Montgomery: Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday signed employment protections for workers who claim a religious or health reason for not getting vaccinated against COVID-19. The Republican governor signed the legislation a day after it was approved by the Alabama Legislature as GOP-led states turn to lawsuits and legislation to fight federal vaccine requirements that they call an infringement on personal liberties. Ivey also signed into law a separate bill requiring parental consent for minors to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The new law says employers in Alabama can’t fire workers for being unvaccinated if the employee returns a new standardized state form to claim a religious or medical exemption. President Joe Biden in September announced contractors who do business with the federal government must have workforces vaccinated, with no option to test out. The Alabama law will also affect companies, such as medical providers, who wanted to independently place vaccination requirements on workers. The bill drew opposition from the Business Council of Alabama, which said it would put federal contractors in a no-win situation. Democrats said Republicans were putting both jobs and public health in jeopardy for the sake of scoring political points.
Juneau: The U.S. Department of the Interior said the first two federal land allotments to Alaska Native Vietnam War-era veterans have been finalized. Frank Nanooruk and Richard Boskoffsky received the first allotments under a 2019 law passed by Congress, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The allotments are east of Goodnews Bay in southwest Alaska, agency spokesperson Richard Packer said by email Friday. The Interior Department said the allotments were finalized Thursday. Under the 1906 Alaska Native Allotment Act, Alaska Natives were allowed to apply for up to 160 acres of land. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office has said that the program’s restrictions kept many from applying until the 1960s. There was a push to urge Alaska Natives to apply for lands if they had not already done so before a 1971 law took effect. But that period overlapped with the Vietnam War. A 1998 federal law allowed veterans to apply for land, but the provisions were seen as restrictive. The 2019 law lifted use and occupancy requirements that were part of prior laws and made lands available until late 2025, the Bureau of Land Management has said. “We have a sacred obligation to America’s veterans,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.
Phoenix: Education advocates did not collect enough valid signatures to give voters a chance to repeal a new state law exempting some business owners from a tax increase on the wealthy to boost school funding, a lawyer for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said Friday. The measure is one of two tax-cut bills signed this year by Gov. Doug Ducey that school-funding advocates are trying to refer to the 2022 ballot. County election officials reviewing a sample of the 123,500 submitted signatures found too many were invalid. Petitioners needed 118,823 valid signatures. The failure to collect enough signatures is not likely to matter much, however, because the Arizona Supreme Court has signaled that the entire tax increase, approved by voters last year as Proposition 208, is likely to be struck down. In addition to the tax exemption for business owners, education groups want voters to have a say on a new flat income tax rate of 2.5%, which would cut taxes by about $2 billion a year, primarily benefiting the wealthy. They turned in significantly more signatures to refer that measure. Lawyers for the Free Enterprise Club, a conservative advocacy group, argued in court Friday that the constitution does not allow referrals for measures that provide for “support and maintenance” of state government and that tax cut bills fall into that category.
Fayetteville: A former state senator convicted in 2018 of corruption-related charges is pushing forward with a request for a new trial. Attorney Lee D. Short of North Little Rock filed notice Wednesday that his client, former Sen. Jon Woods, will take his request for a new trial to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. Woods was sentenced to more than 18 years in prison on 15 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering for a bribery scheme in which prosecutors said he and another Republican legislator were taking kickbacks from state grants meant to be directed to nonprofit groups. The scheme involved at least $20 million taken from taxpayers or the nonprofit. The request for a retrial comes after claims that the FBI coerced former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson into giving incriminating information about Woods that lead to his investigation and subsequent conviction. According to the Democrat-Gazette, the information Hutchinson gave the FBI should have been protected by attorney-client privilege. Four additional state legislators pleaded guilty or were convicted on corruption-related charges in the investigation.
Diamond Bar: Southern California air regulators on Friday approved new restrictions on area oil refineries and other factories that could remove tons of smog-forming pollutants from the air. The board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District adopted rule changes requiring emissions limits on oxides of nitrogen that will affect nine refineries and seven plants that produce asphalt, biofuel plants, hydrogen and sulfuric acid. Oxides of nitrogen, collectively known as NOx, form when fuel is burned at high temperatures. The gases can be produced by cars and industrial sources such as refineries and power plants. They are a key ingredient in producing ozone pollution. The new rules will reduce NOx emissions by about 8 tons per day over the next 14 years, with nearly half the reductions expected by 2023, and will go a long way to helping the region meet some federal air quality standards by 2031, the AQMD said. The rules apply to some 300 pieces of combustion equipment at the facilities, such as boilers and gas turbines. The rules, which will be implemented over a decade, provide two ways of meeting the new requirements and also ban refineries from purchasing credits to offset pollution they produce. The total cost of implementing the new rules is projected at about $2.3 billion, but the reduction in health costs from pollution is expected to be about $2.6 billion, according to a September AQMD study session.
Denver: Two hyenas at the Denver Zoo have tested positive for the coronavirus, marking the first confirmed cases among the animals worldwide, a national veterinary lab announced Friday. Samples from a variety of animals at the zoo, including the spotted hyenas, were tested after several lions at the facility became ill, according to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories. The hyena samples tested presumptive positive at a lab at Colorado State University, and the cases were confirmed by the national lab. In addition to the two hyenas, 11 lions and two tigers at the zoo tested positive for the virus. “Hyenas are famously tough, resilient animals that are known to be highly tolerant to anthrax, rabies and distemper. They are otherwise healthy and expected to make a full recovery,” the zoo said in a statement. Zoo officials said the hyenas – 22-year-old Ngozi and 23-year-old Kibo – are experiencing mild symptoms, including slight lethargy, some nasal discharge and an occasional cough. The other animals that tested positive in recent weeks either have fully recovered or are on the path to a full recovery. “We now know that many other species may be susceptible to COVID-19 based on multiple reports, and we continue to use the highest level of care and precaution when working with all of our 3,000 animals and 450 different species,” the statement said.
