Deepening drought, fish sticks around, Pistol Pete: News from around our 50 states
Montgomery: The state has set a November execution date for a man convicted in the 1988 murder-for-hire killing of a pastor’s wife. The scheduled execution follows criticism over the state’s last two lethal injection attempts, including one that was called off after the execution team had trouble finding a vein. Kenneth Eugene Smith, 57, is set to die at Holman Correctional Facility on Nov. 17, according to a Friday order from the Alabama Supreme Court. Smith was sentenced to death for the killing of Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett, a 45-year-old grandmother and pastor’s wife. Prosecutors said Smith was one of two men who were each paid $1,000 to kill Sennett on behalf of her husband, the Rev. Charles Sennett, who was deeply in debt and wanted to collect on insurance. Elizabeth Sennett was found dead March 18, 1988, in the couple’s home in Colbert County. The coroner testified that she had been stabbed eight times in the chest and once on each side of the neck. The pastor killed himself a week later. Smith maintained it was the other man who stabbed Elizabeth Sennett, according to court documents. Smith was initially convicted in 1989, and a jury voted 10-2 to recommend a death sentence, which a judge imposed. His conviction was overturned on appeal in 1992. He was retried and convicted again in 1996.
Juneau: Acting state Revenue Commissioner Deven Mitchell has been chosen as the new chief executive officer of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. The announcement was made Monday by the fund’s board. The corporation said in a statement that the selection “is contingent on the successful negotiation of a salary and benefits package” and that a start date has not yet been set. Mitchell has called Alaska’s nest-egg oil wealth fund the state’s “trump card” as a renewable source of revenue, the Anchorage Daily News reports. His message to the board was that he would not chase short-term cash yields, as the fund has been invested for long-term growth. He also said he doesn’t see the CEO’s role as second-guessing investment decisions made by the corporation’s chief investment officer or as overriding his decisions. Earnings from the fund traditionally have been used to pay annual dividends to residents. Since 2018, earnings also have been used to help pay for state government. Mitchell last month stepped down as the state’s debt manager and executive director of the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority when Gov. Mike Dunleavy appointed him to be the acting Department of Revenue commissioner.
Phoenix: An abortion clinic has come up with a way for patients who can end their pregnancy using a pill to get the medication quickly without running afoul of a resurrected state law that bans most abortions. Under the arrangement that began Monday, patients will have an ultrasound in Arizona, get a prescription through a telehealth appointment with a California doctor, and then have it mailed to a post office in a California border town for pickup, all for free. While not as easy as before an Arizona judge ruled that a pre-statehood law criminalizing nearly all abortions could be enforced nearly two weeks ago, the process saves an overnight trip to a major California city with an abortion clinic. And it is more accessible than the previous workaround used by Camelback Family Planning in Phoenix, which was to have a doctor in Sweden prescribe the pills and a pharmacy in India mail them to Arizona. That could take up to three weeks. Ashleigh Feiring, a nurse at the clinic, said the cost of the pills will be covered by the Abortion Fund of Arizona, which is helping women pay for out-of-state access to abortions. Women can use a pill for an abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy. Pills and surgical abortions were legal until about 24 weeks until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June.
North Little Rock: Authorities say three people have died after a fire early Tuesday at a North Little Rock apartment complex. The fire broke out shortly after 2 a.m. at an apartment near Shorter College, authorities said. North Little Rock Fire Department Capt. Dustin Free told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that three adults died in the blaze. The fire, which was extinguished by about 7 a.m., was contained to one apartment but caused the second floor of the building to collapse onto the first, Free said. “This was an all-hands-on-deck situation,” he said. “We work every day to save a life, but sometimes we are notified too late. The firefighters came in and tried to stop the fire aggressively.” The cause of the blaze remained under investigation.
Sacramento: The past three years have been the state’s driest on record, and officials said Monday that they’re preparing for the streak to continue. The official water year concluded Friday, marking an end to a period that saw both record rainfall in October and the driest January-to-March period in at least a century. Scientists say such weather whiplash is likely to become more common as the planet warms. It will take more than a few winter storms to help the state dig out of drought. Though it’s impossible to predict with certainty what the winter will bring, “we are actively planning for another dry year,” said Jeanine Jones, drought manager for the state Department of Water Resources. Jones spoke alongside state climatologist Michael Anderson about the just-completed water year. The water year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 so that the rainiest winter months are recorded together. Snow that falls in California’s mountains typically provides one-third of the state’s annual water supply, but last year snow levels were far below average by the end of the winter. The Colorado River, another major source of water for Southern California, is also beset by drought, threatening its ability to supply farmers and cities around the U.S. West.
Denver: A man survived a bear attack in his own backyard when he fired at the animal and scared it away after it threw him to the ground, state wildlife officials said. The attack occurred Saturday night in the small town of New Castle, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area manager Kirk Oldham said in a news release. The man went into his backyard after hearing a noise and encountered the bear, which threw him to the ground, officials said. He then threw up an arm to protect his face while grabbing a gun with his free hand and firing three shots, they said. It’s unknown whether the bear was hit by the bullets. The man told Parks and Wildlife that he had seen the bear in his yard the previous two nights. Heavy rain made it difficult for Parks and Wildlife officers to find and follow a blood trail and bear tracks as they searched for the animal, the news release said. They were still searching Monday. The man, whose name was not released, was treated at a hospital for minor injuries to his hand and arm and bruising on his chest, the release said. It’s the second bear attack in the western Colorado town in the past three months as bears prepare for hibernation, Oldham said. In August, a bear charged a woman and swiped at her, lacerating her arm and back. She recovered, and a mother bear and cub were euthanized, The Denver Post reports.
