Prattville: Three former workers at a church day care center have been indicted on more than three dozen charges of abusing children ages 2 and younger, some of whom were harmed on video, authorities said Tuesday. A special grand jury returned charges after watching security videos that showed children being hit, kicked and punched, according to court records and prosecutor C.J. Robinson, who spoke at a news conference. “When you have videos in crimes of this nature, it leaves very little doubt,” he said. The 44 total charges against Susan Baker, of Prattville, Leah Livingston, of Wetumpka, and Alicia Sorrells, of Deatsville, stem from their work at a day care operated by Journey Church of the River Region, Robinson said. All three women were arrested earlier this month. Each person was indicted on charges of child abuse and failure to report child abuse, officials said. An attorney for Sorrells said she will be acquitted once jurors consider the evidence. Livingston doesn’t have an attorney to speak on her behalf, and a lawyer for Baker wasn’t immediately available. Church leaders have cooperated in the investigation, Robinson said.
Juneau: State lawmakers tasked with negotiating a budget deal reached a tentative agreement Tuesday that would pay residents more than $3,000 this year, but the final amount would depend on whether the Legislature can muster the votes needed to access a key savings account. The tentative agreement calls for a dividend from the state’s oil-wealth fund in the range of $2,500 this year, plus a $1,300 “energy relief” check. However, half the funding for the energy check would come from a budget reserve account that requires three-fourths support in each the House and Senate to access. Payments to residents could be about $3,200 or $3,850 depending on whether the vote threshold is reached, according to estimates shared with reporters by the office of Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, the Senate Finance Committee co-chair. He chaired the conference committee, which met for the first time Sunday and announced the tentative agreement Tuesday, the day before the legislative session was scheduled to end. The negotiated package is subject to a vote by the House and Senate. Stedman said the budget is a good one, with a “healthy dividend,” capital projects around Alaska, and attention to K-12 education and the university system. He said the dividend is a “sensitive issue” to negotiate, with splits among lawmakers over what the size should be.
Phoenix: Two more bills restricting responses to the coronavirus pandemic are heading to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk, including one that would affect the ability of future state leaders to respond to another airborne disease and a second blocking the state from ever requiring schoolchildren to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Tuesday’s state Senate votes were the latest moves by GOP lawmakers to limit what they have called government overreach. The Republican-controlled Senate approved a bill that would ban any state or local government agency from requiring face masks to be worn in their buildings. The measure already passed the House and got no support in either chamber from minority Democrats. They have argued it removes one of the most effective measures to prevent the spread of a respiratory disease like COVID-19. Senators also approved a bill barring the state Health Services Department from adding a COVID-19 vaccine to the list of inoculations required to attend public schools. It replaces a measure passed last year that only banned mandates for vaccines given federal emergency use authorizations. That measure, too, is heading to the governor’s desk and got no support from minority Democrats.
Little Rock: Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has raised another $601,000 in her bid for governor, continuing to far outpace her Republican and Democratic rivals. Sanders, who is seeking the Republican nomination in the state’s May 24 primary, reported having more than $7 million cash on hand for her campaign. Monday was the deadline for campaigns to file their monthly fundraising reports with the state. Sanders faces former talk radio host Doc Washburn in the GOP primary. Sanders reported spending more than $838,000 last month. She has raised nearly $15 million since launching her campaign last year. Chris Jones, the front-runner in fundraising among the five Democrats seeking the party’s nomination, raised more than $161,000 last month and spent more than $147,000. Jones has raised $1.8 million since entering the governor’s race and has about $108,000 on hand. The other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination are Anthony Bland, James “Rus” Russell, Jay Martin and Supha Xayprasith-Mays.
Los Angeles: Dozens of environmental and anti-nuclear organizations expressed opposition Tuesday to any attempt to extend the life of California’s last operating nuclear power plant, challenging suggestions that its electricity is needed to meet potential future shortages in the nation’s most populous state. Last month, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom raised the possibility that the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant – which sits on a coastal bluff halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles – could keep running beyond a scheduled closing by 2025. His office said the governor is in favor of “keeping all options on the table to ensure we have a reliable (electricity) grid.” In a letter to Newsom, groups that included San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, the Oregon Conservancy Foundation, the Snake River Alliance and the Ohio Nuclear Free Network said the plant is old, unsafe and too close to earthquake faults that pose a threat to the twin reactors. “Your suggestion to extend the operational life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility is an outrage,” they wrote. “Diablo Canyon is dangerous, dirty and expensive. It must retire as planned.” The Democratic governor has no direct authority over the operating license for the plant. He floated the idea that owner Pacific Gas & Electric could seek a share of $6 billion in federal funding the Biden administration established to rescue nuclear plants at risk of closing.
Denver: A man who shot and wounded two demonstrators while apparently aiming at a Jeep that was headed toward the crowd during a protest to bring attention to police violence in suburban Denver in 2020 was sentenced Tuesday to 120 days in jail followed by five years of probation. Samuel Young, 24, had been convicted in March of two counts of second-degree assault, four counts of attempted manslaughter and a single count of illegally discharging his gun, The Denver Post reports. “It all happened so fast, there was no time to think, just to react,” Young said in court. “My reaction was wrong. … I cannot take bullets back. I immediately regretted what I’d done and wanted to repair the damage.” Several hundred people who attended the July 2020 protest in Aurora had walked onto a highway and blocked all its lanes. A Jeep approached from behind the protesters and headed toward the crowd, prompting Young to fire five shots. Two hit the back of the Jeep, and two hit fellow protesters. One man was shot in the leg and another grazed in the head. A woman also broke her leg when she leaped from the highway. The driver, who pulled off the highway and contacted police, was not charged. The protest was organized in support of Elijah McClain, a Black man who died after being injected with ketamine by first responders called to the scene of an arrest.