New Haven: Bomb threats forced the evacuation of several buildings at Yale University as well as nearby businesses for hours Friday, school and city officials said. A single caller to the New Haven police nonemergency line indicated there were bombs in eight buildings on campus about 2 p.m., police and school officials said. People in the buildings were initially told to go to the New Haven Green. Later, they were directed to certain indoor locations. Yale gave the all clear at about 7 p.m. and said the campus had resumed normal operations. Several city streets were blocked off as law enforcement officials with bomb-sniffing dogs prepared to search the buildings that were threatened. FBI and state police were helping Yale and New Haven authorities in the investigation and response. “We’re treating this as if it is a legitimate threat; however, at this time we are still working on who the caller was,” acting New Haven Police Chief Renee Dominguez said at a late afternoon news conference. Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins said the person who made the bomb threats did not give a reason.
Wilmington: The family-owned Delaware Park, home to the state’s biggest thoroughbred horse race each year, is being sold to a private equity firm and a gambling investor. The sale of Delaware Park, which has been operated by the Rickman family since the early 1980s and now includes a casino, should be completed by the end of the year, according to a news release Friday. The new owners will be Canadian-based Clairvest Group Inc. and Rubico Gaming LLC, a newly formed subsidiary run by investor Thomas Benninger. Delaware Park President Bill Fasy, who declined to comment Friday when asked about a sale price, said he wasn’t aware of any immediate operational changes to the Wilmington-based attraction, which hosts the Delaware Handicap each July. First developed by William du Pont Jr. in the 1930s, Delaware Park was known as the only major East Coast track, save for Aqueduct in New York, that raced in June. In 1983, longtime Maryland-based real estate developer William Rickman Sr. purchased the track, which had closed after financial troubles. He revived the business by offering smaller purses, which attracted cheaper horses. Competition improved in 1996 when legislation allowed slot machines at the track.
District of Columbia
Washington: Howard University’s president addressed students Friday as campus protests entered a 24th day Friday, WUSA-TV reports. Dozens of students began occupying the Blackburn University Center and set up tents on the yard in October to bring attention to several issues, including a demand for better living conditions, as they claim some dormitory rooms have been found to have mold. They also want student representation to be restored on the university board of trustees. “We’re not just these radical Black students,” said Channing Hill, a junior at Howard. “We’re simply trying to garner the first-class living conditions that Georgetown students have.” The day’s protests coincided with President Wayne Frederick’s annual State of the University address. Frederick took questions from students and alumni in a virtual event and said he was “empathetic with the students who have concerns.” He said one student with mold in their room is one too many, and Howard needs to make sure its housing partners who are responsible for the upkeep and cleaning air ducts are doing it at a high level. But Frederick also said dorms are not any worse now than they have been in the past. “The physical infrastructure of our residence halls today is as good as it’s ever been,” he said.
Orlando: Reversing its previous position, the University of Florida said Friday that it will allow three professors to testify as experts in a lawsuit challenging a new state election law that critics say restricts voting rights. Last month, the university prohibited Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin from testifying in the lawsuit brought by civic groups, saying that such testimony would put the school in conflict with the administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, which pushed the election law. More than half of the university’s trustees are appointed by the governor. In a letter to the campus, university President Kent Fuchs said he is asking the office responsible for approving professors’ outside work to greenlight their request to serve as expert witnesses in the litigation. Fuchs said the outside work would have to be on the professors’ own time and not use university resources. Attorneys representing the professors said they were still planning to move forward with a lawsuit against the university. The school’s announcement came after the union for faculty members urged donors to withhold contributions and scholars and artists to turn down invitations to campus until university administrators affirmed the free speech rights of school employees.
Atlanta: Republicans on Friday advanced a plan projected to maintain a 33-23 GOP majority in the state Senate, setting it up for a possible vote this week in the full Senate. The proposal passed the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee on a 9-4 party-line vote over complaints that Republicans pushed too fast for a proposal released late Tuesday. “This process has gone too fast,” said Sen. Harold Jones II, D-Augusta. “We should really know what we’re talking about.” As senators voted, a House committee started considering new districts for the 180-member state House. The General Assembly must redraw electoral districts at least once every decade to equalize populations following the U.S. census. Georgia added more than a million people from 2010 to 2020, with urban districts generally growing and rural districts usually shrinking. This will be the first time in decades that Georgia lawmakers won’t be required to get federal approval of their maps after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act. Committee Chairman John Kennedy, R-Macon, noted that this year’s redistricting process had been compressed because of delays in releasing census results. But he said that if people wanted different alternatives considered, they should have gotten their senators to introduce them.
Hilo: An independent review of the state of astronomy and astrophysics in the U.S. has recommended federal funding of a giant telescope in the state. The Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey warned it could be “disastrous” for U.S. astronomy if the National Science Foundation does not invest in projects like the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. The survey recommends the U.S. government fund several large astronomy projects. “There’s a little bit of a feeling of astronomy going the way of physics,” said Doug Simons, director of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy. He said the cancellation of a particle accelerator in Texas in 1993 resulted in the research moving to European facilities like the Large Hadron Collider. “I think if … the Europeans were the only international organization that had this kind of research capacity, that really signals something kind of alarming in the U.S., which has historically had a leadership role in contemporary astronomy.” But the report also highlights astronomy’s problems with Indigenous people. Some Native Hawaiians consider the proposed site for the giant telescope, on the Big Island’s Mauna Kea, to be sacred. “I wish they would have recognized that we have already spoken,” Native Hawaiian activist Kealoha Pisciotta said.
Boise: U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch sent a letter to the White House last week requesting a meeting about Idaho’s federal district judge vacancy, saying it “cannot be filled” without a “mutual agreement” between them and the administration. But the “blue slip” procedure that the Republicans referenced – a system that gave home-state senators a veto over federal judicial nominees – was thrown out during the Trump administration, when federal judges were appointed over objections from Democratic senators. “The blue slip procedure regarding filling United States District Court vacancies is alive and well,” the two senators wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to Dana Remus, counsel to the president, the Idaho Press reports. Idaho’s top Democratic elected officials submitted an all-female list of four nominees to the White House in March, but there’s been no further word on the nomination since then. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill took senior status in August, making Idaho eligible for another federal judge. The Democratics nominated Idaho Falls attorney DeAnne Casperson, Boise attorney Keely Duke, Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson and former U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson. Idaho is one of just three states with only two U.S. district judges and has not gotten an additional judgeship in 60 years, though caseloads have soared.