Hartford: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by the Connecticut State Police Union in its challenge of a police accountability law that allows public disclosure of certain state trooper personnel files and internal investigation reports. At issue were documents in internal probes that end with no finding of wrongdoing. The union argued the 2020 state law violated the 2018-2022 troopers’ contract by stripping away its exemptions from state freedom of information laws and allowing such documents to be publicly released. Union officials say troopers oppose the law because it allows records involving unfounded allegations to become public, possibly tarnishing a trooper’s reputation despite no findings of wrongdoing. The Supreme Court did not say anything about the case in rejecting it among a host of others, as is typical. The decision upholds rulings by lower federal courts that upheld the state law. Andrew Matthews, executive director of the state police union, said the decision is going to have a chilling effect. Proponents of the 2020 law, which included many other reforms, said it answered the calls for reform, including accountability and transparency, after the police killings of George Floyd and other Black people.
Wilmington: Elevated lead levels in water were found at nearly 50 schools, prompting the Delaware Division of Public Health to advise shutting off at least one school’s drinking water supply in New Castle. Water samples were taken from 25 locations at the Wallace Wallin School in the Colonial School District last year and on multiple occasions throughout the summer, with all but three coming back with elevated lead levels. The results prompted the school to shut off its drinking water supply throughout the building at the beginning of the school year and utilize bottled water while the state continues to test the water quality and determine a plan for remediation, said Ted Lambert, director of facilities for the school district. The Wallin School is one of 47 schools across the state that tested positive for elevated levels of lead, according to results released by the state last month. Wallin’s highest results were over 12 times the maximum acceptable level in a staff break room. Lead levels from a water fountain outside a classroom at the school came back nine times higher than acceptable levels. According to federal standards, acceptable levels of lead in water must be lower than 0.015 milligrams per liter; however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes says there is no safe blood level for young children.
District of Columbia
Washington: With an ambitious goal of ending generations of racial discrimination, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a plan Monday to boost Black homeownership, hoping to place 20,000 families into their own homes by 2030, WUSA-TV reports. “We know we want to add more homes, but we want to be intentional about making sure people can afford those,” Bowser said in the announcement at the Howard Theatre. According to a report gathered by the Black Homeownership Strike Force, only 34% of D.C.’s Black residents owned their own homes in 2019, compared to 49% of white residents. The task force pointed to a history of discriminatory practices that have prevented Black families from attaining property and generational wealth. Bowser’s plan attempts to correct both. “These recommendations are ambitious but are imminently doable if we all work together,” said Vanessa Perry with the Housing Finance Policy Center. The task force issued 10 recommendations including using the mayor’s allotted $10 million down payment to help families buy and maintain homes and rezoning neighborhoods to allow for more multifamily housing. “I am standing before you as a testament that homeownership is possible,” Brittney Freeman told the crowd at the Howard. “I am indeed my ancestors wildest dreams.”
Polk City: A 21-year-old deputy appears to have been fatally shot by friendly fire from deputies with whom he was serving a warrant in central Florida early Tuesday, authorities said. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that Deputy Blane Lane was shot in the left arm and chest at a trailer in Polk City while serving a warrant with three other deputies on a suspect wanted for failing to appear on a felony drug charge. Shots were fired after deputies discovered the suspect with what appeared to be a handgun pointed at them but actually was a BB gun. Two of the deputies fired their guns, and “the round that struck Lane came from one of their firearms,” the sheriff’s office statement said. The deputy, who Sheriff Grady Judd described as one of the youngest on the force, was taken to a hospital, where he died “despite valiant efforts,” the sheriff said. The suspect, Cheryl William, also was hit multiple times. She was taken to a hospital where she was in stable condition. She faces a felony second-degree murder charge, among other charges, the sheriff’s office said. The sheriff’s office planned to hold a line-of-duty death funeral with full law enforcement honors for Lane.
Atlanta: The prosecutor investigating whether ex-President Donald Trump and his allies broke the law trying to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state is seeking search warrants in the case, a sign that the wide-ranging probe has entered a new phase. The revelation came Monday in a court order filed by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who’s overseeing the special grand jury seated to help the investigation. In an order sealing any search warrants and related documents from being made public, McBurney wrote that District Attorney Fani Willis’ office is “now seeking to obtain and execute a series of search warrants, the affidavits for which are predicated on sensitive information acquired during the investigation.” Disclosure of the information could compromise the investigation, McBurney wrote, “by, among other things, causing flight from prosecution, destruction of or tampering with evidence, and intimidation of potential witnesses.” It could also result in risks to the “safety and well-being” of people involved in the investigation, he wrote. It wasn’t immediately clear who the targets of the search warrants are or whether any search warrants had yet to be approved by a judge.
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam: The commander of the task force responsible for draining fuel from a World War II-era storage tank facility that leaked jet fuel and poisoned Pearl Harbor’s tap water last year said Monday that he’s exploring ways to get community feedback. Rear Adm. John Wade told reporters at a news conference he may establish an advisory group, but he’s not sure yet what form it will take. He said getting input from the community will help him be more responsive. He said Hawaii’s elected officials told military leaders that it would be valuable for them to give the community a voice in their work. “I don’t have the structure yet. It’s still a work in progress, but I think it’s something that’s important,” said Wade, the commander of Joint Task Force Red Hill. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Wade’s appointment last month. In November, jet fuel spilled from a drain line at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, flowing into a drinking water well and then into the Navy’s water system serving 93,000 people in and around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Nearly 6,000 sought medical attention for ailments like nausea, headaches and sores. The military put about 4,000 families in hotels for several months. Wade said he’s started reaching out to Hawaii’s congressional delegation and other local leaders.
Boise: A federal judge has ordered the state and its prison medical care provider to pay more than $2.5 million in legal fees to a transgender inmate who sued after she was denied gender confirmation surgery. The cost, however, will not come out of taxpayer dollars. Instead, it will be covered by Corizon Correctional Healthcare under a separate agreement with the state. Adree Edmo sued the state and the Idaho Department of Correction’s health care provider, Corizon, in 2017, alleging they were violating her Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment by denying her gender confirmation surgery. Edmo identifies as female, but she had long been housed in the men’s prison while she served a 10-year sentence for sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy. In her lawsuit, she asked a judge to order the state to allow her to change her name, provide her with access to gender-appropriate clothing, transfer her to a women’s correctional facility and provide her with gender-confirmation surgery. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled in 2018 that the state must provide Edmo with the surgery and said that continuing to deny the treatment would place her at risk of irreparable harm. The state appealed Winmill’s ruling, and it was two more years before she received the gender confirmation surgery, becoming the second person in the U.S. to undergo the surgery while incarcerated. She was transferred to a women’s prison to serve the remainder of her sentence and was released in 2021.
