Montgomery: A military base has ordered troops to show proof of vaccination in order to go without face masks as the state sees an uptick in COVID-19 cases – a rise attributed to low inoculation rates. The measure was put in place Tuesday at Fort Rucker, home of the Army’s aviation program. If a soldier is not wearing a mask, base leadership can ask to see a vaccination card. In a video posted to Facebook, base officials said the measure is needed because of rising case numbers on the base and in surrounding counties. Alabama, which has the lowest vaccination rates in the country, is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. State Health Officer Scott Harris said that is likely driven both by the low vaccination rates and by the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Alabama has risen over the past two weeks from 205.43 new cases per day June 28 to 559.57 new cases per day July 12. Only about 33% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, compared to about 48% nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It’s not the vaccinated people that are getting infected for the most part, and if they do, for the most part they aren’t the ones getting sick in the hospital,” Harris said.
Anchorage: The Biden administration said Thursday that it is ending large-scale, old-growth timber sales in the country’s largest national forest – the Tongass National Forest – and will focus on forest restoration, recreation and other noncommercial uses. The U.S. Agriculture Department, which includes the Forest Service, also said it will take steps to reverse a Trump administration decision last year to lift restrictions on logging and road-building in the southeast Alaska rainforest, which provides habitat for wolves, bears and salmon. A 2001 rule prohibits road construction and timber harvests with limited exceptions on nearly one-third of national forest land. The Trump administration moved to exempt the Tongass from those prohibitions, something Alaska political leaders had sought for years. Restoring those protections in the Tongass would return “stability and certainty to the conservation of 9.3 million acres of the world’s largest temperate old growth rainforest,” the Agriculture Department said. Under the plans announced Thursday, large-scale, old-growth projects that were being planned for the forest will not go forward, Moore said. Smaller timber sales, including some old-growth trees, will still be offered for local and cultural uses such as totem poles, canoes and tribal artisan use, the federal agency said.
Phoenix: The state’s largest county approved nearly $3 million Wednesday for new vote-counting machines to replace those used in the 2020 election, which were given to legislative Republicans for a partisan review of the results. The GOP-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors said the machines were compromised because they were in the control of firms not accredited to handle election equipment. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, had said she would seek to decertify the machines if the county planned to use them again. State Senate Republicans used their subpoena power to take control of Maricopa County’s voting machines after former President Donald Trump claimed without evidence that the 2020 election was rigged against him in Arizona and other battleground states. The Senate hired Cyber Ninjas, a small cybersecurity consulting firm led by a Trump supporter who has spread conspiracy theories backing Trump’s false claims of fraud, to recount all 2.1 million ballots and forensically review voting machines, servers and other data. The firm had no prior experience in elections, and experts in election administration say it’s not following reliable procedures.
Little Rock: The University of Arkansas on Thursday said it has asked a former Razorback challenging U.S. Sen. John Boozman to change his ads over their unauthorized use of the school’s trademarks. The school made the request after Jake Bequette launched his bid for the Republican Senate nomination with an online video touting his background playing for the Razorbacks and for the New England Patriots in the NFL. Boozman, a Republican, has held the seat since 2011. The video features footage and images of Bequette playing in his Razorbacks uniform, while a logo says: “Jake Bequette. Patriot. Veteran. Razorback.” “We have asked the campaign to modify its ads related to unauthorized use of the Razorback trademark for political purposes,” UA spokesman Mark Rushing said in an email. Bequette’s campaign did not say whether it planned to change or withdraw the ad. “Jake Bequette is proud of his time at the University of Arkansas where he was an academic All-American and All-SEC defensive end. He will continue to proudly call himself a Razorback,” the campaign said. UA made a similar request when Boozman, also a former Razorback, ran for the Senate in 2010. Boozman pulled a TV ad highlighting his time playing for the Razorbacks after the school asked that it be withdrawn.
Los Angeles: Los Angeles County leaders are moving forward with a plan to return prime beachfront property to descendants of a Black couple who built a resort for African Americans but were stripped of the land by city officials a century ago. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to pursue an action plan created by the county chief executive’s office on returning the land to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce once the state allows it. The county would be a sponsor of state legislation that is needed to enable the transfer. “We are on an important road to set a precedent that could be replicated across the country as we work to put actions behind our commitment to an anti-racist agenda and anti-racist county,” Supervisor Holly Mitchell said. The property that became known as Bruce’s Beach is along the shoreline in Manhattan Beach, now an upscale city. The land was purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce, who built the first West Coast resort for Black people at a time when many beaches were segregated. They suffered racist harassment from white neighbors, and in the 1920s the Manhattan Beach City Council took the land away through eminent domain under the ruse of needing it for a park. The city did nothing with the property, however, and it eventually was transferred to the state in 1948.
Denver: A pre-pandemic shortage of licensed commercial drivers in the waste management industry has become worse, and now cities and companies are dealing with a shortage of workers to hoist trash and recyclables into trucks. Workers in the solid-waste industry were considered essential workers as COVID-19 started to spread, but now there aren’t enough of them, and many are likely looking for different lines of work or better pay, The Denver Post reports. Denver is working to hire more sanitation workers after cutting its budget and letting vacancies go unfilled when the pandemic hit, said Nancy Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. The city provides trash and recycling collection services to 181,000 households and compost collection service to subscribers. Kuhn said Denver cut back on extra trash collection, which includes large items, from every four weeks to every eight weeks. In June, the city received 1,738 calls about missed trash pickup and 760 about missed recycling pickups. Denver makes about 724,000 trash collections a month. The solid waste industry is among those using signing bonuses to lure back workers as businesses emerge from cutbacks made because of the pandemic.
