Ider: A small-town police chief who died of COVID-19 loved the community he served and regretted his decision against getting vaccinated, his widow said. Buddy Crabtree, a 10-year veteran of the Ider Police Department in northeastern Alabama, died Saturday of the illness caused by the coronavirus, news outlets report. He was often seen inside schools in the town of about 650 people. “He loved his job and Ider,” widow Kristie Crabtree told WAAY-TV. “He loved the community of Ider, his officers, the school kids.” Crabtree’s battle with COVID-19 was a surprise to many since he seemed healthy and kept busy. Crabtree said her husband went to Highlands Medical Center in Scottsboro on Oct. 9 and was flown to Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, 10 days later. She said her husband said he would’ve gotten a vaccine, which health officials say prevents nearly all serious cases of COVID-19 and deaths, if he knew how hard he would have to fight to live. “He actually said, ‘If I get better, I’ll take all three; I don’t ever want to go through this again,’ ” she said. Crabtree’s funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.
Anchorage: The board of the Alaska Railroad has voted unanimously to rescind a requirement for all its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Initially, railroad employees were supposed to be vaccinated by Dec. 8 to comply with an order by President Joe Biden that, in part, requires vaccination for employees of contractors doing business with the federal government. The railroad is a federal contractor, the Anchorage Daily News reports. An email sent to railroad employees last month said the railroad must meet the standard. But last week’s board decision followed legal challenges that have been filed elsewhere seeking to block the federal mandate, Alaska Railroad spokesperson Tim Sullivan said. The board could revisit its decision, depending on the outcome of the vaccine mandate legal challenges, he said. Sullivan said nearly 53% of the railroad’s 692 employees are vaccinated. Failure to comply with the vaccine mandate could cost the state-owned corporation millions of dollars in federal grants and contracts, as well as the space it leases from the U.S. Forest Service in Anchorage, Sullivan said. Board members expressed reluctance to require vaccinations. “There just seems to be a lot of state of flux in terms of how this is going to manifest itself,” board member John Binkley said.
Phoenix: Former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said Monday that he was questioned by investigators from Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office about the 2020 election. The questioning of Fontes, a Democrat who oversaw mail-in balloting last year but lost his own reelection bid, suggests Brnovich is pressing ahead with his pledge to review the findings of state Senate Republicans’ partisan review of last year’s election. That review, led and almost entirely funded by supporters of former President Donald Trump, confirmed President Joe Biden’s victory in Maricopa County but spread falsehoods about alleged malfeasance. Brnovich is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate but could be weighed down by sharp criticism from Trump, who retains considerable sway with the GOP base. Trump repeatedly attacked Brnovich earlier this year as “lackluster,” claiming the attorney general wasn’t doing enough to advance the false claim that Trump’s loss in Arizona was the result of fraud. Fontes, who is running in a contested Democratic primary for secretary of state, said he spoke for about an hour Monday morning with two special agents from Brnovich’s office. He said the discussion was “professional and collegial,” but he said the agents did not seem to know much about election systems.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson has scheduled a special election in February for a vacant northwest Arkansas state Senate seat, though the primary in the typically red district is less than six weeks away. Hutchinson on Friday set the Feb. 8 special election for the District 7 seat held by Republican Sen. Lance Eads, who stepped down last week to take a job with a consulting firm. The primary for the seat will be held Dec. 14, and a primary runoff, if needed, will be held Jan. 11. Jim Bob Duggar, whose large family was featured in the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” announced last week that he’s running in the special election for the seat. The filing period for candidates will begin at noon Nov. 15 and end at noon Nov. 22.
Huntington Beach: A month after an offshore oil spill, environmental advocates said Tuesday that they plan to sue the federal government over the failure to review and update plans for platforms off the coast. The Center for Biological Diversity said it sent notice to the Secretary of the Interior of its intent to sue, a requirement for lawsuits against the federal government. The group contends that the government approved plans for a cluster of oil platforms in the 1980s and that they are still running even though they were expected to wind down production in 2007. The notice came a month after a pipeline owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy leaked at least about 25,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean off the coast of Orange County. Blobs of oil washed ashore, oiling birds and shuttering the famed shoreline of Huntington Beach for a week. Environmentalists braced for the worst, but the immediate damage has been less than initially feared. Much of the oil broke up at sea, and local officials put up booms to keep the crude out of sensitive wetlands. Under federal law, the government is required to review oil development and production plans for leases in federal waters and revise them as needed in response to changing conditions or activities, though that rarely happens, said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Denver: A ballot initiative that would have allowed residents to sue the city for a slow response to homeless encampment cleanups was amended in a court ruling just days before voters headed to the polls, at a time when thousands had already cast their mail ballots. The proposed measure originally allowed citizens to sue the city if officials don’t clean up an encampment within 72 hours of a complaint. In early October, the Denver City Council opposed the initiative, saying it “directly contradicts” the seven-day notice city officials must give before sweeping most homeless encampments under an order handed down by a federal judge in January. The measure was amended after a judge ruled Sunday that the time limit was unlawful and should be removed. However, it still asked voters to decide on creating up to four city-funded authorized camping locations on public property with required running water, restrooms and lighting. Local homelessness advocates have said four sanctioned sites still isn’t enough to address the scale of the problem. Ballots submitted before Tuesday will be counted with the original language of the measure. But even if it passes, the part that would have allowed residents to sue the city for a slow response to cleanups won’t be enforced, said Jacqlin Davis, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office.
Hartford: The interim commissioner of the state Department of Labor informed legislators Monday that her agency is barred by state and federal law from granting a blanket waiver to thousands of workers who are now being billed for overpayment of their unemployment compensation benefits during the pandemic. Danté Bartolomeo told members of the General Assembly’s Appropriations and Labor Committees that her agency is required by the U.S. Department of Labor to review all overpayments on a case-by-case basis and recover the money. Connecticut law, however, does allow people with certain extenuating circumstances to seek an individual waiver from the state, which she urged affected claimants to do. “The problem is, it’s a federal issue the feds and the federal delegation could change, if they so chose, what we’re allowed to do and not,” she said. “But unfortunately, it doesn’t lie at the state level. We’re not able to make those changes.” Many Connecticut legislators have called on the agency to somehow waive the overpayments that are being billed to workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic, arguing it’s unfair to demand money from people who did not commit fraud and continue to struggle financially. A department spokesperson said it could take as long as six to eight years to sort out the issue.