Chicago: Chicago Public Schools officials have canceled all classes next Friday in a bid to boost COVID-19 vaccinations among younger students who are newly eligible for the shots. A letter from the district sent Thursday to parents and families said schools will be closed Nov. 12 for “Vaccination Awareness Day” after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved a COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old last week. District CEO Pedro Martinez said next Friday’s canceled classes will provide “an opportunity for parents and guardians to take their children 5 years of age and older to get vaccinated.” He said sporting events would not be canceled. Martinez and Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady have stressed their desire to see children vaccinated ahead of the holidays, when family gatherings have proven to spread the coronavirus at high rates. Jesse Sharkey, the Chicago Teachers Union president, said in a statement to union members that he welcomes the district’s acknowledgment of the importance for parents and families to get their children vaccinated. Free vaccines can be obtained at sites around the city. In addition, CPS has set up four clinics where students can get shots. Appointments can be made at cps.edu/vaccinations.
Indianapolis: With state tax collections surging, a top Republican legislator is looking at possible significant changes to the state sales tax and cutting property taxes for some businesses. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown hasn’t offered details yet for what he could propose for the new legislative session starting in January, but such changes face concerns about the possibility of an economic slowdown and the impact on funding for local governments and school districts. Topics in Brown’s sights include expanding Indiana’s 7% sales tax that covers merchandise purchases ranging from clothing to cars so that it also is charged for spending on services, which potentially could be anything from haircuts to hospital stays. Brown said his aim would be to lower the sales tax rate if it were applied to a broader range of spending. Brown pointed to a trend of more spending on services, which federal reports show now make up nearly 70% of consumer spending. “Our sales tax base is changing a lot, so I am interested in looking at sales tax, and sales tax affects everybody,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter how much money you make; you pay sales tax.”
Iowa City: Twenty years after a fire destroyed the dome of the University of Iowa’s Old Capitol, the UI now is preparing to redo “failing” gilding at an estimated cost of $200,000 to $500,000. The UI will pay OPN Architects $23,500 to study the “causes and extents of gilding failure on the Old Capitol dome and develop recommendations for repair and restoration,” according to a contract signed in September. The study may include drone photography, sampling of the gold leaf and consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office. Wendy Moorehead, UI assistant director of facilities management, said that “the campus is excited to celebrate the upcoming year representing the 175th anniversary of the UI, and the Old Capitol dome, at the heart of campus, will represent that important milestone.” Another major milestone was the Nov. 20, 2001, fire that destroyed the dome, damaged much of the historic building and kept the Old Capitol shuttered for five years. The Old Capitol Building, for which the cornerstone was laid July 4, 1840, was to be the hub of state government after Iowa City was chosen as the state capital in 1839. The Iowa Legislative Assembly met in the building for the first time in December 1842. The Legislature decided in 1857 to move the capital to Des Moines. Old Cap housed most of the UI classes after the university was founded in 1847. The building also served as the library, chapel, armory and office space for administrators.
Topeka: Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly grew more forceful Friday in opposing President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates, saying it’s “too late” in the pandemic to impose them after Kansas and other states tailored responses to their needs. Kelly’s latest statement came a day after she argued that federal mandates “tend not to work,” though they’ve boosted vaccination rates elsewhere. She faces a difficult race for reelection next year in her Republican-leaning state, and GOP officials have been attacking the Democratic president’s mandates for weeks and criticizing Kelly for not making any public comments until Thursday. “While I appreciate the intention to keep people safe, a goal I share, I don’t believe this directive is the correct, or the most effective, solution for Kansas,” Kelly said in her latest statement. Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican who hopes to unseat Kelly next year, announced later Friday that Kansas is among seven states that filed a federal lawsuit with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati against a Biden mandate that applies to companies with more than 100 workers. Schmidt already had brought Kansas into a federal lawsuit against a mandate applying to employees of federal government contractors.
Louisville: Gov. Andy Beshear, a Bluegrass State bourbon industry leader and a Louisville-based spirits producer are applauding an agreement between the United States and the European Union to lift tariffs on bourbon and whiskey. The United States and European Union have been in a trade war since 2018, when the former imposed a 25% tariff, or tax on imports, on European steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum under then-President Donald Trump. The European Union retaliated with tariffs on American products, including a 25% on bourbon whiskey. That tariff on a major Kentucky product was set to double Dec. 1. But now, for bourbon producers, “it’s time to raise a glass,” Kentucky Distillers Association President Eric Gregory said. National security adviser Jake Sullivan, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced an agreement Oct. 30 in which the United States will allow some quantity of European steel and aluminum to come to the country without tariffs, and, in turn, the European Union will drop its retaliatory tariffs. Gregory said that “these unfortunate tariffs have slashed exports of Kentucky bourbon by 50% to the EU and the United Kingdom, costing distillers, industry partners and farm families hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Franklin: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is holding a contest to name a recently improved pond in a national wildlife refuge. The agency has graded the parking lot and installed a floating dock and an information kiosk at the pond on Stephen R. Road in the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge near Franklin. Now it’s asking people to visit the refuge and take a selfie or a photo of their family enjoying its trails as part of their entry. The photo, proposed name and a short explanation of the name can be submitted by email – email@example.com – or at facebook.com/SoutheastLouisiana. Specific personal names or vulgar, profane, racially insensitive or other derogatory names will not be accepted. The top five entries will be announced Dec. 2 on the refuge’s Facebook page, and the public will have a week to choose their favorite. The winning name will be announced live on Facebook at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 11.
