Gator captured, pledge restored, ailing giraffe put down: News from around our 50 states

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports


Montgomery: The state Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for a location in southeast Alabama to build the state’s fifth veterans home. says the department sent out requests for site selection proposals Monday. The plan is to build a 182,000-square-foot home to provide skilled nursing care for 150 to 175 veterans. The minimum site requirement is 27 acres. The department is considering Barbour, Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Pike counties. These counties can submit proposals by Aug. 15.


Anchorage: The city has unveiled the state’s largest rooftop solar project at the Egan Civic and Convention Center. Officials say 216 solar panels are expected to power up to 9% of the convention center’s electricity needs for the year. The $200,000 project was funded from a pool set aside for capital improvements from the Convention Center Room Tax Fund. Artic Solar Ventures CEO Stephen Trimble says the panels the company installed are expected to save the center between $20,000 and $25,000 annually.


Scottsdale: The OdySea Aquarium has become the state’s only attraction that doubles as a Certified Autism Center. The International Board of Credentialing and Continued Education Standards announced the aquarium’s certification this month. “We really want this to be the place where families can go no matter what their special needs might be,” says Jessica Peranteau, director of education at OdySea. IBCCES certified centers must be dedicated to serving people with autism, have at least 80% of staff trained and certified in the autism field, and be committed to ongoing training in autism.


Little Rock: Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, is retiring after nearly three decades heading the group. Sklar has served as the organization’s executive director since 1992. The group says Holly Dickson, its legal director, will serve as interim director, and a national search will be announced soon. Sklar has headed the group while it has taken on several high-profile legal fights, including over four abortion restrictions that were blocked by a federal judge in 2017.


Yosemite National Park: A company that lost its contract to run Yosemite National Park’s hotels, restaurants and outdoor activities has settled a lawsuit with the National Park Service and the park’s new concession operator over rights to the names of famous park landmarks. The National Park Service says the settlement with Delaware North allows the park to restore the previous names of some properties at Yosemite, including the Ahwahnee Hotel, which is now called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. The Park Service awarded Aramark a 15-year contract in 2015. Shortly after, New York-based Delaware North, which ran concessions from 1993 to 2015, filed a lawsuit saying it owned the trademarked names of the sites like the Wawona Hotel and Curry Village.


Denver: Officials say a state email account created to report suspected child abuse or neglect went unchecked for more than four years. KCNC-TV reports the oversight resulted in five possible cases of child neglect undiscovered until May that are now being investigated. Office of Children and Families Director Minna Castillo-Cohen says confidentiality prevents her from providing details. The state set up a child abuse and neglect telephone hotline in 2015 and created the email address to support it. Soon after, state health officials created a new email account with a different address but didn’t delete the original one. By the time the error was discovered, there were 321 emails in the inbox. Of them, 104 were related to concerns of abuse or neglect, including the five that needed immediate attention.


Newton: The 19-year-old brother of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim – an outspoken advocate for greater school safety measures – says he’s running for the state Senate. Republican JT Lewis of Newtown posted a video on Twitter on Monday announcing plans to challenge Republican Sen. Tony Hwang of Fairfield. The next legislative election is in 2020. Lewis recently finished his freshman year at the University of Connecticut and says he’s running for office to honor his late brother, Jesse, one of the 20 first-graders killed in 2012.


Dover: A state law that raises the legal age for smoking and buying tobacco products went into effect Tuesday. Gov. John Carney signed the law in April that increases the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. The Delaware News Journal reports the state joins 16 others with similar legislation prohibiting retailers from selling and adults from purchasing tobacco for minors. There’s a $1,000 fine for breaking the law. The law encompasses e-cigarettes and vapes with anything derived from tobacco or containing nicotine.

District of Columbia

Washington: A new Gallup poll finds most Americans don’t believe the district should become a state, WUSA-TV reports. The survey found 29% are in favor of statehood, while 64% oppose it, with the remainder having no opinion. Gallup says its researchers conducted the poll of 1,018 people across the nation June 19-3. Every Democrat running for president in 2020 has come out in favor of making D.C. the nation’s 51st state, Politico reports. But the research suggests the rest of the country may not be on board. The survey noted no major subgroups of Americans voice majority support for D.C. statehood, though left-leaning political groups are a bit more likely to do so than right-leaning.


