Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama has modified some of the COVID-19 restrictions for summer commencement ceremonies scheduled for July 31 at Coleman Coliseum. According to a news release, masks will not be required for people in attendance who are fully vaccinated. For those who have not been fully vaccinated, face coverings will be required. Another change is that there will be no limit on the number of guests each graduate can invite, and no tickets will be required for entry. UA also recommends that groups of guests maintain social distancing of 3 feet. Hand sanitizing stations will be provided throughout the coliseum, and the building will be cleaned and sanitized between the 8:30 a.m. and noon ceremonies. More than 1,000 students are expected to receive their diplomas during the two July 31 ceremonies.
Juneau: State health officials say 361 cases of syphilis were reported in 2020, a 49% increase over the previous year. The numbers didn’t surprise Susan A. Jones, an Anchorage-based public health nurse consultant and the HIV/STD program manager with the state health department, who was involved with a report on the continuing syphilis outbreak. “In some ways, I’m surprised there aren’t more cases,” she told the Juneau Empire. Last year’s count included eight cases of congenital syphilis, which occurs when an infected mother passes the infection on to a newborn. Untreated syphilis can cause fetal death, and about 40% of untreated babies with the infection die, she said. Alaska’s syphilis outbreak was first declared in early 2018, and case counts have increased annually since. Jones said she’s worried about Alaska’s numbers in the future. “The pandemic drained much of our public health resources. I wouldn’t be surprised if our numbers surpassed this in 2021,” she said. The rise in cases indicates people are not seeking medical services, a situation exacerbated by pandemic-related concerns, Jones said. As the pandemic wanes, more people will seek services and get diagnosed, she said. Without treatment with antibiotics, syphilis can spread to the brain, nervous system or eyes, health officials said.
Phoenix: Unprecedented shortages are delaying air conditioning repairs across Maricopa County during a record-breaking heat wave, forcing residents to pay for hotels, crash with friends and family, or risk their health by staying in indoor temperatures above 90 degrees. Long wait times for HVAC repairs can be dangerous as Arizona’s summers become hotter, and heat-related illnesses and deaths increase. At least 494 people across the state died of heat-related causes last year. A current parts shortage is driven by factories shutting down during the pandemic and by prices for materials rising due to tariffs and changes to product lines, said Mike Donley, president of Phoenix-based Donley A/C & Plumbing. Unfilled jobs have also affected local companies, he said. Other factors causing lags include an uptick in homeowners seeking renovations during the pandemic and extreme weather such as Texas’ February ice storms disrupting supply chains, according to Associated General Contractors of America. The Arizona Registrar of Contractors, which licenses HVAC companies, recently urged patience when dealing with delays. “From new home builds and pools to installing air conditioning units, both residential and commercial contractors alike have been struggling to get materials and find enough workers,” agency officials said.
Little Rock: The state on Tuesday reported 485 new coronavirus cases – its biggest one-day jump in more than three months. The Department of Health said it was the biggest daily tally since 570 new cases March 5. Arkansas has recorded 346,180 total cases since the pandemic began last year. The state’s active cases, meaning ones that don’t include people who have died or recovered, rose by 251 to 2,570. Total COVID-19 deaths rose by eight to 5,884. Hospitalizations rose by four to 285. Arkansas in late March opened COVID-19 vaccines to everyone at least 16 years old and lifted its statewide mask mandate, and those as young as 12 are now eligible for shots, but the state has maintained one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson cited the latest case increase as he urged more people to get vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus. About 41% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and about 33% have completed their vaccinations, according to the Centers for Disease Control. “Until we increase the number of shots, we will continue to have increased numbers of hospitalizations and new cases like we did today,” Hutchinson tweeted. “It is sad to see someone go to the hospital or die when it can be prevented.”
Los Angeles: Construction has started on an $898.6 million station that will directly connect Los Angeles International Airport to the region’s light rail and bus transportation systems, solving a decades-old problem. The Airport Metro Connector will connect with an automated people mover train being built to carry people to and from the airport’s terminals. A ceremony was held Monday to mark the start of construction. “This groundbreaking is a pivotal milestone in our effort to give residents and visitors alike real alternatives to sitting in traffic,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who is also on the board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The station will have platforms to access Metro light rail trains, a bus plaza, a drop-off zone for travelers, a bicycle hub and commercial space. The airport is in the midst of a massive multibillion-dollar makeover.
Denver: A program that allows doctors, dentists, pharmacists and others to check a database before issuing prescriptions for certain drugs hasn’t stopped so-called doctor shopping for opioids and sedatives and requires legislation to compel prescribers to register with the database and to use it, according to the Office of the State Auditor. After examining Colorado’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program within the Department of Regulatory Agencies, the office presented an audit to the Legislative Audit Committee on Monday. Created in 2008, the monitoring program is designed to collect data on certain prescriptions by pharmacies to stop patients from obtaining large amounts of opioids and dangerous combinations of drugs. Colorado Politics reports that overdose deaths from prescription opioids have risen from 246 in 2008 to 433 in 2019. A 2014 law requires pharmacists to submit information on dispensed controlled substances to the database. But the audit found there are no penalties for failing to do so. It recommended requiring prescribers to check the database before issuing opioid or benzodiazepine prescriptions; adding penalties to compel registration and use; enforcing limits on opioid prescriptions; and adding referrals to law enforcement or health care regulatory boards for those who don’t comply.
