Montgomery: Transgender students would be required to play sports under their “gender assignment at birth” instead of how they live under a bill approved Wednesday by a committee in the state House of Representatives. The House State Government Committee voted 8-4 for the Gender Is Real Legislative Act, or GIRL Act, by Republican Rep. Chris Pringle. The bill, which awaits input from the full House, would ban K-12 schools from allowing trans athletes to compete under their gender identity. It would instead require students to participate under the gender listed on their original birth certificate. Opponents criticized the measure as motivated by fear and discrimination toward trans people. Pringle said the bill is designed to ensure a level playing field in girls’ sporting events. Pringle acknowledged he knew of no competition problems in Alabama but said disputes have arisen in other states.
Anchorage: The state Department of Fish and Game will conduct its fourth survey of moose in the Anchorage area with the help of citizen scientists. The three-day survey relies on citizens to call or text in sightings of moose. The 2020 survey begins at 8 a.m. Friday and runs through 5 p.m. Sunday. Biologists in less populated areas conduct moose surveys from the air. Pilots fly paths close to the ground and circle when they spot moose. Anchorage air traffic and flight restrictions make that impossible, said Dave Battle, area biologist. “It’s just not something that can be done in the Anchorage Bowl,” he said. Anchorage spans 1,963 square miles, an area the size of the state of Delaware, with a population as of July 2018 of 291,500. Residents embrace moose as part of the landscape, and the animals at times can be seen in the busiest parts of the city.
Tucson: The City Council has voted to oppose controversial state legislation that would seek voter approval to enshrine a statewide ban on sanctuary cities in the Arizona Constitution. The Republican-led Legislature already has taken the first steps to pass the legislation for a constitutional ban on sanctuary cities, or jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The state already has an existing ban on sanctuary cities, implemented in 2011. The Arizona Daily Star reports that while no local jurisdictions in Arizona meet the definition of a sanctuary city, and the city of Tucson overwhelmingly rejected a ballot proposition to become one in November, law enforcement agencies in Tucson have adopted immigrant-friendly policies.
Little Rock: The state Supreme Court on Thursday said it won’t reconsider its ruling rejecting a death row inmate’s request for new DNA testing of evidence that his attorneys say could exonerate him. In a 5-2 decision, justices rejected Stacey Johnson’s petition for rehearing over the court’s decision last year that he wasn’t entitled to the additional testing of evidence from the 1993 killing of Carol Heath. Johnson was one of eight inmates Arkansas sought to execute over an 11-day period in 2017 before its supply of a lethal injection drug expired. Johnson and three other inmates were spared by the courts, and Arkansas ultimately put the other four men to death. Arkansas doesn’t have any executions scheduled, but Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in December said the court’s ruling cleared the way for Johnson’s. Arkansas doesn’t currently have any execution drugs.
Sacramento: In an unusual reversal, federal regulators this week agreed to cover about $300 million in repair costs at the Oroville Dam, where a spillway collapse three years ago prompted the evacuation of nearly 190,000 people in Northern California. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said last March that it wouldn’t pay for repairs involving damage regulators said existed at the Sierra Nevada dam before the collapse. But after an appeal, FEMA agreed to cover the repairs, the Sacramento Bee reports. The state now expects to be reimbursed for about $750 million of the $1.1 billion in repair costs, Erin Mellon, spokeswoman for the state Department of Water Resources, said in an email to the Bee. “This is pretty rare, and for California it’s huge money,” Jerry Quinn, a Sacramento consultant who helps government agencies recover money from FEMA, told the paper.
Colorado Springs: Graduates from the U.S. Air Force Academy in the state are expected to cross-commission into the Space Force this spring, military officials said. About 60 cadets would be commissioned into the new armed service branch, which formed in December with the signing of the $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act, the Gazette reports. “They’re doing Air Force Academy curriculum, and they’ll just be directly commissioned into the Space Force,” academy Vice Superintendent Col. Houston Cantwell said. Academy leaders and members of the Colorado’s congressional delegation announced the cross-commission plan at an oversight Board of Visitors meeting Wednesday. The plan would be similar to how the U.S. Naval Academy commissions Marine officers. It is unclear how exactly academy leaders plan to commission cadets into the Space Force.
Hartford: Gov. Ned Lamont says he is dropping his plan for highway tolls for trucks, expressing frustration with legislative leaders who have delayed a vote on the issue. The General Assembly had planned to vote Thursday on the tolls, which were under consideration to fund a wide-ranging transportation improvement plan. But Lamont, a Democrat, said Wednesday that the Senate needed more time. “I think it’s time to take a pause,” Lamont said at a news conference. Tolls for trucks had been projected to raise an estimated $200 million. Lamont said he plans for now to generate that money instead through state borrowing.