Dover: State lawmakers voted Monday to approve new legislative district maps to reflect population changes over the past 10 years, based on U.S. census data. The Democratic-controlled Senate voted along party lines to approve the new maps, while Republican Rep. Michael Smith of Newark was the only House member to vote against the redistricting bill. Smith, who has been unable to gain much support for a redistricting reform bill that he introduced last year and reintroduced this year, said he believes the current process has become too politicized and arbitrary. Meanwhile, some GOP senators expressed concern that the allowed deviations from standard population numbers for each legislative district tend to let more people be crammed into southern Delaware areas represented by Republicans while allowing northern areas represented by Democrats to contain far fewer residents. Based on a total 2020 census population of 989,940, the standard population number for each Senate district is 47,140, while the standard population for each of House district is 24,145. Lawmakers allowed themselves to deviate from that standard by +/- 5% in redrawing boundary lines. Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn of Georgetown said fast-growing areas of Sussex County already are bumping up against the 5% deviation and will soon surpass it.
District of Columbia
Washington: The Rev. Jesse Jackson was hospitalized Monday after he fell during a visit at Howard University’s Blackburn building, according to a statement from his nonprofit, the Rainbow Push Organization. Jackson was at the institution attending a town hall meeting with University President Wayne A.I. Frederick and student protesters regarding the students’ complaints about living conditions, WUSA-TV reports. According to the Rainbow Push Organization, Jackson was entering the Blackburn University Center, a hub for social life on campus, to visit the students when he fell and hit his head. A Howard administrator took him to Howard University Hospital for treatment, according to the university. After several tests, his results “came back normal,” the organization said. But he was staying at the hospital overnight for further observation. Jackson was not participating in the protest during his visit, Howard University said. The school’s president has called on students to end a sit-in at the building, where they’ve been protesting since Oct. 12 to bring attention to the institution’s living conditions in student housing. Student demonstrators have been demanding representation on the university’s board of trustees and want something to be done to address housing conditions in dorms.
Jacksonville: An educator was arrested on a charge of child abuse against a student just two days after being named a Teacher of the Year at the school. Caroline “Melanie” Lee, 60, is facing a charge of felony child abuse following her arrest Friday, according to Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office jail inmate records. Lee was arrested after calling a student into her classroom to speak privately and allegedly striking the female student on the face, according to a Duval Schools Police report. The confrontation was instigated by an Instagram post by Duval County Public Schools on Wednesday of Lee being named Teacher of the Year at Darnell-Cookman Middle/High, according to the police report. Several comments on the post questioned the win, and on Friday, Lee asked to speak to one of the students who made the comments. When the student got to Lee’s classroom, the student said, Lee reached across the table and struck her several times, causing her nose to bleed, according to the police report. Lee denied physically harming the student, telling a police officer that she only wanted to talk to the student whose Instagram message she perceived as “a threat to kill her.” But Lee said she was “not afraid” and “did not feel the need” to report the message to staff.
Atlanta: Donald Trump was threatening Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger when he asked him to help “find” enough votes to overturn his loss in the state to Democratic President Joe Biden, Raffensperger says in a new book. The book, “Integrity Counts,” was released Tuesday. In it, Raffensperger depicts a man who defied pressure from Trump to alter election results but also reveals a public official settling political scores as he seeks to survive a hostile Republican primary environment and win reelection in 2022. An engineer who grew wealthy before running for office, Raffensperger recounts in his book the struggle that followed Biden’s narrow victory, including death threats texted to his wife, an encounter with men who he says may have been staking out his suburban Atlanta home, and being escorted out of the Georgia State Capitol on Jan. 6 as a handful of right-wing protesters entered the building on the same day many more protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol. The book climaxes with the phone call, which was recorded and then given to multiple news organizations. Raffensperger – known as a conservative Republican before Trump targeted him – wrote that he perceived Trump as threatening him multiple times during the phone call.
Honolulu: The state’s public schools are having trouble finding substitute teachers amid lingering concerns about the coronavirus. Of a daily average of 1,200 requests for substitute teachers statewide, nearly 150 go unfilled, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports, citing Hawaii Department of Education data. The shortfall is occurring even though the department has a pool of 3,200 active substitutes. Among them is Sierra Knight, a 67-year-old retired teacher from California who now lives in Kula, Maui. She has not accepted a substitute job this year, she said, and neither have a lot of her seasoned substitute-teaching friends. “They don’t want to be exposed to COVID,” she said. Knight, who helps moderate a Facebook page for department substitute teachers, said many feel the agency has not done an adequate job of making schools safe from the virus. Superintendents, principals and vice principals have been filling in because of the substitute shortage, according to the Hawaii State Teachers Association. Educational assistants and other staff members pulled from their regular duties are also subbing. “Ultimately, the students are losing out on desperately needed instruction this year,” said Osa Tui Jr., association president. “When there are no substitutes, some of our kids get herded into either a classroom or an auditorium, and they’re just babysat by an adult who has to watch multiple classes and is not providing any type of instruction.”
Boise: Lawmakers are seeking technology companies to appraise federal land in real time to find out how much money the lawmakers think the federal government should be paying the state in property taxes if the land were privately owned. The Committee on Federalism, which deals with state sovereignty issues, put out what is called a request for information last month asking companies to submit ideas by next Monday. The committee has a $250,000 budget for the project. Idaho is roughly 63% federal public land. But that land isn’t taxable by local governments. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in June announced that a federal program called PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes, would send $530 million this year to help counties pay for maintaining community services. Idaho received $34.5 million, but some state lawmakers say it should get more. The action by state lawmakers is matched by legislation introduced in a U.S. Senate committee in March by Idaho’s two Republican senators. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo put forward legislation intended to determine annually the value of land covered by the PILT program, how much tax revenue the land would generate if privately owned and how payments to states could more accurately reflect that tax revenue.