Hartford: Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday signed a bill making Connecticut the 19th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, which remains an illegal drug under federal law. People 21 and older will be allowed to possess and consume marijuana beginning July 1 under the new law, which also lays the groundwork for a new cannabis industry in the state and attempts to address racial inequities stemming from the nation’s war on drugs. “We had a chance to learn from others, and I think we’ve got it right here in the state of Connecticut,” said Lamont, a Democrat, referring to the multiyear effort to finally pass a legalization bill. “Maybe we weren’t the first, but we were the first, I think, to show that we can get it right.” The legislation received final approval from both chambers of the General Assembly last week during a special legislative session. “I think it will be the most comprehensive and best cannabis legalization bill in the country,” said House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford. The law allows those age 21 and up to possess or consume up to 1.5 ounces of “cannabis plant material” and up to 5 ounces in a locked container in a home or in the trunk or locked glove box in the person’s vehicle. Retail sales of recreational cannabis in Connecticut are not expected to begin until summer 2022, at the earliest.
Dover: Legislation from Delaware Democrats could allow the Delmar Police Department to unionize, a feat previously unattainable due to a “fluke of geography.” A union could help Delmar police negotiate a raise and attract officers to the department’s vacant positions. Teamsters Local 326, the union hoping to organize, is proposing to require two officers per shift. Many believe the April death of Police Cpl. Keith Heacook could have been prevented by the presence of another officer. Delmar, “the little town too big for one state,” has two separate municipal governments. The Delmar, Delaware, mayor and town council and the Delmar, Maryland, mayor and commissioners work together to govern the town. The Maryland side amended its charter to allow police to organize and collectively bargain in 2009. Delmar police officers last attempted to unionize in 2017, when they took their request to the quasi-judicial Delaware Public Employment Relations Board. The town of Delmar, Delaware, opposed their petition. According to a February 2020 special notice, the Delaware council opposed the petition in part was because it isn’t the exclusive employer of the officers, as required by state law. The Public Employment Relations Board agreed. A bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday would add clarifying language to the act.
District of Columbia
Washington: Proponents of statehood for the district vowed Tuesday to keep pushing even though the prospects were dim as the bill began working its way through the Senate. “Our democracy is truly in the hands of this Senate,” Mayor Muriel Bowser told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “We will not quit until we achieve full democracy. … We will keep pushing until D.C.’s tragic disenfranchisement is rectified.” In Tuesday’s hearings on a bill that would make Washington, D.C., the 51st state, Democrats framed it as a long-standing injustice finally being made right. The nation’s capital has a larger population than Wyoming or Vermont, and its estimated 712,000 residents pay federal taxes, vote for president and serve in the armed forces, but they have no voting representation in Congress. Republicans, however, dismissed the bill as a cynical Democratic power play because the district votes solidly Democratic. They claim statehood was never the intention of the Founding Fathers and insist Congress doesn’t even have the power to change D.C.’s status. The bill proposes creating a 51st state, while a tiny sliver of land would remain as a federal district. Instead of the District of Columbia, the state would be known as Washington, Douglass Commonwealth – named after famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who lived in Washington from 1877 until his death in 1895. The bill comes as D.C. statehood is receiving unprecedented levels of popular and political support. It received a formal endorsement from the White House, which called Washington’s current status “an affront to the democratic values on which our Nation was founded.”
Tallahassee: Civics education will be expanded, including instruction about communist and totalitarian governments, and state universities will be prevented from quashing conservative ideology under bills Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Tuesday. At a Lee County middle school, DeSantis signed three bills, two of which dealt with civics education, the other guaranteeing the freedom of expression at state universities. DeSantis said students need to be taught that communist and totalitarian governments are evil. “Why would somebody flee across shark-infested waters, say leaving from Cuba, to come to southern Florida?” DeSantis said. “It’s important that students understand that.” The law will require development of a K-12 civics curriculum that, among other things, would include “portraits in patriotism” that tell the personal stories of civic-mindedness, including “first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States.” State university students will be required to pass a civic literacy assessment exam and take a course on civic literacy in order to graduate. The third bill protects free speech at state universities by saying the schools can’t shield students from accessing or observing ideas and opinions “they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.”
Atlanta: Gov. Brian Kemp says he will end the state’s public health state of emergency July 1, more than 15 months after he initially declared it because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Republican governor made the announcement Tuesday, signing a fresh, final extension of the extraordinary powers granted to him by lawmakers. “Thanks to those efforts, more Georgians are getting vaccinated, our economic momentum is strong, and people are getting back to normal,” Kemp said in a statement. “We have emerged resilient, and I thank all Georgians for doing their part.” The move comes even as public health officials warn of the spread of the more infectious delta variant of the coronavirus. The governor says he will hold on to some extraordinary powers, saying he will issue a different kind of emergency order suspending state rules and regulations to help state agencies and businesses fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the first use of Georgia’s public health emergency law. It grants Kemp sweeping powers to suspend laws and state regulations. He can use it to commandeer private property, take over hospitals, shut down schools, offer temporary housing and welfare payments, and take money directly from the state treasury without legislative authorization.
Honolulu: Uncertainty remains about when the state will drop its requirement for vaccinated travelers to have negative coronavirus test results so they can avoid quarantine after arriving in Hawaii. Lt. Gov. Josh Green wants the testing requirement for fully vaccinated travelers to end ahead of the July 4 holiday, but Gov. David Ige is reluctant and would not commit to dropping the travel tests Monday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The Democratic governor said earlier this month that testing requirements for vaccinated domestic travelers would end once 60% of Hawaii residents are fully vaccinated. That figure has been slow to climb in recent weeks and currently stands at 57%. “We do anticipate crossing that 60% threshold,” Ige said. “It is hard to predict exactly when that would happen because of the fact that the pace of vaccinations is actually slowing, and the number of vaccines administered in the last week is significantly lower than the number of vaccines administered, for example, two weeks ago.” But Green, who is also a Democrat, said there could be confusion and conflict if the state doesn’t drop the requirements soon. “It’s just really important that Hawaii not get a black eye by being unclear,” Green said.
