a threat to him, though he conceded the man never pointed a weapon at him. Jurors recommended Barnett be sentenced to 32 years in prison and fined $10,000. A judge will sentence Barnett in April. The Tulsa World reports video and audio evidence presented to the jury showed the process server just flashed legal documents at Barnett, who kept his front door closed while they spoke. Defense attorney Jason Lollman said he plans to appeal and believes the sentencing recommendation was too harsh.
Salem: The state has reached an agreement with private health insurance companies to waive co-payments, co-insurance and deductibles for Oregonians who undergo testing for COVID-19 at a facility that’s within their insurance network, Gov. Kate Brown announced. The agreement also will apply to a vaccine for the virus if one becomes available, she said in a statement Thursday. The state is pursuing the same agreement with self-insured health plans and also seeking clarification from the federal government about exceptions to cost-sharing for Medicare Advantage plans, as well as health savings account-eligible high-deductible health plans, she said. “No one should have to ask if getting a COVID-19 test is something they can afford. I hope this agreement sets a framework that other states can follow nationwide,” Brown said in the statement.
Ephrata: A small family-owned pharmacy chain is closing its five central Pennsylvania stores after a 141-year run. Royer Pharmacy in Lancaster County calls itself one of the oldest continuously operating independent pharmacies in the nation. It’s been operated by two families since a young pharmacist named George Royer bought the business in 1879. Company officials cited the age of the owners and decreasing insurance reimbursements that made it difficult to remain in business. “It’s been a great run,” Royer President Donald Sherman said in a news release. Royer said patient files will be transferred to CVS after the stores close by March 18, and employees would be considered for jobs at the nationwide chain. Royer had locations in Ephrata, Lancaster, Akron and Leola.
Providence: The state’s highest court has refused to hear a strip club’s appeal of a punishment the city had levied against it over allegations of prostitution. The Rhode Island Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the Wild Zebra’s bid to have its adult entertainment license restored. The court did not explain why it would not consider the appeal. The Providence Board of Licenses heard testimony in January from two detectives who said that while undercover at the Wild Zebra Gentlemen’s Club in May dancers offered to have sex with them or perform sexual acts on them in exchange for money. The club denies the allegations of prostitution. An attorney for the club didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Providence Journal. The Providence board stripped the Wild Zebra of its liquor and adult entertainment licenses. A state regulatory department gave the club its liquor license back while it pursues its appeal, but it has remained closed.
Columbia: With spring just around the corner, emergency officials in the state say it’s time to begin preparing for severe weather. Gov. Henry McMaster declared this week South Carolina Severe Weather and Flood Safety week. Emergency officials will work all week with the National Weather Service to give safety and preparation tips for floods, tornadoes and severe storms that became more likely as the weather warms. On Wednesday, there will be a statewide tornado drill as schools and businesses across the state are asked to take shelter under their tornado safety plans and as forecasters test weather radios and other devices programmed to go off when a tornado warning is issued. Emergency officials are also pushing for flood safety. Flash floods after massive rains in October 2015 killed 19 people in South Carolina.
Pierre: State wildlife officials have decided to scale back Gov. Kristi Noem’s program that pays bounties for predators that raid migratory birds’ nests. KELO-TV reports the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission voted 6-2 on Friday to extend the program for a second year. But the commission reduced the spending cap from $500,000 to $250,000. It also reduced the size of the bounty from $10 per tail from a raccoon, striped skunk, opossum, red fox or badger to $5 per tail. Bounties will now be paid regardless of whether the predator is shot or trapped; last year bounties applied only if a predator was trapped. The program starts April 1 and runs through July 1. Only South Dakota residents can participate. Chairman Gary Jensen and Mary Anne Boyd were the only two commissioners who voted against continuing the program. Jensen said science doesn’t support the program, and it’s designed to help trappers, whom he says are doing well anyway.
Memphis: The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to move toxin-laden coal ash from a retired plant in the city to an off-site landfill, at the cost of roughly $300 million, the federal utility said Friday. TVA is considering six landfills in the South after it decided to move 3.5 million cubic yards of coal ash – the byproduct of burning coal for power – from the old Allen Fossil Plant in south Memphis, rather than keep the material in place. The TVA said it prefers taking the coal ash to an offsite landfill rather than moving it to a processing facility because construction and operation of the facility would delay economic development of the Allen site and lead to issues with air and noise emissions, safety risks and public disruption, the TVA said in an environmental impact report. Removal would cost about $300 million and take about seven to 10 years, TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said.
Santa Fe: A teenager accused of fatally shooting 10 people at a high school in 2018 was able to buy more than 100 rounds of ammunition online because his age was not verified, according to a lawsuit alleging the website involved broke federal law. Dimitrios Pagourtzis was a 17-year-old junior at the time of the May 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School. Federal law prohibits minors from purchasing handgun ammunition and bars licensed gun companies from selling handgun or shotgun ammunition to minors or anyone they have reason to believe is under the age of 21. According to an amended lawsuit filed Thursday, Pagourtzis initially ordered 50 rounds of hollow-point handgun ammunition and 105 rounds of 12-gauge shotgun ammunition, the Houston Chronicle reports. Two weeks later, he purchased an additional 35 rounds of shotgun ammunition – both times from the website Luckygunner.com that did not require him to make an account, submit proof of age or set-up a secure two-step authorization, the filing said.
