Montgomery: The U.S. Department of Justice says conditions in the state’s prisons have not improved since the federal government warned three years ago of unconstitutional conditions that were noted in particular as deadly and dangerous for male inmates. The Justice Department last Friday filed an updated complaint in its ongoing lawsuit against Alabama over prison conditions. Federal officials wrote that violence remains unabated in facilities that are both overcrowded and “dangerously” understaffed. “In the two and a half years following the United States’ original notification to the State of Alabama of unconstitutional conditions of confinement, prisoners at Alabama’s Prisons for Men have continued daily to endure a high risk of death, physical violence, and sexual abuse at the hands of other prisoners,” the Justice Department wrote in the complaint signed by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. The lawsuit accuses the state of operating prisons where conditions are so poor they violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and it accuses officials of being deliberately indifferent to the situation. While Alabama has acknowledged problems in its prisons, the state is disputing Justice’s allegations of unconstitutional conditions and is fighting the lawsuit in court.
Anchorage: Dozens of West Point graduates have demanded state Rep. David Eastman resign from office over his ties to a right-wing extremist group, saying his affiliation has betrayed the values of the U.S. Military Academy he attended. A letter signed by 69 fellow West Point graduates was published in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman and called on Eastman to resign after his membership in the Oath Keepers became public, with another name added after publication. Eastman had previously confirmed to the Anchorage Daily News that he became a member of the organization shortly after it formed more than a decade ago. Ivan Hodes, who lives in Anchorage and authored the letter, served in the same military police battalion at Fort Richardson in Anchorage as Eastman. Hodes told the Anchorage Daily News he reached out to other West Point graduates because he was concerned the Wasilla Republican was violating his duties as a legislator. “It’s serving two masters,” he said. “You can’t be loyal to the U.S. government and the government of Alaska and at the same time belong to this militia.” Several members of Oath Keepers have been charged with crimes connected to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Eastman said he went to Washington that day to object to the Electoral College votes of several states confirming President Joe Biden’s election but didn’t participate in the demonstrations.
Flagstaff: Most springs and wells in a vast region of northern Arizona known for its high-grade uranium ore meet federal drinking water standards despite decades of uranium mining, U.S. scientists found. The highest concentrations of uranium were found at several sites downslope from an abandoned mine within Grand Canyon National Park. Further investigation is needed to determine if the contamination is directly linked to the Orphan Mine, the U.S. Geological Survey said. “The proximity of the mine to the spring, that’s our working hypothesis. We can’t say definitively. We need to look for other things,” said Fred Tillman, a research hydrologist for the USGS. The study released this month is part of an effort to better understand the complex geology and hydrology of a region where roughly 1,562 square miles outside the Grand Canyon were put off-limits to new mining claims until 2032. The Obama administration implemented the ban in 2012, partly out of concern that new mining operations could spoil the Colorado River that runs through the Grand Canyon. Companion bills in the U.S. House and Senate seek to make the withdrawal permanent. Near the Orphan Mine, uranium concentrations were up to 10 times higher in springs than what the Environmental Protection Agency deems safe for drinking, USGS found.
Bentonville: A rare first printing of the U.S. Constitution that sold for $43.2 million – a record price for a document or book sold at auction – is headed to the Land of Opportunity. The buyer, hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin, will loan the document to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville for public exhibition, Sotheby’s announced. Griffin, the founder and CEO of multinational hedge fund Citadel, outbid a group of 17,000 cryptocurrency enthusiasts from around the world who crowdfunded to buy it. “The U.S. Constitution is a sacred document that enshrines the rights of every American and all those who aspire to be,” Griffin said in a statement. “That is why I intend to ensure that this copy of our Constitution will be available for all Americans and visitors to view and appreciate in our museums and other public spaces.” Crystal Bridges opened in 2011 and was founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton. “We are honored to exhibit one of the most important documents in our nation’s history from our location in the heartland of America,” said Olivia Walton, chairperson of the museum’s board. The document Griffin purchased was one of 13 known copies of the first printing of the Constitution and one of only two in private hands. It was last sold in 1988, for $165,000.
Sacramento: State regulators haven’t approved permits for the controversial oil and gas extraction process known as fracking since February, effectively phasing out the process ahead of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2024 deadline to end it. The state’s Geologic Energy Management Division, known as CalGEM, has rejected an unprecedented 109 fracking permits in 2021, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. That’s the most denials the division has issued in a single year since California began permitting fracking in 2015. Fifty of the permits, mostly from Bakersfield-based Aera Energy, were denied based solely on climate change concerns. State oil and gas supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk wrote in a September letter to Aera that he could “not in good conscience” grant the permits “given the increasingly urgent climate effects of fossil-fuel production” and “the continuing impacts of climate change and hydraulic fracturing on public health and natural resources.” Newsom, a Democrat, called in 2020 for state lawmakers to ban the practice by 2024. But a proposal before lawmakers failed, leading Newsom to direct CalGEM to proceed with the timeline on its own. Kern County, where most fracking in the state occurs, and the Western States Petroleum Association have sued the state over the denials. A hearing in the Kern case is set for Monday, and the state must respond to WSPA’s lawsuit by Thursday.
Denver: The state paid more than $630,000 last year to a group of personal and business associates of Gov. Jared Polis that had ostensibly volunteered to help the state manage its way through the COVID-19 pandemic by tracking people’s movements, records show. Then, when that group’s work was done in late 2020, the state began paying another $1 million in a deal it gave to a startup company created by two people tied to the first group’s work, The Denver Gazette reports. Neither of the contracts was publicly bid; rather, they were the result of an executive order Polis issued in April 2020 declaring a disaster emergency that suspended state laws requiring bids on purchases relating to the pandemic, no matter the size of the contract. The state normally requires public bids for any contract over $150,000. State health officials defended the deals as valuable to their work battling the raging pandemic, but none offered an explanation for how they went from a public service to a public expense. Polis’ office said it “had no prior knowledge or involvement in this procurement decision and therefore has no comment.” When Citizen Software Engineers’ cellphone-tracking work became public – it was largely using the information to check whether Coloradans were social distancing at the outset of the pandemic – the nonprofit group was clear about its mission: to help deal with the crisis at little or no cost to taxpayers.