Idaho Falls: The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a new $6.4 billion contract to clean up nuclear waste at its sprawling site west of the city, which includes a national laboratory that does nuclear research. The Energy Department announced Friday that the 10-year Idaho Cleanup Project contract went to the Tullahoma, Tennessee-based Idaho Environmental Coalition, replacing Fluor Idaho. A 1995 settlement agreement between the Energy Department and the state requires nuclear waste to be cleaned up at the site that sits above a giant aquifer supplying water to farms and cities in the region. The department said it received five proposals, and the best value was from the Idaho Environmental Coalition, which includes Jacobs Technology Inc. and North Wind Portage. The 890-square-mile site includes the Idaho National Laboratory, which sits atop the Lake Erie-sized Snake River Plain Aquifer, which started becoming contaminated from the nuclear site in 1952, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report released last year. The report said contamination levels at all but a handful of nearly 180 wells are below acceptable standards for drinking water set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The report cited cleanup efforts at the site as helping to improve the aquifer.
Urbana: The University of Illinois is requiring students attending classes in person this fall to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before stepping onto its three campuses, officials said Monday. In a mass email, University President Tim Killeen said the requirement for its campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Springfield and Chicago is consistent with the school’s own modeling of the risks associated with the spread of the coronavirus and its variants. “Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, students have helped make the University of Illinois System a model for the nation – a model of community, a model of safety and a model of pulling together for the common good,” Killeen said. “We look forward to their help in setting the standard again this fall, a semester that will restore most in-person instruction and many of the other traditional rhythms of campus life that COVID interrupted last year. Widespread vaccinations will help us do that.” Students who can’t be vaccinated because of their health or other reasons must follow each campus’ COVID-19 protocols, according to officials. Killeen said vaccination guidelines for faculty and staff are still being developed. The University of Chicago, DePaul and Northwestern are also requiring students to be vaccinated before they return to class. Illinois State University said it won’t require the shots.
Franklin: The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit against Mayor Steve Barnett on Tuesday claiming he violated a man’s First Amendment rights by blocking the man from his Facebook page. The suit, filed on behalf of former Indiana resident William Reynolds, claims Barnett was unjustified when he blocked Reynolds from viewing or commenting on his Facebook page after Reynolds repeatedly tagged Barnett in a video of the mayor participating in a Black Lives Matter protest in May 2020. The video features messages of inclusion and shows Barnett holding a colorful Black Lives Matter sign and leading a small crowd in a chant of “Black Lives Matter.” Reynolds tagged Barnett in the post in the Franklin Equity and Justice Coalition Facebook group, and Barnett “promptly” untagged himself, according to the lawsuit. When Reynolds again tagged Barnett on the same post, the mayor blocked Reynolds, preventing him from viewing or interacting with his page. “Mayor Barnett’s action in blocking Mr. Reynolds from viewing (Barnett’s) Facebook page was taken solely as a result of Mr. Reynolds’ decision to share true information concerning Mayor Barnett’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement and for the cause of racial justice,” the lawsuit says.
Des Moines: A judge has permanently blocked a state law requiring women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. In his order, filed Monday afternoon, District Court Judge Mitchell Turner held that the 2020 law is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced on two grounds: that the Legislature violated the “single-subject rule” of the Iowa Constitution when lawmakers passed the measure as an amendment to an unrelated bill and that the law violates a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision that protects abortion rights. The law was opposed in court by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. Turner had previously issued a temporary injunction blocking the law just before it was to take effect July 1, 2020. Monday’s order makes that injunction permanent. In his order, Turner also canceled a planned trial in the case, which was set for January. At a press conference Tuesday, Planned Parenthood North Central States Director of Public Affairs Jamie Burch Elliott said the law was “medically unnecessary and harmful” and would have effectively put abortion access out of reach for many people. Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican who signed the law last year, said she will appeal the ruling.
Belle Plaine: A civil rights group warned Uber Eats that its app profiles place transgender drivers at risk of harassment and violence, prompting the company to apologize Tuesday to a Topeka man and to resolve issues within the app that outed him. The move came after American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas released a letter it had sent to the food delivery service Monday on behalf of Laine Repic, a 41-year-old transgender man who has been driving for the company since April. The ACLU of Kansas contended that Uber Eats has forced Repic to have his app profile display his legal name, which he no longer uses and does not match his male gender presentation – effectively outing him as transgender. The ACLU noted that Repic has experienced harassment and ridicule as a result when he drops off food to customers, making him fearful for his safety. “Having to, like, drive around with that name following you everywhere from customers, it was nerve-wracking, and it was scary, and we shouldn’t have to be put in that position – especially when it was such a simple fix,” Repic said Tuesday in a phone interview. Repic said he reached out to the ACLU because he needed someone who would have his back, and Uber didn’t seem to support him.
Mammoth Cave: Dozens of people face criminal charges or suffered injuries during a five-day party billed as a “Redneck Rave.” Blue Holler Offroad Park in Edmonson County hosted the event last week that organizers said would feature “mud, music and mayhem,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. The crowd was estimated to be in the thousands, with attendees including some from outside Kentucky. Edmonson County Sheriff Shane Doyle told the newspaper 14 people were arrested, and another 34 were cited on criminal charges that ranged from assault and strangulation to drug and alcohol possession. Some who attended reported accidental injuries, including one person who was impaled by a log that pierced the floorboard of his vehicle, and others suffered lacerations, dislocated fingers and broken bones, Doyle said. Organizer Justin Stowers did not immediately respond to the newspaper when asked about the event but said in a Facebook post that it was “the biggest event we’ve ever done and with as many people and random things that popped up unexpectedly I feel like we all handled it very well,” the Herald-Leader reports. In addition to live music, the rave featured a football game and a demolition derby. Another event is scheduled in October.