Hartford: The Department of Justice has given the green light to National Guard members on active duty for their states to join labor unions, despite a U.S. law that makes it a felony for military personnel on active federal duty to unionize. The agreement, finalized Tuesday, settles a lawsuit filed in federal court in Connecticut by labor unions against Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department, seeking collective bargaining rights for Connecticut National Guard members on state duty ordered by the governor. Already, the case has prompted some National Guard members in Texas to unionize. A 1978 federal law makes it a criminal felony for members of the armed forces, including the National Guard, to join or attempt to form a labor organization. But the statute only applies to service members when they are on active federal duty ordered by U.S. military officials, according to the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, which represented the unions in the lawsuit, filed in November. “Before this case, unions were understandably deterred from organizing state active duty National Guard members due to the potential for criminal penalties,” Rekha Kennedy, a Yale law student working for the clinic, said in a statement.
Lewes: Staffing challenges mean there won’t be lifeguards at the Savannah and Johnnie Walker beaches this summer, a city official said. City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said the city was not in a position to safely guard the two municipal beaches. The city didn’t want to inadequately staff the beaches and create a “false sense of security,” she said. The city intends to return to a full lifeguarding staff in the future, Townshend said. Meanwhile, people should continue following beach rules and be careful while swimming and enjoying the beach, she said. Many Delaware resort towns have increased pay or benefits to attract more summer employees. Lewes recently increased lifeguard pay from $13.49 per hour to $16 per hour to compete with neighboring municipalities. In the past, Lewes has had lifeguards patrolling from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the summer. Last year, Lewes hired eight lifeguards, two fewer than has been typical. Beaches were unguarded for a weekend in August due to low staffing.
District of Columbia
Washington: This Friday the district is celebrating Bike to Work Day, encouraging locals to reduce their carbon footprint and get some exercise to boot, WUSA-TV reports. Another incentive: The price of gas in the Washington metro area is at a 10-year high, with the cost per gallon in the district averaging $4.84 as of Wednesday, according to Gas Buddy. The Bike to Work Day tradition is coordinated by a network of transportation organizations in the D.C. area called Commuter Connections, as well as the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. The first 15,000 people who register online to participate are eligible to receive a free T-shirt at any of the event’s pit stops. There are more than 100 pit stops for Bike to Work Day, located throughout D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Those who register will be entered into a raffle to win a free bike donated BicycleSPACE, Three Points Cycles and Bikes@Vienna. Those looking for a biking buddy can join a free Bike to Work convoy led by experienced biking commuters. And Capital Bike Share is offering free unlimited rides of up to 45 minutes per trip on its standard bikes. Its e-bikes will be offered at 10 cents per minute. Bike to Work Day in D.C. started with a small group of riders in 2001, and by 2017 the day saw an all-time high of 18,700 people participating.
Bunnell: A 17-year-old gay student who was suspended for leading protests at his high school against the state’s so-called Don’t Say Gay legislation says school administrators are now stopping him from running for senior class president. Because of the disciplinary infractions he received for leading the protests at Flagler Palm Coast High School in March, school administrators are preventing him for running for the elected student body office, Jack Petocz said in a letter posted on Twitter on Tuesday. The school is located about 30 miles north of Daytona Beach. “I am continuing to be punished for standing up for my identity and against widespread hatred,” Petocz wrote. “We shouldn’t be subject to abuse both in Tallahassee and at-home.” In an email, school district spokesman Jason Wheeler said Flagler Schools was not permitted to speak about individual students’ disciplinary records. Requirements for individual on-campus clubs or organizations are set by the schools or clubs themselves, he said. “The district has no say in setting those requirements or in how those requirements are enforced,” Wheeler said. Petocz is being honored next week with an award at the 2022 PEN America Literary Gala for organizing students to protest the Florida legislation and fighting book bans. PEN America is a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for free speech and is made up of novelists, journalists and other writers.
Atlanta: The Republican head of the state election board said Tuesday that a recently released film alleging ballots were illegally collected and dropped off during the 2020 presidential election falsely suggests there were tens of thousands of illegitimate votes in Georgia. Still, State Election Board Chairman Matt Mashburn promised a “fair” investigation of its claims. “It’s not going to be a witch hunt,” he said at a meeting of the board. “It’s going to be done soberly and with great care by people who know what they’re doing.” The movie, called “2000 Mules,” paints an ominous picture suggesting Democrat-aligned ballot “mules” were supposedly paid to illegally collect and drop off ballots in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It has been praised by ex-President Donald Trump as exposing “great election fraud,” but election security experts say it is based on faulty assumptions, anonymous accounts and improper analysis of cellphone location data. Mashburn, who said he watched the film, said it suggested there were 92,000 “illegitimate, manufactured votes” in the state, but he said that’s not true. Even if a ballot is illegally dropped off, it goes through the same checks as other ballots to ensure the vote is legitimate, he said.
Honolulu: The Honolulu Police Commission has narrowed down the competition for the next police chief to four finalists. Seven people vying for the job spent last week going through an assessment process that included a mock press conference. The four highest scorers advanced as finalists: Scott Ebner, Mike Lambert, Arthur “Joe” Logan and Ben Moszkowicz. Lambert and Moszkowicz are Honolulu police majors. Lambert heads the training division. Moszkowicz heads the traffic division. Logan is a retired Army major general who was head of the Hawaii National Guard. Ebner is a retired New Jersey state police lieutenant colonel. Out-of-state consultant PSI Services LLC was contracted for $145,777 to assess the candidates, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The commission will take over the remainder of the selection process, which includes allowing the public to interact with the finalists, Hawaii News Now reports. It’s been more than a year since former Chief Susan Ballard retired. Interim Chief Rade Vanic took his name out of the running for the permanent position in March, KITV reports.