Portland: The state’s environmental commissioner said Friday that she’ll take the referendum vote into account when deciding whether to suspend a permit for a $1 billion electric transmission line in western Maine. Commissioner Melanie Loyzim will close comments at the end of a new public hearing Nov. 22 so she can expedite a decision. Loyzim’s letter to New England Clean Energy Connect points to an aggressive timetable after Maine residents voted Tuesday to halt the project. The law takes effect 30 days after election results are certified. The Natural Resources Council of Maine told the commissioner the permit should be revoked immediately to prevent further environmental damage during construction, which is continuing. It would be a “dereliction of duty” for regulators to allow “continued destruction” of woodlands while waiting for the law to go into effect, James Kilbreth, a lawyer for NRCM, wrote Thursday in a notice to environmental regulators. The 145-mile power transmission line would serve as a conduit for up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower. Most of it would be built along existing corridors, but a new 53-mile section is being cut through the woods to reach the Canadian border.
Elkton: The Christmas tree that will light up Rockefeller Center this holiday season is coming from Maryland for the first time in the nearly nine decades of the annual tradition. A 79-foot-tall Norway spruce will be cut down in Elkton next Thursday and arrive in New York City on Saturday, the center announced Thursday. Rockefeller Center’s website says the 85-year-old tree will be covered with about 5 miles of wire holding more than 50,000 multicolored lights and topped with a 900-pound star covered in 3 million Swarovski crystals. The lighting ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 1 and will be televised on NBC. After that, the tree will be lit daily from 6 a.m. to midnight. It will be lit for 24 hours on Christmas Day and from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
Boston: Three residents of a tent encampment at the nexus of the city’s opioid and homelessness crises say in a lawsuit that Boston’s plan to move them from the area is unconstitutional because it doesn’t provide viable alternatives, officials said Friday. The lawsuit filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the WilmerHale law firm was in response to the city’s decision last month to declare addiction and homelessness a public health emergency and clean up the area around Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, known as Mass and Cass. The city pledged to find treatment or alternative housing for people displaced from tents in the area but has not properly done so, according to the ACLU. Although only three plaintiffs are mentioned, the suit applies to all residents of the area, according to the ACLU. “We can’t sweep or arrest our way out of the intersecting crises at Mass and Cass,” Carol Rose, the state ACLU’s executive director, said in a statement. “This plan is harmful and unconstitutional because it forces people to disperse with no safe place to sleep, while disconnecting them from the medical care they are able to receive at Mass and Cass.”
Lansing: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday vetoed Republican-backed bills that would have created scholarship accounts for K-12 students to pay for educational expenses, including private school and tutoring, and given tax credits to people and corporations that donate to the program. The veto, which was expected, came the same week proponents of the legislation preemptively launched a ballot drive that would enable the GOP-led Legislature to enact identical citizen-initiated bills without her signature. The Democratic governor said the bills would cut state revenue by as much as $500 million in 2022 alone. “Simply put, our schools cannot provide the high-quality education our kids deserve if we turn private schools into tax shelters for the wealthy,” she wrote to lawmakers, adding that she has worked to reverse disinvestment in public education. School-choice proponents such as the Great Lakes Education Project criticized Whitmer, saying the funds would have helped more than 1 million kids who fell behind during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the plan, students would have been eligible for scholarships if their family income was no more than double the cutoff to receive free or reduced-priced lunch – $98,050 for a family of four currently – or if they had a disability or were in foster care.
Pine City: Gov. Tim Walz was among the thousands of hunters who took to the field Saturday for the state’s firearms deer hunting season opener. Walz hunted with Brady Crocker and Kevin Hinze on the Hinze family’s private property in Pine County. The family permanently protected the land by donating a conservation easement to the Minnesota Land Trust. Walz, Crocker and Hinze didn’t get a deer, but the opener was marked by beautiful, warmer-than-usual weather across most of Minnesota. Following the hunt, Walz visited a chronic wasting disease sampling site in Pine City, joined by Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen and Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen. They highlighted the importance of sampling to detect the brain disease, which is always fatal in deer. During opening weekend, people hunting in CWD surveillance, control, or management zones must bring their harvested deer to sampling stations to be tested. Voluntary sampling is available after the opening weekend for deer harvested within a CWD zone. “I ask all Minnesota deer hunters to be aware of CWD regulations and use one of the state’s sampling sites if hunting in a mandatory or voluntary sampling area,” Walz said in a statement.
Jackson: An environmental group is using fines from the 2010 BP oil spill to plan the state’s first oyster shell recycling program. “It’s very straightforward – take the actual oyster shell and reuse it to help restore the very resource it’s providing. But the devil is always in the details,” said Alex Littlejohn, state director for The Nature Conservancy. “We want to learn from the other successful programs like this in other states, work through the kinks and make this a viable program for Mississippi.” At least 14 other states have had programs that collect empty shells from restaurants, festivals and other venues and use them to build coastal reefs. A survey before the COVID-19 pandemic found such programs in all four other Gulf Coast states, nine on the East Coast, and California, said Tom Mohrman, The Nature Conservancy’s director of marine programs. The programs often cover specific areas, such as Galveston Bay or Mobile Bay, but Mississippi’s coastline is small enough that one program could cover it all, he said. Mississippi’s Gulf Coast generally has plenty of oyster larvae but needs more hard surfaces where they can attach themselves and grow into oysters, the organization said in a news release. Oyster reefs also create homes for other types of marine life, slow waves that erode coastlines, and purify water.
St. Louis: The U.S. Office of Special Counsel said in a letter to President Joe Biden and members of Congress that employees at a federal office complex in the city were exposed to “widespread, longstanding” contamination from asbestos, lead, mercury, arsenic and other toxic materials by the agency in charge of managing government workplaces. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the letter, issued Friday, also noted that children at an on-site day care facility were exposed. The letter said officials deliberately misled tenants about the health risks at the Goodfellow Federal Center in north St. Louis. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel handles investigations and prosecution aimed at protecting federal employees. The OSC said an investigation into whistleblower allegations “substantiated that officials had been aware of environmental contamination but failed to appropriately notify GSA employees or tenant agencies.” The investigation also concluded that officials made no effort to limit access to contaminated areas and failed to assess potential exposure risks in the site’s child care center. The GSA has said it is working to close the Goodfellow complex and expects to relocate most tenant agencies by the end of 2022.