Salt Lake City: A slimmed-down version of a measure to require warning labels on pornography passed the state Senate on Friday. The proposal would now mandate a one-sentence warning label for online or print material deemed legally obscene, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. A relatively small slice of porn is considered obscene, but that hardcore material has fewer constitutional protections. The label would say that “exposing minors to obscene material may damage or negatively impact minors.” A website could also embed in its metadata the searchable text, “utahobscenitywarning.” The porn industry has objected to the plan, saying it could have constitutional problems and open the floodgates for lawsuits. If it does not appear on a print publication or is not displayed for 15 seconds online, producers could be fined $2,500 for each civil violation.
Montpelier: Three out of about a dozen Vermont towns passed resolutions on Town Meeting Day to become Second Amendment “sanctuary” towns, supporting gun rights and opposing more state and federal gun control laws, organizers said. About a half-dozen towns where the resolution was proposed did not take up the measure on Town Meeting Day on Tuesday because officials did not feel it was appropriate for the setting, said Eric Davis, president of Gun Rights Vermont. Lowell, Eden and Whittingham passed the resolution, he said. The town of Barton rejected the proposal. The voice vote Tuesday was close, Town Clerk Kristin Atwood told the Caledonian Record. Select boards in the towns of Holland and Pittsford adopted the resolution to become sanctuary towns earlier this year. The resolutions are not legally binding.
Hampton: Three black astronauts joined hundreds of other mourners Saturday at a memorial service for pioneering African American mathematician and NASA researcher Katherine Johnson. Johnson, who calculated rocket trajectories and Earth orbits for NASA’s early space missions and was later portrayed in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures,” about pioneering black female aerospace workers, died Feb. 24 at the age of 101. More than 700 people turned out for Saturday’s memorial service at the Hampton University Convocation Center. “I think about the journey that she’s going on now,” astronaut Leland Melvin said. “We can’t calculate the speed that she’s traveling to get to heaven.” Melvin was joined by fellow astronauts Yvonne Cagle and Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space. Johnson was remembered not just as a pioneering researcher but as a faithful church leader and family matriarch. “Grandma, because of you, our world will forever be unlimited,” grandson Michael Moore said. “And because of you, I have no bounds.”
Olympia: The state has become the 10th to prohibit homicide defendants from claiming a defense based on panic over a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Gov. Jay Inslee signed the measure Thursday. It takes effect in June. Nine other states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey New York and Rhode Island – have already banned the use of gay or transgender panic as a legal defense. The Washington state measure is named after Nikki Kuhnhausen, a transgender teen who was killed last year, The Columbian reports. It was approved with bipartisan support in the state House and the Senate, though some lawmakers questioned if the legislation was necessary since a panic defense has never been used in Washington.
Charleston: Foster parents who adopt children with special needs may soon get more money under a wide-ranging proposal passed Friday by the state Senate to reduce the state’s overburdened foster system. Senators voted unanimously to approve the proposal. It now moves back to the House of Delegates for that chamber to approve the Senate’s amendments. The measure directs state officials to expand a tiered system that would give higher payments to people who take in children with emotional, behavioral or intellectual problems. It sets aside $16.9 million for the payment system. The tiered system would have to be up and running by July 2021. Child-placing agencies would also get $1,000 every time they finalize an adoption.
Spring Green: The school that architect Frank Lloyd Wright started nearly 90 years ago may stay open after all. The board of the School of Architecture at Taliesin announced in January that the school would close in June because the board and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the school’s biggest financial supporter, had failed to come up with a way to keep the school open. The foundation said then that the school lacked a sustainable business model. The Wisconsin State Journal reports the board voted Thursday to keep the school open in light of new funding. The decision to remain open is still subject to approval by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The foundation issued a statement Friday saying it has little information about the new funding sources. Board Chairman Dan Schweiker said new supporters have come forward.
Jackson: Jackson Hole’s largest elk herd is thriving and appears to have grown slightly over the past year after hunters had a historically tough time finding animals and filling tags. Wyoming Game and Fish Department harvest data for 2019 estimates that 794 hunters who targeted zones roamed by the Jackson Elk Herd found success and filled their freezer, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “That’s about half of what it normally is,” Game and Fish wildlife biologist Aly Courtemanch said. “Usually, there’s more like 1,500 or 1,600 elk harvested, both bulls and cows.” The 30-year average harvest in the Jackson Herd is 2,098 elk, though the kill hasn’t surpassed 2,000 since the early 2000s – when the herd size started shrinking by design. Fall 2019 elk hunts were slow across the board.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Conch contest, golf tree: News from around our 50 states