Hartford: State regulators have approved a plan to spur the building of infrastructure across Connecticut for charging electric vehicles. The state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority said the nine-year program approved Wednesday creates incentives for the building of fast charging stations, home charging stations and workplace charging stations, both for individuals with electric cars and for companies that have fleets of electric vehicles. The decision directs the state’s two largest electric utilities, Eversource Energy and United Illuminating, to provide incentives to customers who install the necessary equipment. Those include rebates of up to $500 to homeowners who make electrical upgrades to allow charging at home and up to $40,000 for owners of apartment buildings, condominium complexes and businesses that install charging areas. The program also would provide up to $250,000 for the creation of direct current fast-charging stations in the state. Those who install the equipment in low-income and distressed communities would get the largest incentives, PURA said. “We’re eager to bring a statewide charging program to our customers and are currently reviewing the details of PURA’s announcement to ensure it maximizes all potential benefits for our customers,” said Mitch Gross, an Eversource spokesperson.
Lewes: Residents of Donovan Smith Mobile Home Park say the untreated wastewater surfacing above an older septic system in the center of the park affects the environment, their safety and their quality of life. “This place started out as travel-trailers and weekenders. They didn’t need a big septic unit,” said resident Samuel Saunders. “Now people live here full time, and these tanks won’t hold that. It bubbles up, and it’s bad.” The park owner, Donovan-Smith MHP LLC, was issued a notice of violation from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control on July 8 for unauthorized discharge to groundwater. According to the notice, the park never renewed its septic system permit after it expired in 2008 and has been operating without one since. The department continued to inspect the system annually despite being without a permit, the notice says. DNREC declined to provide inspection records, citing an “ongoing investigation.” Park manager Clara McNichols, when reached by phone, declined to comment.
District of Columbia
Washington: The Metro Board of Directors Safety and Operations Committee approved a proposal Thursday to temporarily ban certain riders cited for sexual or firearms charges while riding the transit system, WUSA-TV reports. The full Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board is expected to vote on the proposal at an upcoming meeting, but a date on that vote has not been set. Metro says it has seen an increase in sex offenses over the past 18 months. The hope is that a change to the passenger conduct policy would help cut down on those incidents. The first offense would carry a 14-day ban and the second a 30-day ban, but the third offense would bring a 365-day rolling suspension that starts the day the citation is issued. Transit agencies in other major cities have similar policies in place.
Orlando: The Walt Disney Co. said Thursday that it planned to build a new regional campus in central Florida to house at least 2,000 professional employees who will be relocating from Southern California to work in digital technology, finance and product development. In a letter to employees, Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said the move would allow creative and business teams to be better integrated. The company already has a theme park resort outside Orlando, Walt Disney World, that is the size of the city of San Francisco. The new Disney campus will be located about 20 miles to the east of Disney World, in a neighborhood by Orlando International Airport. “Florida is known for its rich culture of hospitality and active lifestyle as well as a lower cost of living with no state income tax,” D’Amaro said in the employee letter. While the company is still figuring out which employees will be asked to relocate, they likely will be in the parks division. Workers asked to relocate will have 18 months to make the move, D’Amaro said. “As someone who has moved with my family from California to Florida and back again, I understand that relocation is a big change, not only for the employee, but also for their families,” he said.
Atlanta: Former President Donald Trump is declaring his opposition to a high-ranking Republican’s bid for lieutenant governor, another sign of how state-level politics is being reordered by Trump’s insistence that all Republicans repudiate his 2020 election loss. Trump invited other Republicans to run against Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller in a statement released late Wednesday. “I will not be supporting or endorsing Sen. Butch Miller, running for lieutenant governor of Georgia, because of his refusal to work with other Republican senators on voter fraud and irregularities in the state,” Trump said. “Hopefully there will be strong and effective primary challengers for the very important lieutenant governor position!” Trump weighed in as state Sen. Burt Jones of Jackson considers seeking the GOP nomination to succeed Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, whose support among Republicans collapsed after his outspoken defense of the Georgia election results that gave Joe Biden a narrow victory. Miller has not gone as far as Jones in promoting the false claim that Trump was cheated out of 16 electoral votes, but he counts Georgia’s restrictive new elections law among his top accomplishments and has said voters will support him as a conservative who gets things done.
Honolulu: U.S. authorities launched an investigation and fined Louisiana tourists honeymooning in Hawaii after a video on social media showed a woman touching an endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The couple were “deeply sorry,” a man identified as Stephen told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We love Hawaii and the culture. We didn’t mean to offend anyone.” A video posted on TikTok and other social media showed a woman touching the seal at a Kauai beach in June. The video showed her running away after the resting seal raised its head and snapped at her. There are an estimated 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and 300 in the main Hawaiian Islands. It’s a felony to touch or harass a Hawaiian monk seal under state and federal laws, with penalties of up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine. The newspaper reports authorities from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contacted the couple over the weekend and assessed an undisclosed fine. Dominic Andrews, a spokesman for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, said an investigation is underway and declined to comment further.
Boise: Prisons in the state are so understaffed that correctional officers often end up working mandatory 16-hour shifts, leaving them just eight hours to sleep, eat and see their families before returning to duty, a prison official said. Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt told Board of Correction members about the staff shortages during a meeting Wednesday, saying roughly one-quarter of correctional officer positions are vacant. “We’ve seen a very alarming new trend in our staffing that is cause for concern for us,” Tewalt said, noting that there are about 180 vacant positions statewide. Most of the vacancies are in the five-prison complex south of Boise, where 156 correctional officer positions are vacant. That’s the lowest staffing rate the state has seen in the past six years, according to department data. The staff shortage means there are frequently not enough employees to allow prisoners to move normally throughout their daily schedule, forcing facilities to go on “restricted” status during which offenders may be denied time in recreational yards or day room areas. The shortage also means visiting hours can’t be held in some prisons. Prison understaffing can lead to dangerous conditions for workers and inmates and limit inmate access to programs designed to help them succeed upon release.