Orlando: Walt Disney World announced that the Disney Skyliner, which is like mini-cabins in the sky, will begin operating Sept. 29 and will give guests “a never-before-seen bird’s-eye view.” It will transport visitors among Epcot, Hollywood Studios and several resorts. The mini-cabins will go about 11 mph and hang as high as 60 feet at some points. The rides will last between five and 15 minutes.


Atlanta: A FedEx truck driver is being credited for transporting three shooting victims to a hospital. News outlets report four people were shot Monday. Before police arrived, three of the victims flagged down a FedEx driver who took them to Grady Memorial Hospital. The fourth person was later dropped off at the hospital. Police Department spokeswoman Tasheena Brown says police believe the shooting was a result of a possible drug deal gone wrong. She also says the FedEx driver was being a good citizen. The status of the shooting victims is unknown. No charges were filed Monday, and the investigation is ongoing.


Honolulu: A watershed rehabilitation project is showing signs of success, as former dirt slopes on the island of Kahoolawe are now covered in green. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission has worked since last August on the Hakioawa watershed project, funded by a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Health and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Project officials say an estimated 1.9 million tons of soil erode from Kahoolawe annually. Officials say the project focuses on soil erosion control by planting native flora and removing non-native weeds. Nearly 200 volunteers from around the state have worked at the site, which rises from 400 to 1,300 feet in elevation.


Twin Falls: A county coroner is pushing for a new system to investigate deaths across the state. The Times-News reports Twin Falls County Coroner Gene Turley says the creation of a state pathology department would save taxpayers money and improve services. He’s presenting his plan to legislators in hopes they will bring it to a vote during theit next session. Turley says Idaho’s 44 coroners can conduct death investigations, but they’re not forensic pathologists. That means bodies must be sent to Boise when autopsies are required. He says his office orders about 25 autopsies a year, costing local taxpayers about $51,000 annually. He’d like the state to create a forensic pathology department with four regional offices, allowing autopsies and toxicology testing to be performed faster and closer to home.


Chicago: Police say an elusive alligator in a public lagoon in the city has been captured. Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says the Humboldt Park gator was caught humanely early Tuesday and is in good health. The reptile, nicknamed “Chance the Snapper,” was first spotted last week, and photos soon started showing up online. Investigators don’t know why the animal, which is at least 4 feet long, was on the loose in Chicago. Frank Robb of St. Augustine, Florida, arrived Sunday and assessed the park and lagoon. Sections of the park were closed to the public Monday on Robb’s recommendation, to reduce the noise and kerfuffle that could keep the animal in hiding.


Carmel: The City Council has unanimously voted to strengthen its smoking ordinance, adding a prohibition on using e-cigarettes everywhere smoking is prohibited and extending the smoking ban to all trails, parks and bars except for the establishments that already allow it. The new ordinance will go into effect when Mayor Jim Brainard signs it. The City Council originally started looking at the city’s smoking ordinance in order to provide school officials with more resources to curb the rate of e-cigarette usage in schools.


Des Moines: The City Council decided not to adopt any restrictions on firearm accessories Monday night after hearing stiff opposition from area gun owners and several council members. After the council said it would consider gun-accessory restrictions, opposition mounted, including from a state lawmaker who said he would sponsor legislation next year to negate the local action. The proposed ordinance would have banned the possession of high-capacity magazines and “trigger activators” that enable guns to fire at a higher rate. The unanimous council decision came six weeks after the council voted unanimously to look into the restrictions on large magazines and bump stocks.


Wichita: The government’s latest crop update says 81% of the winter wheat in the state has now been harvested. The National Agricultural Statistics Service says that the wheat harvest is still behind the 95% that would be average for this late in the season. Its report also rated the condition of the state’s corn crop as 11% poor to very poor, 33% fair and 56% good to excellent. The agency says 2% of the soybean crops planted in Kansas have begun setting pods. About 6% of the sorghum in the state has headed.