Chicago: The city’s public school system has seen another enrollment drop, with 10,000 fewer students this academic year since last year for a total of approximately 330,000 students. The decline, which has been happening each year for the past decade, comes as other big city districts including New York and Los Angeles have seen enrollment fall this year as well. Chicago Public Schools managed to keep its ranking as the nation’s third-largest school district, but Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida reported coming close to Chicago. This year’s enrollment drop is due to students moving elsewhere, going to private schools or home-schooling, according to recent district data. Roughly 3,400 students are unaccounted for, meaning they haven’t shown up in city schools, and the district doesn’t have information about them. Racial demographics have largely remained the same since last year. About 47% of the district’s students are Hispanic, approximately 36% are Black, about 11% are white, and roughly 4% are Asian. Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the drop a “minor miracle,” saying she was surprised enrollment didn’t decline even more considering the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union blamed underfunded schools, particularly in largely Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, as a major driver.
Evansville: An Indian rhinoceros that was a star attraction at a southwest Indiana zoo for more than a decade has been euthanized at age 35 after facing a host of health challenges, including an inoperable tumor. The Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden announced Friday that Mechi, the zoo’s female Indian rhinoceros, was “humanely euthanized” after zookeepers determined an inoperable tumor in her reproductive tract “was severely affecting her quality of life and well-being.” “Mechi was surrounded by those she was closest with during her final moments. She will be lovingly remembered for years to come by those whose hearts she had touched,” the zoo said in a statement. Erik Beck, the Evansville zoo’s director, said the decision to euthanize Mechi was made only “after exhausting every avenue of treatment and listening to her entire care and veterinary team on the best and most humane thing” that could be done. Rhinos become more susceptible to age-related ailments past their median life expectancy of 30. Mechi had been with the zoo since 2009 after having spent time at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Philadelphia Zoo and White Oak Conservation Center. Born in early 1986, Mechi was brought into human care at a young age after her mother was killed by poachers in Nepal, according to information provided by the zoo.
Palo: Alliant Energy says it will invest $750 million in 400 megawatts of solar power generation and 75 megawatts of battery storage in eastern Iowa, making it the state’s largest solar project to date. Wisconsin-based Alliant, through its Iowa subsidiary Interstate Power & Light Co., expected to file a plan Tuesday with the Iowa Utilities Board stating its intent to acquire a planned 200-megawatt installation, part of which would be on the grounds of the Duane Arnold nuclear power plant. The plant in Palo, northwest of Cedar Rapids, is being decommissioned. Alliant is still assessing where the remaining 200 megawatts of generation capacity would be constructed, said Terry Kouba, president of Cedar Rapids-based Interstate Power & Light. All 400 megawatts likely would be developed at about the same time, said Ben Lipari, director of project development for Alliant. The investor-owned energy provider said 200 megawatts of solar and battery storage is expected to be ready by the end of 2024. Once the project is complete, about half of Alliant’s energy would come from renewable sources. That portfolio already includes 1,300 megawatts of wind energy, Kouba said.
Topeka: Six women in the state House and a female former member are calling on a male lawmaker to resign after being charged with domestic battery and ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation. The seven Democrats calling for freshman Democratic state Rep. Aaron Coleman of Kansas City to step down also called on him to resign in December 2020, before he took office. Coleman, 21, faces the domestic battery charge in Johnson County over a Saturday night disturbance involving his brother at his grandfather’s home. Coleman’s attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf Monday. Coleman also was banned last month from the Kansas Department of Labor’s offices over allegations of disruptive behavior. He said he was trying to help constituents. A legislative committee reprimanded Coleman in writing in February over accusations of abusive behavior toward girls and young women before he took office. He acknowledged some of the behavior and said he’d been a troubled teenager. The lawmakers calling for his resignation are Reps. Stephanie Byers of Wichita, Linda Featherston of Overland Park, Christina Haswood of Lawrence, Jo Ella Hoye of Lenexa, Mari-Lynn Poskin of Leawood and Lindsay Vaughn of Overland Park, joined by former Rep. Jennifer Day, who gave up her seat earlier this year.
Frankfort: Growing numbers of vaccinated Kentuckians have contracted COVID-19 and ended up in hospitals, signaling the importance of getting a booster dose, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday. The unvaccinated still represent the overwhelming majority of new coronavirus-related cases and hospitalizations. But the percentage of vaccinated Kentuckians in those categories has risen, indicating their “waning immunity” over time and the need for the booster shot, Beshear said. In May, 5% of new coronavirus cases in Kentucky were among fully vaccinated people, he said. By October, that rate had grown to 20% to 25%, reflecting the rise in breakthrough cases. “I think when you look at this growth, the only natural explanation is that the immunity does lessen a little bit over time,” the governor said at a news conference. “The delta variant is part of it, right? But this means you need to get your booster.” Meanwhile, 92% of virus-related hospitalizations were among the unvaccinated for a prolonged period, he said. That rate dropped to 84% after including hospitalizations last month. In Kentucky, 67% of people eligible to receive the vaccine have gotten at least their first dose, the governor said. “We need to push this more, but two-thirds of eligible Kentuckians isn’t bad – we just know we have to do better,” Beshear said.