Hartford: A bipartisan committee of eight legislative leaders and one former lawmaker has voted unanimously for a new map that redraws the boundaries of the state Senate, accommodating the population growth that has occurred in the Stamford area. Tuesday’s vote came on the heels of last week’s unanimous approval of new boundaries for state House of Representatives districts. Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, credited the process with being a “truly bipartisan effort” that should be replicated across the U.S. “We didn’t always see eye to eye, but you know, that’s part of the process,” he said. “I think (the process) should be emulated throughout the country.” The same group is expected to seek an extension from the state Supreme Court of its Nov. 30 deadline so it can finish redrawing congressional district boundaries. Commission members said they need extra time because they received U.S. census data late due to the pandemic. Under the new Senate map, Stamford will now have three state senators instead of two representing it in the General Assembly. While most of the Senate districts across the state remained relatively unchanged, one that includes about 3,600 prisoners was slightly expanded to accommodate a new state law counting inmates where they lived before being incarcerated.
Wilmington: A veteran firefighter is accusing the Wilmington Fire Department of years of racial and religious discrimination that created a hostile work environment and failure to discipline the perpetrators, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court. On more than one occasion, high-ranking officials as well as other firefighters used racial epithets in conversation with or to insult veteran firefighter Corey Ferrell; played the “Aladdin theme song to plaintiff whenever he would go to pray”; and snuck pork products – which Ferrell cannot consume – in his coffee and turnout gear, according to the federal discrimination lawsuit filed against the city, its fire department and top officials Nov. 10. The city declined to comment, noting that the Law Department is reviewing the lawsuit. Ferrell was regularly subjected to racial slurs by other firefighters and senior management along with harassment over his religious beliefs, according to the suit. The 23-year veteran of the department is African American and a practicing Muslim. The department’s racial makeup is overwhelmingly white and male despite Wilmington’s population being nearly 60% Black or African American. According to the latest department staffing report, white male firefighters make up about 64% of the 162 total employees.
District of Columbia
Washington: The first person elected to D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission while behind bars is starting a new chapter, WUSA-TV reports. As Joel Castón was released from the D.C. jail on parole, after 27 years incarcerated, dozens of family members and supporters from the Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative welcomed him to freedom. After he was convicted of killing a teen in a parking lot in 1994 – he maintains he was wrongfully convicted – Castón became a worship leader, a financial literacy instructor and a mentor. He wrote a memoir and taught himself Mandarin and Arabic. Then, in June, the voters in ANC7F, mostly incarcerated people, elected him ANC commissioner. He was the first person incarcerated in the jail to be elected to public office in the district. “My platform will be used to restore the dignity of incarcerated people so that we will no longer be judged by our worst mistake,” he said in an interview during his campaign. “Imagine a single-member district, where every voice matters, every concern is heard, and every person is valued.” Castón will represent the jail, the women’s center and the luxury apartments across the street. The now 44-year-old said the first thing he wants to do is celebrate his mom, then get to work.
Fort Lauderdale: For more than 20 years, a line of German shepherds named Gunther has been presented in news stories as the wealthy beneficiaries of a German countess. The story appears to be a ruse created by Maurizio Mian, the scion of an Italian pharmaceutical company, who has used the tale of the globe-trotting canine to promote real estate sales and other projects. The Associated Press reported last week that a dog, Gunther VI, was selling a Miami mansion it had purchased from Madonna for $7.5 million in 2000 for $31.75 million. The story cited claims from Gunther’s “handler” that the dog was from a long line of dogs bequeathed the fortune of the countess. While the mansion is in fact owned and being sold by the Gunther Corp., according to Miami-Dade County property records, the dog’s role appears to be little more than a joke that’s carried on for decades. And there is no evidence of a German countess. The AP reported on the story after receiving a press release from publicists representing the real estate agents who had the listing. “The AP published a story that did not meet our standards and should not have been published. We did not do our due diligence in the reporting process. We have corrected the story, and we apologize,” AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said in a statement.
Decatur: A women’s college has bestowed a new honor on its first Black graduate, who earned her degree 50 years ago. Agnes Scott College held a ceremony Nov. 17 for Edna Lowe Swift, commemorating her 1971 graduation with a bench and plaque on the campus lawn, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The 72-year-old Swift said she was thrilled by the honor. She received a scholarship to attend Agnes Scott and arrived on campus for the fall semester in 1967. Six years earlier, Charlayne Hunter-Gault faced racial slurs and a mob outside her dorm after she and Hamilton Holmes integrated the University of Georgia. Agnes Scott admitted its first Black student, Gay Johnson McDougall, two years before Swift enrolled, but McDougall did not complete her studies at the college. In a 2010 interview for a school oral history project, she recalled receiving hate mail and feeling “profoundly lonely.” Swift said she did not experience harassment or violence but decided not to live on campus in part because she wasn’t sure how she’d fit in, the AJC reports. She received support from Black employees at the school. “They were proud,” she said. She majored in Spanish and went on to a teaching career in Atlanta Public Schools. College officials named a lounge in the campus center after her a few years ago.
Honolulu: Most of the state’s counties said Tuesday that they will allow restaurants and bars to operate at 100% capacity and eliminate a requirement that groups sit 6 feet apart at restaurants as the state eases some restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But Gov. David Ige said at a news conference with the mayors that he will continue to require travelers from other states to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to avoid 10 days of quarantine when they arrive. Ige said virus activity continues to be substantial in Hawaii by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards. He noted the state has been averaging about 100 new cases per day lately, and it wouldn’t take much for those numbers to sharply escalate. “We are at a better place than we were in three months ago, but we are still not finished with the pandemic,” Ige said. When asked when he planned to lift a requirement that people wear masks in indoor public places, the governor said health care professionals, including state Department of Health Director Dr. Libby Char and State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble, tell him wearing masks reduces the spread. He also relayed that governors from other states told him they regretted dropping mask mandates in their states, as they believed doing so contributed to surges.