Springfield: Frustrated with a lack of power to investigate unethical conduct by state lawmakers and an ethics reform bill on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk that she considered counterproductive, the Illinois legislative inspector general said Wednesday that she will resign in December. Carol Pope, 67, a former Menard County state’s attorney and former circuit and appellate judge based in Petersburg, emailed members of the Legislative Ethics Commission to say she plans to leave Dec. 15. Pope’s term normally would be up in June 2023. Before Pope, the General Assembly went four years without a permanent inspector general. “The last legislative session demonstrated true ethics reform is not a priority,” Pope said, despite ethics reform legislation that overwhelmingly passed this year and was praised by Democrats and Republicans as a good first step. Pope, in her letter, said the legislative inspector general “has no real power to effect change or shine a light on ethics violations.” She said the position “is essentially a paper tiger.” Pope, a Republican and Melrose Park native who became legislative inspector general in March 2019, said the position needs more independence to be effective.
Indianapolis: Less than one-third of elementary and middle school students recorded passing scores on the latest round of state standardized tests, results released Wednesday show, confirming education officials’ concerns that the coronavirus pandemic has fueled substantial learning losses. The Indiana Department of Education released results from the spring ILEARN exam that show 40.5% of students at or above proficiency standards in English/language arts and 36.9% at or above proficiency standards in mathematics. Only 28.6% of students statewide in grades three through eight tested as proficient in both English and math, a drop from 37.1% the last time the test was administered in 2019. State data showed “significant” gaps persist among racial, ethnic and socioeconomic student groups. For example, just 8% of Black students passed both the English and math sections, compared with 46.5% of Asian students, 34.7% of white students and 15.6% of Hispanic students. Indianapolis Public Schools, which has one of the highest proportions of disadvantaged students in the state, saw only 10% of its students pass both English and math. Neighboring Warren Township schools reported less than 8% of students tested proficient. In northern Indiana’s South Bend Community Schools, 7.5% of students had passing rates on both sections of the exam.
Des Moines: Nearly 20% more Iowans died of drug overdoses in 2020 than in the previous year, as the powerful narcotic fentanyl became more prevalent, and the COVID-19 pandemic compounded people’s anxiety and isolated them from addiction treatment services. A new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates Iowa suffered 419 drug overdose deaths last year, compared to 350 in 2019. Most neighboring states saw steeper increases in overdose deaths than Iowa did, although South Dakota was one of just two states in the country that recorded a decrease. “I think it really reflects how difficult the pandemic has been on people,” said Alison Lynch, a psychiatrist and family practice physician who runs the University of Iowa’s Addiction and Recovery Collaborative. “It’s shocking.” Lynch said in an interview that the pandemic sparked or worsened struggles with drug and alcohol abuse. Social isolation, economic stress and fears of catching COVID-19 often prompted people to drink alcohol or use drugs. And many people who had been in recovery from addictions lost the crucial support of in-person group sessions, such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Topeka: A racial justice panel appointed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has recommended expanding Medicaid, adding another income tax bracket for top-income earners, restoring a food sales tax rebate, and banning Native American mascots and team names in public schools. The 15-member Commission on Racial Justice and Equity created the recommendations after meeting with Kansas Department of Commerce officials, Kansas Department of Health and Environment staff and others, according to the report. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly established the commission last year in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The report comes months after the panel crafted recommendations primarily focused on policing. Some advocates in Kansas have pushed for Medicaid expansion for a decade. Kelly promised this year to continue to push to expand Medicaid in Kansas, despite top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature opposing it. The panel wants to expand Medicaid eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty level and cited an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimating that about 82,000 uninsured non-elderly adults in the state would become eligible for coverage if Kansas expanded its Medicaid program.
Frankfort: Concerns about cybersecurity have led the state to extend its search for a company to modernize its pandemic-stressed unemployment insurance system, Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration said Wednesday. The need for additional safeguards against hackers means the state will go through a rebidding process, said Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the state Finance and Administration Cabinet. In doing so, the state will request enhanced security measures to protect the personal and financial information of jobless claimants, she said. The state is seeking a contract partner to overhaul its outdated technology for processing jobless claims. That search began about 16 months ago, and lawmakers were told last month that the state was in the “latter stages” of selecting a company to revamp the claims-processing system. But the need to provide enhanced cybersecurity forced the state to cancel the prior solicitation and rebid the contract, Midkiff said Wednesday. “The procurement was out for bid when Kentucky and most other states were targeted by one of the most sophisticated cyberattacks on our unemployment insurance system in history, which meant that significant additional elements needed to be added to ensure people’s bank accounts, and other information, could not be accessed,” Midkiff said in an email.
New Orleans: A policy governing the use of online social media and platforms by employees of the city unconstitutionally limits free speech, a lawsuit filed Thursday by two of the city’s library system employees claims. The Tulane First Amendment Law Clinic filed the suit on behalf of two employees of the city’s library system. One, Andrew Okun, is identified as a writer and editor “engaged in substantial online communications.” The other is Erin Wilson, who the suit says has a strong online presence and “engages in online humor and social commentary about the transgender experience and challenges gender stereotypes on multiple social media platforms.” Both reluctantly signed documents outlining the policies as a requirement of employment, according to the lawsuit, which focuses on a policy memo adopted last year that says employees can face discipline, including firing, for violations. Language deemed vulgar or offensive is off limits, according to the policy. It also instructs employees not to “engage or respond to negative or disparaging posts about city departments, employees or policies.” It specifically mentions a host of online sites where social comment can be made, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Slack, gaming sites and news websites.
Augusta: The state plans to study the burden student loan debt has on college graduates. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has signed a bill designed to study the impact of the debt. Democratic Sen. Mattie Daughtry, of Brunswick, proposed the legislation, which reinstates the state’s Commission to Study College Affordability and College Completion. Daughtry said Wednesday that the state needs to “make sure we understand how the cost of education, and the burden of student loans that come with it, is impacting Maine workers and our economy.” Daughtry cited that student loan debt in America is about $1.7 trillion, which is higher than the nation’s credit card debt. Maine’s average student loan borrower has more than $33,000 in school loans, Daughtry said. The senator said that is the sixth-highest average in the country. The commission is slated to provide a report to the Maine Legislature by January.