Baton Rouge: Gov. John Bel Edwards’ rejection of legislation banning transgender athletes from participating on school sports teams is spurring talk that Republican lawmakers may try to hold Louisiana’s first veto session under its decades-old constitution. Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder announced Tuesday night that he wants such a mid-July session, giving the possibility of the historic gathering some momentum. But GOP Senate President Page Cortez hasn’t taken a public position, which could put the chances in doubt. It only takes a majority written vote of lawmakers in either the House or Senate to scrap a veto session in Louisiana. Plus, it’s unclear if lawmakers could hold the bipartisan coalition of votes together that would be needed to overturn the Democratic governor’s spurning of the transgender sports ban bill if the veto session were held. Edwards announced Tuesday that he struck down Franklinton Republican Sen. Beth Mizell’s bill prohibiting transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams of their identified gender, a measure that has been passed in several conservative states. “Discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto announcement.
Augusta: Legislators have passed a bill banning the intentional release of many balloons. The measure now awaits the signature of Gov. Janet Mills. Out of concern for balloons’ impact on the environment, the bill would create a fine for anyone who releases a large number of balloons on purpose, the Sun Journal reports. “It’s time to define intentional balloon releases as an act of littering so that people know how they are affecting the marine ecosystem,” Rep. Genevieve McDonald said when she introduced the bill, which was adopted earlier this month. First-time offenders who release between 16 and 24 balloons would be fined between $100 and $500 if Mills signs the proposal into law. Anyone who releases more than 24 balloons would face a fine of at least $500. The bill is not intended to punish the accidental release of a balloon by a child or someone else, the newspaper reports. It also exempts the release of balloons for scientific or meteorological purposes.
Annapolis: The health of the Chesapeake Bay improved to a grade of C in 2020, up from a C-minus in 2019, according to an annual report card by scientists. Individual indicators on the health of the nation’s largest estuary had mixed results in 2020, but the report released Tuesday by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science found the overall baywide trend continues to improve over time. For the first time, the report card examined new indicators of watershed health including stewardship, protected lands, walkability and heat vulnerability. Scientists have been putting a focus on assessing not just the environment but also the social and economic factors that influence ecosystem health. Seven out of 15 regions showed significantly improving health trends, the report said. Dissolved oxygen and total nitrogen scores improved, while chlorophyll a and total phosphorus scores declined. Water clarity, benthic community – organisms in the bottom of the bay – and aquatic grass scores decreased slightly. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, UMCES said there was a monitoring gap from March to May. The effects of the pandemic on the ecosystem health of the bay are not yet known, besides a reduction in atmospheric nitrogen, which has a declining trend, continued by reduced travel during 2020.
Boston: With no-excuse mail-in voting laws set to expire at the end of the month, state lawmakers need to hurry up and take action to extend those rights through the end of the year, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin said Tuesday. Up to 21 cities and towns, including Boston, have preliminary municipal elections scheduled for Sept. 14, with another 13 cities scheduled to hold elections Sept. 21. Without an extension, the cities will be unable to let voters cast ballots by mail without having an excuse or to hold in-person early voting for their city elections, Galvin said in a letter to Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano, both Democrats. Several local elections scheduled for July will also be affected without a new law in place, Galvin said. “For budgetary and planning purposes these cities must have clarity,” Galvin, also a Democrat, wrote to both legislative leaders. “Urgent action is needed.” There’s significant support on Beacon Hill for extending the voting options that were adopted during the pandemic and proved popular with voters. Democratic Sen. Barry Finegold, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, said he’s working with fellow lawmakers to make vote-by-mail and other election changes permanent in Massachusetts.
Detroit: The city could use more trees – about 1.2 million more, according to American Forests. The Washington-based, nonprofit conservation organization on Tuesday published Tree Equity scores for 150,000 neighborhoods in 486 urbanized areas. Each score is based on how much tree canopy and surface temperatures align with the number of people living in a given area or neighborhood, income, employment, race, age and health factors. The scores indicate whether there are enough trees for everyone living in those areas to experience the health, economic and climate benefits that trees provide. Low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods have fewer trees than wealthier, mostly white areas, according to Chris David, American Forests geographic information system and data science vice president. The premise of tree equity “helps cities identify where to target places that have been historically ignored,” David said. “Where the places are that lack trees historically have underserved people in poverty, people of color.” Trees improve the quality of life in neighborhoods by providing shade that reduces heat-related health issues. They also improve air quality by helping to reduce air pollution and create jobs involved in the care of trees, the nonprofit said.
St. Cloud: Kids caught scootering, biking, skateboarding or riding anything else that would require a helmet could be awarded a free Dairy Queen kid’s cone this summer from participating police and sheriff’s departments as part of a statewide initiative funded by AAA. Stearns County Sheriff Steve Soyka said the initiative is designed to promote safety and foster trust with local law enforcement. Each of the county’s patrol officers received five to 10 certificates last month to give out randomly while on patrol, he said. Although he said the county doesn’t see an abnormally large number of severe bicycle accidents each year, he said wearing a helmet is always a good preventative measure. “If you can catch people when they’re doing things right, and you can reinforce that behavior, they’ll continue to carry on that positive behavior,” said Sauk Rapids police chief Perry Beise. “A bike helmet can save people from a lifelong head injury.”
Jackson: Four words on the state’s license plates have sparked a federal lawsuit. American Atheists, the Mississippi Humanist Association and three nonreligious residents filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the state over its “In God We Trust” license plate. The complaint accuses the Mississippi Commissioner of Revenue of violating the people’s freedom of speech and religion by forcing them to display the religious message on their personal vehicles. The license plate has included “In God We Trust” since 2019. The lawsuit claims car owners are forced to promote the religious statement or pay an additional fee for a specialty plate without it. “Every minute they spend on the streets of Mississippi, atheists are forced to act as a billboard for the state’s religious message,” said Geoffrey T. Blackwell, litigation counsel at American Atheists. “Some can avoid being a mouthpiece for the government by paying a penalty.” The lawsuit also claims that there are no alternatives to the plate for trailers, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, drivers with disabilities and custom plates. Gov. Tate Reeves, in a statement on Twitter, said he plans to defend the license plate’s motto. “I know Mississippi’s values are our strength…and I meant it when I said as Governor I would defend our values every single day!” he wrote.