Lewiston: The state Fish and Game Commission has designated a chronic wasting disease management zone in north-central Idaho, allowing hunts to kill up to 1,000 deer to determine the extent of the disease. The Lewiston Tribune reports the decision Monday allows Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever to establish the emergency hunts that will target a mix of whitetails and mule deer of both sexes. Planning is in progress for the hunts, designed to help wildlife officials determine the prevalence and geographic area of the disease. They aren’t intended to contain the disease, though the commission could in the future authorize such hunts. “That will be the commission’s decision, and it will be informed by the data we are collecting now,” Schriever said. Two mule deer bucks killed near Lucile last month tested positive for chronic wasting disease. It’s the first time the contagious and fatal neurological disorder has been detected in the state. Chronic wasting disease can also infect elk, moose and caribou and has been confirmed in 25 states. The disease found in game animals carries potential health concerns for hunters because it’s in the same family as mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people not eat meat from animals with the disease.
Chicago: A suburban Chicago priest has been reinstated as a pastor after a review board for the Archdiocese of Chicago found there was “insufficient reason to suspect” he had sexually abused children 25 years ago. The Rev. David F. Ryan was first asked to step away from the St. Francis de Sales Catholic Parish in Lake Zurich in November 2020 when an investigation into the alleged abuse began. Archbishop Blase Cupich then announced Sept. 9 that Ryan had been cleared and reinstated. But a week later, Ryan was once again placed under investigation after Cupich said new information had become available to the archdiocese. Ryan led Mass on Sunday at the St. Francis de Sales parish immediately after being reinstated, the Chicago Tribune reports. He said in a statement last week that he was innocent but that the church was right to be vigilant and must investigate all claims. “It is important that you know I categorically deny that I have ever abused a child. I have faith the investigation will confirm what I know to be true and that I will return to parish ministry when it concludes,” Ryan said in a statement Nov. 18. The abuse allegations were from when Ryan was assigned to Maryville Academy in Des Plaines. Ryan was ordained in Springfield in June 1979 and started working in Maryville six years later.
Indianapolis: A lawsuit filed by a teacher who was fired from his job at a Catholic high school for being in a same-sex marriage can proceed, a state appeals court ruled. A panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Tuesday that a Marion County court erred in dismissing Joshua Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The ruling reverses that decision and sends the case back to the lower court. Payne-Elliott had worked for 13 years as a world language and social studies teacher at Cathedral High School. He was fired in June 2019 after the archdiocese mandated that all Catholic schools under its purview enforce a morality clause barring employees from entering into same-sex marriages. Payne-Elliott married Layton Payne-Elliott, a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, in 2017. The couple has been at the center of a fight between their schools and the archdiocese, which directed the schools to fire both men. Brebeuf did not comply with the directive, to which the archdiocese responded by attempting to strip Brebeuf of its status as a Catholic institution. Payne-Elliott filed a lawsuit in July 2019, alleging that the archdiocese illegally interfered with his contractual and employment relationship with Cathedral High School by causing the school to terminate him.
Des Moines: They surely don’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings by saying so, but more than half of Iowans think the state’s residents tend to be unusually nice, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows. Fifty-eight percent of Iowans say that in their experience, Iowans are generally nicer than people from other states, the poll finds. Another 36% say there’s generally no difference, and just 4% say Iowans tend to be ruder than people from other states. The “Iowa Nice” image resonates with Republicans, 70% of whom say Iowans generally seem to be nicer, the poll finds. That view is held by 51% of Democrats and 53% of political independents. Country folks tend to be typecast as the most neighborly, but the poll finds majorities of urban, suburban, small-town and rural Iowans all think their state has more than its share of nice people. At least a plurality of every demographic say Iowans are nicer than people in other states, with one exception: those with no religious affiliation. Just 47% of them say Iowans are nicer – the same proportion as those noting no difference. Perhaps a comfortable income improves people’s opinion of those around them: 67% of Iowans with incomes of $100,000 or more think Iowans are nicer than people from elsewhere.
Topeka: Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday brushed aside complaints from fellow Democrats about signing a Republican measure aimed at financially protecting workers who refuse to get COVID-19 vaccines by declaring that “leadership means seeking compromise.” Kelly acted with unusual speed, signing the bill the afternoon after its passage by the GOP-controlled Legislature just before midnight Monday during a one-day special session. Kansas is making it easy for workers to claim religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine requirements and promising unemployment benefits to people who are fired after refusing the shots. Most Democratic lawmakers opposed the measure, and Kelly angered some of them with her pledge to sign it in response to federal mandates from President Joe Biden. She signed the bill in private after ignoring questions from reporters during a Tuesday morning holiday event at the governor’s official residence. “I know there are Kansans who believe this legislation goes too far, and there are others who believe this legislation doesn’t go far enough. But I was elected to lead, and leadership means seeking compromise,” Kelly said in a statement. “This bill is the result of compromise in action.”
Frankfort: Kentucky State Police have started collecting donated nonperishable food items for families in need during the holidays. “Cram the Cruiser” is going on at all 16 state police posts. Collected food is distributed to food banks, shelters, churches and other groups, state police said in a news release. The drive started Tuesday and continues until Dec. 6. Troopers will be at grocery and retail stores accepting products like canned fruit and vegetables, canned meat, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, jelly, canned soups, cake mixes, water and powdered milk. Food items may also be dropped off at local police posts. Posts compete to see which one gathers the most food, said Capt. Paul Blanton, public affairs commander.