Dover: Some lawmakers want the state to start compensating people who were put in prison and then later found to be not guilty. A bill waiting on a vote in the state House would compensate people as much as $50,000 per year they were incarcerated, as well as some attorney’s fees. Emeka Igwe, an attorney, said his client Elmer Daniels was the “catalyst” for the legislation. After Daniels served 39 years for a rape he says he didn’t commit, “he was basically released with just a T-shirt on his back and left to fend for himself.” Under the proposed bill, if someone were imprisoned in Delaware for one or more crimes that they didn’t commit, they could file a complaint in Superior Court within three years of the wrongful conviction being reversed or vacated. If an eligible person had been in prison for less than a year, their compensation would be $137 for each day they were incarcerated.
District of Columbia
Washington: What country music is to Nashville and jazz is to New Orleans, go-go is to D.C. And on Wednesday, the living legends of go-go music came out to the Culture House DC art center to witness history, WUSA-TV reports. Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliot, lead singer of Experience Unlimited; Big G of BackYard Band; and the oldest daughter of Chuck Brown – the godfather of go-go – were all present to see Mayor Muriel Bowser sign a bill designating go-go as the official music of D.C. The creative arts performance space was packed with people wearing green “Don’t Mute DC” hats and T-shirts, and the crowd was pumped up. Before signing the official document, in true call-and-repeat go-go fashion, Bowser asked the crowd to chant with her. “When I say go-go, you say ‘is D.C.,’ ” she shouted. The crowd enthusiastically chanted it three times.
Melbourne: An algae toxin 1,000 times deadlier than cyanide lingers at trace levels in the livers of bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon, a new study shows, remaining there even when the algae is not blooming. The long-term health implications for the lagoon’s top predator and other marine life remain uncertain. “We’re not making any conclusions about what it’s doing to them,” said Spencer Fire, an assistant professor at Florida Tech. The study for the first time establishes a baseline level of the toxin in lagoon dolphins by which to compare future toxin levels during dolphin strandings or die-offs. “This is what we expect to be sort of background levels,” Fire said. The poison, called saxitoxin, comes from the same algae that glows like fairy dust at night in the lagoon. The study, led by Florida Tech, is the first report of saxitoxin being detected in marine mammals absent an algae bloom.
Atlanta: Lawmakers are considering raising the state’s minimum dropout age from 16 to 17. But a Wednesday hearing on Senate Bill 343 revealed concerns about how much additional students would cost the state, as well as whether it’s worthwhile for the state to try to force uninterested teens to remain in school. The Senate Education and Youth Committee didn’t vote on the bill. Chairman P.K. Martin, a Lawrenceville Republican, promised another hearing, but it’s unclear if the measure will move forward. Some Democrats have been seeking for years to raise past 16 the age for students choosing to leave school. “If we allow young people to leave our schools at 16, there are no jobs for them,” said the bill’s sponsor, Democrat Lester Jackson of Savannah. He argues the 16-year-old age was set when unskilled jobs such as being a farmhand were widely available.
Wailuku: A paddleboarder earned the Maui Police Department’s highest civilian honor for fighting off an attack by a tiger shark to protect members of a tour group he was leading. The department awarded its Civilian Medal of Valor to Triston Kahookele-Santos on Tuesday, The Maui News reports. The 20-year-old employee of the Andaz Beach Crew, part of the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, was leading five stand-up paddle-boarders about a quarter-mile offshore about 9:30 a.m. Feb. 5. The group was watching whales and following fish and a manta ray, Maui police spokeswoman Lt. Audra Sellers said. A 10-foot tiger shark appeared and launched an attack at a Washington man in the group, “violently thrashing his board,” Sellers said. Kahookele-Santos used the blade of his paddle to strike the shark, which let go of the board and turned on Kahookele-Santos. The others paddled safely to shore as he fought off the shark with the paddle while it circled him three times. No injuries were reported as a result of the attack.
Boise: A bill that would reduce the number of people required to report suspected child abuse narrowly won approval from a panel of state lawmakers. The House Judiciary and Rules Committee approved the bill 9-8, The Times-News reports. Currently, anyone in the state who sees evidence of child abuse, abandonment or neglect is required to report that evidence to law enforcement, and those who don’t can be charged with a misdemeanor. The legislation approved Wednesday would remove that requirement for most residents, leaving only teachers, doctors, law enforcement officials and social workers as mandatory reporters. Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, says unfounded child abuse claims cost taxpayers money. But Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise, and Rep. Linda Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, both opposed the legislation, saying it could lead to underreporting of child abuse, causing real harm to Idaho kids. The bill now heads to the full House.
Chicago: The city’s former police chief has been receiving a pension of more than $15,800 a month since the mayor fired him in December for allegedly lying about a night he was found asleep in his city-issued SUV, according to a newspaper report. Eddie Johnson was awarded the pension by the Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, the Chicago Tribune reports, citing records it obtained under Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act. The pension adds up to nearly $190,000 annually, or 75% of his average salary of just over $253,000 per year during his final four years with the Chicago Police Department. Johnson, 59, blamed medication for making him drowsy before he was found asleep in his SUV, but media reports disclosed that the married superintendent had been drinking for hours and kissing a woman on his security detail and that the responding officers took steps to keep it secret.