O’Fallon: Jim Bakker and his southwestern Missouri church will pay restitution of $156,000 to settle a lawsuit that accuses the TV pastor of falsely claiming a health supplement could cure COVID-19. Court records show a settlement agreement that was filed Tuesday calls for refunds to people who paid money or gave contributions to obtain a product known as Silver Solution in the early days of the pandemic. The settlement also prohibits Bakker and Morningside Church Productions Inc. from advertising or selling Silver Solution “to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure any disease or illness.” Bakker, in the agreement, does not admit wrongdoing. Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sued Bakker and Morningside in March 2020. Schmitt sought an injunction ordering Bakker to stop selling Silver Solution as a treatment for COVID-19 on his streaming TV program, The Jim Bakker Show. The lawsuit said Bakker and a guest made the cure claim during 11 episodes in February and March of 2020. Schmitt said in a news release Wednesday that Bakker has already made restitution to many consumers and must pay back another $90,000 to others. The consent agreement notes that during “The Jim Bakker Show,” Silver Solution was offered to those who agreed to contribute $80 to $125.
Helena: Yellowstone National Park visitors hoping to see its world-renowned geysers, wolves and bears can expect warmer temperatures and less snow as climate change alters the park’s environment, according to a report by U.S. and university researchers released Wednesday. Average temperatures in the Yellowstone region in recent decades were likely the warmest of the past 800,000 years, according to geologic studies. And average annual snowfall has decreased by nearly 2 feet since 1950. The changing climate could affect some of the park’s most iconic sites, including Old Faithful, a geyser famous for erupting at regular intervals. Past droughts have reduced the frequency of water shooting out of the popular geyser, meaning it could erupt less frequently as drought conditions become more common in the park, Bryan Shuman, a geology professor at the University of Wyoming, said during a news conference Wednesday. Temperatures in the region have increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950 and are expected to increase by an additional 5 to 10 degrees by the end of the century, according to findings by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, Montana State University and the University of Wyoming. Communities in the surrounding area, including Bozeman, could see between 40 and 60 more days per year of temperatures above 90 degrees. And the changes are likely to affect tribes that have called the region home for millennia.
Offutt Air Force Base: Offutt Air Force Base’s 55th Wing has a new leader – the first woman to command the 80-year-old reconnaissance unit. The Omaha World-Herald reports Col. Kristen Thompson took over command Tuesday, becoming the first woman among the 65 officers who have led the unit since it was established in 1941. She replaces Col. Gavin Marks, who was the first Black leader of the unit. Marks led the 55th Wing through a tumultuous time that included the early stages of recovery from the March 2019 floods and the COVID-19 pandemic. About 300 people, including Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, attended the ceremony. Thompson, a 2001 graduate of the Air Force Academy, flew 600 combat hours in Iraq and Afghanistan. She was most recently commander of the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group at a base in United Arab Emirates.
Las Vegas: The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is launching a new program to help hundreds of student-athletes find out how they could get compensated for the use of their name and likeness. KVVU-TV reports UNLV has established “The Vegas Effect,” which will assist athletes in navigating how to take advantage of name, image and likeness opportunities. The announcement comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that the NCAA can’t limit education-related benefits – like computers and paid internships – that colleges can offer their sports stars. The ruling could help open the door to further easing in the decades-old fight over paying student-athletes. “The Vegas Effect” program includes a platform to connect student-athletes with resources to help them build their personal brand. There are also ways to connect to on-campus resources for help with financial literacy, handling of taxes and career development. School officials say they created the program in anticipation of NCAA-approved legislation permitting college athletes to generate revenue for themselves. The measure will take effect next year.
Concord: Funds from the latest federal coronavirus aid package are going to support child care programs and workers, the state Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday. Over the next 30 to 60 days, the department plans to launch stabilization grants to child care programs, workforce recruitment and retention efforts, and market rate increases for the New Hampshire Child Care Scholarship Program. Starting July 12, the grants will be open to all licensed and enrolled license-exempt child care providers. The scholarship market rate for tuition costs for enrolled families will increase as much as 10% for infants through preschoolers and an average of 40% for school-age children. The state also is increasing recruitment and retention efforts to increase the number of child care workers in centers, homes and after-school programs, including an internship program. “These programs will help ensure that residents who need access to child care in order to return to work will have as many options as possible,” said Christine Santaniello, associate commissioner of the department. “Child care programs have been essential since the first case of COVID-19 in New Hampshire.”
Randolph: A board of education has reversed itself following a public outcry and restored the names of holidays to its school calendar. The Randolph school board on Monday night voted 8-1 to overturn a decision made earlier this month to replace the names of holidays with “day off.” The panel also will create a committee to gain input from the public. Criticism began when the school board voted in May to refer to Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day. Following complaints from Italian Americans, the board then voted to label holidays generically. Critics accused the board of bowing to so-called cancel culture. An online petition called for Superintendent Jennifer Fano and members of the school board to resign. The district issued a statement in which it said the actions were “misconstrued.” “The buck stops here with those of us seated in front of you, and we own it,” school board president Tammy MacKay said. “Neither the superintendent nor any other administrator, principal, teacher or other district employee had anything to do with those votes or decisions. To cast blame on any of them for what this board did is quite simply wrong.”