New Orleans: A reexamined autopsy ordered by the FBI in the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene has rejected the Louisiana State Police claim that a car crash caused his fatal injuries, narrowing prosecutors’ focus on the troopers seen on body camera video beating, stunning and dragging the Black motorist. The unusual second look at what killed Greene confirmed what his family suspected the moment they saw his bruised and battered corpse and his car with only slight damage: A minor crash at the end of a high-speed chase had nothing to do with his death. The FBI this week received the new forensic review it commissioned in light of the long-buried body camera footage, vehicle black box data and other evidence the state police withheld from Greene’s original autopsy. The review, which did not involve another examination of the body, attributes Greene’s death to a series of factors, including troopers striking the 49-year-old in the head, restraining him at length and his use of cocaine. The new review notably removes the crash and “agitated delirium” from the list of causes in Greene’s original autopsy, according to a person familiar with the findings who wasn’t authorized to discuss the federal inquiry and spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
Bar Harbor: Acadia National Park has reopened the entire 6-mile Eagle Lake Loop, marking completion of the rehabilitation of the entire 45-mile network of carriage roads in the park. Superintendent Kevin Schneider said the carriage roads used by equestrians, bicyclists, runners and walkers are in “outstanding condition” with help from Friends of Acadia and private philanthropy. “Acadia contains the best and most extensive example of a historic carriage road system in the United States,” he said. Between 1991 and 1995, an extensive rehabilitation of the carriage roads was financed by federal construction funds along with matching private funds from Friends of Acadia. Friends of Acadia donated more than $5 million for upkeep on the carriage roads, demonstrating the power of private matching funds, said David MacDonald, the organization’s president. The Eagle Lake project included rehabilitation of the existing 6 miles of carriage road surface, subgrade and drainage. The work also included reconstruction of masonry retaining walls and stabilization of stone slope protection walls.
Annapolis: The Chesapeake Bay Foundation announced a new president and chief executive officer Monday. Hilary Harp Falk, who has served as the National Wildlife Federation’s chief program officer, will start as the foundation’s new chief Jan. 3. Falk, who lives in Annapolis, will replace William Baker, who has been president and CEO of the foundation since 1981 and is retiring. “Today, we stand at a crossroads for Bay restoration,” Falk said in a statement. “Finishing the work of Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint by 2025 and leaving a restored Bay to our children and grandchildren is possible. But it is not certain. I am humbled and honored to now be charged with leading this prestigious institution.” At the National Wildlife Federation, Falk led and integrated all national and regional programs while serving as strategic advisor to the CEO. Before that, Falk held the position of NWF vice president for regional conservation, where she was responsible for leading the organization’s seven regional offices. She also served as NWF’s regional executive director for the Mid-Atlantic and director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, creating a coalition of more than 200 advocacy organizations to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.
Boston: The Boston-area transit system’s service for people with disabilities is dropping its current ride-booking software in response to complaints of poor service and reverting to its previous software provider, officials said. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has stopped using Uber-owned Routematch for The Ride, ending a deal that was meant to improve door-to-door transportation service for people with disabilities, The Boston Globe reports. “The MBTA is confident that this transition will result in improved customer service and more reliable paratransit service for riders,” spokesperson Lisa Battiston said in an email. The Ride started using Routematch a little more than a year ago, but some passengers reported being left stranded, increased delays, and 30-minute hold times to reach customer service. A Routematch spokesperson said by email that the MBTA and the company agreed that stopping the use of the software was in passengers’ best interest.
Hartford: Two more school districts are dropping Indian nicknames and images. Saranac in Ionia County and Hartford in Van Buren County are the latest to make the change. Hartford Superintendent Kelly Millin said the district, known as the Indians, was greatly influenced by members of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. The Indian mascot will no longer be used by the end of the school year. “What once served as a representation for culture, no longer carries the same point of pride for all that see it, and we have been asked to change our Native American logo and mascot,” Millin said in a letter to the community. The Saranac school board last week voted to “respectfully retire the Redskin mascot.” Camden-Frontier schools in Hillsdale County and the Sandusky district in Sanilac County still call themselves Redskins, MLive.com reports. More Michigan districts still use “Indians.”
Minneapolis: The judge who presided over the trial of Derek Chauvin has made public the names of jurors who convicted the former police officer of murder in the death of George Floyd. Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, in response to a request to release the names by the Associated Press and other news organizations, also made public Monday the names of two alternate jurors who watched the trial but did not deliberate, as well as the responses of the jurors and alternates to questionnaires that were sent to prospective jurors during jury selection. Some jurors and an alternate earlier identified themselves and talked to the media about the trial. Attempts by the AP to contact jurors who were not previously identified were unsuccessful. Chauvin, who is white, was convicted in April of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in the May 25, 2020, death of Floyd. He was sentenced to 221/2 years for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 91/2 minutes as the Black man said he couldn’t breathe.
Jackson: Gov. Tate Reeves says he wants legislators to make more changes in a proposal to create a medical marijuana program in the state. The Republican said at a news conference Monday that he wants tighter limits on the amount of marijuana people could buy, and he wants to reduce the content of THC, the compound that produces a high. “Clearly the levels that are in the current drafts of the bill that have been floating around are higher than I am comfortable with,” he said, according to WLBT-TV. Reeves said he wants a “true medical marijuana program, with strict rules in place,” not a program that would allow recreational use of the drug. In November 2020, Mississippi voters approved an initiative to create a medical marijuana program. State Supreme Court justices overturned the initiative in May, ruling that Mississippi’s initiative process is outdated and unworkable. House and Senate negotiators have been working to create a program since then. After releasing an initial proposal weeks ago, they made changes on taxes and on the size of growing facilities that would be allowed.
Jefferson City: Two weeks after a newspaper discovered a security flaw on a state website, Gov. Mike Parson’s administration has hired a company that performs data breach and credit monitoring services. The state signed a contract last week with Identity Theft Guard Solutions, also known as ID Experts, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The move comes after a Post-Dispatch reporter found a flaw that potentially exposed the Social Security numbers of an estimated 100,000 Missouri teachers. The contract does not specify if ID Experts will focus on that flaw, but it does say it would cost state taxpayers about $4.5 million to notify the teachers of the potential breach and provide them with credit monitoring services. After the problem was first reported, Parson accused the Post-Dispatch of hacking into the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website, which he called a crime, and called for a criminal investigation. Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. John Hotz said last week that the investigation is ongoing.