Chicago: A Cook County judge on Monday threw out convictions for eight more people whose cases were linked to a notorious former Chicago police sergeant who regularly framed people for drug crimes they didn’t commit. Judge Erica Reddick vacated the convictions and sentences of the men in response to motions filed jointly by their attorneys and the Cook County State’s Attorney Office. The action followed the dismissal of 44 convictions in April and brought to 237 the number of vacated convictions in recent years linked to former Sgt. Ronald Watts and his tactical unit, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said. Watts, a Black sergeant, led a team that for nearly a decade until 2012 planted drugs or falsely accused residents of a public housing complex and others who were visiting or simply happened to be in the area. Watts and another officer pleaded guilty in 2013 to stealing money from an FBI informant. Watts received a 22-month prison sentence. “Vacating these convictions provides just a fraction of relief for those who spent time in prison, away from their families, and we will never be able to give them that time back,” Foxx said. “We will continue to review these cases as we seek justice for all his victims.”
Indianapolis: At the start of the pandemic, the number of people killed in homicides across the state as a result of domestic violence jumped 180%, as shutdowns and stay-at-home orders sometimes led to unintended consequences such as locking people in with their abuser. But while businesses, schools and workplaces have reopened, and building capacities have returned to normal, experts say domestic violence homicides have not decreased as much as they expected. In the past decade, Indiana has averaged 55 to 60 deaths from domestic violence annually, according to the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. From June 2020 to July 2021, domestic violence homicides jumped to 98. The coalition tracks such deaths through news media and advocacy organizations that report when a person dies as a result of domestic violence. It often means the numbers are much lower than reality, which makes the rising number of deaths recorded in the past two years more concerning. The coalition’s latest data show there hasn’t been a corresponding reduction in homicides from domestic violence as shelters returned to full capacity and social distancing requirements loosened. Seventy-seven people from 2021 from late June this year died in Indiana from domestic violence.
Des Moines: A state board on Monday rejected claims for $1 million payments for 52 prison inmates who were given six times the proper dose of COVID-19 vaccines last year. The three-member State Appeals Board, which considers state legal financial obligations, unanimously denied the claims from inmates who received the extra doses in April 2021. The 52 inmates who each sought a $1 million payment were among 77 prisoners at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison who had been given overdoses of the Pfizer vaccine by prison nursing staff. The board – made up of State Auditor Rob Sand, State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and Iowa Department of Management Director Kraig Paulsen – accepted the recommendation of the Iowa attorney general’s office lawyers to reject the claims. The lawyers advised that under the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, “the state is immune from claims arising out of administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.” The mistaken doses occurred after the vaccine was delivered in concentrate form that was supposed to be diluted with saline solution. Two nurses were fired after the incident. A spokesman for the union representing prison staff said the overdoses happened after the prison abruptly switched from using the Moderna vaccine to the Pfizer version.
Topeka: Enrollment in the state’s public universities and colleges is on a downward trend that started before COVID-19 but surged as more teenagers have pursued other options after high school. Headcount enrollment, or the raw number of individual students across the Kansas Board of Regents system, decreased by 1% overall, according to the Regents’ count released Thursday. Meanwhile, full-time equivalent enrollment – calculated by dividing the total number of credit hours taken by 15 hours for undergraduates and 15 for graduate students – fell by a slightly lower amount of 0.9%. In a statement, Regents chair Jon Rolph, Wichita CEO of the Thrive Restaurant Group, said the board acknowledges the declines but is working as a system to reverse the trend. “Our system is taking decisive action to reverse declining enrollments, better serve students and ensure that our state has the workforce needed to grow the Kansas economy,” Rolph said. “Initiatives such as our general education package and implementation of student success initiatives will help our system serve and graduate more students.”
Louisville: While the battle over a voter referendum that will determine the future of abortion rights in Kentucky has drawn considerable attention, it is not the only constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall that could have a large political impact on the future of the state. Constitutional Amendment 1 is a rather lengthy, 744-word ballot referendum that essentially would give more power to the General Assembly – letting legislators call themselves into a special session and potentially extending regular sessions to end later in the year. Currently, only a governor can call legislators into a special session, in which they may pass bills that are within the parameters set by the governor. The Republican supermajority that pushed for the ballot referendum wants to be able to initiate special sessions with legislation of their choosing, while Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear wants to retain this power in the governor’s office. Under the proposed amendment, the Legislature could be called into a special session by a joint proclamation of the House speaker and Senate president, though they could only meet for a maximum of 12 days per calendar year in such sessions. Kentucky is one of just 14 states in which only the governor can call the legislature into a special session.
New Orleans: An outspoken Christian conservative attorney has asked a federal appeals court to revive a pastor’s damage claims against state officials over long-expired COVID-19 restrictions. A federal judge this year dismissed minister Tony Spell’s lawsuit against Gov. John Bel Edwards and others over enforcement of the ban. Spell drew national attention for his flouting of the restrictions early in the pandemic at his church in Central, near Baton Rouge. One of Spell’s attorneys is Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court justice and U.S. Senate candidate, who insisted in arguments this week before a panel of judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the state had no authority whatsoever to restrict church gatherings. Panel members appeared skeptical of that claim in arguments Monday. But they raised the question of whether Spell’s church was unfairly restricted, compared with other public gathering places, such as shopping mall food courts. “They have treated us differently,” Moore said. “But the basis of our argument is there is no jurisdiction to limit a church attendance.” Spell has had some legal victories in his fight with the state. Louisiana’s Supreme Court threw out state charges against him in May, ruling 5-2 that restrictions in place at the time violated Spell’s freedom of religion.