Santa Fe: A major business in the state’s burgeoning market for marijuana wants the state to refund millions of dollars in taxes that were levied in recent years on sales of medical marijuana but not against most prescription medications. Integrated cannabis provider Ultra Health said Tuesday that it has asked the state Supreme Court for the opportunity to provide arguments in a legal dispute between another medical marijuana company and the state Taxation and Revenue Department. New Mexico lawmakers and cannabis regulators made clear this year that a limited personal supply of medical cannabis will be available tax-free starting June 29. The provision is part of legislation signed in April by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to legalize recreational marijuana sales by April 2022 and waive taxes on medical marijuana this year. “We are very glad the New Mexico Legislature had taken the initiative to include that clause for the deduction,” said Marissa Novel, chief marketing officer at Ultra Health. “What’s still up for debate is years worth of (past) medical cannabis activity.” In its Supreme Court filing, Ultra Health said it paid nearly $2.7 million in gross receipts taxes in 2020 alone on $39.5 million in sales.
New York: In-home COVID-19 shots are now available for all city residents, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday. “Anyone who’s sitting out there and thinking, ‘Wow, I’m ready, but I’d rather the vaccine be done right here in my home,’ go to nyc.gov/homevaccine, fill out the request, and we’ll send the vaccinators to your door,” the mayor said during an online briefing. City officials had already been offering the service to homebound residents and are expanding it as they try to entice more people to get COVID-19 vaccinations. “We are going to keep innovating new ways to get people the vaccine,” de Blasio said. The mayor said 9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in New York City so far.
Raleigh: Legislation that would raise the minimum age to get married from 14 to 16 cleared a state House committee Tuesday. The measure, which was approved unanimously by the Senate last month, also would prevent the young person’s spouse from being more than four years older. And 16- and 17-year-olds would need either written parental consent or a judge’s order to marry. Current law requires parental consent for 16- and 17-year-olds, and 14- and 15-year-olds can only marry if a pregnancy is involved and if a judge authorizes the marriage. There is no age-gap limit between the couple. Backers of the measure say North Carolina has become a destination for out-of-state couples involving an underage partner because of its rules, and that in turn can encourage child trafficking. They say the age-gap limit also would bring restrictions more in line with North Carolina’s statutory rape law. An estimated 8,800 minors were listed on North Carolina marriage license applications from 2000 to 2015, according to an analysis by the International Center for Research on Women. Bill supporters say too many of these young women end up living amid poverty and abuse.
Bismarck: A frequent political candidate is leading an effort to recall Republican Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford. Michael Coachman, who last year received just 10% of the vote in the GOP primary for governor, is alleging “contempt of the voters” and negligence by Burgum. Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Wednesday announced he approved for circulation a petition for the recall effort. Burgum’s spokesman, Mike Nowatzki, said the governor’s second-term victory last year “speaks for itself.” To hold a recall election, supporters of the idea need to collect more than 89,000 signatures, roughly 25% of those who voted in the last general election. Coachman is a retired U.S. Air Force veteran who lives in Larimore. He was previously an unsuccessful candidate for secretary of state in 2018 and for lieutenant governor in 2012 and 2016.
Columbus: Gov. Mike DeWine made good on his promise Wednesday to professionalize policing in the state by introducing a college-to-law enforcement pathway program. The pilot program under the new state Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment is an effort by the Republican governor to both recruit more law enforcement officers as departures engulf agencies across the state and make sure the candidates who do apply are qualified. “This is not an easy time to be in law enforcement,” DeWine said at a briefing, surrounded by police chiefs, deputies and rank-and-file officers from across Ohio. “Failure to keep the ranks of law enforcement full has the potential to create a public safety crisis.” The objective of the new program, DeWine said, is to connect criminal justice programs from colleges and universities in Ohio to law enforcement agencies in the state, effectively creating a pipeline for college students to become officers. The announcement of the program comes as the reckoning over racial injustice that began after George Floyd’s killing last summer has shifted the public perception of police and their roles in the community. The result of that is low morale among rank-and-file officers, leading to more officers retiring and fewer people coming forward to serve, DeWine said.
Tulsa: Those responsible for a ransomware attack on the city last month are sharing some residents’ personal information online, city officials said. More than 18,000 city files, mostly police citations and internal police department files, have been posted on the dark web, the city said in a statement late Tuesday. Police citations include some personally identifiable information such as name, date of birth, address and driver’s license number but do not include Social Security numbers, officials said. Still, city officials are warning anyone who has filed a police report, received a police citation or shared personally identifiable information with the city to monitor their financial accounts and credit reports. They are also warning those people to alert credit and debit card companies and to change passwords to personal accounts. Last month, the city said no personal data had been accessed by the breach. Malware was initially detected May 6, the city said. Mayor G.T. Bynum said the hackers told the city to pay a ransom, but Tulsa didn’t pay. The city shut down much of its network to stop the malware from spreading. The primary effect of the shutdown was that most residents were prevented from paying their water bills because the city could not process credit or debit cards with computers inoperable.
Portland: Officials confirmed Tuesday that another COVID-19 outbreak at Multnomah County’s Inverness Jail has infected 25 people in custody in the past month. Those in custody at the Northeast Portland jail were not taken to their court appearances Monday because of the outbreak, according to written notices posted at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse. Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Chris Liedle told The Oregonian/OregonLive the outbreak started May 23 when a person lodged at Inverness who had been showing COVID-19 symptoms tested positive for the coronavirus. Liedle said almost all those who have since tested positive have had mild or no symptoms. One inmate was hospitalized, Liedle said, but is now back in jail. Liedle did not immediately specify the source of the outbreak. He said inmates are regularly offered COVID-19 vaccines, and the county has reduced its jail population by one-third and increased virus testing. The jail has had other COVID-19 outbreaks since the start of the pandemic. In April, 15 inmates who contracted COVID-19 while at Inverness sued the county and Sheriff Mike Reese, alleging the county failed to take proper safety precautions, denied inmates coronavirus testing, and mixed infected inmates and guards with those who were healthy.