Helena: A disruption in the U.S. aluminum supply has put a temporary stop to traditional license plate manufacturing in the state. About 750,000 license plates are made each year at the Montana State Prison in the small community of Deer Lodge by inmates working for Montana Correctional Enterprises, a division of the state Department of Corrections. The plate design and numbers are printed on reflective sheets that are applied to pieces of aluminum. Prison officials notified the Motor Vehicles Division in September that they were running low on aluminum, according to division administrator Laurie Bakri. Then Montana Correctional Enterprises ran out of aluminum last month, said Carolynn Bright, spokesperson for the Department of Corrections. Another aluminum shipment isn’t expected until early December, officials said. County motor vehicle departments and authorized license plate distribution agents in Missoula and Billings still have some license plates available, Bakri said. State officials are trying to determine how many aluminum plates are still in stock and whether counties with extra plates can share them with other counties that have dwindling supplies and then plan to use a method similar to that for temporary registration plates or put reflective sheets onto PVC sheeting.
Omaha: Facing staff shortages, public schools in the state’s largest city have turned to bilingual high school students to interpret when families talk with teachers during report card conferences. The Omaha school district has some full-time bilingual liaisons, but students and their families speak more than 100 different languages, and more than 18,000 students have received services for limited English speakers at some time while in the district. Lisa Utterback, the district’s chief student and community services officer, told the Omaha World-Herald the district has about 20 students contracted as interpreters. The students are paid $18 an hour to help with middle and elementary school conferences. Utterback said the student interpreters are going through the same application process and training as non-student interpreters. Three of the translators who are high school seniors have becomed accustomed to translating for others. Hser Kmwe, who speaks Karen, the language spoken widely in parts of Thailand and Myanmar, said she has helped translate in the grocery store after seeing someone struggle to communicate. She often translates for her parents. Karen Soto translates for her Spanish-speaking family and volunteers to help other parents.
Carson City: Incomplete demographic information that prison officials provided lawmakers preparing to redraw the state’s political maps is prompting questions and frustration two years after the Legislature passed a law to count incarcerated residents in their home communities during the once-in-a-decade redistricting process. The data gap suggests Nevada’s efforts to end so-called prison gerrymandering are far from complete as lawmakers prepare to implement a recently passed ban of the practice for the first time later this year. “Here we are, in 2021, with half of the people that we aren’t being able to identify. That’s problematic to me because I would like to see everyone counted,” state Sen. Roberta Lange, D-Las Vegas, said in a hearing last week. Most states count inmates as part of the population where their prisons are located. Detractors say the practice artificially inflates the population and voting power of rural, mostly white prison towns at the expense of minority communities disproportionately incarcerated. In Nevada, where 51% of the population is white, 58% of the prison population is Black, Latino, Native or of Asian descent. “It’s taking people who would otherwise count for representation in their own communities and moving them to areas that aren’t just far away from home but also look very different,” said Yurij Rudensky, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.
Bedford: Nearly 200 absentee ballots that were never counted in the November 2020 election would not have changed the outcomes of any races, the New Hampshire attorney general’s office said. Town officials believe the 190 completed ballots were accidentally put in a box with empty absentee ballot envelopes. All those voters have been notified that their ballots were not counted. The attorney general’s office put out a news release about the 190 ballots Monday, several days after Bedford’s town clerk and town moderator sent a letter to voters. The attorney general’s office also made public its response Monday to Bedford’s letter. It said three statements in the letter were inaccurate: that the clerk and moderator were instructed by the attorney general’s office not to tell anyone about the 190 ballots; that the two made “numerous attempts” to get resolution from the office; and that the office’s Oct. 21 closure letter to the clerk and moderator “was essentially the first explanation from us as to the necessary remediation plan.” Emails sent Monday seeking comment from the clerk and moderator were not immediately returned. The attorney general’s office also said Merrimack and Nottingham each had three absentee ballots not counted. All three towns were instructed to establish new procedures.
Trenton: Food banks are facing increased prices and difficulty sourcing and transporting food, another ripple effect of the global supply chain logjam created when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down factories, closed ports, caused a shortage of shipping containers and sickened truck drivers. And while the backlogs strained supply, business closures to stem the spread of the pandemic left large numbers of New Jerseyans unemployed and in need of help feeding their families for the first time. “There’s been a huge demand in need since the pandemic, riddled from day one with supply chain issues,” said Carlos Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, the state’s largest anti-hunger, antipoverty organization, which provides food to local pantries in 15 counties. “The shortages that supermarkets are dealing with translated into less donations to us and increased costs.” Before the pandemic, the Community FoodBank purchased about 10% of the food it gave out to families. Now, it is buying up to 36% of meals because retail stores and supermarkets don’t have the capacity to donate as much as before, Rodriguez said. And that dollar amount is huge considering how the organization has ramped up its aid, from 50 million meals in 2019 to 84 million meals in 2020 and an expected 93 million meals this year.
Santa Fe: Firearms are being banned at the state Capitol building with few exceptions starting in early December, under rule changes approved Monday by leading Democratic lawmakers. The changes reverse a live-and-let-live approach toward guns in the Statehouse that has endured for more than a century. New Mexico has long allowed the open and concealed carry of firearms in the building with no systematic screening for weapons at entrances, which are guarded by State Police when the Legislature is in session. Limited gun restrictions were put in place in recent years during the State of the State address and contentious hearings on gun bills. The new prohibition on deadly weapons – also including various knives, brass knuckles and sharpened canes – takes effect Dec. 6, when legislators are scheduled to convene for political redistricting. Democratic state Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup said the changes were a necessary response to new and unpredictable security threats. “We need to tighten down the Capitol,” said Muñoz, acknowledging that he has a concealed carry license. “It is the way the world is making us do things now.” The gun ban, drafted by Senate majority leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, applies to most people, including legislators and staff inside the Statehouse and adjoining annex offices.