Kennebunkport: The Kennebunkport Heritage Housing Trust, a local nonprofit organization whose mission is to build 25 affordable or “attainable” homes in town by 2025, has completed one neighborhood and is now actively seeking properties on which to build a second and third, according to Executive Director Larissa Crockett. Heritage Woods, the completed neighborhood, includes six new homes, all purchased and now occupied. One morning last month, Crockett stood on Briggs Way – named after Patrick Briggs, the president of KHHT – and said the new homes there are designed to accommodate the way people live today. “Inside, they have really bright, open, sunny, airy, shared spaces,” she said, looking at the duplexes and single homes in view. Tanya Alsberg and Jennifer Armstrong are an example of two people whom KHHT has helped attain their own home in Kennebunkport. In April 2021, Alsberg and Armstrong stood at the edge of an excavated, gravel-filled hole and dreamed. Now, at the very same site, they live in their own home, thanks to KHHT. They bought and moved into the place in February. “We’re kind of crazily happy,” Alsberg said. “Every single day, we do the happy dance. Now that we’re here, it has changed our lives. ... It’s a lovely home.”
Baltimore: A Johns Hopkins University scientist who created a website to track COVID-19 cases worldwide is the recipient of this year’s Lasker award for public service. The $250,000 awards, announced last week by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, recognize achievements in medical research. The public service award went to Lauren Gardner, an engineer who studies the spread of diseases. She worked with her lab team to develop the COVID-19 tracker as the coronavirus began spreading worldwide in January 2020. The dashboard became a key resource and now tracks global cases, deaths, vaccines and more. Through it all, the team has made the tracker freely available to the public. The dashboard set “a new standard for public health data science” and helped inform both personal decisions and policy, the Lasker Foundation said in a release.
Boston: A former Northeastern University employee who said he was injured when a package he was opening on campus exploded last month was charged Tuesday with fabricating the incident. Jason Duhaime, formerly the new technology manager and director of the university’s Immersive Media Lab, was charged with “conveying false and misleading information related to an explosive device” and then lying to federal investigators, federal authorities said. “This alleged conduct is disturbing to say the least,” U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said at a news conference. “Our city, more than most, knows all too well that a report or threat of an explosion is a very serious matter and necessitates an immediate and significant law enforcement response, given the potential devastation that can ensue.” Duhaime told investigators the hard plastic case exploded when he opened it Sept. 13, causing “sharp” objects to fly from the case and injure his arms, but his arms only had superficial marks, and there was no damage to his shirt or signs the case had been near an explosion, investigators said. The case also contained a rambling yet “pristine” typed note full of misspellings and exclamation points that railed against virtual reality, referenced Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and threatened to “destroy” the lab. And investigators found a word-for-word electronic copy stored in a backup folder on a university computer in Duhaime’s office – written just hours before he called 911.
Lansing: A judge dismissed charges Tuesday against seven people in the Flint water scandal, including two former state health officials blamed for deaths from Legionnaires’ disease. Judge Elizabeth Kelly took action three months after the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously said a different judge acting as a one-person grand jury had no authority to issue indictments. Kelly rejected efforts by the attorney general’s office to just send the cases to Flint District Court and turn them into criminal complaints, the typical path to filing felony charges in Michigan. “Simply put, there are no valid charges,” Kelly said. Kelly’s decision doesn’t affect former Gov. Rick Snyder because he was charged with misdemeanors, and his case is being handled by a judge in a different Flint court. But he, too, was indicted in a process declared invalid by the state Supreme Court. In 2014, Flint managers appointed by Snyder took the city out of a regional water system and began using the Flint River to save money while a new pipeline to Lake Huron was being built. But the river water wasn’t treated to reduce its corrosive qualities. Lead broke off from old pipes and contaminated the system for more than a year. Separately, the water was blamed for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which typically spreads through heating and cooling systems.
Minneapolis: Two of the four former police officers who were convicted of violating George Floyd’s civil rights during the May 2020 restraint that killed him were scheduled to begin serving their federal sentences Tuesday. The Bureau of Prisons typically would assign J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao to a federal facility, but authorities had not publicly said where they would go. They are scheduled to go to trial on state charges of aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter later this month. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office said it anticipated Kueng and Thao would be transferred into its custody for the trial, but further specifics were not provided for security reasons. Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill issued an order Monday saying the sheriff’s office must provide the men with access to three sets of clothing for the trial – as well as for two hearings scheduled for later this week – further suggesting that they will be in local custody. Kueng, Thao and Lane were convicted earlier this year of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care as the 46-year-old Black man was pinned under former Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee for 91/2minutes while handcuffed and facedown on the street. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back, Lane held his legs, and Thao kept bystanders back.
Columbus: Forty years after Mississippi University for Women started enrolling men, its president says the school should consider choosing a more inclusive name. Previous attempts to remove “women” from the name, including the most recent one in 2009, have brought strong backlash from alumni of the school, nicknamed the W. Men make up about 18% of the 2,700 students at MUW. In a letter to alumni, President Nora Miller said the university is creating a task force to examine a name change, the Commercial Dispatch reports. Miller said she received a letter in May from the Deans Council at the university, acknowledging the current name presents “challenges.” “I assure you, no matter what happens, we maintain our historic commitment to academic and leadership development for women, forever embracing our status as the first state-supported college for women in the United States,” Miller wrote in the letter sent Sept. 28. The president of MUW in 2009, Claudia Limbert, proposed changing the name to Reneau University to honor Sallie Reneau, who wrote to the Mississippi governor in the mid-19th century to propose a public college for women. That renaming effort fizzled amid opposition from outspoken graduates.