Annapolis: A jury on Thursday found the gunman who killed five people at a newspaper criminally responsible for his actions, rejecting defense attorneys’ mental illness arguments. The jury needed less than two hours to find that Jarrod Ramos could understand the criminality of his actions and conform his conduct to the requirements of the law when he attacked the Capital Gazette newsroom in 2018. The verdict means Ramos, 41, will be sentenced to prison, not a maximum-security mental health facility, for one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in the U.S. Prosecutors are seeking five life sentences without the possibility of parole. Survivors and family members of victims, some with tears in their eyes, embraced outside the courtroom and applauded prosecutors and jurors as they walked by after the verdict. “Having this going on for three years, it’s been a never-ending nightmare,” said Cindi Rittenour, the sister of Rebecca Smith, who died in the attack. “And then hearing that today – just all my anxiety over it, all the wonderings, the unknowns, it’s all gone away now, and all I feel is just relief and happiness. I feel like my sister can finally start to rest in peace.”
Boston: The Boston School Committee has unanimously approved an overhaul of the way students are selected for admission to the city’s elite public schools based on grades, an entrance exam and socioeconomic status. “We have come to a place where we are ready to move this district forward,” committee Chair Jeri Robinson said at Wednesday’s meeting. Under the new system, students will receive a composite score based on an admissions test and grades, then invitations to Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and O’Bryant School of Math and Science will go out based on rank within eight socioeconomic tiers. Each tier will be allocated about the same number of places. The plan was opposed by some parent groups that wanted 20% of the spots at the schools set aside for the best applicants regardless of socioeconomic status. Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said she supported the change because it is easy to understand, maintains academic rigor and increases opportunity for disadvantaged students. “What is being considered tonight I believe to be a huge step forward for our students, especially our students who have not been able to access our exam schools through no fault of their own,” Superintendent Brenda Cassellius told the committee.
Detroit: The Canadian government has rejected a creative plan to have Ontario residents line up inside a U.S. border tunnel to tap into a surplus of COVID-19 vaccine held by Michigan, a mayor said. A white stripe was painted inside the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in the Detroit River. Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens proposed that Canadians would stand along the border while health care workers jab them. “We’re not trying to send a man to the moon here. We’re using the infrastructure to accomplish a shared goal,” Dilkens said. “This is a sensible, reasonable alternative to vaccines heading to the landfill.” Motor vehicle travel between the countries is prohibited during the pandemic except for commercial truck traffic and workers deemed essential. Dilkens said partnering with Michigan, which has a vaccine surplus, would reduce the waiting time for Canadians who need a second shot. But the Canada Border Services Agency told Dilkens that the tunnel clinic could disrupt travel and carry “significant security implications.” Separately, Public Health Agency of Canada warned there could be trouble if the person giving the shot reached across the tunnel’s white line into Canada. More than 500,000 vaccine doses held by Michigan are set to expire by early August, said Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman at the state health department.
St. Paul: Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order aimed at banning so-called conversion therapy Thursday but said it’s just a start and called on the Legislature to make it permanent. Minnesota is now one of about 24 states that, to varying degrees, ban mental health professionals from seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation. Eleven Minnesota cities already have local bans, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and Duluth. Walz said conversion therapy is a “byzantine, tortuous practice” that’s not supported by any legitimate mental health organization. He said his order empowers state agencies to ensure that no Minnesotans under age 18 are subjected to it and that insurance companies don’t cover it. “There’s no place for hate in this state; there’s no room for division,” Walz said. “Our LGBTQ+ community is part, and a huge part, of what it means to be one Minnesota. When they are hurt or put through this, we all hurt. And when they succeed, we all succeed.” Attempts to get a ban through the divided Legislature failed in 2019. Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, said legislation is necessary to ensure a future governor doesn’t repeal the ban and to extend it to all Minnesotans. The Minnesota Family Council called the order an attack on the constitutional rights of patients, families and therapists.
Jackson: A federal judge has ordered that an independent monitor be put into place to oversee the state’s embattled mental health care system. The monitor will be tasked with verifying data submitted by the state analyzing the success of its mental health services. A key measure will be whether it’s preventing unnecessary hospitalizations by allowing people to be treated in their communities. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled on a remedial plan for the Mississippi State Department of Mental Health late Wednesday. The order comes 10 years after the federal government issued a letter in 2011 saying Mississippi had done too little to provide mental health services outside mental hospitals. The Justice Department sued the state in 2016, and Reeves ruled Mississippi was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Federal attorneys said during a 2019 trial that mentally ill people were being held in jails because crisis teams did not respond. They said people had been forced to live far from their families because mental health services were not available in their hometowns. They also said people made repeat trips to Mississippi mental hospitals because there was no effective planning for them to make a transition to community services, and the most intensive kinds of services were not being made available.
O’Fallon: The state’s health department on Thursday reported the highest daily count of new COVID-19 cases since the dead of winter, and the association representing the state’s hospitals is warning that the health care system is potentially on the brink of a crisis. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services cited 2,302 newly confirmed coronavirus cases, the largest one-day count since mid-January, as the delta variant continues to spread in a state with one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates. Hospitalizations ticked up statewide by 47 to 1,331, as did the number of patients in intensive care units, rising by 19 to 409. Nearly half of the ICU patients – 196 – are hospitalized in southwestern Missouri. Greene County and Springfield leaders are asking the state to fund an alternative care site since hospitals in Springfield are near capacity. The Missouri Hospital Association, in its weekly COVID-19 update, called the situation in southwestern Missouri “dire” and said signals for the rest of Missouri are “foreboding.” Mercy Springfield was reporting pandemic-high numbers of hospitalizations. Meanwhile, Gov. Mike Parson suggested Tuesday that some of that area’s health officials are trying to find someone to blame and want to scare people into getting vaccinated.