Missoula: Calls to the Missoula Mobile Support Team have significantly reduced the number of people who would otherwise be taken to jail or to an emergency room since the team’s inception late last year, according to a presentation the program’s organizers made to a City Council committee Wednesday. Data shows that calls to the team are also on the rise. “The number of calls increased over time and continue to increase,” Gretchen Neal, Missoula County’s mental health coordinator, told the Missoulian. The Mobile Support Team is funded by the county, the city and the state. Emergency medical technicians from the Missoula Fire Department and licensed behavioral health clinicians or clinicians in training work with case facilitators to staff the team. They are trained to provide consultation, screening and brief intervention to individuals in crisis stemming from behavioral health issues, which includes mental health issues or substance abuse issues. The goal is to provide them with the care they need while reducing the time that first responders spend addressing a situation in which behavioral health is the chief concern. Another goal is to reduce the number of arrests and emergency room visits, which reduces government-funded jail and hospital costs.
Omaha: The city plans to join hundreds of others across the nation trying to come up with strategies to combat climate change. While the Nebraska Legislature has rejected calls for a statewide plan, Omaha will lead a metropolitan area climate action plan expected to be funded with a mix of public and private money, the Omaha World-Herald reports. Mayor Jean Stothert told the newspaper in an email that the time is right. “Omaha has been implementing sustainability measures for some time now without the need for a formal plan,” she wrote. “The current timeline gives us the opportunity to maximize the results of more coordination for climate-related practices.” Climate plans typically involve identifying where a community is most vulnerable to severe weather, its contribution to global warming, what needs to be done and measurable steps that can be taken. A consultant is expected to be chosen by mid-2022. It could take a year or longer for the consultant that’s chosen to develop the plan. Some wonder what took so long. The Kansas City metropolitan area, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and Lincoln are among nearby places that already have climate action plans. “Omaha and the surrounding area are late to the solutions game,” said David Corbin, chairman of the Missouri Valley Sierra Club’s energy committee.
Carson City: American Civil Liberties Union attorneys said if the state redraws its political maps without reallocating thousands of inmates to their pre-prison addresses, they will be in violation of a 2019 Nevada law. The threat of a lawsuit and the organization’s insistence that prison officials compile more addresses could complicate the redistricting process that lawmakers are expected to conduct this month. Though the U.S. census counts inmates at prisons where they’re serving sentences, Nevada is one of a growing number of states required to reallocate residents in prison to where they previously lived. Nevada lawmakers in 2019 passed legislation to ban so-called prison gerrymandering. It directs the Department of Corrections to “compile the last known residential address of each offender immediately before the offender was sentenced to imprisonment in a facility or institution of the Department” and subsequently “provide to the State Demographer all available information.” Last week, prison officials said they only had usable addresses for 6,275 people out of the 12,214 counted in the 2020 census, or about 51%. In a Friday letter sent to lawmakers and state officials, attorneys Holly Welborn and Chris Peterson allege the thousands of missing inmate addresses “place the Legislature at risk of violating Nevada’s Constitutional requirement to base reapportionment on accurate data.”
Hanover: A 9-foot-tall video game joystick made of wood, rubber and steel has made it into the Guinness World Records 2022 as the largest. Dartmouth College professor Mary Flanagan created the giant controller – nearly 14 times the size of an original classic Atari controller – in 2006 to celebrate her childhood experience of “maniacally” playing Atari 2600 video games. She also wanted to see what it would be like when a single-player experience becomes collaborative: It takes at least two people to operate the joystick and push the button to play classic Atari games such as “Centipede” and “Breakout.” “To have this common pop culture artifact just erupt in the middle of a space and allow people to play something familiar, yet not familiar, was exciting,” said Flanagan, an artist who is chair of Dartmouth’s Film and Media Studies and the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities. The joystick, which toured Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, is now part of the permanent collection of ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Trenton: A truck driver who ousted the powerful state Senate president in last week’s election previously posted online calling Islam “a false religion,” comparing vaccine mandates to the Holocaust and defending rioters at the U.S. Capitol. Republican Edward Durr apologized Friday after media outlets highlighted the posts. His victory over Steve Sweeney, widely regarded as the second most powerful Democrat in state government, in Tuesday’s election shocked the state’s political establishment. Durr spent a paltry sum on his campaign. On Thursday and Friday, media reports highlighted posts Durr had made on Twitter and Facebook, including some critical of immigrants, boasting of defying state COVID-19 mask mandates, and making misogynist attacks on Democratic elected officials like then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Durr issued a statement Thursday night to radio station WHYY and Friday to the website New Jersey Globe apologizing for the posts. “I’m a passionate guy and I sometimes say things in the heat of the moment,” Durr said in identical comments to both outlets. “If I said things in the past that hurt anybody’s feelings, I sincerely apologize.” Twitter showed Friday that Durr’s account had been deactivated by the user.
Santa Fe: State officials have been inundated with critical letters on proposed K-12 social studies standards over the inclusion of racial identity and social justice themes in a majority-Latino state where Indigenous tribes have persevered through war, famine, internment camps and boarding schools aimed at stamping out their cultures. If approved, the standards would require students starting in kindergarten to “identify some of their group identities” and “take group or individual action to help address local, regional, and/or global problems.” By high school, students would examine “factors which resulted in unequal power relations among identity groups.” Critics, including some Hispanics, say the standards promote victimhood, while supporters have praised the standards as “more just and anti-racist.” The proposed New Mexico standards represent a new frontier in the clash over “critical race theory” – an academic concept increasingly used by conservative activists as a catchall term for the study of systemic racism, historical oppression or progressive social activism. New Mexico is a patchwork of 23 federally recognized Native American nations, tribes and pueblos. Half of the state is Latino, and about 10% of students are Native American, with many tracing their heritage to pre-Columbian and 16th-century Spanish conquistadors.