Columbia: A $40 million tax credit package for farmers and other agricultural businesses neared passage Monday, when a committee voted to send the bill to the full state Senate. The bill was expected to come up for a final Senate vote Tuesday. The measure extends several agricultural tax credits that expired and creates some new tax credits, including breaks for gas stations that sell biodiesel and fuel with a higher percentage of ethanol. The legislation also would expand government loan programs for farmers in the state. The Republican-led Missouri Legislature passed a bill with similar provisions during the regular legislative session this year, which ended in May. But GOP Gov. Mike Parson vetoed the measure, citing a two-year sunset attached to the tax credits that he said was too short. He also said the bill unconstitutionally included a provision on recycled asphalt shingles, violating a rule against including multiple topics in the same legislation. Parson called a special session – primarily focused on cutting individual income taxes in the state – and tasked lawmakers with extending the agricultural tax breaks for at least six years. Lawmakers last week sent Parson a bill to cut individual income taxes from 5.3% to 4.95% beginning next year.
Billings: A judge struck down as unconstitutional three laws that restricted voting in the state, saying there was no evidence of the widespread voter fraud that the 2021 Republican-sponsored laws ostensibly were targeting. The laws ended same-day voter registration, imposed new identification requirements on students and restricted third-party ballot collections. The restrictions were put on hold in April under a temporary injunction later upheld by the Montana Supreme Court. Election officials declined to say if they would appeal the latest ruling to the state high court. And with the election just over a month away, it’s uncertain if justices would render a decision before Nov. 8. Native American tribes that sued over the laws argued the student ID and ballot collection measures would hurt voters on remote reservations, where many people live far from polling places and are dealing with poverty and other challenges. Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, who oversees elections in the state, requested the voting measures last year as Republicans around the country changed voting laws in the wake of the November 2020 election. The moves followed claims made by ex-President Donald Trump and parroted by his supporters that the election was stolen.
Halsey: Progress has been made in containing a large Sandhills wildfire where one firefighter died while fighting the flames, which also destroyed much of a popular youth campsite and threatened a small village, officials said Tuesday. The Bovee Fire in west-central Nebraska’s remote Thomas County was 30% contained Tuesday morning, according to a statement from the Rocky Mountain Complex Incident Management Team, which has taken over management of the scene. Favorable weather conditions, including high humidity, temperatures in the 60s and some rainfall, are helping fire crews contain the grasslands blaze that was sparked Sunday afternoon and ballooned to 15,000 acres, or about 24 square miles, within six hours. The fire destroyed the main lodge and cabins of the Nebraska State 4-H Camp, as well as an observation tower in the Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest. Purdum Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Mike Moody died Sunday after suffering an apparent heart attack while battling the fire, officials said. Officials ordered the evacuation of the nearby village of Halsey and shut down a stretch of Nebraska Highway 2 as smoke from the fire cut visibility. The highway was reopened by Monday. Officials have said the fire was “human-caused” but have not released details.
Las Vegas: A $20,000 reward is now being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever killed five wild horses in eastern Nevada late last year, the Bureau of Land Management announced Monday. BLM officials said the National Mustang Association pledged to double the previous $10,000 reward in the case. Authorities said five mortally wounded horses were discovered Nov. 16 in Jakes Valley, about 30 miles west of Ely. They said the horses all were located within 600 yards of each other about 2 miles south of U.S. Highway 50, and an aborted fetus was attached to one of the dead animals. The BLM is investigating and prosecuting the killings as part of the enforcement of the Wild Horses and Burro Act of 1971.
Concord: The state has resumed COVID-19 mobile vaccination clinics and a home-based vaccination program. “As we move into the fall and winter, we want to make sure everyone has access to the updated COVID-19 booster doses that better protect against the most recently circulating COVID-19 variants,” Patricia Tilley, the state’s director of Public Health Services, said in a statement Tuesday. Three mobile vaccination vans are available to provide free COVID-19 inoculations, both primary series and updated booster doses. Public and private clinics will be available statewide. The home-based program visits any part of the state to provide free COVID-19 vaccines and booster doses to those individuals who are unable or have difficulty leaving their home or have been advised by a medical provider that their health or an illness could worsen by leaving their home. The programs are funded through the American Rescue Plan and will run through March 2023. Groups can schedule a mobile vaccination clinic at on-sitemedservices.com/van or by calling (603) 826-6500, and residents can make an appointment for a home-based COVID-19 vaccine or a booster dose at on-sitemedservices.com/vaccine or by calling (603) 826-6500.
Trenton: The Assembly approved a revised version of a state child tax credit Monday, fixing an error in the legislation that would have delayed payments for two years. The Legislature passed the program in June, and Gov. Phil Murphy signed it into law, providing a refundable credit of up to $500 per year for each child under the age of 6. The program was a response by Democrats to soaring costs of living and closer-than-expected state elections last fall. But a drafting error in the initial legislation meant the credit could not be claimed until the end of the 2023 tax year, and families would not get the benefit until 2024. Monday’s vote by the Assembly moved the eligible tax year forward, so the credit will be available next year. The state Senate approved the fix last week. The program will cost the state $135 million to $156 million annually, according to a state fiscal analysis released last week. The credit is $500 per child for families earning up to $30,000 a year. The benefit decreases by $10 for every $1,000 increase in yearly family income, until it reaches a minimum of $300 per child for a household earning up to $80,000, according to the legislation.
Las Cruces: Pete’s Most Wanted Salsa, a new product bearing the image of New Mexico State University mascot Pistol Pete, celebrated its launch last week with a party at La Posta de Mesilla, and the university says more branded products will soon be joining a growing family of licensed NMSU merchandise. “There’s a realm of possibilities out there, and as long as it’s a good-quality product, I don’t see why this thing won’t keep expanding,” NMSU athletics director Mario Moccia said. Sales of NMSU-licensed beer, wine and whiskey are reportedly robust. Precise data was unavailable, but non-apparel licensed products – including the alcoholic products but also its other consumable and non-consumable items such as lawn chairs and tents – totaled approximately $116,700 in the last fiscal year. And the university’s licensing company stated in a recent report that NMSU ranked second among college institutions with licensed alcoholic products, including the first collegiate-branded spirit, Pistol Pete’s Six Shooter Rye Whiskey. Moreover, NMSU ranked fifth in sales of consumable licensed products among colleges and universities, according to the Collegiate Licensing Company/Learfield Licensing Partners, which licenses university-branded products
New York: Giant tents for temporarily housing migrants arriving in the city are being moved to an island off Manhattan from a remote corner of the Bronx, after storms raised concerns about flooding at the original site. Mayor Eric Adams announced Monday that the city’s humanitarian relief center will now be on Randall’s Island, which sits in the waters between Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. It’s connected by five bridges to the three boroughs, and people can take buses or walk off the island to reach the city’s subway system. The center’s tents had been put up in a parking lot at Orchard Beach, in the northeast part of the Bronx on Long Island Sound, where access to public transportation is limited. Images online showed water ponding at the site following rainfall over the weekend. In a statement announcing the change, Adams said while the city could have made the original location work, moving the center “is the most efficient and effective path forward.” The city’s plan for Orchard Beach had been met with concern by immigration advocates, who cited its inaccessibility among other reasons, and that concern extended to the new location. “The city must look to other solutions instead of tent cities, where our clients will be isolated, vulnerable to extreme weather, and far from public transportation and other critical services,” the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless said in a statement issued Tuesday.