Boise: Powerful state House Speaker Scott Bedke has won the GOP primary for lieutenant governor. The fourth-generation rancher who is generally considered an expert on Idaho’s water issues defeated state Rep. Priscilla Giddings in a race called Wednesday following voting in Tuesday’s primary. The race was another battle between an establishment Republican in Bedke against a far-right candidate in Giddings. Bedke got about 52% of the vote and Giddings 43%, while Daniel Gasiorowski received the remainder. Giddings was censured by her House colleagues late last year after publicizing the name of a 19-year-old intern who reported she was raped by another House lawmaker. Bedke was appointed to a House seat representing south-central Idaho in 2001 by Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne. Following redistricting, he won the GOP primary and general election. He ran mostly unopposed ever since. He became speaker in 2012 by defeating then-Speaker Lawerence Denney, now Idaho’s secretary of state. Bedke will face Democrat Terri Pickens Manweiler in the November general election for lieutenant governor, a post Democrats last held in the 1970s in deeply conservative Idaho.
Chicago: The Archdiocese of Chicago has agreed to pay $1.2 million to a man who alleged he was sexually abused at 12 years old by a defrocked priest who was convicted of sexually abusing several boys, the man’s attorney announced Tuesday. The settlement of the case before a lawsuit was filed was announced in a news release by attorney Lyndsay Markley and marks the latest chapter in the story of Daniel McCormack, one of the most notorious pedophiles in the history of Chicago’s archdiocese. McCormack, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to sexually abusing five children while he was a priest at St. Agatha’s parish in Chicago, was released from prison last fall and has registered as a sex offender with the Illinois State Police. According to published reports, he was listed at that time as living in Chicago’s Near North neighborhood. The settlement follows other similar settlements in which the archdiocese has agreed to pay men who alleged they were abused by McCormack when they were children. In all, the archdiocese has paid well over $12 million to men who filed lawsuits or settled cases involving McCormack before filing lawsuits. The archdiocese declined to comment on the settlement.
Indianapolis: Republicans aren’t showing signs of putting the brakes on rising state gasoline taxes even as Indiana’s government continues its streak of fast-growing tax collections. Hoosiers are now paying about 56 cents per gallon in state taxes on gasoline – the highest-ever level shown in state records – and it will increase next month based on rising fuel prices. Democrats have been calling over the past week for Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to issue an emergency order suspending the gas tax or for the GOP-dominated Legislature to do so when lawmakers hold a one-day meeting next week. Republicans shrugged off a push in March by Democrats for a gas tax suspension projected to cost about $125 million a month as national gasoline prices surged past $4 a gallon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Republican legislative leaders argued that much of the gas tax money was dedicated to the state’s highway construction program, and they instead pushed through a plan for gradually cutting Indiana’s individual income tax rate over the next seven years. Indiana’s average price hit $4.60 for a gallon of regular as of Wednesday, according to AAA. State Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, said that a gas tax suspension would be in “the best interest of Hoosiers” and that “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Des Moines: Jackson Elementary will retain its name but honor a new historical figure going forward. The Des Moines School Board voted unanimously to change the name during its Tuesday meeting. Students launched the name change campaign about two years ago while researching a class assignment. During a school board meeting last month, Jackson students cited the seventh U.S. president’s ownership of enslaved people and mistreatment of Native Americans as just two of several reasons they were advocating for a name change. The children argued Mary Jackson, NASA’s first Black female engineer, was a better fit in part because the school’s name should reflect its diverse student body. Mary Jackson’s story was made famous in the 2016 book and film “Hidden Figures.” Of the elementary school’s nearly 400 students, 25% are white, roughly 36% are Hispanic, 12% are Black, and about 20% are Asian, according to state data. Parents, students and staff attending the meeting quietly cheered and clapped following the vote. Jackson fourth grader Maximus Vannavong, who spoke at last month’s meeting, said he was “happy that it changed and got approved.” Board Chair Dwana Bradley thanked the students for their hard work. “It’s very important and valuable and people do listen and pay attention when you use your voices,” she said.
Topeka: Republicans on Wednesday improved their chances of flipping the state’s only congressional seat held by a Democrat, when the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the new congressional map they drew. The map slices territory out of the Kansas City-area district Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids has carried by a 2-to-1 margin and replaces it with three counties that ex-President Donald Trump carried by more than 40 percentage points in 2020. Republicans argued that Davids still would have carried the new district two years ago and that the map was a fair way to rebalance the number of residents in each of the state’s four districts after 10 years of population shifts. Attorneys for the Kansas voters and voting rights group that challenged the map urged the state Supreme Court to declare that broad language about “inalienable natural rights” and “equal protection and benefits” in the state’s bill of rights bars overly partisan and racial gerrymandering. But the justices apparently didn’t see it that way. Their decision bucks what has been a trend in a small but growing number of states since the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in 2019 that complaints about partisan gerrymandering are political issues and not for the federal courts to resolve.
Lexington: After a disastrous showing last summer that included long lines and a severe lack of water for attendees amid blazing heat, the Railbird Festival “will take a pause in 2022,” according to a Tuesday post on the event’s Twitter account. More than 30,000 people flowed into the music festival at Keeneland in Lexington in August 2021 as attendees anxiously awaited bands like My Morning Jacket, Dave Matthews Band, Leon Bridges, Jason Isbell and Bendigo Fletcher. However, with anticipation came perspiration as the two-day event held in the middle of summer was sold out, which meant long lines for everything, including water. During the first of the festival’s two days, patrons were expected to bring empty bottles to fill while at the event but were not allowed to bring any water within their containers. That, mixed with the 20- to 30-minute lines to access the limited water stations placed around the grounds, angered attendees as temperatures reached 90 degrees. According to its Twitter account, Railbird Festival said organizers have taken the criticisms and concerns from former festivalgoers “to heart” and are “working hard behind the scenes to create an exceptional experience for the next edition of the festival.” The fest will reopen June 3-4, 2023, at its new downtown venue, Red Mile Gaming & Racing.