New York: The former head of the city’s police sergeants union has been punished with a loss of 70 vacation days, which amounts to almost $32,000 in pay, after being found guilty by his own police department of improperly disclosing information and using inappropriate language on social media, police said Friday. Ed Mullins of the New York Police Department had already filed retirement papers last month and retired as president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association in the wake of federal agents raiding the union’s office and his home. The retirement was effective as of Friday, but the NYPD said in an email that “the cases were moved forward expeditiously to ensure the appropriate penalty could be imposed in the event of findings of guilt.” Mullins was found guilty in disciplinary proceedings for improperly tweeting NYPD paperwork last year regarding the arrest of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s daughter during protests over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. He denied violating guidelines. In a separate complaint from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, he was also found guilty after an administrative hearing for using inappropriate language in social media posts he made that referenced other New York City officials. Review board Chair Fred Davie said he was “disappointed” that Mullins was docked vacations days and not fired.
Raleigh: Barely 24 hours after their passage, the state’s newly drawn maps drew another legal complaint that will likely determine how much Republicans can expand their political clout over the coming decade in a state that is slowly becoming more blue. An organization formed by Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic lawyer, announced Friday that a group of voters who successfully challenged previous North Carolina maps will now make a similar appeal in state court contesting the latest congressional maps. They will argue that the boundaries approved by Republicans on Thursday were drawn for political gain in a way that violates several provisions of the North Carolina Constitution. The stakes are high, as Republicans currently hold an 8-5 edge over Democrats in the U.S. House and would likely expand their advantages substantially if the maps prevail. During a virtual event on Twitter, Elias, founder of Democracy Docket, called North Carolina’s maps “a grotesque partisan gerrymander” and “indefensible.” “The Republican Party has lost all shame,” Elias said. “I mean, in the 2010 (redistricting process and) after 2010, they were still pretending that they cared about democracy and about voting rights, and now they no longer pretend.” Last week, voters and advocacy groups sued in Wake County court to block the timetable for passing state legislative maps, accusing Republicans of breaking rules aimed at ensuring Black voters can elect their desired candidates.
Bismarck: A proposal to use $150 million in federal stimulus money to build another pipeline to carry natural gas from the Bakken region to eastern North Dakota will be on the table as lawmakers convene at the Capitol. Lawmakers plan to divvy up $1 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan Act during the special session, which opens Monday, and the money that leaders hope to set aside for pipeline grants could make the prospect of such a project more attractive to developers. “There’s been a long-standing desire to see more North Dakota gas be used in the state,” North Dakota Pipeline Authority Director Justin Kringstad told the Bismarck Tribune. The Bakken region of western North Dakota produces substantial quantities of gas alongside oil, and some of it is wastefully burned off in flares at well sites rather than piped away for use as fuel due to a lack of infrastructure. Some eastern North Dakota communities have gas service because they happen to be near a limited number of pipelines that extend to that part of the state, but many do not. Much of the gas produced within North Dakota is transported to markets in other states. Cost appears to be the major barrier to building another pipeline. The economics tend to work out better to send gas down existing pipelines into other states, Kringstad said.
Columbus: The election board for the state’s most populous county is being put under administrative oversight by the secretary of state, after another problem with electronic poll books led to three improperly cast votes in last week’s election. Not all of Franklin County’s electronic poll books were properly updated on Election Day with data about who had already voted early or requested an absentee ballot, according to Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office. His office has determined three voters were able to vote twice but said those votes didn’t affect the outcome of any election. One of those voters told the office they cast a ballot during early voting, then did so again on Election Day while accompanying their spouse to vote because a poll worker indicated the poll book didn’t reflect the earlier vote. The voter said they were worried their first ballot hadn’t been counted. The Franklin County Board of Elections had another problem last year with some of its electronic poll books not updating, and it didn’t fully follow a remediation plan to avoid the newest problem, LaRose’s office said. To make sure the board is effectively administering elections, it will now have to report weekly to the secretary of state, according to LaRose’s office.
Oklahoma City: A group of about 20 local pastors and ministers gathered outside the state Capitol on Friday to pray for Gov. Kevin Stitt as he weighs the fate of high-profile death row inmate Julius Jones. The preachers said they hoped Stitt would lean heavily on his Christian roots and follow the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation that Jones be granted clemency. “Lord, we implore you to allow Gov. Stitt to be the hero of Julius’ story,” the Rev. Keith Jossell, Jones’ spiritual adviser, said in his prayer. The prayer gathering came only days before Jones’ execution date, set for Nov. 18. Jones was convicted in 2002 in the fatal shooting of Edmond insurance executive Paul Howell during a 1999 carjacking. Jones has maintained his innocence in the murder, claiming another individual shot and killed Howell and pinned the slaying on him. The Rev. Major Jemison, senior pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church, said the circumstances surrounding Jones’ conviction included Jones’ lack of adequate representation, lack of fairness and lack of equality. Jemison also voiced unease that there could be negative consequences should the governor go against the parole board’s recommendation. “We are also very concerned about the potential for civil unrest if the state proceeds with the execution of Mr. Jones while disregarding the avalanche of questions and ambiguity surrounding the circumstances of the case,” he said.
Newberg: The teachers union in the city has filed a lawsuit over a policy passed narrowly by its school board that limits what kinds of images or signs school employees can display on campus. The “Ensuring Safe Environments to Learn” policy bars school employees from displaying images “relating to a political, quasi-political, or controversial topic.” The lawsuit was filed Wednesday. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the Newberg policy has been a lightning rod for controversy, with the ACLU, Democrats in the Oregon Legislature and the State Board of Education all issuing statements against it. The policy, backed by a four-member majority of the Newberg school board, started out as a directive to remove signs and posters showing support for Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ pride. In its 18-page complaint, the Newberg Education Association argues the policy violates two amendments of the U.S. Constitution: the First Amendment protecting free speech and the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection. The suit also argues the Newberg policy violates Article I, Section 20 of the Oregon Constitution, which protects “against vague laws that confer unbridled discretion, because such discretion creates the potential for unequal application of the law,” among other state constitutional provisions.