Helena: The state’s watercraft inspectors have intercepted a record number of boats carrying aquatic invasive mussels this year with nearly half of the boating season remaining, the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said. Inspectors identified two infested boats last week, bringing this year’s total to 41, the Montana State News Bureau reports. The previous record was 35 boats intercepted last year. The number of inspections has remained about the same, officials said. Aquatic mussels have no natural predators and can clog water pipes and displace native species. All watercraft including non-motorized boats must be inspected when coming into Montana to prevent zebra and quagga mussels from becoming established in the state. Adult mussels can attach themselves to the bottom of boats and survive out of water for up to 30 days. Mussel larvae are microscopic and can float undetected in boat live wells, bilges and ballast tanks. Thomas Woolf, the state’s Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau chief, said there’s some continued increase in outdoor recreation due to COVID-19, and Montana residents have been buying boats in the Midwest, where mussels are established. “We’re also seeing people moving here bringing their boats,” he said.
Omaha: Two weeks after the state quit publicly reporting daily coronavirus statistics, Nebraska launched a new website Wednesday to provide weekly updates on some of the information. The state’s decision to stop providing daily COVID-19 updates was widely criticized by health experts who use the data to track the virus’s spread. “I don’t think that was a well-timed decision,” said Dr. James Lawler, one of the leaders of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. “I think that if you are trying to drive down a rivet at night in the rain, blindfolding yourself is probably not the best idea.” Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Olga Dack said the state’s new website will be updated on Wednesdays with some of the latest information about the virus’s spread. The site includes the number of virus cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state along with statistics on the vaccination campaign, but it doesn’t include as much detail as the previous version of the dashboard. Dack said part of the problem is that much of the data the state had been reporting previously is covered by state and federal health privacy laws, which were suspended as long as the state’s official virus emergency continued, but that ended June 30.
Reno: The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office has been offering a “second chance” to motorists registered as organ donors by issuing a warning ticket as opposed to a fine for minor traffic violations. The Second Chance Organ Donation Awareness program was implemented this week through Friday because Wednesday marked the two-year anniversary of the death of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Hammond, a 9-year-old girl from Reno who saved three kids’ lives through the donation of her organs. At the discretion of the individual WCSO deputy, warning tickets are being handed out that note whether the offending motorist is an organ donor and give information about Donor Network West, the organization partnering with WCSO for the awareness campaign. “Through minor traffic infractions, we’ll pull people over and look at their card, and if their driver’s license indicates that they’re an organ donor, we thank them and then give them a second chance,” Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam said. “Because they’ve taken that opportunity to give somebody else a second chance at life.” Balaam clarified that the program is for minor traffic infractions such as running a stop sign, minor speeding violations or not putting on a turn signal. “It’s not for your DUI or reckless driving cases,” he said.
Rochester: A nonprofit has announced its plans to convert a building in the city to a drop-in youth center for young adults and children facing housing insecurity. Currently, Waypoint supports about 130 young people in the state. The nonprofit offers a variety of social services including adoption, mental health counseling and child care, New Hampshire Public Radio reports. Erin Kelly, program director for Homeless Youth and Young Adult Services, said the center will be a safe place for young people to be able to drop in to receive support and resources from trained adults. The new center will also provide young people with meals, charging stations for phones, a food pantry, showers and group therapy. Kelly said the center will be officially open in 2022.
Trenton: A white man captured on video yelling racist slurs at his Black neighbors and later arrested on harassment and more than a dozen other charges will remain in jail pending his trial, a judge ruled Wednesday. Edward C. Mathews, 45, of Mount Laurel, who stood silently from the Burlington County jail during a remotely held detention hearing, poses a “high risk of danger to the community,” Superior Court Judge Terrence Cook said Wednesday. Wednesday’s hearing marked the first time Mathews appeared in court on charges that stemmed from early July interactions with his neighbors at their Mount Laurel housing complex. He stood in an assembly room at the county jail during the proceedings, wearing orange and with his arms behind him. Prosecutors have charged Mathews with 14 counts, including harassment, stalking and weapons counts. Assistant Prosecutor Jamie Hutchinson on Wednesday said Mathews began harassing homeowners association board members, who were all of color, over a year ago, including by smashing windows of a neighbor’s vehicle with a rock and smearing their car with fecal matter.
Albuquerque: New Mexico spent $1.5 million to advertise the state during the Virgin Galactic space launch Sunday. The state paid the money to display New Mexico’s logo on video of the flight, KOB-TV reports. The flight saw Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson briefly rocket into space aboard the company’s winged space plane for the first time. A third of the money came from a $500,000 special appropriation by the Legislature to market and promote the state during the flight, and the rest came from the Tourism Department’s budget, department spokesman Cody Johnson said. “We actually have a conservative estimate of around $3.5 million in media value just from the event itself – and, again, that’s a pretty conservative estimate – because we’ve seen so much coverage and viewership of the livestream that it’s going to grow over the coming days and weeks,” Johnson said earlier this week.
New York: A museum dedicated to telling Chinese American history marked its reopening to the public Wednesday, with an exhibit on Asian Americans and racism that it curated partially through submissions gathered during the pandemic and a surge of anti-Asian bias incidents around the country. The opening was a long time coming for the Museum of Chinese in America, not only because of the more than yearlong pandemic shutdown but because of a fire that ravaged though the space where its collection was housed in January 2020. Luckily, most of the collection was salvaged. Looking back, there was a question of “how were we going to survive, but we kept pivoting,” said Nancy Yao Maasbach, the museum’s president. That included a lot of virtual programming, including the call for submissions that became part of “Responses: Asian American Voices Resisting the Tides of Racism.” The exhibition’s outer walls are a running history of sorts, a timeline showcasing the racism and bigotry that’s been turned toward Asian Americans throughout their generations in the U.S. They touch on how stereotypes connecting them and disease have a long history, along with more recent issues like the treatment of Middle Eastern and South Asian communities in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and the anti-Asian bias of the pandemic.