Raleigh: The State Board of Elections directed county election officials Monday not to engage in signature matching when reviewing absentee ballot envelopes this fall after a judge rejected the GOP appeal of a state board ruling prohibiting the practice. According to a directive sent to county election directors from the board’s legal counsel Paul Cox, the judge’s ruling maintains the status quo outlined in state law, which requires that all absentee voters fill out their ballots in the presence of two witnesses or a notary. Absentee ballot request forms in North Carolina must also include a date of birth and either a driver’s license number or the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number. The North Carolina Republican Party had filed motions in Wake County Superior Court last week, asking the court to block the state board from enforcing its declaratory ruling that prevented county election officials from comparing signatures on absentee ballot request forms and return envelopes with the signatures included in voter registration records. Superior Court Judge Stephan Futrell ruled from the bench Monday afternoon, denying the party’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preventing the use of signature matching in the 2022 general election, state board spokesperson Pat Gannon said.
Bismarck: A trial has been set in a federal lawsuit brought by two Native American tribes that allege the state’s new legislative map dilutes tribal members’ voting strength. The bench trial is scheduled for June 12, 2023. A bench trial means the verdict is up to the judge alone. The lawsuit filed in February by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the Spirit Lake Tribe alleges that North Dakota’s new legislative map violates the Voting Rights Act. The Legislature during its special session last fall approved the map, based on updated census data. The map includes the new state House subdistricts for the Fort Berthold and Turtle Mountain Indian reservations. Turtle Mountain argues the split House district “packs” tribal members into a single subdistrict on its reservation, while diluting their vote in the non-reservation subdistrict. Spirit Lake alleges the new redistricting map dilutes American Indian voters on and near its reservation. A federal judge in July dismissed the state’s argument that the tribes lacked the standing to sue. Tim Purdon, an attorney for the tribes, said about half of the 14-member GOP-led redistricting committee will be called as witnesses in the trial. He would not name them.
Cincinnati: The nation was shocked when a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim was forced to obtain an abortion in Indiana after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. But in the months since, court records detailed at least two other minors who traveled out of state for abortions because Ohio banned doctors from performing the procedure after cardiac activity was detected. New data from the Ohio Department of Health offers some insight: In 2021, 538 children ages 17 and younger legally obtained abortions in Ohio, including 57 who were younger than 15 years old. That represents 2.5% of the 21,813 abortions performed in Ohio last year. The state does not track how many abortions were performed on victims of rape and incest. The age of consent in Ohio is 16 years old. The Ohio Department of Health report offered a snapshot of abortion access in Ohio before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and the state’s six-week ban took effect. The “heartbeat bill” is now on hold, blocked temporarily by a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge. The number of abortions performed in Ohio increased by nearly 6% in 2021, the second year in a row of increased abortions. Of the 21,813 abortions performed in 2021, 20,716 were for Ohio residents, and 1,097 people came from other states.
Oklahoma City: The state Department of Human Services has implemented a 25% rate increase for providers who work with some of Oklahoma’s most vulnerable individuals as part of the agency’s push to eliminate its 13-year waiting list for developmental disability services. DHS on Saturday bumped its provider reimbursement rates to increase pay for a variety of medical professionals, including nurses, speech therapists, group home employees, direct care staffers who help developmentally disabled Oklahomans, and those who help low-income seniors. An official from a Sallisaw-based provider that serves Oklahomans with intellectual and developmental disabilities said this is the largest one-time rate increase nationally. Sheree Powell, government liaison at Sequoyah Enterprises Inc., said the reimbursement rate increase is key for providers to recruit and retain the best employees as businesses across the state have increased wages due to the pandemic and related worker shortage. The Legislature this year earmarked $32.5 million in new appropriations for DHS to clear its developmental disability services waiting list. Roughly one-third of that funding will go toward the provider rate increase. The boost brings hourly wages from about $9.50 to $12, DHS Interim Chief of Staff Samantha Galloway said.
Salem: A jury has awarded a racial justice demonstrator more than $1 million in a federal lawsuit she filed against the city in 2020 accusing officers of violating her civil rights. Eleaqia McCrae, a Black woman, sued the city and the police department, accusing police of intentionally targeting Black people with deadly force during the protest, which followed the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police officers in May 2020. The jury found McCrae proved that Officer Robert Johnston shot her in the eye and chest with rubber bullets and violated her “Fourth Amendment right not to be subjected to excessive force.” McCrae said the bullets caused permanent vision loss and a chest injury. The jury also found she did not prove by “preponderance of the evidence” that Johnston violated her First Amendment right to lawful assembly or that he committed battery against her. She was awarded $250,000 in economic loss and $800,000 in non-economic loss, the jury verdict documents said. McCrae’s attorney, Kevin Brague, said in the lawsuit that McCrae attended a demonstration May 31, 2020, and after nightfall, people unrelated to the march arrived and began throwing objects. McCrae said she, her sister and a friend were kneeling at the front of the march when she was shot twice.