Harrisburg: A Republican rewrite of state election law that would mandate voter IDs, alter registration and ballot-counting deadlines, and give conservatives auditing procedures for which they have clamored passed the state House on Tuesday despite the Democratic governor’s veto threat. The lengthy and complex bill, crafted after 10 committee hearings on the subject earlier this year, was sent to the state Senate on a vote of 110-91. Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Delaware, dismissed its proposed security provisions by raising the specter of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by those who supported former President Donald Trump’s baseless efforts to reverse his reelection defeat. “What a farce,” Davidson said. “We are advancing election security measures, so we say, by ignoring the facts and embracing actual fantasies.” Voters must have confidence that the system is fair, said Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland. “We know that democracy dies in darkness,” Rothman said. “Democracy will die without trust in the process.” The bill would establish a new county-issued voter ID that Rep. Tim Bonner, R-Mercer, said was not a burden or a way to suppress votes. But Democratic Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia described the bill as “voter suppression in bad drag.”
Providence: To the relief of many, the state reopened public restrooms Wednesday at the Kennedy Plaza transit hub in Providence, which had been closed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority also recently reopened to the general public bathroom facilities at the Newport Transportation and Visitors Center and the Pawtucket Transit Center. “Reopening public restrooms at three busy transit facilities in our state is a necessary step to address public need as we re-emerge from the pandemic,” Gov. Daniel McKee said in a statement. The agency has kept the Kennedy Plaza bathrooms closed to the general public, citing the need to enforce a federal mask mandate and to provide bus drivers with their own facilities where they didn’t have to wait in line and in turn could keep buses running on schedule. RIPTA chief Scott Avedisian said the issue has been resolved. The city agreed on a plan that will accommodate the public need for the facilities while also making provisions for drivers by retrofitting restrooms at the nearby public skating rink for them. “We are happy to be moving forward on this issue,” Avedisian said, “and we appreciate the steps the city is taking.”
Columbia: The state’s nearly $11 billion budget was sent to the governor’s desk Monday as lawmakers cut close the deadline to get the spending plan in place before it begins July 1. There is something for almost everyone in the budget, including raises for most state employees, teachers and law enforcement officers. It also includes money to expand the port in Charleston, repair college buildings, and place a police officer and nurse in every public school in the state. Lawmakers also have earmarked funds for dozens of local projects such as downtown renovations, lighthouse repairs and art programs. What passed Monday doesn’t include the $2.5 billion that lawmakers will control of the nearly $9 billion South Carolina is getting from federal COVID-19 relief. How to spend that money will be debated later this year. Gov. Henry McMaster has until the end of Saturday to decide if he wants to veto any individual items in the spending plan. The General Assembly plans to return June 29 to decide whether to override any potential vetoes.
Sioux Falls: The state’s oldest residents are seeing major gains from strong vaccination rates. The state has reported just three new coronavirus cases among people 80 and older this month. As of Tuesday, there was just one active infection in that age group, which has been the hardest-hit by COVID-19, with 1 in 5 of those who tested positive for the virus dying. Among those 70-79, the state has been seeing a new case every other day. The case fatality rate for that age group declines sharply, with just 6% having died. As of Tuesday, there were just eight active infections in that age group. Meanwhile, there hasn’t been a fatality reported among the state’s long-term care residents since May 28. The vaccination rate among older South Dakotans has been high: As of Monday, 91% of those 65 or older have received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 85% are fully vaccinated. According to Tuesday’s report from the South Dakota Department of Health, the seven-day average for new cases was 10. It hadn’t been that low since March 29, 2020, two weeks into the pandemic. But overall, the number of people seeking a COVID-19 vaccine continues to fall, with the state averaging just 465 newly vaccinated residents over the past seven days.
Nashville: A panel of federal appellate judges on Tuesday reinstated a state law requiring first-time voters to appear in person to vote, reasoning in part that the COVID-19 pandemic is “unlikely to pose a serious threat during the next election cycle.” In a 2-1 decision, a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel overturned a lower court’s ruling in September that blocked the restriction on absentee voting ahead of the 2020 general election. In October, a panel from the 6th Circuit decided to keep the preliminary injunction, with Judge Julia Smith Gibbons ruling that the court shouldn’t disrupt the new rules at that late stage in the election. In reinstating the requirement, the same judge wrote Tuesday that there is not a “reasonable expectation” that voters will again face the same kind of burdens they did during the fall 2020 election. “Fortunately, because of advancements in COVID-19 vaccinations and treatment since this case began, the COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to pose a serious threat during the next election cycle,” the ruling said. The judge also said the legal standing to bring the case, through a member of the Tennessee NAACP, disappeared once the state Supreme Court separately rolled back another judge’s widespread expansion of a vote-by-mail option last year.
Austin: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday ordered lawmakers back to work in July, raising expectations of another attempt to pass new voting restrictions after Democrats blocked the GOP’s first try with a dramatic late-night walkout in May. However, Abbott did not reveal why he was ordering a special legislative session starting July 8, saying only in a two-sentence announcement that an agenda would come later. As governor, only Abbott can determine what issues lawmakers take up during a special session. But Abbott has previously made clear that he would bring lawmakers back to pass new election laws after Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives left the chamber one by one less than two hours before a midnight deadline over Memorial Day weekend, denying the GOP majority the quorum needed to pass what was one of the nation’s most restrictive voting measures. Democrats have vowed to continue fighting GOP efforts to reduce polling hours and voting access in Texas after staging the last-ditch revolt to stop the sweeping elections overhaul from reaching Abbott’s desk. None has called for a boycott of the special session, and the Republicans’ commanding majority means it’s likely that an elections bill will ultimately pass.