New Orleans: A state lawmaker’s attempt to set restrictions on what public schools can teach about race was rejected by a House committee Tuesday, with some panel members saying the legislation needlessly encroached on state and local education officials’ duties, while other said the legislation was so broadly written it could squelch classroom debate. Both bills were by Rep. Ray Garofalo, a St. Bernard Parish Republican who lost his chairmanship of the House Education Committee last year after pushing similar legislation over the objections of the House leadership. Garofalo was back before the same panel during a livestreamed meeting at the Capitol in Baton Rouge. His House Bill 1014 listed several teaching restrictions, including forbidding teaching that anyone of any race bears “collective guilt” for past actions by members of the same race; that the United States is “systemically racist”; or that anyone should be “adversely or advantageously treated” on the basis of race. Similar bills have been proposed or passed in a number of Republican-controlled states in response to the recent spate of publicity about “critical race theory,” an academic framework dating to the 1970s that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions. Critical race theory is not a fixture of K-12 education but has become a catchall political buzzword for any teaching in schools about race and American history.
Dyer Brook: Residents of a town in far northern Maine are experiencing trouble with mail delivery that officials blame on roads full of potholes. Officials with the U.S. Postal Service told Dyer Brook officials last week that mail carriers were suspending deliveries because of unsafe roads, WGME-TV reports. Officials said deliveries have resumed as the potholes are starting to get filled in. WGME-TV reports residents were told mail would be held in a neighboring town during the service disruption.
Ocean City: More than 3,000 customs, hot rods, street machines, classics and muscle cars will assemble for various car shows, contests, parades and live auctions in the city from Thursday to Sunday for the 31st annual Cruisin’ event. Residents and visitors alike are reminded to tap the brakes as they cruise along Coastal Highway, as the resort town will be designated a special event zone for the rest of the week, meaning lower speed limits. Violators will face increased fines and penalties for violations and, in extreme cases, arrest. The Ocean City Police Department will remain on high alert during the entirety of the event. Officers from the Ocean City Police Department, Maryland State Police and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office will strictly enforce all traffic laws. Officers will also enforce all laws for spectators who incite drivers for spinning of wheels or burn-outs, as well as for the driver. According to the OCPD, significant traffic congestion and alternate traffic patterns are anticipated throughout the weekend. Due to the high traffic volume, all motorists are advised to plan their drives accordingly to ensure they arrive at their destinations safely and on time.
Boston: The commission put together to study the racial implications of the Massachusetts state seal and motto has voted unanimously to recommend that both be replaced. The Special Commission on the Official Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth, made up of lawmakers, members of Indigenous tribes, historians and others, made the decision at its meeting Tuesday, GBH News reports. The current seal that appears on state flags, which dates to the late 19th century, features a depiction of a Native American man beneath a colonist’s arm brandishing a sword. Critics say it references the defeat of local tribes at the hands of English colonists centuries ago. The state’s Latin motto –which translates into English as, “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty” – dates to about 1659 and is attributed to English politician Algernon Sydney, according to the secretary of state’s office. Brian Boyles, co-chair of the 20-member commission, pointed out at Tuesday’s meeting that the face on the seal was based on a photograph from the Bureau of Ethnology in Washington, D.C., of Thomas Little Shell, a Chippewa leader who never lived in Massachusetts. “No Native residents were consulted in this selection,” Boyles said. The next step is seeking new designs to the seal and motto.
Grand Rapids: A prosecutor said Wednesday that he will only decide whether to charge a white police officer in last month’s fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya, a Black man, after he finishes discussing it with experts. Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker acknowledged that the “investigation appears to be moving painstakingly slowly,” six weeks after Grand Rapids Officer Christopher Schurr shot Lyoya in the back of the head during a struggle. “It is imperative that I review all the facts and evidence before making a charging decision,” Becker said. “In this situation, my decision can only be made by taking the time to gather all the available information, both from (state police) and from state and national experts.” State police submitted a report April 28, but Becker said he requested more information. “I ask for your continued patience,” he told the public in a statement. Schurr killed Lyoya, 26, on April 4, minutes after stopping his car because the officer said it didn’t match its license plate. Lyoya didn’t produce a driver’s license and began to run. The officer quickly caught him, and the pair grappled on someone’s lawn while a bystander recorded video. Schurr shot Lyoya in the head after demanding that Lyoya “let go” of his police Taser.
Cass Lake: The federal government will soon return nearly 12,000 acres of land in northern Minnesota it wrongfully took from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe decades ago. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs thought it had the power to sell tribal tracts without the consent of the majority of the owners, a misinterpretation of an Interior Department order back in 1948, Minnesota Public Radio News reports. Tribal District 3 Representative LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III said the land transfers were acts of outright theft. “They mailed out letters to people. If they didn’t get a response, they took them as ‘yes.’ They took them as approval,” he said. Fairbanks said he asked his staff to begin looking into the issue in 2012 after hearing from community members for many years. Then-President Donald Trump signed legislation in December 2020 allowing for the return of the land, which is located within the Chippewa National Forest in Cass County. The land is expected to be returned to the tribe in the coming months now that the band has submitted its survey detailing each of the parcels involved. Fairbanks said the Leech Lake band’s relationship with the Cass County leaders played an important role in getting the Leech Lake Reservation Restoration Act signed into law.
Greenwood: A Catholic elementary school that primarily serves Black and Hispanic families in the Mississippi Delta is closing after more than 70 years, following a sex abuse scandal, declining enrollment and a steep decrease in donations. St. Francis of Assisi School in Greenwood notified teachers and families Friday that it will close at the end of this week, the Greenwood Commonwealth reports. It joins more than 200 other Catholic schools in the U.S. that have closed permanently during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. The school in Greenwood was founded in 1951 and is run by the Franciscan Friars of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province, a Wisconsin-based religious community that opened a mission in an impoverished part of Mississippi. In recent years, the school in Greenwood has been tarnished by a clergy sex abuse scandal dating back to the 1990s. Paul West, a former friar who was a teacher and principal, was convicted in April of abusing a former student at the school. The Mississippi attorney general’s office later dropped a second set of charges against West in the abuse of another student as the 62-year-old former friar began a 45-year prison sentence.