Raleigh: The state House gave its final approval to wide-ranging energy legislation during an unusual overnight session early Thursday. The chamber met briefly after midnight to complete the second of two required votes on the measure, which now heads to the Senate. The first vote happened early Wednesday evening, but Democrats unhappy with the legislation blocked an immediate second vote. House Speaker Tim Moore announced the Thursday session would begin at 12:01 a.m. because several colleagues would be unavailable to vote during the daylight hours. The bill pushed by Republican leaders would retire early several Duke Energy power plants fueled by coal and expand solar production. The measure also lets Duke Energy seek multiyear rate increases, rather than year by year, and directs the utility to find a location for a new type of nuclear power plant. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and many manufacturers are among the bill’s opponents, citing in part costs to ratepayers and the shift of authority away from the state Utilities Commission. Environmental advocates say the coal-fired plant retirements rely too much on shifting to natural gas for electricity. Thursday’s final vote of 57-49 included five Republicans who voted against the measure. Roughly a dozen House members had excused absences.
Bismarck: The same stronger-than-forecast oil prices that are swelling the state’s treasury also could shrink dollars for road construction next year, officials said Thursday. Oil is used for road construction and making asphalt. The state Department of Transportation already has approved 174 contracts for road, bridge and other projects this year that total $350 million, agency spokesman David Finley said. Bids on those projects came in earlier this year before oil prices began surging, he said. Bids for next year’s construction projects will begin coming in November, but most will come in spring 2022, Finley said. Steve Salwei, DOT’s director of transportation programs, said none of the state-funded projects being done this year are affected by higher crude prices. Next year, however, things may be different. “We can only construct with money we have to pay for it,” he said. Contractors appear to be ample at present, and bidding competition could lower project costs, Salwei said. The state typically is required to match 20% of federal funding used road construction, Salwei said. North Dakota’s share of the funding won’t be known until a new federal highway bill is passed, he said.
Columbus: John Glenn’s birthplace and childhood hometown are joining forces to celebrate what would have been the history-making astronaut and U.S. senator’s 100th birthday with a three-day festival. Glenn, who died in 2016, was the first American to orbit Earth, making him a national hero in 1962. Before that, he served as a military fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War and set a transcontinental air speed record. In 1998, he became the oldest person ever to go into space at 77. He spent 24 years as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate. Running Friday through Sunday, the John Glenn Centennial Celebration is a collaboration between Cambridge, where Glenn was born July 18, 1921, and nearby New Concord, where he grew up and met his late wife, Annie, who died last year at 100 of complications from COVID-19. The celebration will include a Friendship 7-Miler race between the two communities and a Friendship 7 parade, both named for the aircraft Glenn rode during his famous orbit. Also planned are a presentation by space shuttle astronaut and fellow Ohioan Don Thomas, rocket car rides, space movies, and rides in the type of biplane a young Glenn flew over Cambridge to become hooked on aviation.
Oklahoma City: State health officials notified the Oklahoma County Detention Center on Tuesday that all juvenile inmates must be removed from the jail by Friday after a surprise inspection found numerous deficiencies at the problem-plagued jail. The Oklahoma State Department of Health notified the jail of numerous violations in a 61-page report from the June 23 inspection, including inadequate screenings of incoming inmates, failure to conduct proper inmate counts and obscured windows on cell doors that prevented proper “sight checks.” Jail administrator Greg Williams acknowledged in a statement that more improvements were needed but said he does not agree with all the report’s findings. “Decades of physical plant neglect and poor construction cannot be overcome in a few months,” Williams said. Only one current jail inmate meets the state’s definition of a juvenile, he said, and that person was expected to be transferred to the Oklahoma County juvenile detention facility before Friday’s deadline. Jail operations were taken over last July by a trust, which has drawn criticism for inmate deaths, escapes, assaults, and a hostage situation in which an inmate was fatally shot by police after beating and stabbing a jailer.
Salem: Nearly 50 years after the Macleay landfill closed, Marion County is considering turning the rolling field on top of it into a park. The county is gathering public input and fielding ideas about what the land 7 miles southeast of downtown could become. So far, contenders include a bike park, a disc golf course or maybe both. “It is beautiful,” said Tom Kissinger, program supervisor of Marion County. “On a clear day, you can see Mount Adams and Mount Hood, even Mount St. Helens.” Some neighbors are less enthusiastic about the idea, however. Discussions began after the county sold Auburn Park to Salem-Keizer Public Schools in 2019 for an expansion of the adjacent Auburn Elementary School. The 4.37-acre Auburn Park was bought in two parcels with Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars in 1977 and 1979. By law, any sale of LWCF land must be balanced by the acquisition of another park of equal or greater economic and recreational value. That’s when “the idea came up of using the old Macleay landfill” for a park, Kissinger said. But multiple commenters on the county’s Facebook post about the land expressed concerns about contamination from the landfill and said they foresee an increase in the problem of people using the vacant land for camping and waste-dumping.
Harrisburg: Six of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities will be consolidated into two new institutions under a unanimous vote Wednesday by the State System of Higher Education’s governing board. Bloomsburg, Mansfield and Lock Haven universities in northern Pennsylvania will form one institution and California, Clarion and Edinboro universities in western Pennsylvania the other. The change will be phased in, starting later in 2022. They will have new names that have not been selected, but the plan is to keep all six campuses open with their own identities and brands, including existing sports teams. Both new institutions will have their own presidents and top administrators. The university system wants to cut student costs by 25% by getting them to graduate more quickly, enrolling high school students, raising more money from donors and grants, and expanding federal work-study offerings. There are 94,000 students in PASSHE, as it’s known, and enrollment has fallen by more than 20% since 2010. Chancellor Daniel Greenstein said students enrolled in the affected universities will be able to finish their degrees, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. In-person instruction and residences on campus will remain.