Baton Rouge: A bronze statue of the state’s most famous politician has had a makeover after decades of exposure to weather and birds. The statue of Huey P. Long, which faces the Capitol he built, was recently cleaned by the expert who is restoring the building’s bronze windows as part of a waterproofing project. “We felt like it was a good opportunity while we had someone with the expertise on site,” said Jacques Berry, a spokesman for Gov. John Bel Edwards’ Division of Administration. The 12-foot-tall statue, which stands atop a pedestal nearly twice as high, was erected on Long’s grave in 1940, five years after he was shot and killed inside the building. Long was serving in the U.S. Senate and running for president against Franklin Roosevelt at the time of his death. The statue faces the front of the 450-foot tall state Capitol he built during his only term as governor, from 1928 to 1932. Charles Heck designed the statue, which cost $50,000. Carvings on the base include a rearing horse carrying a pennant that reads, “Share the Wealth,” Long’s populist plan to redistribute America’s wealth from the rich to the poor. Relief carvings also feature Long distributing free schoolbooks and guiding the construction of the Capitol building while adoring citizens gaze on.
Augusta: A group of Native American tribes is working on a plan to boost tourism efforts in the coming years. The Wabanaki Cultural Tourism Initiative includes the five Wabanaki tribes in the state. The tribes are doing the work through Four Directions Development Corporation, which state officials described as a Native community development financial institution. The Maine Office of Tourism said Monday that it has awarded the financial institution $150,000 to help with developing tourism. The development corporation wants to create a Wabanaki tourism economy by 2030, officials said. The tourism office said the money will also be used to enroll tribal members from the development corporation in George Washington University’s Cultural Heritage Tourism Certificate Program. That program is intended to help community leaders and others build tourism. Charlene Virgilio, executive director of Four Directions Development Corporation, said the help from the state “will support the development of a Wabanaki tourism industry.”
Baltimore: The state’s attorney general filed a lawsuit Tuesday against chemical company Monsanto and two spinoffs, alleging that chemicals Monsanto manufactured harmed Maryland’s waters, fish and wildlife and seeking to recover damages and cleanup costs. The lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City alleges Monsanto knew as early as 1937 that polychlorinated biphenyls had systemic toxic effects in humans and animals, Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a news release. “Monsanto not only continued to manufacture and sell PCBs but increased production even when the harm to the environment was undeniable,” Frosh said in a statement. “Monsanto’s toxic legacy lives on. Until today, Marylanders have borne the cost of cleaning up these poisons. It is time for Monsanto to take full responsibility.” Monsanto was the only U.S. company to manufacture PCBs for widespread commercial use between 1935 and 1977, when it ceased production two years before it was banned. The company knew PCBs don’t naturally break down and touted their longevity, the suit alleges. Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles called the suit an important step to help Maryland “make progress in preventing toxic pollution and recovering from decades of damage.”
Boston: Middle and high school students would learn about the history of genocide and human rights issues under a bill approved by state lawmakers Wednesday. The bill requires middle schools and high schools to include instruction on the history of genocide. The legislation comes as incidences of hate and antisemitism are on the rise across the country, with several incidents reported in Massachusetts over the past year, lawmakers said. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has 10 days to decide whether to sign the bill into law. Massachusetts does not currently require education on the Holocaust or other genocides as part of its classroom curriculum. Lawmakers renewed the push for mandating education about the history of genocide earlier this year after a high school football coach was fired following reports that the team used antisemitic language, including a mention of Auschwitz, in its on-field play calling. The Massachusetts Senate last year approved a similar bill to require instruction on genocide before students graduate from high school, but it did not reach Baker’s desk. This bill would create a Genocide Education Trust Fund to support the development of teaching materials and to provide professional development training for educators.
Lansing: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday asked the Biden administration for federal funding to replace Interstate 375, a 1-mile-long depressed freeway in Detroit that was built by demolishing Black neighborhoods 60 years ago. The state wants to convert the highway, which connects I-75 directly to Jefferson Avenue, to a six-lane boulevard at street level. The $1 trillion U.S. infrastructure law enacted last week includes $1 billion to reconnect communities that were divided to make room for freeways. Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, two predominantly African American neighborhoods, were razed in the late 1950s and early 1960s to build I-375, which created a barrier between the downtown and neighborhoods to the east. Whitmer, in a letter inviting Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to join her to tour the area, called the I-375 improvement project a “perfect candidate” for the new federal Reconnecting Communities program. She did not specify how much funding is needed. Construction is not planned to start until 2027, after redesign work is complete. “Now, nearly three generations later, we have an opportunity to eliminate this obstacle and provide easier access to better jobs, services, and quality of life to the residents of adjacent areas of persistent poverty,” Whitmer wrote.
Minneapolis: A bank that was badly damaged during protests over the death of George Floyd is giving the property to a nonprofit developer to build affordable housing, commercial space and a home for cultural organizations. The 2.4-acre U.S. Bank site, part of the Lake Street commercial corridor that became the target of vandalism and arson in May 2020, will feature businesses led by people of color, said Taylor Smrikarova, project leader for Seward Redesign. In addition, community organizations will own portions of the multimillion-dollar development. Bank spokeswoman Reba Dominski said the company chose Seward Redesign because it wanted a successful community developer with a history in the adjacent Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods and a commitment to racial equity, the Star Tribune reports. “Our goal is to create a new model for equitable development and demonstrate new ways in which architects can engage and partner with community,” said James Garrett Jr., a partner at Black-owned 4RM+ULA, an architectural design firm that will work with Seward Redesign on the project. U.S. Bank is building a new branch and redeveloping one of its properties, both on Lake Street, so the area will still be served with two locations, officials said.
Jackson: State Department of Human Services officials say inaccurate data provided by school districts is leading to delays in families receiving pandemic food cards. Meanwhile, families say they are waiting hours on hold when they to reach out to Mississippi Pandemic EBT Hotline for assistance. The rollout of the cards, meant to provide assistance to families of children who qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school and missed out on the benefits because of the pandemic, has been hampered by challenges. About 345,000 Mississippi children were set to receive a benefit of $375 per child through the Pandemic EBT program, according to the state. The Mississippi Department of Human Services said in September the money would be distributed by the end of October, but that hasn’t happened in all cases. In October, more than 14,000 low-income children in Mississippi had their pandemic food cards mistakenly deactivated. Officials said children with an apostrophe in their first or last names all had their cards accidentally deactivated by a processing partner. Families would have new cards sent to them in days, officials promised. Now, some families say they still haven’t received the funds.