Potosi: A prosecutor is seeking to vacate the conviction of a man who spent nearly two decades behind bars for the 1998 death of his mother – a crime he and others insist he did not commit. Washington County Prosecuting Attorney Joshua Hedgecorth has asked a judge to set aside 38-year-old Michael Politte’s second-degree murder conviction, the Kansas City Star reports. Politte was released from prison last month, two months after he was granted parole. Politte was just 14 when Rita Politte died in a fire at the family home in the eastern Missouri town of Hopewell. Michael and a friend were also in the home but managed to escape the blaze. Politte’s lawyers said the boys were awakened by smoke and scrambled to escape, before Politte found the burning body of his mother. Investigators said the fire was started with gasoline and determined Rita Politte had also suffered blunt force head trauma. The investigation focused on her teenage son as the main suspect, and four years later he was convicted as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. The only physical evidence investigators had to link him to the crime was what they said was the presence of gasoline on the teen’s shoes. But that finding was based on now-discredited fire investigation techniques, and the state has conceded there was no gasoline on his shoes.
Helena: Residents who want to cast a vote in next month’s primary election must be registered with their county elections office by noon June 6, under an order by the Montana Supreme Court. The justices, in a 4-1 ruling Tuesday, said changes to election laws passed by the 2021 Legislature will remain in effect for the June 7 primary. District Court Judge Michael Moses of Billings had ruled last month that a law ending Election Day voter registration appeared to unconstitutionally burden the right to vote, and he temporarily blocked it for this year’s primary election. The Supreme Court lifted that injunction, agreeing with Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen that three local elections have been successfully held under those laws. The court also noted the plaintiffs – the Montana Democratic Party, Native American organizations and youth advocacy groups – had not challenged the laws prior to the earlier elections. Sheila Hogan, executive director of MDP, has said the 2021 voting laws were an attack on the constitutional right to vote and more greatly affected young, Native, elderly or disabled voters and others who might have difficulty getting to the polls. Western Native Voice, whose work includes registering Native Americans to vote, said in recent years its largest voter registration days have been on election days.
Omaha: The City Council has approved a redevelopment plan for a downtown property to become a skyscraper housing Mutual of Omaha’s headquarters, the Omaha World-Herald reports. The plan involves the city buying an existing parking garage and Mutual adding a block of downtown property as part of its $600 million proposal, according to the newspaper.
Reno: People start more wildfires that burn more acres in the state than natural events like lightning. In the past four years, Nevadans – either intentionally or unintentionally – started 1,419 fires, while natural events such as lightning started 1,015 fires. Those human-sparked fires burned 776,125 acres, nearly 48,000 acres more than started naturally. In 2018, illegal fireworks set off near Winnemucca started the largest fire in Nevada’s history, burning 439,000 acres. Other significant causes of human-started fires include arson, power lines that brush against vegetation, chains dragging behind trailers causing sparks, target shooting, and campfires. The most notable year was 2020, when nearly half of the 491 wildfires in Nevada were sparked by human causes. While Nevada’s largest, most destructive fires have not been caused by target shooters, “there is just a lot of them in the wildland urban interface areas, drawing down resources needed on other wildland fires,” said Kacey KC, Nevada state forester and fire warden. Part of that is due to Nevada’s rapid growth – the state is one of the fastest growing in the nation. Areas that were once remote locations for target shooting and discharging fireworks are now close to residential areas.
Peterborough: A 168-year-old company known for its handwoven, hardwood baskets is closing its factory and stopping production, partly because of an insect pest that has been destroying ash trees. The Peterboro Basket Company has been in business since 1854. The company said in a recent announcement that the baskets “are principally made of U.S. grown, Appalachian White Ash,” which is also typically used for baseball bats and ax handles. “For some years the Emerald Ash Borer beetle has reduced the availability of the wood used to make the baskets,” the company said. The emerald ash borer has destroyed tens of millions of trees in the U.S. and Canada. The company said other extreme labor shortages, ongoing supply chain issues and owners who are “ready to retire” are among the other considerations in deciding to close. The factory plans to produce its last basket this summer or fall.
Cedar Grove: Gov. Phil Murphy announced proposed legislation Wednesday that would create licensing for police that he said would make it easier to fire rogue officers. “It will send a strong message that we are rebuilding the bonds of trust between the police and residents, especially in Black and brown communities,” Murphy said during the announcement at the Essex County Police Academy in Cedar Grove with Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin. New Jersey has been grappling with the question of licensing police officers for at least the past four years. Licensing was one of several recommendations the Asbury Park Press made in its police misconduct series “Protecting the Shield” that were embraced by then-Attorney General Gurbir Grewal after its publication in January 2018. The series highlighted the fact that New Jersey stands nearly alone in the nation in failing to license police officers. Rhode Island and Hawaii are frequently mentioned as the other states without licensing. But police licensing is a broad catch-all that obscures some of the details of the process of removing a police officer from policing, which varies around the country. Decertification is more to the point. But decertification as it has stood in New Jersey for decades doesn’t have any teeth.
Albuquerque: A conservative-backed foundation that aims to post online registration records for voters across the country urged a federal judge Tuesday to override objections by New Mexico election regulators who say the initiative violates state law and would discourage people from registering to vote out of privacy concerns. The VoteRef.com website does not list details of how people voted regarding candidates or initiatives. The Voter Reference Foundation has posted voter rolls from at least 20 states that can be searched by names or addresses to verify where people live and view whether they voted in various past elections. A companion website highlights the difference between the number of ballots cast according to certified election results and the number of people listed as having voted on registration rolls at various points in time as local registrations are added and purged. Eddie Greim, an attorney for Voter Reference Foundation, urged a federal judge to intervene and ensure voter rolls can be published online to provide direct accountability and allow people to vet the accuracy of most registration records submitted by others. New Mexico election regulators say the unprecedented efforts flouts state statutes that limit the acquisition and sharing of voter registration rolls to governmental activities and political campaigns.