Philadelphia: A judge has barred enforcement of an executive order signed by Mayor Jim Kenney last week banning guns and deadly weapons from the city’s indoor and outdoor recreation spaces, including parks, basketball courts and pools. Common Pleas Judge Joshua Roberts on Monday ordered Philadelphia “permanently enjoined” from enforcing the order after a legal challenge, citing Pennsylvania state law that prohibits any city or county from passing gun-control measures, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The Gun Owners of America, on behalf of several state residents, filed a lawsuit immediately after Kenny’s order, the latest attempt by Philadelphia officials to regulate guns inside city limits. Attorneys for the city had cited its role as a property owner managing its facilities, saying that distinguished the order from previous legislation passed by the City Council and struck down in court. Andrew Austin, who represents the plaintiffs, said in a statement that he was gratified by the court’s quick action. But he said it was “in large part because the law is so explicit: The city is not allowed to regulate possession of firearms in any manner.” “It is unfortunate that the mayor and city are willing to waste their time and taxpayer money on these type of ‘feel-good’ measures,” Austin said.
Providence: With the “Superman Building” as a backdrop and an unsheltered woman surrounded by her belongings just yards away, more than 50 protesters gathered at Burnside Park on Monday to demand that Gov. Dan McKee declare a state of emergency and take more action to provide immediate shelter to Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness. “It’s your friends. It’s your neighbors. It’s your relatives. These people are not a separate category of human beings. They’re people who need help,” said Eric Hirsch, a Providence College professor who’s spent three decades advocating for people without housing. At last count, there were 405 people living without shelter in the state, not factoring in others who are staying with family and friends, said Hirsch, co-chair of the state’s Homeless Management Information System Steering Committee. The protest came as McKee and state Secretary of Housing Josh Saal participated in Crossroads Rhode Island’s Celebration of Housing to highlight “record investments in housing.” The event touted $12 million in state and federal money for the development of Crossroads’ Summer Street Apartments in Providence, a 176-apartment complex that will provide current residents of the Crossroads Tower with one-bedroom units that include private bathrooms and full kitchens.
Greenville: Every year, law enforcement agencies across the state turn in crime data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on a voluntary basis. The optional nature of this self-reporting can leave gaps when comparing crime data from the FBI to local agencies. “You likely have seen news stories where a crime was solved or an investigation was supported or a missing person was found. It was a crime analyst who connected those dots,” said Michele Covington, executive director of USC Upstate’s Greenville programs and an associate professor of criminal justice. “When you see crime trends, and an agency is able to trend downwards, there’s usually an analyst behind that.” The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on the U.S. criminal justice system, compiled a report of which agencies fully reported, partially reported, or neglected to report crime data for the 2021 calendar year. Eighty-five percent of South Carolinians saw their jurisdictional law enforcement agency fully report 12 months of 2021 crime statistics to the FBI, despite only 30% of agencies in the state fully reporting. The largest agencies in the state by population coverage not to fully report were the York County Sheriff’s Office, Charleston Police Department and Aiken County Sheriff’s Office. Most of the major agencies missing data were located in the Midlands and Lowcountry.
Sioux Falls: Native Americans who plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter in South Dakota receive on average 11 years longer in prison than their white counterparts, according to an analysis and investigation of court records spanning 10 years. But prosecutors and judges called into question the sample size and said several factors go into sentencing decisions, such as criminal histories and the specific nature of the crime. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader pulled data from the South Dakota Unified Judicial System, filtering by charged convictions made by offenders who were Native American. The data only captures those who pleaded guilty and/or avoided a trial, reflecting the majority of convictions in the state during the past decade. The data also excludes those who were given life sentences. A total of 84 offenders pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in South Dakota during the past 10 years, according to the data. Of those cases, 44% were white, 32% were Native American, 16% were Black, and 7% were Hispanic or Latino. Four of the 84 received a life sentence, according to the data. None of the four were Native American. White people convicted of first-degree manslaughter on average were sentenced to 35 years in prison, Native Americans to 46, Black people to 40 years and Hispanics to 42.
Nashville: The snail darter, a tiny fish that derailed a federal dam during an epic battle over Endangered Species Act protection in the 1970s, is no longer considered imperiled, officials announced Tuesday. The fish held up construction of the Tellico Dam in Tennessee for more than two years as biologists and others fought to protect its only known habitat, the free-flowing Little Tennessee River. The battle, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court and beyond, is still sometimes cited as an example of environmentalist overreach, although the reality is much more complicated. The dam eventually was built, with snail darters collected and transplanted into other rivers. They were also later discovered in several additional streams. Snail darters went from being considered an endangered species in 1975 to a threatened species in 1984 as they continued to recover. Three years ago, the Center for Biological Diversity, Jim Williams and Zygmunt Plater petitioned to remove the fish from federal protection altogether. Williams is the biologist who listed the snail darter as endangered. Plater is the attorney who sued to protect it. The U.S. Department of the Interior on Tuesday announced the snail darter’s official removal from the federal list of threatened and endangered wildlife.
Dallas: A man accused of killing 22 elderly women in the Dallas area and stealing jewelry and valuables has been linked by DNA evidence to one of the deaths, a prosecutor said Monday. Billy Chemirmir, 49, is on trial for capital murder in the death of 87-year-old Mary Brooks. It’s Chemirmir’s third trial. His first trial, in the smothering death of 81-year-old Lu Thi Harris, ended in a mistrial last November when the jury deadlocked. He was retried and found guilty in April and sentenced to life without parole. If convicted in Brooks’ death, he’ll receive a second sentence of life without parole. Prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin said in opening statements that while presenting evidence in the deaths of Brooks and Harris, he would also show that DNA links Chemirmir to the death of 80-year-old Martha Williams. Chemirmir has maintained his innocence. His attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf Monday but declined to make an opening statement. His arrest was set in motion in March 2018 when Mary Annis Bartel – 91 at the time – told police that a man had forced his way into her apartment at an independent living community for seniors, tried to smother her with a pillow and took her jewelry.