Versailles: Jim Beam has written an open letter to some newspapers to thank firefighters for battling a fire that recently burned down a storage warehouse. The producer of the world’s best-selling bourbon writes that it regrets the environmental impact of the fire. Beam officials say they’re working with state and local authorities to “restore the natural environment” near the warehouse that was destroyed when a lightning strike triggered the fire. Beam writes that it did “everything we could to manage the impact to wildlife.” The massive blaze earlier this month destroyed about 45,000 barrels of aging whiskey. Bourbon-filled runoff flowed into nearby waterways, removing oxygen from the water and killing fish.


Grambling President Rick Gallot and Magic Johnson launched a partnership for SodexoMAGIC and the university on Monday.
Grambling President Rick Gallot and Magic Johnson launched a partnership for SodexoMAGIC and the university on Monday.

Grambling: Grambling State University has announced the launch of a long-term partnership with a new dining service provider SodexoMAGIC, whose chairman is former NBA great Earvin “Magic” Johnson. The new agreement will deliver $6.7 million in facility renovations, new major-brand, quick-serve restaurants and 24-hour dining. The university’s partnership comes as a result of a collaborative RFP process in which students, faculty and staff weighed in on proposals from America’s leading dining service providers.


Portland: The state’s congressional delegation is getting involved in a push to extend federal aid to members of the state’s wild blueberry industry. Wild blueberries are an important crop in Maine, but the industry has struggled with low prices in recent years. Maine’s delegation says the U.S. Department of Agriculture should include the industry in its Market Facilitation Program, which is designed to provide money to agricultural producers affected by trade disruptions. A USDA spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a question about the likelihood of including the wild blueberry industry in the Market Facilitation Program.


Annapolis: Gov. Larry Hogan has renewed an agreement with a jurisdiction in Japan that is designed to advance life sciences. Hogan signed a new memorandum of understanding in Annapolis with Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa of Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. Hogan says renewing the agreement will help build on mutual strengths that Maryland and Kanagawa have in biotech and life sciences. He says increasing engagement with Japan has been a key goal of his administration. Kanagawa is part of the greater Tokyo area.


Marblehead: Police are investigating anti-Semitic posters found near the entrance to Temple Emanu-El on Monday morning. Rabbi David Meyer tells The Daily Item of Lynn that one flier was placed on the temple’s welcome sign adjacent to its front steps. Meyer says although the posters are “distressing,” he has been heartened by the response of the interfaith community in the town north of Boston, as well as law enforcement. The fliers reference local groups that support a neo-Nazi website. Meyer says surveillance video has been turned over to police, who are seeing the public’s help.


Lake Linden: A government task force is considering three ways to deal with mining waste rock that threatens to smother a natural reef in Lake Superior off the Keweenaw Peninsula. The Buffalo Reef Task Force has scheduled a public meeting for July 31 in Lake Linden to discuss the options. Waste rock called stamp sands were dumped into the lake during the copper mining era a century ago. Waves have slowly been carrying them toward the reef, a crucial spawning area for whitefish and lake trout near the mouth of Big Traverse River.


St. Louis Park: A suburban Minneapolis city council has voted to reinstate the Pledge of Allegiance at its meetings after the decision to drop it generated a firestorm of criticism, including from the White House. The St. Louis Park City Council voted to drop the pledge June 17 to be more inclusive to new residents and noncitizens. Protesters packed the meeting room last week, and on Monday night more than 100 people showed up to call for the reinstatement of the pledge. The council then voted unanimously to bring it back.


Starkville: The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District is studying whether it can offer stipends to math teachers to make the job more attractive. Superintendent Eddie Peasant says math teachers in grades seven to 12 are the hardest to retain because they can make more money in other places. The Commercial Dispatch reports that this past school year, the nearby Columbus Municipal School District started offering a $3,000 signing bonus to incoming math and science teachers. Peasant says that rather than a one-time bonus, he would like to offer a stipend at the end of the school year for three years to see if that helps keep teachers in the Starkville-Oktibbeha district.