Columbia: Police chiefs have called on state lawmakers to change a new law banning local police from enforcing federal gun laws, which law enforcement officials say is making it harder to fight crime. The Missouri Police Chiefs Association wrote a letter to Republican legislators urging changes to the law, The Kansas City Star reports. Lawmakers cited the potential for new gun-control measures under President Joe Biden as motivation for the law, which allows private citizens to sue police departments for as much as $50,000 for violations. Police chiefs want lawmakers to make clear that the law only applies to federal gun rules enacted recently and doesn’t apply if police encounter a suspect committing a crime. They also want the law to detail which federal gun crimes local police can help with. It’s unclear whether lawmakers will take up the police chiefs’ recommendations in the session that starts in January. A staffer for one Republican sponsor, Sen. Eric Burlison, expressed interest in addressing law enforcement concerns. The other sponsor, Rep. Jered Taylor, has said he’s unwilling to consider changes to the law.
Billings: The state, the city and Yellowstone County are investing more than $4 million over the next three years to fight and prosecute crimes in the Billings area, the governor’s office announced. The state is using $2.3 million in pandemic relief money to improve public safety and the economy in Yellowstone County, Gov. Greg Gianforte said Tuesday. Businesses owners have reported the crime rate hurts their bottom line. The city and county are also investing $1 million each in the effort, The Billings Gazette reports. A commission created to recommend spending of some of the state’s pandemic relief money voted to invest $1.5 million in the Office of State Public Defender to increase staff in Yellowstone County and another $815,000 to hire agents in the Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation to better address drug and violent crimes in the county. County Attorney Scott Twito and city administrator Chris Kukulski recently raised concerns on the area’s crime levels and the disproportionate number of Department of Corrections inmates being supervised in the county. Billings has two prerelease programs, a substance use disorder program, a sex offender program, 34 sober living facilities, drug courts, veterans courts, and the largest number of probation and parole officers in the state, according to the Gazette.
Lincoln: Milton Andrew Munson’s obituary recalled his life as an Air Force veteran, pharmacist, husband, father and Nebraska football fan. That was evident in one line in the obit: “In lieu of flowers, please place an irresponsibly large wager on Nebraska beating Iowa.” Munson, 73, died Nov. 16. The obit, written by Munson’s sons, ran Nov. 18 in the Hastings Tribune, the Lincoln Journal Star reports. It caught fire on social media and captured the attention of two radio hosts, Josh Peterson, co-host of an afternoon sports talk show on KOZN-AM in Omaha, and Jack Mitchell, of KLIN-AM in Lincoln. They decided to throw in some money and make a bet for the Huskers to pull an upset in Friday night’s game in Lincoln, but once word got out, listeners and others pitched in, and the total grew to nearly $5,000. “I mentioned it (Monday) on the air,” Peterson said. “We talked about it for four or five minutes and said, ‘Here’s my Venmo if you want to donate.’ It’s blown up.” Munson’s son, Todd, was on Peterson’s show Tuesday and said the family will give some of the money to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, along with using some to bet on the Cornhuskers to beat the Hawkeyes, who are favored by a point-and-a-half.
Reno: AT&T’s Pac Bell subsidiary has settled a lawsuit conservationists filed under a U.S. law more typically cited in Superfund cases, agreeing to spend up to $1.5 million to remove 8 miles of toxic telephone cables that were abandoned on the bottom of Lake Tahoe decades ago. The abandoned cables – replaced with fiber optic ones in the 1980s – contain more than 65 tons of toxic lead that is polluting the alpine lake on the California-Nevada line, the lawsuit said. In addition to violating water quality protections, the suit said the more than 3 pounds of lead per foot of cable constitutes solid waste regulated under the U.S. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Pac Bell knew the cables it owned and operated contained lead that eventually would leak into the 1,644-foot-deep lake, the lawsuit said. Lead in both solid and dissolved forms is listed as known to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity, it said. “All of the cables are damaged and discharging lead into Lake Tahoe,” the lawsuit said. Initial cost estimates for cable removal range from $275,000 to $550,000. But Pac Bell agreed to deposit $1.5 million in an account to guard against overruns, according to the settlement U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremy Peterson signed Nov. 4.
Laconia: An economic impact study has found that Lake Winnipesaukee is worth more than $17 billion to the state’s economy – information that an environmental advocacy group hopes to use to underscore the need to protect the lake. The study was requested by the Lake Winnipesaukee Association and was written by the Policy Research Shop at Dartmouth College, The Laconia Daily Sun reports. The association commissioned the report in February, and the work was completed in June. “I think that’s an eye-opener,” Patricia Tarpey, executive director of the Lake Winnipesaukee Association, said of the valuation. The largest contributor to Winnipesaukee’s worth was property values, which totaled about $16 billion. Tourism revenue was worth about $249 million, and boating and fishing added more than $109 million. Tarpey said she hopes municipalities around the 72-square-mile lake can use the information in the report when making policy decisions to protect the water from pollution that can damage the ecosystem. “Any regulation that happens either comes at the federal, state or local level. We have no real authority as an association,” Tarpey said. “The best we can do is help educate policy decision makers to implement better measures to protect this lake.”
Newark: A police officer fatally struck a man walking on a highway shoulder, then drove around with the man’s body and visited his mother looking for advice, according to charges released Wednesday. Newark Officer Louis Santiago faces multiple charges in the death of 29-year-old Damian Dymka on Nov. 1, including vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a crash resulting in death, desecrating or moving human remains, tampering with physical evidence, obstruction and official misconduct. Santiago’s mother, Annette Santiago, and Albert Guzman, a passenger in Louis Santiago’s car, were charged with desecrating human remains, hindering apprehension, and conspiracy to hinder apprehension and tamper with physical evidence. According to prosecutors, Santiago and Guzman, both 25, were driving on the Garden State Parkway when Santiago, who was off duty, hit Dymka. Instead of calling 911, the pair allegedly left the scene but returned and put Dymka in the car, then went to Annette Santiago’s house in Bloomfield to discuss what to do. They allegedly returned to the accident scene with Dymka, who worked as a nurse. According to the prosecutor’s office, Santiago’s father, a lieutenant in the Newark Police Department, called 911 to report the accident. Dymka had died by the time state police arrived.