New York: Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says he’s considering a run for Congress after a legal battle over the state’s political maps opened up a seat in Brooklyn. The two-term Democrat, who left office at the end of 2021, said Wednesday that he’s formed an exploratory committee for New York’s 10th Congressional District. The Democratic-heavy district will include a large slice of western Brooklyn, where he lives. New York’s 10th District is currently represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, but the state’s political maps are being redrawn under supervision of a New York judge after a court found they were unconstitutional and gerrymandered in favor of Democrats. The court this week unveiled new proposed maps that significantly draw a number of New York City-based districts. Nadler said he believed the maps were changed so much that they are also unconstitutional, but if the proposed districts become final at the end of this week, he intends to run in the 12th District representing Manhattan. The primary contest has been pushed back from June to Aug. 23. De Blasio toyed with running for governor this year before deciding to sit it out. He also had a short-lived run for president in 2019.
Raleigh: The General Assembly returned Wednesday to Raleigh for its traditional budget-adjustment work session, but lawmakers aren’t getting out of the blocks quickly. The House and Senate gaveled in and out sparsely attended floor sessions at midday Wednesday. Republican leaders in both chambers say committee meetings and recorded votes won’t occur until next week. The delay is not surprising given that dozens of incumbents have been back home competing in Tuesday’s primaries. Lawmakers began introducing bills Wednesday. The chief job for lawmakers is to approve changes to the second year of the already-enacted two-year budget. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper made recommendations last week. House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters Wednesday that he expected the session to last five or six weeks. That’s in line with Senate leader Phil Berger’s recent comments that he and Moore were aiming to adjourn the session around July 1, when the new fiscal year begins. Other legislation pending from 2021 likely to be debated now include bills that would legalize medical marijuana and sports wagering. Moore said he didn’t expect cannabis legislation, which has yet to clear the Senate, to be considered in the House until 2023.
Devils Lake: Horizon Financial Bank is holding its first ever “Piggie Pageant,” featuring nothing but locally made piggy banks. Teaming up with a third grade class from Sweetwater Elementary School, bank representatives read students “The Story of the Original Piggie Bank” and talked to the kids about the importance of savings their money. Sami J. Lindenberg, bookkeeper for the bank, said they also donated the book to the classroom library, explained the rules of the pageant to the kids and instructed them to paint their own piggy banks for the competition. Community members are invited to cast their ballots for their favorite pig. Voting, to last through Friday, is anonymous and can be done by stopping into the bank or online, through Horizon’s Facebook page. After the pageant is over, the piggies will be returned to the students to take home and keep.
Columbus: Judges would be required to consider criminal suspects’ threat to public safety when setting bail amounts under legislation and a separate proposal for a state constitutional amendment being advanced by Ohio House Republicans. The GOP proposals follow a ruling by a divided state Supreme Court earlier this year that said a $1.5 million bond for a Cincinnati man accused of fatally shooting a man during a robbery was too high. The measures were scheduled for votes in the House on Wednesday, but they were pulled from the agenda. House Speaker Bob Cupp said more discussion was needed on how the proposals mesh with bigger conversations on changes to the state’s bail system. Lawmakers must weigh a number of issues, including people stuck in jail on nonviolent offenses “simply because they can’t afford to get out,” said Cupp, R-Lima. The Ohio Supreme Court majority said safety concerns expressed by the victim’s family members and evidence that the suspect presented a false ID when confronted after fleeing to Las Vegas weren’t factors relevant to the amount of bail. The court said public safety concerns could be met by other requirements, such as electronic monitoring, which was done in the case of the Cincinnati murder suspect, according to court records.
Oklahoma City: Republican leaders in the state House and Senate announced an agreement Tuesday on a $9.8 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year – the largest in state history. Unlike previous years, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt was not included in a statement announcing the agreement, and his office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposal. “This year’s budget agreement reflects that the Oklahoma Legislature prioritizes education, law enforcement and healthcare,” Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat said in the statement. Among the key provisions is a plan to send “inflation relief” cash payments in December of $75 to each individual taxpayer and $150 to married couples who file jointly. The deal includes a $32.5 million increase in funding to the Department of Human Services to eliminate the waiting list of more than 5,000 developmentally disabled Oklahomans to receive state services. While the average budget increase was about 10%, some state agencies received boosts, while others had a reduction in funding. Public schools received a modest increase of about 0.54% over last year’s budget, while colleges and universities saw an increase of about 7.45%. The House and Senate saw their budgets increased by 19% and 15%, respectively, while the budget for the governor’s office remained flat.
Portland: Voters in Multnomah County have elected a female sheriff for the first time in history. Current Undersheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell, a 26-year veteran of the agency, handily won the top job with two-thirds of the vote and will replace Sheriff Mike Reese on Jan. 1. Reese could not run for reelection due to term limits. Morrisey O’Donnell received key endorsements from Reese, former Govs. Barbara Roberts and Ted Kulongoski, and the mayors of three cities –including Portland – that contract with the county for law enforcement services, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. Morrisey O’Donnell called the day a win for the community and “trailblazers everywhere.” “I promise to work every day to reduce gun violence, bring compassionate solutions to the homelessness crisis, and collaborate with partners to make our community safer,” she said in a statement. “I know it’s a big task, and I’m honored and encouraged by your trust in me.” Morrisey O’Donnell was hired by the sheriff’s office in 1996 as a corrections deputy and was appointed undersheriff in August, making her the first woman in Multnomah County to serve as second-in-command in the sheriff’s office. She previously led both the agency’s corrections and law enforcement divisions, the newspaper reports.