Portsmouth: The only home on a small island in Narragansett Bay has been sold. The 600-square-foot, off-the-electrical-grid cottage on Patience Island – with the unique address of 0 Patience Way – sold for $365,000, according to public records, lower than the $399,900 asking price when it was first listed in April. Realtor Michael Russo announced the sale on his Facebook page Tuesday. “Congrats to all parties involved with this special sale!” he wrote. He did not disclose the buyer, and the sale had not been recorded in town property records. The seasonal cottage comes with just under a half-acre of land, two bedrooms, a kitchenette, a half-bath and what is described as a “picturesque front porch.” Even though it’s off the grid, a single solar panel provides some electrical services. The island, officially part of the town of Portsmouth, covers about one-third of a square mile. According to property records, the cottage was built in 1972 and had been owned by the same family since.
Columbia: The University of South Carolina’s president has indicated he does not plan to ask the Legislature for permission to change the names of nearly a dozen campus buildings that a special committee says honors racists and Civil War figures. Instead, interim university President Harris Pastides said he will encourage school leaders to concentrate on honoring deserving people on new buildings with the same committee suggesting a number of prominent Black leaders. The police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 led to the removal of building names and statues to racists and Confederates across the South. None of that happened in South Carolina because of a law called the Heritage Act passed in 2000 that requires a two-thirds vote from the General Assembly to change the name of any building based on a historical figure. In the past 21 years, lawmakers have not even taken a vote on any request from the Civil War or segregation eras. The University of South Carolina has a special committee that has been studying building names across campus for two years. It found 11 that members felt were named for racists, including a health center named for U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, who died in 2003 and started his political career fighting against people who wanted to end segregation, according to a draft report obtained by The State newspaper.
Sioux Falls: Gov. Kristi Noem on Thursday fired the warden and deputy warden of the state penitentiary, following an investigation into an anonymous complaint that alleged supervising corrections officers regularly sexually harassed their fellow employees. The governor had suspended Darin Young, the former warden, on Tuesday, along with Secretary of Corrections Mike Leidholt. Noem said Thursday that she has also suspended Stefany Bawek, who was the director of a prison work program called Pheasantland Industries. The anonymous complaint released by Noem’s office alleges that supervising corrections officers at the prison were allowed to sexually harass employees and that attempts to report the harassment were ignored. The complaint says that schedules at the prison were adjusted so the officers could “work in the same vicinities as their interest/victims” and that employees who did not give in to the harassment were made to “suffer by being placed in less desirable posts.” The complaint further alleges that employee morale was low amid wages that lagged other industries, that corrections officers did not have body armor that was “up to standards,” and that promotions were based on personal connections. Nome’s statement said the investigation into the complaint is continuing.
Nashville: The state’s former top vaccination official received a dog muzzle in the mail a few days before she was fired this week in what she has said was an attempt to use her as a scapegoat to appease lawmakers. “Someone wanted to send a message to tell her to stop talking,” said Brad Fiscus, the husband of Dr. Michelle Fiscus. “They thought it would be a threat to her.” Michelle Fiscus had been facing harsh criticism from Republican lawmakers over the Tennessee Health Department’s outreach efforts to vaccinate teenagers against COVID-19. At a June legislative session, in which some lawmakers threatened to defund the Health Department, they specifically referenced a letter Fiscus sent to medical providers explaining the legality of allowing them to inoculate children 14 and up without parental consent. Fiscus was fired Monday. Her termination letter does not explain the reasoning for her dismissal, and a Health Department spokesperson has declined to comment on it. Brad Fiscus said his wife received a box in Amazon packaging containing a black dog muzzle at her office about a week before she was fired. But he said Michelle Fiscus was “taking it in stride” and continuing to “speak truth.” “She said, ‘Whoever sent that must not know me very well. That’s for a beagle, but I’m a pit bull,’ ” Brad Fiscus recalled.
Austin: Early in the pandemic, the Design Institute for Health, a joint program from Dell Medical School and the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, studied the best way long-term care centers could help staffers follow sanitation guidelines. The institute’s team looked at creating clear signage about personal protective equipment, for example, and how to design stations for putting on that equipment and sanitizing hands. One finding of that initial study, paid for by a $410,822 grant from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, was that the effectiveness of infection control was directly related to the satisfaction of the workforce in the long-term care centers. The Design Institute for Health now is running three new pilot programs at three local long-term care centers, all of which participated in the previous study. The city of Austin and Austin Public Health are funding the $90,000 project, which began Monday. The first pilot program tries different design strategies to make the physical environment better for the staff and create spaces for breaks. Traditional breakrooms have been closed to staff during the pandemic. The second pilot program looks at what resources and partnerships can be created to help people working in long-term care centers.
St. George: The drought and COVID-19 pandemic have combined to make for a difficult year for agriculture, but the state’s farmers are finding ways to make the most of it. Utah farmers created a statewide food distribution program last year aiming to get food to hungry residents and their families, and managers announced this week that the “Miracle Projects” administered via the Miracle of Agriculture Foundation had helped serve more than 1.5 million pounds of food to more than 35,000 hungry people statewide. At the same time, farmers and ranchers were looking for additional ways to get their food products directly to consumers. Now, members of the Utah Farm Bureau are pushing to find new ways to fund the program and keep it going while still supporting area farmers and ranchers. Farmers Feeding Utah Inc., established to make buying local products convenient and reasonable, kicked off recently with a Utah-product-only subscription box that delivers new products to people’s doorsteps every month. Those interested can subscribe at Box.FarmersFeedingUtah.com. Each month’s box will include new products. Subscribers will also receive exclusive access to an online marketplace where they can purchase their favorite items from the boxes.