Kansas City: Former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jason Kander is starting a job at a nonprofit for veterans. The Kansas City Star reports that Kander will lead a national expansion of Veterans Community Project. The nonprofit helps homeless veterans. Kander says the organization helped him when he dropped out of politics last year to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his time as an Army intelligence officer.


Helena: Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s presidential campaign will pay for out-of-state travel costs associated with his security detail after questions were raised about taxpayer funds being used, officials said Monday. The governor and Department of Justice entered into a memorandum of understanding July 2 in which the governor’s campaign agrees to pay for “incidental expenses,” including travel, lodging and cost meals incurred by the Montana Highway Patrol officers.


Lincoln: State emergency officials are urging south-central Nebraska residents and local governments to document any damage they experienced from flooding earlier this month. Officials with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency say they’re still collecting damage reports from local emergency management offices. They recommend documenting damage by photograph or video, if possible. They say affected people should register the damage with their private insurer and local emergency management offices.


Reno: Both of the dormitories damaged in a natural gas explosion at the University of Nevada-Reno will remain closed for at least a year, and the most severely damaged one isn’t expected to reopen until at least the fall of 2021. School officials say they’re making progress on plans to find housing for 1,300 students who were scheduled to live in Argenta and Nye halls when the fall semester begins at the end of next month. A July 5 explosion in a basement boiler room at Argenta Hall led to a much larger gas blast that blew out walls and windows but caused only minor injuries to eight people.

New Hampshire

Chichester: Two horses have been rescued from a farm and are recovering from starvation. Live and Let Live Farm Director Teresa Paradis tells the Concord Monitor that the horses were rescued Monday from a home near Hollis where they were living in “sewer-like conditions.” The mare and stallion – both roughly 20 years old – had been kept in a dirty barn behind the home. Paradis feared they wouldn’t have survived much longer if they hadn’t been rescued, and she estimated they would need months of care. The owners, who were not named, handed over the horses voluntarily. No charges are expected.

New Jersey

Wayne: The Sears store at Willowbrook Mall will close this fall, a company spokesperson confirmed Monday. Transform Holdco LLC, which acquired Sears Holdings’ assets earlier this year, was unable to reach an agreement regarding the store’s lease during bankruptcy proceedings, the Sears spokesperson said. The Wayne store is expected to close in mid-September, and liquidation sales began July 13. The spokesperson did not know how many associates would be affected by the closure.

New Mexico

Santa Fe: Patient enrollment in the state’s medical marijuana program has increased by nearly 10% since the start of the year. The Department of Health says the number of active patients increased to 74,100 at the end of June. That represents a 1% increase over May enrollment and a 35% expansion since June 2018. New Mexico’s medical marijuana industry is expressing mixed opinions about a proposal to limit production to 1,750 plants per producer and whether it helps ensure adequate supplies to patients.

New York

Shenectady: The Rivers Casino and Resort opened its sports betting lounge to the public Tuesday, the first of what are likely to be several casinos that expect to begin taking bets before the fall football season. The state’s entry into sports wagering comes after a ruling last year by the U.S. Supreme Court lifted sports betting prohibitions covering most states and prompted a frenzy of interest. In New York, officials are eager to catch up to New Jersey, where gamblers bet more than $3 billion on sports in the first full year since it became legal in that state.

North Carolina

Raleigh: The General Assembly has given final approval to a measure that would give the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the state’s only federally recognized American Indian tribe, the authority to offer sports betting. The House voted for the measure that had cleared the Senate three months ago. The bill now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk. A Cooper spokesman says the bill will be reviewed before he makes a decision on whether to sign it.

North Dakota

Bismarck: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says an aerial count of American white pelicans nesting in the state doesn’t give a clear picture of the number of the big-billed birds. The nesting colony at Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge is the largest in North America. Acting Refuge Manager Drew Williams says an aerial survey last month was done in the afternoon and counted only 12,000 birds. Williams says biologists believe the number of adults at the refuge is probably down only slightly from last year’s count of 29,000 birds. The pelicans usually arrive at the refuge north of Medina in early April and stay through September.