New York: Mayor Bill de Blasio is one step closer to joining the race for governor after filing paperwork with the Board of Elections to create a fundraising committee. The Democrat filed paperwork last week to create a committee called New Yorkers for a Fair Future that will allow him to raise funds for a statewide campaign. De Blasio, whose second and final term as mayor ends Dec. 31, has not formally announced a run for governor but has spoken broadly about wanting to serve New York state. “I do want to continue in public service. I do want to do more for the people in this city and this state,” the mayor said at his virtual news briefing Tuesday. Asked about his familiarity with the rest of the state outside of New York City, de Blasio said: “I love a lot of parts of the state, and look, I think this is a state with tremendous potential but also a lot of unrealized potential. There’s tremendous talent, tremendous beauty in the state of New York, but we’re not where we need to be.” Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who took over in August after Andrew Cuomo resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, has announced that she will run for a full term in 2022. State Attorney General Letitia James is also running for the Democratic nomination.
Raleigh: Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday vetoed the latest Republican bill seeking to rein in his powers, this time legislation that would have required other elected leaders to sign off on long-term emergency declarations like those for COVID-19. The governor vetoed a measure that is somewhat similar to a 2020 bill that he also formally blocked. This year’s bill would have required enforcement of a gubernatorial statewide emergency order for only seven days unless a majority of the Council of State agreed to extend it for up to 45 days. For the emergency order to go longer, the Legislature would have to pass a law doing so. Many GOP officials and their allies have complained about Cooper’s directives restricting commerce and requiring masks that ensued after his first coronavirus emergency declaration issued in March 2020. That declaration remains in place. Cooper said the legislation, which would have applied immediately to him and future governors, would discourage the “decisive, quick and comprehensive action” that an emergency needs instead of “bureaucracy and politics.” As with the 2020 vetoed bill, GOP lawmakers are unlikely to locate the votes needed to override the veto on this bill. Only one Democrat joined Republicans in voting for the final measure.
Bismarck: State corrections officials say coronavirus cases involving inmates at the North Dakota State Penitentiary have soared to the highest number to date in the pandemic. State Department of Corrections officials said that out of more than 525 inmates, active cases among inmates jumped from 17 last week to 63 this week. And active cases for staff jumped from 14 last week to 19 Monday. “Our medical team, they were aware. They knew this was coming. Our facility staff, all of that. Of course, it is nothing that we want to see,” said Kayli Richards, director of communications for North Dakota Corrections and Rehabilitation. Richards added that “COVID spread in a congregated setting is extremely difficult to avoid” and that staff and medical professionals are working around the clock to mitigate the spread, KFYR-TV reports. The facility has exceeded its isolation space and is using the gym as an infirmary for coronavirus-positive inmates. No inmates have been sent to the hospital with COVID-19, but some individuals have continued to quarantine after an isolation period is complete due to their symptoms.
Cleveland: The city’s police department plans to rescind its policy requiring officers to notify crime victims before sending low-level, nonviolent offenders to a county diversion program. A department spokeswoman said the change would be made as early as this week. It comes after some officials and mental health advocates said the department was unnecessarily applying a 2017 victims-rights law that was preventing people from getting the treatment they need and putting victims in a position to decide the fate of someone’s treatment. The policy was instituted by Police Chief Calvin Williams about two weeks ago, cleveland.com reports. It was based on Marsy’s Law, which expanded victims’ rights to include notifications about suspects’ criminal cases. City officials had defended the policy last week but decided late Friday to make the change. They noted that no one had been denied access to the diversion center. Cleveland’s mayoral candidates, City Council President Kevin Kelley and nonprofit executive Justin Bibb, had said they would eliminate the notification policy after taking office.
Oklahoma City: A total of 31 tornadoes in the state last month was a record high for October dating to 1950, according to the National Weather Service. The previous high for October, the fifth most active month for tornadoes, was 27 in 1998, according to weather service records. Those records show that March through June are the four most active months for twisters in Oklahoma. “It’s unusual, not quite as unusual as people might think,” to see October tornadoes, weather service meteorologist Phil Ware said. “It’s really not that different than in the springtime. You’re getting clashes of air masses again.” Weather conditions in autumn, however, are typically drier, limiting the instability storms need to form and strengthen into powerful tornadoes, Ware said. The most powerful of last month’s tornadoes was an EF2 that struck Oct. 10 near Anadarko with wind speeds of 113-157 mph. The twister was one of 17 recorded in the state that day as strong storms also spawned tornadoes and severe weather in parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Texas. Another 13 tornadoes were recorded Oct. 12-13, and one was recorded Oct. 27. No deaths were reported from the October Oklahoma twisters.
Salem: A judge has found that new congressional districts passed by Democrats meet all legal criteria, with little evidence they amount to blatant partisan gerrymandering. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the tentative opinion, released Monday by retired state Judge Henry Breithaupt, is not the final word in an ongoing lawsuit, in which Republicans are seeking to have the new six-district congressional map redrawn. Breithaupt is acting as a “special master” in the case, tasked with making findings of fact for a five-judge panel that will decide the outcome. Following the latest U.S. census, Oregon received an additional seat in the U.S. House, increasing the number of congressional districts from five to six. There are currently four Democratic U.S. House members from Oregon and one Republican. The findings by Breithaupt suggest Republicans have failed to prove their insistence that Democrats purposefully stacked the new congressional maps in their own favor. A lawsuit filed on behalf of former Secretary of State Bev Clarno and three other former Republican elected officials called the map “a clear, egregious partisan gerrymander.” Breithaupt’s opinion relies heavily on a proposed set of facts suggested by the Oregon Department of Justice, which is representing the Legislature in defending the map.