Harrisburg: One of the Legislature’s most powerful Republicans lost a primary race, and another was in real danger Wednesday of going down to defeat, both targeted by challengers from the right. As vote counting continued, state Sen. Pat Browne of Lehigh County was a few dozen votes behind school board member and pilot Jarrett Coleman. State Rep. Stan Saylor of York County lost to Wendy Jo Fink, who promised to eliminate school property taxes. Both incumbents were attacked for being Harrisburg insiders. Saylor was elected in 1992 and Browne in 2005 after a decade in the state House. They chair the Appropriations Committee in their respective chambers. The committees are the conduit for the state budget legislation and play a prominent role in much of the Legislature’s business. Another longtime House Republican from York County also was looking at a possible defeat: Rep. Keith Gillespie was trailing badly to Joe D’Orsie, the communications director at an Apostolic Church. Gillespie was first elected 20 years ago. On the Democratic side, 12-year incumbent Rep. Pam DeLissio lost to nurse Tarik Khan in a Philadelphia district.
Narragansett: Members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe will be able to walk onto Narragansett Town Beach for free this summer despite the objections of some residents who voiced concerns about overcrowding. The Town Council narrowly voted to approve the change late Monday night during a raucous meeting that lasted for more than four hours. “It’s about the beach, but in many ways, it’s about more than just the beach,” said Town Council President Jesse Pugh, who introduced the resolution along with Councilwoman Deb Kopech. Typically, anyone over the age of 12 must pay a $12 admission fee to walk onto Narragansett Town Beach, on top of paying for parking. Town residents have the option of purchasing a discounted seasonal pass. Pugh said Monday that members of the Narragansett tribe, regardless of whether they are town residents, would be able obtain a seasonal pass for free by showing their tribal identification cards at the beach’s sales office. The pass will be good only for this summer, and the town has no obligation to continue the program after this year. Supporters see the move as a small but meaningful way to honor the tribe from which the town took its name. But opponents said it seemed like the measure was being rushed through.
Columbia: A deputy charged in the deaths of two women who drowned in a locked police van in 2018 ignored barricades and drove into rapidly rising floodwaters against advice from his supervisors and officials on the highway, a prosecutor said Monday. Former Horry County Deputy Stephen Flood is on trial on two counts of involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide for the drownings of the women he was taking to mental health facilities under a court order as rain from Hurricane Florence inundated eastern South Carolina. Flood faces up to five years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter and 10 years in prison for each reckless homicide charges. Flood could have prevented the deaths of Wendy Newton, 45, and Nicolette Green, 43, four separate times that evening, Solicitor Ed Clements said in his opening statement Monday at the Marion County courthouse. First, he could have listened to people in the Horry County Sheriff’s Office to avoid the shortest route, which was along a highway that had flooded in major storms before, Clements said. Flood then drove around barricades closing state Highway 9 near Nichols, ignored National Guard troops in the road past the barricades who warned them the water was too deep to traverse, and drove his police transport van into water covering the highway near the Little Pee Dee River bridge, the prosecutor said.
Sioux Falls: State lawmakers on Wednesday unanimously approved a report finding that Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s daughter got preferential treatment while she was applying for a real estate appraiser’s license in 2020. The findings of last year’s legislative probe, which was conducted by a Republican-controlled Government Operations and Audit Committee, repudiate Noem’s insistence that her daughter, Kassidy Peters, didn’t receive special treatment with her application. State lawmakers on Wednesday approved the committee’s findings by a voice vote and without discussion. Noem, who is running for reelection and is positioned for a 2024 White House bid, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, despite holding a meeting that included Peters and key decision-makers from the agency that was evaluating her license application just days after the agency moved to deny her the license. After the meeting, Peters received another opportunity to demonstrate she could meet federal standards and was ultimately awarded the license. The Republican governor on Wednesday stuck to her defense, saying in a statement that “Kassidy followed the same process as other applicants did to obtain her license. She did not receive preferential treatment.” But the report says Peters received three opportunities to demonstrate to state regulators that she could meet federal standards with her appraisals, which deviated from the standard certification process of two opportunities before an application is denied.
Nashville: The state’s highest court ruled Wednesday that Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher program does not violate the state constitution, clearing the path for families to soon use taxpayer dollars on private schools. The Tennessee Supreme Court’s 3-2 decision overturns several lower court rulings that had previously determined the program violated the Tennessee Constitution’s “home rule,” which says the Legislature can’t pass measures singling out individual counties without local support. Under the law, the voucher program would apply only to Nashville and to Shelby County, which includes Memphis – the areas with the lowest-performing schools and regions with Democratic political strongholds who opposed the measure. The law squeaked through the GOP-controlled General Assembly in 2019, with Republicans repeatedly tweaking the legislation to ensure it applied only to Democratic-controlled areas after acknowledging it was unpopular among their constituents. “Every child deserves a high-quality education, and today’s Tennessee Supreme Court opinion on (the voucher law) puts parents in Memphis and Nashville one step closer to finding the best educational fit for their children,” Lee said.
McAllen: U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday that authorities were prepared for an anticipated increase in migrants crossing the border from Mexico, days before a public health order is set to end after being used to turn people away nearly 2 million times without a chance to seek asylum. A federal judge may order that pandemic-related asylum limits continue, but Mayorkas offered public reassurances of readiness after a whirlwind tour of Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. Homeland Security has said it will prepare for as many as 18,000 daily crossings, compared with a daily average of about 7,800 in April, though Mayorkas emphasized that those are not projections. Mayorkas visited a remodeled processing center in McAllen, the region’s largest city, where migrants sat on metal benches and on sleeping mats spread on the floor, as aluminum thermal blankets made rustling noises. Televisions pointed into cells. The center reopened about six weeks ago for about 1,200 migrants. Chain-link fences have been replaced with cinder block walls. Cells have an open roof that Border Patrol officials said provides better ventilation.