Santa Fe: The state legislative complex will be open to the public during upcoming legislative sessions, but only for those who provide proof of vaccination. New rules will also prohibit performances, advocacy booths and tours at the New Mexico State Capitol starting Dec. 6, when the Legislature meets for redistricting. The rules will also be in place during the regular legislative session that starts in January, limiting festivities in the Roundhouse – the Capitol building that includes the Legislature and the governor’s office – but allowing the public to attend legislative hearings for the first time since the start of the pandemic. “Given the high number of COVID-19 cases across the state and the strain this continues to put on state resources, it is incumbent on us to protect everyone in the Capitol complex while conducting the state’s business,” said Legislative Council Service service director Raúl Burciaga, who oversees safety and operations at the building. The vaccination requirement does not apply to lawmakers. The Roundhouse has been open to the public for months, with a masking requirement but no vaccine requirement. It’s popular for visitors thanks to four floors of local art and its round shape, unique among U.S. state capitols.
Albany: A program to help people obtain driver’s permits during the COVID-19 pandemic by taking tests online may be rife with cheating. State motor vehicle workers told the Albany Times-Union that thousands of people may have taken advantage of the program instituted more than a year ago by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo as in-person testing was curtailed or became backlogged. Applicants sometimes have others take the tests for them and in other cases complete them with perfect scores in less than seven minutes, workers said. The 50-question test normally takes about 45 minutes to an hour, they said. In response, officials at seven state-run motor vehicle offices recently began keeping track of how many people who passed the online tests later had issues regarding images captured during the test. They found that over a four-day period, 464 out of more than 1,500 people who had passed the online test and came to a motor vehicle office to get their permit had verification issues. Of those, more than 50 people left rather than retake the test, and roughly half of the 410 who retook the test failed, according to the Times-Union. “They sit down for 20 questions, and they’re sitting there for 45 minutes, and they can’t finish the test,” Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola told the newspaper.
Pittsboro: Tests conducted on the town’s water supply found more than double the amount of a potentially cancer-causing chemical that’s considered safe, officials said. Since Nov. 8, the town of Pittsboro has been performing almost-daily tests for 1,4-Dioxane after the city of Greensboro warned communities downstream of contamination in the Haw River, WRAL-TV reports. At first, town officials reduced the draw from the river in hopes that the contaminated water would flow by. Pittsboro Town Manager Chris Kennedy said it appeared the discharge had passed without making it into the town’s water treatment plant. He said while officials are confident the chemical has passed, there’s the possibility it hasn’t. The Environmental Protection Agency advises that drinking water contain no more than 35 micrograms per liter of 1,4-Dioxane. On Nov. 12, a raw grab from the Haw River at Pittsboro showed it was present at 9.8 micrograms per liter. But by Nov. 17, a similar test found 80.7 micrograms per liter. Even after water was treated at the town’s plant, it showed a level of 37.6, slightly higher than the EPA’s threshold. Kennedy said the town will “minimize” the amount of water it draws from the Haw River.
Bismarck: A North Dakota farmer has been accused of attempting to arrange the assassination of a Ukrainian official and has been detained in the Eastern European country. North Dakota’s congressional delegation has asked the U.S. Department of State to ensure the well-being of 50-year-old Kurt Groszhans, who grew up in the central part of North Dakota and attended North Dakota State University, KFGO-AM reports. He and a Ukrainian woman have been accused of trying to assassinate Roman Leschenko, that country’s agrarian policy and food minister. Groszhans had business dealings with the agriculture minister. His family told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead that he is an honest agriculture investor who was “tangled up” in a dispute with Leschenko. U.S. Sen. John Hoeven said his office contacted the State Department after hearing from Groszhans’ family and friends.
Columbus: Franklin County is seeking to settle a federal lawsuit over photographs taken of intimate tattoos of up to 682 female detainees. County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to the $2.5 million settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge. The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2013 on behalf of women who were arrested for minor offenses between May 23, 2011, and April 30, 2014. Photos were taken of their tattoos on or near their intimate body parts when they were booked into the county jail. The jail stopped the practice in April 2014. Each woman is estimated to receive $2,735 under the plan. A third of the settlement would cover attorney fees, costs and expenses. According to documents, the settlement does not include men, detainees charged with felonies or those who had tattoos photographed that were not in an intimate area. Under terms of the settlement, the county would admit no wrongdoing. The sheriff’s office would be required to destroy the photos and cease taking intimate tattoo pictures of misdemeanor detainees.
Oklahoma City: A federal judge on Tuesday denied a death row inmate’s request for a stay of execution, paving the way for him to receive a lethal injection next month. Bigler Stouffer II, 79, and his attorneys argued that the state’s current three-drug lethal injection protocol poses the risk of subjecting him to unconstitutional pain and suffering. Stouffer also said he should be included among other death row plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s lethal injection protocols. That case is set to go to trial in February. Judge Stephen Friot on Tuesday rejected Stouffer’s request, denying his motion for a stay of execution. Stouffer’s attorney, Greg Laird, said he filed an appeal of the judge’s ruling with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. “It doesn’t appear from the evidence we heard that the state of Oklahoma has figured out how to execute people without some sort of incident, and it should stop,” Laird said after the hearing. Stouffer was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1985 killing of schoolteacher Linda Reaves in Oklahoma City. Stouffer could still avoid the death penalty if Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt agrees to grant him clemency, which the state’s Pardon and Parole Board recommended last week in a 3-2 vote, citing Oklahoma’s history of problematic lethal injections.