Pittsburgh: City employees who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 22 could be fired, the mayor announced, building on an earlier vaccine mandate for new hires. City workers must be two weeks past the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or their second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines to be considered in compliance with the new policy. Workers who remain unvaccinated by the deadline and who do not obtain a medical or religious exemption could face “employment actions,” including unpaid leave or termination, under the order signed by outgoing Mayor Bill Peduto. Peduto cited continuing high rates of COVID-19 transmission in Allegheny County, of which Pittsburgh is a part. “It is our responsibility to act collectively to protect both our employees and the public so that we can move on and continue our recovery from the pandemic,” Peduto, a Democrat who lost in the May primary election, said in a statement Monday. Pittsburgh’s vaccine mandate – which follows one in Allegheny County announced in September – faced immediate pushback, with the head of the police union pledging legal action.
Providence: The state plans to offer businesses struggling to find enough workers up to $5,000 to help them fill positions left vacant by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Daniel McKee said Tuesday. The Back to Business initiative will be funded with up to $4.5 million in federal coronavirus relief money, the Democratic governor said. Businesses can use the grant money for sign-on bonuses for new hires, incentive payments for employees who recommend a successful new hire, and other recruitment activities including job fairs and promotional materials. The grants will be available to Rhode Island-based businesses with fewer than 200 employees that have suffered job losses during the pandemic and are struggling to find enough help. Applications will be accepted starting Thursday until Nov. 12. Also Tuesday, McKee and state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green announced a program to help schools in communities hit hardest by the pandemic. Under the Learning, Equity, and Accelerated Pathways District Support Program, districts will be eligible for matching funds, ranging from $1.4 million to $4 million, from a pool of more than $20 million to invest in programs that will accelerate student learning.
Columbia: Gov. Henry McMaster wants to spend the last $17 million of his COVID-19 education relief money to fully pay for anyone to go to a technical college for two years to train to enter high-demand jobs. The governor plans to make the announcement Wednesday afternoon at a factory in Duncan. His senior education adviser and the president of the state’s 16 technical colleges spoke to the Associated Press about the plan Tuesday. “This will provide high-demand, high-skilled job training in areas like health care, manufacturing, IT and construction,” South Carolina Technical College System President Tim Hardee said. McMaster wants to help up to 15,000 people by paying for the tuition, fees, textbooks and materials for associate’s degrees, but to continue the program, he will need the General Assembly to add $124 million, said Melanie Baron, the governor’s senior education adviser. The governor is basing his new program on an initiative from right after the pandemic started in early 2020 for which he spent $12 million in federal relief money to pay for 12-week programs to certify people for critical-need jobs, Barton said. About 4,000 people have taken advantage of the program to become truck drivers, forklift operators or welders. Nearly 500 of them are now working as nursing assistants, officials said.
Sioux Falls: Sanford Health, the state’s largest private employer, began suspending employees who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 on Monday. The health system announced in July that employees would have until Nov. 1 to begin getting inoculated or to get an exemption based on health or religious reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected South Dakota since spring 2020, but vaccines were not available for most eligible populations until spring of this year. The health system did not immediately say how many employees would be suspended. Dr. Jeremey Cauwels, Sanford Health’s chief physician, said in a statement that employees who hadn’t started their vaccine series by Monday or been granted an exemption would be suspended for up to 60 days without pay. “Continued failure to comply with the COVID-19 vaccine requirements within 60 days will result in the employee being considered to have voluntarily resigned from their employment,” Cauwels said. “We do not expect more than 1-2% of our staff to leave as a result of the vaccine mandate.” Sanford employs about 30,000 people across its system. In October, Sanford reported that it had granted about 3,000 exemptions for its workers.
Nashville: Schools will have to jump through even more hoops if they want to implement mask mandates to prevent the spread of COVID-19 under legislation recently approved by the state’s GOP-controlled General Assembly. The strict new rules are part of a sweeping bill on which Republicans signed off in the middle of the night over the weekend as they worked to undermine numerous COVID-19 protective measures. Lawmakers were willing to back down on measures targeting private businesses after industry groups balked at mask requirement restrictions. The business groups were left with some provisions they oppose – conflicting state and federal mandates on vaccines, the threat of lawsuits to enforce the new law, and the fear that the U.S. government could take over workplace safety regulation in Tennessee because of attempts to undermine federal safety rules. When advocates for public schools asked for similar leniency on mask-wearing, lawmakers brushed off their pleas that mask mandates were necessary to protect children and teachers amid the virus outbreak and kept strict limits in the bill. At the same time, private schools were given an exemption so they could require masks. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has held off on promising he’ll give the bill his signature. He has yet to veto a bill in his time in office.
Houston: A judge recommended no new trial for death row inmate Rodney Reed, whose supporters point to evidence they say raises serious doubts about his guilt. Reed was condemned for the 1996 killing of 19-year-old Stacey Stites. Prosecutors say Reed raped and strangled Stites as she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles southeast of Austin. Reed, 53, has long maintained that Stites’ fiance, former police Officer Jimmy Fennell, was the real killer. Reed has said Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with Reed, who is Black. Fennell, who served time for sexual assault and was released from prison in 2018, has denied killing Stites. State District Judge J.D. Langley was appointed to review the case after the Texas Court of Criminal appeals put his November 2019 execution on hold. In a 50-page ruling, Langley wrote that the three claims Reed is making – that prosecutors suppressed evidence, that Fennell falsely testified he didn’t kill Stites and that Reed is actually innocent – should be denied. Reed “has not proven by clear and convincing evidence that he is actually innocent,” Langley wrote in his ruling, issued Sunday.
Salt Lake City: An independent commission tasked with redrawing voting districts has presented its proposed maps to state lawmakers, a key step in the once-a-decade process that has big political implications. The Monday hearing came before a special legislative session planned to vote on new maps planned for Nov. 9. The Independent Redistricting Commission was approved by voters to draw nonpartisan boundaries, but the Republican-dominated Legislature is under no obligation to adopt them. The panel drew up proposed districts for Congress, the state House, Senate and state school board. They made three different proposals for each type of office. The majority of people who attended Monday’s hearing urged lawmakers to adopt one independent commission’s maps, supporting the work as careful, transparent and based on data. But the meeting comes after former Congressman Rob Bishop, a Republican, abruptly quit the commission, saying its maps were more tilted toward urban interests than rural. Republican Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson echoed his concerns and suggested the commission’s work might need to be revaluated, raising questions about whether the Legislature will choose one of those proposed maps.