St. Albans: The U.S. Passport Agency ended its no-appointment walk-in service at its Vermont office after it was overwhelmed by people seeking the documents amid a backlog of 1.5 million requests, the State Department said Thursday. Dozens of desperate travelers from throughout the Northeast had been traveling to the St. Albans office after getting word that people could get passports on the spot and struggling to make appointments at other offices. The Vermont Passport Agency had been offering appointment slots from no-shows to last-minute customers on its premises, the State Department said in a statement Thursday. The agency has “discontinued this practice due to unintended safety and security consequences,” it said. More than 20 people, including small children, were waiting outside the Vermont office Thursday despite the policy change. On Wednesday, the State Department said the wait for a passport is now between 12 weeks and 18 weeks, even if people pay for expedited processing, because of ripple effects from the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, the State Department is accepting appointments at the Vermont Passport Agency and other public passport agencies for life-or-death emergencies. A limited number of appointments for urgent, non-life-or-death travel within 72 hours can be made online.
Chincoteague: After a pandemic-enforced hiatus in 2020, a popular summer event is making a comeback. While COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellations of the island’s biggest event – the Chincoteague Pony Penning held each year in July – a small event that still attracts hundreds each year during that same time period is returning. From July 22 to 24, blueberry aficionados can sample the juicy berry in a wide variety of creations while browsing through arts and crafts at what is billed as the “largest fine arts and crafts event on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.” The 33rd annual Blueberry Festival promises plenty of blueberry treats for attendees, along with live entertainment and both indoor and outdoor exhibits featuring artists and crafters from the Shore and beyond. The festival will take place from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day at the Chincoteague Center. In addition to popular blueberry=themed foods such as ice cream, pie and cakes, four food vendors will be on hand, offering options including pizza, seafood, and Middle Eastern and Mexican specialties. Live music will be offered throughout the three days of the festival, featuring popular returning and new acts.
Seattle: A civilian police watchdog group has found that an officer repeatedly worked over 90 hours a week and earned so much overtime that he was the highest-paid city employee one year at more than $400,000 – and none of his supervisors noticed. The review by Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability of the case of Officer Ron Willis found 15 times in which he worked more than 90 hours a week in 2019 and identified numerous gaps in the Seattle Police Department’s ability to monitor overtime, The Seattle Times reports. In a letter to interim Chief Adrian Diaz, OPA director Andrew Myerberg urged the police department to track hours in a centralized database or require the department’s human resources staff to “flag employees who may be working excess hours.” As a result of the review, Willis was suspended for one day without pay for working more than the maximum hours allowed by department rules. A police spokesperson said Willis wasn’t available for comment, and efforts to reach him by the newspaper weren’t successful. The police department has long struggled to monitor overtime and has been the subject of multiple critical findings from city auditors and the oversight group.
Fairmont: Gov. Jim Justice visited Thomas Jackson’s office at West Virginia University’s Robotic Technology Center in Fairmont on Wednesday to present the latest million-dollar prize in the state’s vaccination sweepstakes, according to a news release. Justice was accompanied by his pet English bulldog – Babydog – who is the mascot of the “Do It for Babydog” vaccination sweepstakes. The Republican governor also surprised two residents with brand-new, custom-outfitted trucks and two more with four-year scholarships to any public institution in the state. Other West Virginians won lifetime hunting and fishing licenses, custom hunting rifles, custom hunting shotguns, and weekend getaways to West Virginia state parks. Earlier in the week, Justice confronted outlandish conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines and set higher targets for vaccinating residents age 50 and older. He said at a news conference Tuesday that he recently had a meal with a group of people who believed in the baseless conspiracy theory that “there was something in the vaccine that would enable the federal government to track us.” The governor dismissed it and urged more people to get their shots. “It’s just a stretch beyond what I can believe,” he said. Justice noted that the phones people carry around with them have more tracking potential.
Green Bay: Gov. Tony Evers joined local and state economic leaders in the city Wednesday to announce that he will direct $130 million in federal funding toward workforce development programs. The funds, which come from the state’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation, will be spread across three programs that will help regions find solutions to workforce challenges and help unemployed or underemployed workers find job opportunities. The Democratic governor said there is “no one-size-fits all-solution” to workforce challenges. “I’ve heard from many Wisconsin business owners, employers, out-of-work job-seekers that while employment in Wisconsin continues to grow, our economy is facing obviously a workforce shortage. A shortage that existed well before I became governor but has been made worse obviously by this pandemic,” Evers said. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate in May 2021 – the most recent month reported by the state – was 3.9%, tied for the 10th-lowest in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The largest block of funding will provide grants to at least 10 local and regional entities with about $10 million each to help meet needs including child care, transportation and housing. Evers said that funding would go out sometime in the fall.
Gillette: A magician and comic has canceled performances at libraries in northeastern Wyoming because of threats over a social media post about her being a transgender woman, she said. The Campbell County Library posted on its Facebook page that Mikayla Oz, 24, was canceling shows planned for Wednesday and Thursday in Gillette and Wright out of safety concerns for herself, library staff and patrons, the Gillette News Record reports. The fact that Oz is a transgender woman was shared on a social media post, leading to misinformation about her performances and calls to protest the events, library officials said. Oz, from Des Moines, Iowa, has performed at libraries, schools and other events. She said the show she planned is family-friendly and doesn’t have an LGBTQ message. She was initially willing to do her show despite some complaints, but then she started receiving violent and frightening threats online and by telephone, she said. Library director Terri Lesley said her staff also received threats from a patron. Oz’s gender identity was not previously known to library staff, nor is it something they consider relevant, Lesley said. “It just breaks my heart, especially when my show has absolutely nothing to do with my back story at all,” Oz said.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: John Glenn centennial, passport office pileup: News from around our 50 states