Harrisburg: Gov. Tom Wolf said his mail-in ballot was dropped off by his wife before Tuesday’s election despite a state law requiring that voters deliver them in person. Wolf’s spokeswoman Beth Rementer called it an honest mistake. “I did vote; actually I voted by mail,” Wolf said Tuesday on KDKA radio. When an interviewer told him the ballot was due in the York County elections office by the end of Election Day, he said first lady Frances Wolf delivered it. “My wife actually dropped it off personally two weeks ago, so it’s there,” he said. The interview segment was highlighted Thursday in a tweet by state Rep. Seth Grove, R-York County, who has spent much of the past year working on an election code revamp. In June, Democrat Wolf vetoed an election reform bill Grove sponsored. “It’s law,” Grove said in a text exchange Thursday. “You can’t hand in more than 1 ballot.” He said Frances Wolf dropping off the governor’s mail-in ballot would have been legal had his bill been enacted. State law requires voters who do not mail their absentee or mail-in ballot to “deliver it in person to (their) county board of election,” although with preapproval others can do it under certain circumstances.
Providence: A World War I veteran is getting a new monument in the city after the original monument in his honor was vandalized. City Councilman David Salvatore said the new marker in honor of Pfc. Carlo Lafazia will be commissioned and dedicated next spring. “We’re going to relocate it to a new area that is going to allow for an education opportunity, first and foremost about the history of Private Lafazia and the contributions that he made, and secondly, some of the history around World War I and what that meant to the Eagle Park community and to Rhode Island as a whole,” Salvatore said. Lafazia, who served in the 16th Infantry Regiment, was killed in the Forest of Argonne in France in October 1918. The original monument was placed on Admiral Street in 2017. But earlier this year, it was knocked off its foundation. The vandal was never caught. The damaged monument stone is now stored at the Department of Public Works.
Charleston: A strong storm off the Southeast’s Atlantic coast combined with periodic higher tides Sunday, causing coastal flooding that approached levels rarely seen outside of hurricanes along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, officials said. Scientists have said data shows the unusually high tides and the flooding of roads that come with it are happening more frequently as sea levels rise with global warming. The Sunday high tide in Charleston Harbor reached 8.51 feet, the 10th-highest level in the century of recording at that site, the National Weather Service said. The high water closed dozens of roads in downtown and caused the city to cancel its Veterans Day parade scheduled for Saturday. Sunday’s high tides were the culmination of four days of rising ocean water pushed ashore by both winds from a strong autumn storm offshore and periodic King Tides when the moon’s location causes the water level to increase. Rising sea levels are leading to more frequent flooding, meteorologists said. Charleston Harbor has recorded 25 of the 39 tides of 8 feet or greater since 2015. The tide reached that level for major flooding three times already this month, meteorologists said.
Sioux Falls: A moose on the loose got onto the South Dakota State University football field in Brookings before leaving town. Campus police said the moose left campus about 3:30 p.m. Friday and was headed west. They said the bull moose appeared to be 1 to 2 years old. Emmett Keyser, the regional supervisor for the Game Fish and Parks office, told KELO-TV his agency helped the campus police and other law enforcement with herding the moose out of town. “We did try to move him north,” Keyser said. But, in apparent impersonation of a running back, “he ran back through our line and into the stadium,” Keyser said. The moose hung around campus for a time until officials were able to herd him west out of town. “The thing is, moose are so unpredictable,” Keyser said. “You don’t want anyone getting hurt or the animal getting hurt.” The sighting followed one a few days earlier of a moose walking down U.S. Highway 75 in Luverne, Minnesota, about 50 miles away. It wasn’t clear if it was the same moose. While moose are rare in the area, they do appear from time to time.
Nashville: Gov. Bill Lee on Friday again extended an executive order that allows parents to opt students out of school mask requirements that federal judges have blocked from applying in three counties. The Republican’s decision maintains the status quo on the opt-out order for two weeks while he considers whether to sign a broad coronavirus-related bill that would limit mask policies in schools even further. He first issued the mask opt-out order in mid-August and extended it in late September. Lee on Friday also extended the ongoing state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic until Nov. 19, while members of his administration “continue analyzing impacts of recent legislation & how it affects certain provisions,” he wrote on Twitter. During their recent three-day special session, Republican lawmakers passed a proposal that would in part largely prohibit government entities – including public schools – from implementing mask mandates. Those entities would only be allowed to require masks if they lived in a county with a rolling average 14-day COVID-19 infection rate of at least 1,000 per 100,000 resident while the state is under a state of emergency. There are no counties that currently meet that threshold. Even then, mask mandates would continue to be limited in use.
Austin: The weeklong, record-breaking February freeze this past winter led to crises of power, water, food, shelter, medical care, transportation and emergency response. A lengthy report published by the city Thursday identified a myriad of issues the community experienced that week and offered 132 recommendations about how to be better prepared for the next disaster. The freeze “was an overlapping emergency with overwhelming and cascading community impacts,” says the report, written by the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management departments with the help of Hagerty Consulting. The report reviewed the city’s entire response to the weather event and subsequent crises, identifying lapses in training and coordination, as well as supply-chain failures and neglected communities. “City and county leadership sought to move expeditiously to provide life-sustaining services,” the report says. “These included activation of shelter and warming centers, coordinating medical operations and distribution of drinking water. They faced significant obstacles in loss of infrastructure, staffing shortfalls, and availability of volunteers.” The coronavirus pandemic meant resources were already stretched thin, the report says. Some elected officials and volunteers set up services in response to shortfalls in departmental services.