Montpelier: The Vermont Agency of Education has a new, free program to help students build social and emotional learning skills that is part of an effort to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students. The free materials on the SEL VT website are intended for students directly, for parents supporting their students, and for teachers and administrators. Registration is required. The site will help students build social and emotional learning skills and provide educators content they can use when teaching. The platform has corresponding materials that parents can directly access to understand lessons covered in school and support continued learning at home. “Social emotional learning has always been a critical factor in students’ overall development and readiness to learn academics,” Vermont Deputy Education Secretary Heather Bouchey said Monday in a statement. “But the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have given it new urgency.” The state Agency of Education established the SEL VT platform using federal COVID-19 emergency funds as part of the state’s education recovery efforts.
Roanoke: Three adults have died from complications of a hepatitis A outbreak being linked to a local restaurant chain, health officials say. Officials have identified at least 49 cases and 31 hospitalizations from the outbreak, The Roanoke Times reports. Roanoke Valley’s health district says an employee who worked at three Famous Anthony’s locations in Roanoke was diagnosed with hepatitis A. The person was hospitalized with complications from the virus, which causes inflammation of the liver. Neither city nor Alleghany Health Districts officials released additional information, citing privacy reasons. On Oct. 8, Roanoke County resident James Hamlin, 75, was the first confirmed death associated with the outbreak. Late Friday afternoon, the district announced a third adult hospitalized with complications also died. Officials say anyone who visited any of the three locations between Aug. 10 and Aug. 27 may have been exposed and should monitor for symptoms, but health district director Cynthia Morrow said anyone who was exposed likely would have experienced symptoms already. A small number of cases are still under investigation, but no new cases had been reported as of Friday. The incubation period, the time between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms, passed two weeks ago.
Seattle: A federal judge has dismissed a civil rights lawsuit filed by the mother of a 19-year-old man fatally shot during last year’s Capitol Hill Organized Protest. U.S. District Judge John Coughenour said Donnitta Sinclair, mother of Horace Anderson, could not show that the decision by city officials to vacate the precinct during unrest after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police created circumstances that led to Anderson’s shooting, the Seattle Times reports. Coughenour cited a law stating that “members of the public have no constitutional right to sue (city officials) who fail to protect them against harm inflicted by a third party,” unless they can prove action by the city created a danger would not have otherwise existed. Sinclair’s lawsuit alleged the city’s decision to abandon the precinct and surrounding area invited “lawlessness and … a foreseeable danger” that led to Anderson’s death. The city said it could not have foreseen that Anderson would run into a rival, Marcel Long, on Capitol Hill early June 20, 2020. Long was arrested in July and faces murder charges. Sinclair’s lawyer, Mark Lindquist, said he expects to appeal. Dan Nolte, a spokesman for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office, declined to comment because Anderson’s father and estate have filed similar claims that remain pending.
Sharples: A coal miner died in an accident Monday in southern West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice said. The accident occurred Monday afternoon at Mingo Logan Coal Co.’s Mountaineer II Mine in Sharples, the governor’s office said in a statement. The statement, which didn’t include details surrounding the death, identified the victim as Brian D. Wallen, 49. It said Wallen was an assistant chief electrician with 25 years of mining experience. According to an incident report issued by the West Virginia Emergency Management Division, an underground mining vehicle wrecked, and the victim was not breathing when an emergency call was made. It’s the sixth coal mining-related fatality in West Virginia this year. The state had two coal mining deaths for all of 2020. Justice said he and his wife, Cathy, “are deeply saddened to learn that we lost one of our West Virginia coal miners today.”
Madison: Vel Phillips, Wisconsin’s first Black secretary of state, will be honored with a statue on state Capitol grounds, a state board decided Monday. The Capitol and Executive Residence Board voted unanimously to erect the statue of Phillips, the Wisconsin State Journal reports. Phillips, who died in 2018, broke a number of gender and race barriers throughout her career: She was the first Black woman to graduate from the UW-Madison School of Law and the first woman, as well as Black person, to serve on the Milwaukee City Council and to become a Wisconsin judge. Republican Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, chairperson of the board, called the vote “historic.” Michael Johnson, CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County, began the push for the statue last year amid widespread protests over police brutality. His organization is trying to raise $1.3 million for the statue. The statue of Phillips, which will be installed at the South entrance to the Capitol, will join the “Forward” and Col. Hans Christian Heg statues, which were reinstalled in September after being toppled by protesters in June 2020. Heg was an abolitionist who died in a Civil War battle, and the “Forward” statue has come to represent women’s rights.
Jackson: A famous grizzly and her cubs have increasingly been raiding human food and raising concerns in the Jackson Hole area. The state of Wyoming issued a call for help Oct. 18 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s grizzly bear recovery coordinator after a wall-to-wall weekend of conflicts. Grizzly 399, a famous sow bear with four half-grown cubs, has been on an extended walkabout through southern Jackson Hole. That revered 25-year-old bear has spent more time outside Grand Teton National Park than within the protected landscape since summer, and her travels through places like Josies Ridge, Tribal Trails and Hoback Junction are proving problematic. Game and Fish large carnivore biologist Mike Boyce told the Jackson Hole News&Guide issues have included “property damage, livestock feed and apiary damage.” During her first-ever known extended time south of the national park in 2020, Grizzly 399 successfully exploited human-related foods on several occasions. But her more recent behavior has taken an even more concerning turn. Several times the family has been hazed with cracker shells, nonlethal projectiles and other means: three times by Boyce, once by a Fish and Wildlife Service official and once by a landowner.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Grizzly troubles, offshore drilling suit: News from around our 50 states