Dayton: Parts of the state are preparing for a new area code and mandated 10-digit dialing in early 2020. The Dayton Daily News reports area code 326 will be rolled out for new phone subscribers alongside the existing 937 area code in the Dayton area in southwest Ohio. Starting Feb. 8, 2020, all local phone calls will require use of the area code plus the seven-digit number. The 326 area code will take effect March 8, 2020. A Public Utilities Commission of Ohio spokesman says available numbers under area code 937 are running low and will run out in 2021. All current 937 subscribers will keep their numbers.


Oklahoma City: A finance report shows the inaugural committee for the new Republican governor spent more than $2.4 million on inauguration festivities to launch his first term in office. Gov. Kevin Stitt took office in January to become Oklahoma’s 28th governor. The report filed last week indicates Stitt’s inauguration celebrations cost was more than former Gov. Mary Fallin spent on both of her inauguration festivities combined, The Oklahoman reports. Stitt’s committee used all of the $2,471,900 that was raised from contributed funds and ticket sales, exhausting residual funds in his inaugural account. Oklahoma tribes, major local businesses and oil companies contributed the most to Stitt’s campaign, which was entirely funded by private donations. Stitt’s spokeswoman says the inauguration costs exceeded previous celebrations because the events were “wildly successful.”


Portland: State officials have fully opened a road circling Crater Lake National Park while closing two backcountry campsites. Rim Drive, which stretches 35 miles around Crater Lake, is considered one of the most scenic drives in the Pacific Northwest and usually remains open until the middle or end of October. Last week, officials in the national park 232 miles south of Portland opened Rim Drive’s eastern segment. The road’s western side and the park’s north entrance opened in June. Park officials last week also announced an emergency closure of the Dutton Creek and Red Cone campsites. Officials say the sites along the Pacific Crest Trail have been shuttered because of hazardous trees.


Philadelphia: The for-profit owner of a longtime teaching hospital that’s scheduled for closure says he tried to keep Hahnemann University Hospital open, including transferring it to a not-for-profit organization. But CEO Joel Freedman says those discussions weren’t successful, and no one else offered to take it over. Freedman issued the statement Monday, as Gov. Tom Wolf, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders assailed Freedman and his venture capital firm. They’re blaming Freedman for taking Hahnemann into bankruptcy and shutting down the 495-bed hospital. Hahnemann will stop admitting patients from the emergency room this week.

Rhode Island

Providence: Residents are paying more for a ride on the city’s popular electric bikes. JUMP, an Uber-owned company, announced a change in its pricing model Monday. A $2 fee now buys only 6 minutes and 40 seconds on the electrified bike share. Last week, that same $2 could buy a 30-minute ride. An hourlong ride costs more than four times as much, going from $4.10 to $18. The company says it has also “temporarily paused” the monthly subscription service. The Providence Journal reports that city spokesman Ben Smith says Providence is “disappointed in this fee increase.” Smith says the city will advocate for JUMP to reevaluate the price changes and expects the monthly plan to return soon.

South Carolina

Greenville: The Police Department is hopeful officers will be able to shave down response times when it matters most with the implementation of new call-tracing software. The agency announced Tuesday that its dispatch center is adopting RapidSOS, a free program that allows dispatchers to pinpoint a caller’s exact location in seconds. Before RapidSOS, dispatchers had to rely on older technology that used cellphone towers to triangulate a caller’s location. But that took valuable time and provided only a relatively general area for the call. The new program, which can be used only while the caller is on the line, gives the caller’s exact location immediately, with precision that can show whether the call is coming from the northbound or southbound lane of a road.

South Dakota

Pine Ridge: The Oglala Sioux say they are the state’s first tribe to legalize same-sex marriage. The tribal council last week approved a same-gender marriage ordinance in a 12-3 vote with one abstention. The new marriage ordinance amends marital and domestic law that has not changed on the Pine Ridge reservation since 1935.