Salt Lake City: State lawmakers are set to vote on a name change for southern Utah’s Dixie State University this week. A bill to rename it Utah Technical University will be considered in a special session in which lawmakers will also vote on redistricting, state Rep. Kelly Miles, R-South Ogden, told Fox13. It’s expected to get a hearing before the Education Interim Committee on Tuesday. The step comes after numerous public hearings, focus groups and a vote in favor of a name change from the Utah System of Higher Education. Supporters of changing “Dixie” have pointed to difficulties in recruiting and retaining students, who link the name to the South, the Civil War and the Confederacy. Past yearbooks show students in blackface, Confederate flags and the former mascot dubbed “The Rebel.” Opponents of the name change insist the name comes from Mormon pioneers who settled in the St. George area to grow cotton. They’ve begun launching campaigns to pressure lawmakers to resist a name change, accusing the state of giving in to “cancel culture.” The Washington County Commission recently passed a resolution supporting \\ the “Dixie” name. But Miles said that after an extensive input-gathering process, he expects the Legislature to support a name change. Gov. Spencer Cox would also be expected to sign it.
Montpelier: The state is requiring unvaccinated employees to use personal sick time if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19 through their jobs and have to quarantine. State workers who exhaust all their sick time could be required to quarantine without being paid. Fully vaccinated employees forced to quarantine will be paid without needing to use sick time. “We want to do whatever we can to take advantage of safe, effective and free vaccines,” Jason Maulucci, a spokesperson for Republican Gov. Phil Scott, said Friday. “If there are people who choose not to, there are implications to making that decision.” Maulucci said it was unclear how many people have had to use sick leave or if anyone has already gone unpaid. Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees Association, said there have been cases in which employees have had to use leave, but he didn’t have a specific number. He didn’t know if anyone had gone without pay. Howard said the union has filed a grievance, saying the new policy was implemented without working through the details with the union. The previous policy allowed state workers who had to quarantine to be paid while out of work.
Richmond: A juvenile son of Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin tried twice to cast a ballot in Tuesday’s election, election officials said Friday. The 17-year-old presented an ID but was told he was ineligible to vote due to his age and turned away, according to a statement from Scott Konopasek, Fairfax County’s general registrar. The statement said the teen did not successfully vote, made no false statements, did not disrupt voting and appeared to have committed “no election offense.” The statement mentioned Youngkin’s son by name, saying the identification was based on contemporaneous notes by the chief election officer. The news was first reported by The Washington Post. The Associated Press is not naming the son because he is a juvenile. A spokesman for the Republican governor-elect, who campaigned heavily on election integrity, said the son misunderstood Virginia’s laws. State law allows any person who is 17 and will be 18 by Election Day to register in advance and vote in any intervening primary or special election. Jennifer Chanty, a precinct captain, told The Washington Post she encountered the son, who left after initially being told he was too young to vote. She said he returned a short time later, saying a friend who was also 17 had been allowed to cast a ballot. Youngkin, who has four children, made election integrity central to his campaign during the fight for the GOP nomination, and he refused for months to say whether President Joe Biden was legitimately elected.
Tacoma: Three Black women who work for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department have filed a lawsuit against the county alleging a long-standing pattern of discrimination, harassment and retaliation against minority employees. The News Tribune reports Lt. Charla James-Hutchison and Sgts. Dione Alexander and Sabrina Braswell-Bouyer are the highest-ranking African American women in the department’s 168-year history. Their attorneys filed the suit on their behalf last Monday, claiming that the women – who all work in Pierce County Jail – have suffered emotional distress, economic losses and damage to their reputations due to the decades of discrimination. No specific damages are specified in the lawsuit. James-Hutchison, Alexander and Braswell-Bouyer are among 12 Black women who work for the Sheriff’s Department, according to county statistics. There are 47 Black sworn employees in the department out of about 614. The women have been subjected to racial slurs, told they were only hired or promoted to “fill a quota,” called thugs because of their hairstyles, and subjected to colleagues’ comments about how the COVID-19 vaccines should be tested on Black people before white people, the suit says.
Charleston: Grandparents who are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren ages 5 to 11 can receive a $150 school voucher if they are vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Jim Justice said Friday. The program is through the Healthy Grandfamilies vaccination incentive program. To receive a voucher, the family must be enrolled in West Virginia State University’s Healthy Grandfamilies program at healthygrandfamilies.com. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended the vaccine for use by children ages 5 to 11. All vaccine-eligible members of the family must have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The vouchers can be used for school supplies, the governor’s office said in a news release. About 19,000 West Virginia children live in households with a grandparent as primary caregiver, according to the Healthy Grandfamilies organization.
Madison: The University of Wisconsin-Madison has raised the Ho-Chunk Nation flag over its main administration building, marking the first time the university has flown another nation’s flag with the U.S. flag and the Wisconsin flag. Friday’s ceremony at Bascom Hall felt historic to senior Paige Skenandore, who grew up on a reservation in northern Wisconsin and is one of roughly 100 Native American students on campus. It also felt long overdue. “I think this is a great first step,” Skenandore told the Wisconsin State Journal. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s kind of shocking that it hasn’t happened before.” Ho-Chunk Nation Chief Clayton Winneshiek told attendees the flag-raising was “a start.” UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the flag-raising was more than a symbolic gesture but part of an ongoing commitment to educate and acknowledge the state’s tribes and their sovereignty. Almost 190 years ago, the U.S. government and Ho-Chunk Nation signed the Treaty of 1832, which forced the tribe to give up territory that includes the UW-Madison campus. “For many years, UW-Madison was not mindful of this history, and we paid little attention to our relationship with the descendants of those who were here long before us,” Blank told a crowd of at least a couple hundred. “But we are working to change that.”
Torrington: An inmate who died Wednesday is the fourth death in as many weeks at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution. The Casper Star Tribune reports 66-year-old Frank Lee Apodaca died Wednesday at the Community Hospital in Torrington. The Wyoming Department of Corrections said it will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Apodaca was from Fort Collins, Colorado, and sentenced to nine to 12 years in prison in 2017, after being convicted of third-degree sexual assault and intrusion on a victim under age 16 in Laramie County.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Giant joystick, hyena health: News from around our 50 states