St. George: A new report detailing the risk of wildfires across the nation for the next 30 years found southwest Utah to be one of the riskiest areas in the country. The report, released Monday by the nonprofit First Street Foundation, used a 30-year simulation of fires across America and a variety of metrics to calculate fire risk, including data from the U.S. Forest Service’s LANDFIRE program, weather reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, historical records of where wildfires have occurred in the past and changes in climate trends. It found approximately 79.8 million properties in the lower 48 states are at wildfire risk. The report highlighted several counties in Utah with a lot of structures at risk for fire. In Utah County, there are over 118,000 structures at risk. In Salt Lake County, there are 138,600. But while those counties had the largest numerical risk, the areas with the highest risk per household were in southwestern Utah. The report estimates that of Washington County’s 101,400 structures, 93.6% are at a 0.2% or worse risk of being involved in a wildfire this year, compared to 35.2% in Utah County and 9.3% in Salt Lake County. Overall, 57.7% of structures in Utah are at a 0.03% wildfire risk, while 24% of structures are at a 0.2% risk.
Colchester: Planned Parenthood of Northern New England will close four health centers in Vermont and one in New Hampshire next month, while also expanding the days of operation at seven other centers in the region. The organization announced the “difficult but strategic decision” decision to shutter part-time health centers in Bennington, Hyde Park, Middlebury and St. Albans in Vermont and in Claremont, New Hampshire, effective June 12, said Kai Williams, senior vice president of health care delivery, in a statement. “We believe these decisions will ensure that we can continue to serve northern New England for generations to come,” she said. Over the course of a year, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England will expand the days of operation to a minimum of four or five days a week at health centers in Barre, Brattleboro and Williston, Vermont; in Exeter, New Hampshire; and in Sanford, Biddeford, and Topsham, Maine, the organization said. Operating hours will not change at facilities in Burlington, Rutland, St. Johnsbury and White River Junction, Vermont; in Derry, Keene and Manchester, New Hampshire; or in Portland, Maine.
Richmond: A Virginia State Police pilot was temporarily blinded during a search for a suspect when a person on the ground aimed a laser pointer at the police aircraft, officials said. Troopers were helping the Nottoway County Sheriff’s Office with a pursuit and search for a suspect near the town of Crewe on Monday, state police said in a news release. While one of the agency’s airplanes was aiding in the search, the pilot was temporarily blinded by a laser pointer being used on the ground, police said. When the pilot regained his vision, he and his co-pilot identified the source of the laser and provided troopers on the ground with an exact location and address. As the airplane continued to assist with the search, the laser continued to track the aircraft. Crewe police officers and Virginia State Police troopers found a woman and the laser pointer and took her into custody. The woman was charged with one felony count of interfering with the operation of an aircraft, police said. The Federal Aviation Administration was notified of the incident, which is under investigation. WRIC-TV reports that state police said the woman and the suspect police were searching for were not connected.
Mount Rainier National Park: Two climbers were rescued by helicopter Friday after one fell into a crevasse the day before on Mount Rainier. The climbers had been in contact with the National Park Service beginning last Wednesday evening, when they stopped their summit bid at 12,800 feet because of adverse weather, according to the NPS. They didn’t initially ask for assistance, the Seattle Times reports. But the climbers called for help Thursday after one of them fell 80 feet into a crevasse at about 12,200 feet above sea level and suffered arm and leg injuries, officials said. The climber who fell was able to communicate with Mount Rainier National Park dispatchers, as well as his partner on the Kautz Glacier, but authorities could not immediately launch a rescue effort because of deep snow, limited visibility and strong and erratic winds, according to the Park Service. Heavy winds thwarted rescuers’ efforts to reach the climbers Friday morning, but rescuers were able to reach the pair several hours later. The climbers were on the Kautz Glacier climbing route below the Wapowety Cleaver and had planned to descend the Disappointment Cleaver route when one of them fell into the crevasse, officials said.
Charleston: The finishing touches on a six-lane upgrade of the West Virginia Turnpike in Beckley are getting underway and expected to last about eight weeks. The $140 million widening project on the 8-mile stretch was finished last fall, but final paving and striping were delayed to allow holiday traffic to have full access on the heavily traveled road. Paving and striping will take place between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. to minimize impact on motorists, said Jeff Miller, executive director of the West Virginia Parkways Authority. Delays should be expected until the work is complete. The speed limit in the zone will be 55 mph, the state Department of Transportation said. Miller said it will be strictly enforced. “It’s a very, very busy area, and we just don’t want anything bad to happen to anybody,” he said.
Madison: A judge on Tuesday voiced skepticism about a lawsuit challenging the legality of private grant money awarded to the city to help run the 2020 election, calling some of the arguments “ridiculous,” a “stretch” and “close to preposterous.” The lawsuit argues that private grants given to Madison from a group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg amounted to illegal bribery. The Wisconsin Elections Commission in December rejected that complaint, and this lawsuit is an appeal of that decision. Four nearly identical lawsuits are also pending in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha. The case in Madison was the first to hold arguments. Three Wisconsin courts have previously rejected similar lawsuits arguing that the grants were illegal. Similar lawsuits filed in other swing states have also been rejected. Dane County Circuit Judge Stephen Ehlke referenced those rulings when he questioned attorney Erick Kaardal Tuesday. Kardaal said the commission got it wrong, and Madison should not have been allowed to use a portion of the grant money to pay for absentee ballot drop boxes because, he said, they are illegal, based on a Waukesha County circuit court ruling issued after the election. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is currently weighing an appeal of that ruling.
Jackson: The father of a Marine killed in an attack on an airport in Afghanistan last year is planning to run for the state House as a Republican, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. Jim McCollum’s son, Rylee, died at age 20 in a suicide bombing in Kabul during the U.S. withdrawal from the Taliban-run nation. Wyoming’s 16th legislative district is currently represented by Democratic Rep. Mike Yin, who ran unopposed in 2020, according to the newspaper.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Flag fix, fire starters: News from around our 50 states