Nashville: Gov. Bill Lee now says he’s in favor of changing a law that requires the state to honor Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Lee tweeted Monday that although it’s his job to enforce the law, he plans on working to change a decades-old statute requiring governors to sign a proclamation designating July 13 as “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day.” Lee’s statement Monday comes days after he faced national backlash not only for signing the proclamation last week but also for declining to answer if he thought the law should change.


Big Bend National Park: Experts say fossil remains discovered in the 1980s at the park have been identified as a new genus and species of duck-billed dinosaur. Officials with Big Bend National Park announced details of the creature named Aquilarhinus palimentus for its aquiline nose and shovel-shaped jaw. Texas Tech University Professor Tom Lehman discovered the fossil. The peculiar lower jaw was noted, but it wasn’t until recently that researchers determined the specimen was more primitive than prior identified duck-billed dinosaurs. Duck-billed dinosaurs, known as hadrosaurids, were the most common herbivorous dinosaur at the end of the Mesozoic era. Details are in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology.


Salt Lake City: A 15-year-old giraffe has been euthanized at Hogle Zoo after struggling with intestinal issues. The zoo says Kipenzi the giraffe was euthanized July 12 after zookeepers noticed that her appetite severely decreased and that she wasn’t going to the bathroom. Zoo veterinarians said the giraffe did not respond to exhaustive treatment and showed no signs of recovering. Kipenzi came to Utah in 2005 from Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.


Montpelier: Officials say the deaths of two dogs after they drank water from a private pond and the closures of two beaches underscore the reasons for concern over cyanobacteria. New England Cable News reports the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources says small-breed dogs fell ill and died earlier this year after swimming in a pond on private property in Stowe. The owner of the adult dog and puppy contacted the state last month. Cyanobacteria can produce harmful toxins and often flourishes during hot days of summer. The Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department closed the cove at Oakledge Park to swimmers on Monday because of a suspected cyanobacteria bloom. The city’s busy North Beach was closed Friday for the same reason.


Richmond: The city’s public school system says starting next school year, it will no longer require educators to take a drug test before being allowed to teach. WWBT reports Richmond Public School officials announced the district is lifting mandatory preemployment drug testing for school positions. The one exception will be for those who serve in safety positions, such as bus drivers and school security officers. The station says the school system approved the change earlier this year as a cost-savings measure, and it went into effect Monday.


Seattle: Health officials say a new case of measles has been confirmed in a Seattle nurse. KOMO-TV reported Monday that Seattle Children’s Hospital officials say the nurse contracted the disease from a patient who was being treated for measles at the facility. The hospital says the patient was in appropriate isolation, and the nurse was wearing personal protective equipment while caring for the patient. The nurse might have exposed people to the disease while she was working July 8-11. The measles case marks the 10th in King County since May.

West Virginia

Winfield: State Police are set to increase patrols on a 3-mile section of U.S. Route 35 known for deadly crashes. WSAZ-TV reports there have been six deadly crashes on that stretch of highway in Putnam County since May. Trooper Justin Cavender says speed has been a factor in many of the crashes on the road, adding that it seems like people are ignoring speed-limit signs. Cavender says troopers have issued more than 300 tickets to drivers speeding on the highway since May.


Madison: People in Monroe and Juneau counties can expect to see more military vehicles on the road and aircraft overhead this week as the Wisconsin National Guard runs a massive disaster training exercise. The exercise, dubbed Patriot North, was set to begin Monday and run through Thursday at Volk Field in Camp Douglas and Fort McCoy in Tomah. The training is designed to help civilian emergency management officials and first responders coordinate with the military in a host of disaster scenarios including high winds, evacuations, and a storm surge collapsing buildings and causing mass casualties. The training will involve more than 700 civilians, volunteers and military personnel from more than 20 states.


Gillette: Plans to shoot off an enormous firework during a pyrotechnics convention are worrying some residents. Pyrotechnics Guild International will hold its annual convention in Gillette in August. One feature of the event will be setting off an enormous, mortar-style firework. The handmade shell measures 36 inches wide – as big as any featured in fireworks shows in the U.S. Some locals worry the big boom will be too close to their homes. Guild President Paul Smith tells the Gillette News-Record his organization is scouting out different locations.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: News from around 50 states