St. George: Five years after they allegedly snuck into a pig farm and recorded video of themselves smuggling two piglets away from what they said were inhumane living conditions, two animal rights activists are set to face a jury trial this week despite protests about a mistake made during Monday’s jury selection process. Wayne Hsiung and Paul Darwin Picklesimer, the two remaining defendants facing charges from the 2017 incident, could face more than 10 years in prison on charges of felony burglary and theft. They were part of a group of five people who reportedly recorded a series of disturbing videos at Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah, where owner Smithfield Foods was operating one of the country’s largest pig farms. The other three people charged in the case struck plea deals earlier, but Hsiung and Picklesimer pursued their cases, saying they hoped they could raise awareness about animal cruelty at factory farms and potentially set new precedent if a jury determined they were justified in taking the piglets because they feared for the animals’ lives. Jury selection in the trial was set to start Monday at the 5th District Courthouse, but there was controversy even before the trial could begin after defense lawyers protested they had not received information on prospective jurors and asked for a mistrial.
St. Albans: The state Health Department has confirmed five cases of Legionnaire’s disease in Franklin County, including one death, but the source of the infection is unknown, it said Tuesday. The cases were reported between Aug. 12 and Aug. 29 and appear to be clustered in the St. Albans area, the department said. The death was in a person in their 70s, it said. The general risk to residents is very low: Most healthy people exposed to the bacteria do not get sick, the Health Department said. The disease can be treated with antibiotics. Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria. Air-conditioning units for large buildings, hot tubs, cooling misters, decorative fountains or plumbing systems are common sources of infection, officials said. Symptoms, which start two to 14 days after exposure, can include a cough, muscle aches, fever, shortness of breath and headache, the department said. The disease is not contagious and almost never spreads from human to human, the department said. People with symptoms who live or work in Franklin County are encouraged to contact a health care professional. Those age 50 and older who smoke or formerly smoked, have chronic lung disease, or have a weakened immune system are at increased risk of serious illness.
Charlottesville: Higher prices at the grocery store mean more and more people in the area are relying on food banks to feed themselves and their families. The Thomas Jefferson Area Food Bank has been packed, its warehouse holding rows of pallets of canned goods stacked to be packed into kits for seniors or distributed to members of the community who need emergency food. As of late, it’s also held lines of people. “This is the one day this week where it hasn’t been crowded,” said the food bank’s partner engagement manager, Joe Kreiter. Rising food costs are being blamed. Prices swelled 11.4% between August 2021 and August 2022, according to the most recent Consumer Price Index report Michael McKee, CEO of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which partners with the Thomas Jefferson Area branch, said the organization served 110,000 people in July, an increase from 106,000 in June. He expects the upward trend to continue. High rent in Charlottesville and Albemarle County and a lack of affordable child care often leave little room in a family’s budget, McKee said. Single mothers, seniors and children are the three groups who depend on food-assistance programs the most. Food banks used to provide emergency food assistance, but they’ve become a regular source of food for low-income people, Kreiter said.
Seattle: Amazon has sued the state’s labor agency following disputes with regulators over citations and fines imposed on the company for worker safety issues. In the lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court for the Western District of Washington, Amazon asked a judge to prohibit orders from the Washington Department of Labor & Industries to remedy any types of workplace hazards during the company’s pending appeal over the citations. Amazon argued in the lawsuit that the agency has not proven any of its allegations and that requiring companies like it to remedy alleged hazards before that happens violates the due process protections under the 14th Amendment. Matt Ross, a spokesperson for the agency, said the department is aware of the lawsuit and will review it along with the state’s attorney general’s office. The agency had said in March it inspected an Amazon warehouse in Kent, Washington, and found workplace processes that “create a serious hazard for work-related back, shoulder, wrist, and knee injuries.” It said workers were expected to perform tasks, such as lifting and carrying items, at a fast pace that heightened the risk of injury. Amazon’s warehouse injury rate has been higher compared to other warehouses, which CEO Andy Jassy acknowledged earlier this year and said the company was attempting to improve.
Charleston: A voucher program that would provide parents state money to pull their children out of K-12 public schools is blatantly unconstitutional and would disproportionately affect poor children and those with disabilities, a lawyer representing parents who sued the state argued Tuesday in West Virginia’s Supreme Court. The Hope Scholarship Program, which was passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature last year and would have been one of the most far-reaching school choice programs in the country, “negatively and intentionally” impacts West Virginia’s system of free schools, lawyer Tamerlin Godley told justices during oral arguments. “It decreases enrollment and thus funding,” said Godley, who is representing two parents of children who receive special education supports in West Virginia public schools. “It utilizes public funding for subsidizing more affluent families that have chosen private and home-schooling, and it silos the poor and special needs children who cannot use the vouchers.” Signed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice last year, the program was set to go into effect this school year but was blocked by Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit in July.
Madison: The Republican-controlled Legislature took mere seconds Tuesday to reject Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ call to create a way for voters to get a chance to repeal the state’s 1849 abortion ban, even as Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson voiced support for letting the people decide the issue. The move by Evers is the latest by Democrats in the battleground state to turn the Nov. 8 election into a referendum on abortion. But Evers’ GOP opponent, Tim Michels, Johnson and other Republicans are focusing instead on crime and public safety in arguing that Democrats have failed to keep the state safe. “What people want to talk about (is) reducing crime, they want to talk about reducing inflation, they want to talk about getting more money in their pocket, and they want better schools in Wisconsin,” Michels said at a campaign stop in Baraboo when asked for his reaction to the Legislature’s action. A Marquette University Law School poll last month showed both the state’s governor and U.S. Senate races to be about even, while a majority of voters support abortion rights. The Wisconsin Senate convened for all of 15 seconds, to gavel in and adjourn, the special session called by Evers to pass a constitutional amendment that would create a pathway for an up-or-down vote on the state’s abortion ban.
Jackson: An owl at the Teton Raptor Center has tested positive for avian influenza, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reports. It’s the first case of the deadly disease this fall in Teton County, and the great horned owl was euthanized humanely, the center said in a statement.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deepening drought, fish sticks around: News from around our 50 states