St. George: Zion National Park is warning tourists about the dangers of heat and toxic bacteria. With the ongoing drought and summer temperatures spiking to record highs, the park is asking visitors to be diligent about heat-related illnesses as search and rescue operations spike. During a Tuesday press event, Zion’s Chief Ranger Daniel Fagergren said there has been a noticeable uptick in 911 calls since Memorial Day weekend. “That’s the secret: being prepared, knowing your limitations and watching the weather,” he said. Fagregren said there were six heat-related injuries within a two-hour period on one recent weekend. Temperatures at Zion reached as high as 112 during last week’s heat waves. Fagergren said the Zion canyon is like a “parabola,” reflecting heat back into the canyon and increasing the temperature compared to nearby towns. In addition, toxic cyanobacteria are still present in Zion’s Virgin River, so officials are asking visitors to avoid the water – no matter how tempting it may be – and to keep an eye out for algal blooms. “It certainly complicates things, especially this time of year, as people gravitate toward the water,” Fagergren said.
Montpelier: The state House on Wednesday voted to override Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of separate bills that would change the municipal charters of the cities of Montpelier and Winooski to allow noncitizens to vote in local elections. The votes were 103 to 47 on both measures. “We have a rich history of Vermonters coming together in their cities, towns, and villages to work together and chart a path forward that works best for their communities,” House Speaker Jill Krowinski said in a statement. “These charters expand local voting rights to residents of these respective communities, and these decisions were made by the voters after robust discussion and deliberation.” The Democrat-controlled Senate is expected to take up the measure Thursday. Last November, voters in Winooski – considered one of the most diverse cities in northern New England – authorized noncitizens to vote in local elections if they were in the U.S. legally. In 2019, Montpelier passed a similar measure, but it did not pass the Legislature in 2020. In his veto message, Scott said noncitizen voting was an important issue that deserves further consideration but said a town-by-town approach to municipal voting creates inconsistency in election policy.
Leesburg: One person was arrested and a second cited for trespassing after Loudoun County’s school board shut down public comment on proposed rules for the treatment of transgender students. Hundreds of people showed up at Tuesday’s meeting in Leesburg to voice their opinions, but the school board voted unanimously to close public comment after just a few speakers, citing unruly behavior from the audience. “Even after numerous attempts to ask for decorum, so everyone could speak, those attending insisted on continued interruptions in an attempt to delay and disrupt the proceeding,” school board Chair Brenda Sheridan said in a statement early Wednesday. “These politically motivated antics ought to end.” Critics of the school board accused its members of ignoring public sentiment. The proposed regulations would require that transgender students be addressed by their preferred name and pronoun and allow students to use the restroom associated with their preferred gender. School systems across Virginia are adopting similar regulations. But Loudoun has become a flashpoint in the debate. Conservative groups rallied to support an elementary school gym teacher who was suspended after he spoke at a school board meeting in opposition to the new rules. A judge has ordered his reinstatement, but the school board is appealing the ruling.
Seattle: Five Black officers with the University of Washington Police Department have filed claims of racism against the department and are seeking $8 million in damages, alleging they were routinely insulted and demeaned by co-workers and supervisors. Some officers said they were disciplined and denied promotions because of their race, KOMO-TV reports. Officer Damien Taylor said a white supervisor referred to him as “ ‘(his) own negro’ on a call and later laughed at me when I confronted him about it.” Officer Karinn Young said that “a banana was put in front of my locker with a note reading, ‘Here’s your lunch, you ******* monkey.’ ” The officers said University of Washington Police Chief John Vinson, who is also Black, was repeatedly criticized by white officers for hiring too many Black people. “White officers called Chief Vinson the n-word on several occasions,” said Officer Russell Ellis said in the claim. Vinson was later reassigned to an administrative position at the university, KOMO-TV reports. University spokesperson Victor Balta said that the college is stunned by the allegations and that the institution has no record of complaints being filed about the issues.
Glen Jean: The permanent home of the National Scout Jamboree will hold a four-day outdoor festival for the public in September. The Adventure On! Freedom Festival will take place Sept. 10-13 at the 14,000-acre Summit Bechtel Reserve in southern West Virginia, WVVA-TV reports. Among the events will be a free concert featuring the band Lonestar on Sept. 11 for first responders, active-duty or retired military, and law enforcement officers on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The event also will feature motor bike and electric bike racing, swimming, hiking, fishing, skateboarding, target shooting, camping and ziplines. Local vendors also will be allowed to sell their wares. Tickets can be purchased in advance.
Madison: Police would be prohibited from enforcing any future federal federal laws banning or restricting the use of guns under a bill the state Senate sent to Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday. The proposal is part of a national wave of Republican-authored legislation intended to resist a push from President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats to tighten gun control laws. The U.S. Constitution dictates that federal law trumps conflicting state law, however, and many previous GOP proposals to thwart gun control laws have been found unconstitutional. Evers, a Democrat, almost certainly will veto the Wisconsin bill. Republicans are pushing forward anyway, knowing the attempt will please their base constituents. The Senate passed the bill on a voice vote Wednesday with no debate, sending the proposal to Evers. The Assembly approved the bill earlier this month.
Cheyenne: The late world champion rodeo cowboy and country music singer Chris LeDoux has returned to Cheyenne Frontier Days in the form of a huge statue. The bronze featuring LeDoux on a bucking horse arrived Tuesday and was installed on a pedestal at the park where the annual rodeo and Western culture celebration takes place during the last two weeks of July, according to Frontier Days officials. The 125th anniversary Frontier Days will be dedicated to LeDoux. The statue will be dedicated in a ceremony July 23. LeDoux grew up in Cheyenne and performed both in the rodeo and onstage at Frontier Days. He won the 1976 National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. He recorded 36 albums that sold more than 6 million copies. LeDoux died of cancer in 2005 at age 56. The coronavirus pandemic canceled last year’s Frontier Days for the first time in the event’s history.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DC statehood, Redneck Rave: News from around our 50 states