Salem: Residents are increasingly pushing for the state to divest from fossil fuel companies and other controversial investments, but the Oregon State Treasury is resisting and putting the onus on the Legislature. In addition to fossil fuel companies whose products are a main driver of global warming, the state employee retirement fund is also invested in a company whose spyware was used against human rights workers, journalists and other targets, as well as in companies that operate private prisons where detained immigrants were mistreated and some died. The Oregon State Treasury oversees some $130 billion in investments, including an undisclosed amount in fossil fuel companies and other controversial sectors. Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read wouldn’t be pinned down on the amount, despite repeated direct questions by Oregon Public Radio. “It’s not just public equities. It’s also private equity; it’s also bonds,” said Read, a Democrat who’s running for governor in the 2022 election. In a letter to House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, Read and fellow members of the Oregon Investment Council said they can’t pursue divestment because state law specifies investments must “make the moneys as productive as possible.” They said it’s up to the Legislature to change the laws and warned that lawmakers might need to dig into the state’s general funds to cover any losses from divesting.
Philadelphia: The Mummers Parade will be back on the city’s streets for the new year. The parade, which draws thousands to Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, will return for 2022 after it was canceled last year amid COVID-19 concerns. The event will be free but could be scaled down since the bands and organizations involved have been affected financially, organizers said. More than 10,000 costumed Mummers, complete with bright colors, sequins and feathers, are still expected to march or strut City Hall south on Broad Street to Washington Avenue. The parade kicks off at 9 a.m. and is expected to run through 6 p.m. The beloved tradition comes back after controversy – and Mayor Jim Kenney – threatened to cancel it in 2020 after some Mummers dressed in blackface. Organizers said all participants must take sensitivity training centered on bias and awareness training.
Newport: The city manager is standing by the police department’s review of the 1966 death of an employee of wealthy heiress Doris Duke that found there is no new information that would change the result of the original investigation, which determined it was an accident. Police opened the review into the death of Eduardo Tirella in July after a witness who had never before talked to police came forward after reading the book “Homicide at Rough Point” by Peter Lance. The author and journalist who grew up in Newport suggested Duke, who died in 1993, acted with intent when she struck Tirella with a car at her mansion. That witness, Bob Walker, 68, was at the time a 13-year-old paperboy who was first upon the scene, and his account differed from official versions of what happened. But while Detective Jacque Wuest, who conducted the review, found Walker to be “credible,” she concluded in a statement to Lance last week: “There is no new evidence that would change the previous conclusion in this matter, nor is there any new evidence that warrants further review.” The statement Tuesday from the office of City Manager Joseph Nicholson Jr. stood by the police, saying that “at this time we cannot ascribe any definitive motive or intent to Ms. Duke.”
Columbia: A coalition including legislators, pastors and union leaders is asking a tire manufacturer to improve conditions at its production facilities in the state, including allowing workers to unionize. A group describing itself as “concerned community members, human rights advocates, clergy, elected officials, political activists, labor union leaders, and educators who are committed to raising standards” planned to deliver a letter Tuesday to Phang Wai Yeen, CEO of Giti Tire Manufacturing Ltd. “Workers have reported mandatory overtime, unpredictable schedules, low wages and the inability to have time off to spend with their family without retaliation,” according to the letter. In 2014, Giti officials announced to much fanfare that they would build the Singapore-based company’s first U.S. plant in Richburg, about 50 miles north of Columbia, starting production three years later and expecting to make several million tires a year when fully operational. The announcement was the culmination of an effort to make South Carolina the nation’s chief tire manufacturer, with other tire makers in the state including Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental and Trelleborg.
Sioux Falls: The state Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s ruling that nullified a voter-passed amendment to the state constitution that would have legalized recreational marijuana use. Gov. Kristi Noem instigated the legal fight to strike down the amendment passed by voters in November. Though the Republican governor opposed marijuana legalization as a social ill, her administration’s arguments in court centered on technical violations to the South Dakota Constitution. The high court sided with those arguments in a 4-1 decision, ruling that the measure – Amendment A – would have violated the requirement that constitutional amendments deal with just one subject. “It is clear that Amendment A contains provisions embracing at least three separate subjects, each with distinct objects or purposes,” Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote in the majority opinion, which found recreational marijuana, medical marijuana and hemp each to be separate issues. About 54% of voters approved the constitutional amendment last year. But Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller sued on Noem’s behalf. Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom also joined the lawsuit. The high court ruled that the law enforcement officers did not have standing to sue, but because Noem ordered Miller’s suit, they treated it as if Noem brought the lawsuit herself.
Memphis: Regulators have given approval to a plan by the Tennessee Valley Authority to bury toxin-laden coal ash in southeast Memphis. The federal utility received final approval from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation last week, a spokeswoman for the state agency said Tuesday. TVA plans to have a contractor remove tons of coal ash from ponds in southwest Memphis, transport them along Shelby Drive to a landfill, and bury the material in lined pits to prevent leaching into the ground. The ash has been stored in two unlined ponds near the old Allen Fossil Plant above the Memphis Sand aquifer, the region’s drinking water supply, for years. In 2017, high levels of arsenic, lead and fluoride were found in monitoring wells at Allen, sparking fears that the aquifer that supplies Memphis’ drinking water could become tainted. Testing has since deemed the public water supply unaffected. But a report released by the utility also showed a connection between the shallow aquifer where toxins were found and the deeper Memphis Sand Aquifer that provides the city’s slightly sweet-tasting drinking water.
Austin: Samsung said it plans to build a $17 billion semiconductor factory outside the city amid a global shortage of chips used in phones, cars and other electronic devices. “This is the largest foreign direct investment in the state of Texas, ever,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in announcing the project Tuesday. Samsung said it will start building the plant next year and hopes to begin operations in the second half of 2024. The South Korean electronics giant chose the site based on a number of factors, including government incentives and the “readiness and stability” of local infrastructure, said Samsung Vice Chairman Kinam Kim, speaking alongside the Republican governor. The chip shortage has emerged as both a business obstacle and a serious U.S. national security concern. Short supplies of semiconductors kicked off by COVID-era shutdowns have hampered production of new vehicles and electronic devices for more than a year. New questions of economic and national security are also at stake, since many U.S. companies are dependent on chips produced overseas, particularly in Taiwan, which China has long claimed as its own territory. Samsung said it expects to spend $17 billion on the Texas project, which will make it the company’s largest investment in the U.S.
Salt Lake City: State Attorney General Sean Reyes has tested positive for the coronavirus. Reyes is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but tested positive for the virus last week after suffering cold symptoms, his office said in a statement Monday. His family has tested negative. The Republican is involved in numerous lawsuits challenging COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed by the federal government, arguing that vaccination should be a personal choice, Fox13 reports. His office also is defending in court a law that severely restricts local school districts from imposing mask mandates. Utah House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, also confirmed he had tested positive last week. As of Nov. 19, 582,929 Utahns had tested positive for the virus, and 3,428 had died of COVID-19. About 1.7 million were considered fully vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as Utah’s Department of Health, have recommended booster shots to reduce the risk of a breakthrough infection.
Montpelier: The state has seen the nation’s highest percentage-point increase in drug overdose deaths during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vermont’s overdose deaths for the 12 months ending in April 2021 went up by nearly 70% from the previous 12 months, from 123 deaths to 209, according to the CDC’s monthly national overdose death report. Nationally, overdose deaths increased by 27.2% from the previous year. Fentanyl was involved in 88% of the overdose deaths in Vermont in 2020, while cocaine was recorded as the reason for 37% of deaths. According to the Vermont Department of Health, most opioid deaths happen when it those drugs are mixed with another substance like methamphetamine. In 2021, health officials found that opioid deaths involving meth more than doubled from 2020. The state’s opioid report said throughout this year to August, 129 overdose deaths were recorded. In 2020, there were 157 overdose deaths from opioids.
Williamsburg: The National Park Service announced Tuesday that it has awarded the largest single grant in the history of its American Battlefield Protection Program to help preserve one of the nation’s lesser-known Civil War battlefields. The $4.6 million grant will be used to purchase and preserve 250 acres of the Williamsburg Battlefield in York County, which has sat on private land outside the city and former colonial capital. The battle was part of what’s known as the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, in which Union forces tried to capture Richmond from the southeast. Fighting began after enslaved Americans provided vital intelligence to the Union Army about unoccupied Confederate entrenchments. There were 72,000 troops engaged in the battle, which ended with 3,800 killed, wounded or captured, said Jim Campi, chief policy and communications officer with the American Battlefield Trust. The nonprofit is partnering with Virginia’s Departments of Conservation and Recreation and Historic Resources to preserve the battlefield. “It was fought in the mud and rain – it was a messy struggle,” Campi said. He said the Peninsula Campaign was an opportunity for Union forces to “catch and swallow a considerable amount of the retreating Confederate Army.”
Olympia: A handful of Republican state lawmakers and others are suing Democratic leaders and a House official over a plan that allows a limited number of lawmakers vaccinated against COVID-19 on the chamber floor during the upcoming legislative session. The new plan released by House officials last week also requires representatives who don’t verify their vaccination status to undergo coronavirus testing three times a week in order to work in their on-campus offices. And it requires members of the public to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours in order to sit in the House gallery that overlooks the lawmakers as they work. The Seattle Times repors the lawsuit was filed Monday in Thurston County Superior Court by Reps. Jim Walsh, Robert Sutherland, Jenny Graham, Rob Chase, Bob McCaslin and Jesse Young, plus citizens from their districts who say they are affected by the restrictions on their representatives. “The Plans appear to be an underhanded method used by a few tyrannical members to impose Governor Inslee’s mandate on a legislative body specifically exempt from the mandate,” the complaint says, referring to the governor’s vaccine mandate for executive branch employees. Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins said the lawsuit is without merit.
Charleston: A pair of large Christmas trees will go on display outside the state Capitol. Michael Buchanan, of the Kanawha County community of Hansford, donated a 40-foot blue spruce for display at the Lincoln Plaza on the south side of the Capitol in Charleston, the Department of Administration said in a news release. The tree was donated in honor of his late daughter, Andrea, who died in 2009 at age 17, the statement said. Buchanan planted the tree with his daughter and her mother about 25 years ago at their residence after the state treasurer’s office worker received it from the Division of Forestry as part of an employee appreciation week. The tree has always been known as Andrea’s Tree, the statement said. Helen Herring, of Elkview, donated a 20-foot Frasier fir for display on the Capitol’s north plaza. Herring also donated a previous tree for the Capitol grounds holiday display in 2010. Both trees will be on display during the upcoming Joyful Night celebration with Gov. Jim Justice and first lady Cathy Justice. The event will be held virtually for the second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Madison: Michael Gableman, a former state Supreme Court justice who has long been active in GOP politics, met with a host of election conspiracy theorists this fall as part of his taxpayer-funded review of the 2020 presidential contest for Assembly Republicans. Among those with whom Gableman met were Peter Bernegger, a felon convicted of fraud who has been using open records laws to gather images of Wisconsin ballots, according to Nate Cain, a West Virginia consultant who has assisted Gableman. Gableman and his team last month also met with Shiva Ayyadurai, who has contended without evidence that votes were taken away from Donald Trump based on a science fiction novel; Mike Lindell, the MyPillow executive who has spent a year making over-the-top false claims that the election was hacked by the Chinese; and Douglas Frank, the chairman of the math and science department at an Ohio school who has falsely asserted that votes in Michigan were manipulated with a mathematical “key.” Gableman, who last year without evidence claimed the election was stolen, has insisted he has no preconceived ideas about his review and hopes to find that the election was run properly. Assembly Republicans hired Gableman at taxpayer expense this summer to conduct his own review of the election.
Casper: Dozens of sites across the Equality State could be in for upheaval following a federal move to remove derogatory terms from place names, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. The word “squaw,” which has a history of being used as a negative descriptor for Native American women, is in the names of 43 federal locations in Wyoming, including two small mountain peaks that have already been the target of a name-change campaign and a creek in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, according to the newspaper, which cited the U.S. Geological Survey.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Doggie dupe, toxic Tahoe cables: News from around our 50 states