Indianapolis: The governor has told state agencies to calculate the damage along the Lake Michigan shoreline that’s been caused by high water ahead of possibly seeking federal assistance. The order announced Thursday comes as several lakeshore communities have already declared local beach erosion emergencies with waves damaging property and threatening roads. The Indiana Department of Homeland Security has declined to declare a state emergency, but Gov. Eric Holcomb said he wanted a new review after viewing the shoreline by helicopter Sunday. The erosion is happening as Lake Michigan approaches its highest levels in recorded history, and forecasters expect the Great Lakes to remain high well into 2020. State Sen. Karen Tallian, an Ogden Dunes Democrat, called Holcomb’s action “long overdue,” as she asked the governor for an emergency declaration almost two months ago.
Dyersville: Those hoping to visit the “Field of Dreams” movie site the week of Major League Baseball’s game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox had better have a ticket. Go the Distance, which runs the site of the iconic baseball movie, announced the grounds would be inaccessible to fans Aug. 8-16. The White Sox and Yankees will play Aug. 13 on a specially made field located next to the field and on the grounds. A spokesperson for MLB says information about ticket plans for the game will be made available in March or April. The site has been a hot-spot tourist attraction for baseball fans who have flocked to the iconic diamond built in the middle of a Dyersville cornfield, made famous by Kevin Costner’s 1989 blockbuster. There will be plenty of other activities around town before the game, including exhibits, games, a Fan Fest and a movie showing.
Topeka: The Legislature’s auditing division says state agencies have significant information technology security weaknesses and haven’t made progress since previous reports showed the same problems. More than half of 19 state agencies studied failed to comply with IT security practices that protect sensitive information against data loss or theft. The findings were presented to the Legislative Post Audit Committee in an executive session and published online. The audit division studied IT functions at agencies from January 2017 to December 2019. Most agencies failed to scan and patch computers to keep them secure. They didn’t have adequate response plans and didn’t encrypt, back up or destroy electronic data. The report blamed a lack of management attention and inadequate resources for the failures.
Frankfort: Gov. Andy Beshear spoke at an LGBTQ-rights rally in the Capitol on Wednesday, advocating for a statewide fairness law and a bill banning “conversion therapy.” “Kentucky cannot reach its full potential if all of our people don’t feel supported to be themselves,” Beshear said. “Discrimination against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters is absolutely unacceptable in this commonwealth.” The rally, held by the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign every legislative session, featured activists and legislators advocating for those bills and against a slew of bills targeting transgender youth. Beshear threw his support behind legislation banning discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, which has failed to pass either chamber in each legislative session over the past decade.
Baton Rouge: A month after delaying a decision, the state’s higher education policy-making board voted Wednesday to bolster its minimum admission standards for public universities by adding the threat of financial penalties for campuses that disobey the requirements. The Board of Regents approved the adjustments to the state’s existing, 15-year-old admissions standards without objection, after weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations to get board members comfortable with the changes. Most of the rewrites were modest. But the penalty provisions represent the first real effort to force compliance with the policy. The board has never penalized schools for not complying with admissions criteria. Still, financial penalties won’t be automatic for campuses that violate the admissions criteria, and the threat of reduced funding doesn’t come unless a school has breached the policy for two consecutive years.
Portland: Lobsters have long delighted tourists as the state’s most beloved seafood. But one company thinks the crustaceans can save human lives by providing their blood for use in new drugs. The company working on the lobster blood project, Lobster Unlimited of Orono, is investigating whether lobster blood can be used as a potential weapon against viruses and cancer. Representatives with the company said results are promising – the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued them a patent in late October related to their work. The blood is easy to come by because it’s a byproduct of lobster processing, company head Robert Bayer said. Lobster blood is likely a long way from playing a role in new drugs, Bayer said, but there’s “no question it has antiviral and anticancer properties” based on research needed to apply for the patent. “Right now, this blood is literally thrown out on the floor and goes down the drain,” said Bayer, a professor emeritus of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at University of Maine.
Annapolis: The state would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030, under an ambitious measure outlined Wednesday as the coastal state grapples with increasing concerns about sea-level rise. The legislation would increase the state’s current goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, based on 2006 levels. It also would set the state on a path toward achieving net-zero statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. Supporters of the “Climate Solutions Act of 2020” say Maryland, which has about 3,100 miles of tidal shoreline, must be a leader in addressing rising sea levels. Environmentalists say the measure is the the most comprehensive approach to addressing greenhouse gas emissions before lawmakers this session in a Legislature controlled by Democrats. The measure’s goals include planting 1 million trees a year in the state for a decade. It also calls for requiring new commercial buildings with 25,000 square feet of rooftop to use solar panels.
Chicopee: A former police sergeant accused of lying about his role in sharing pictures of a homicide victim has been reinstated to the department. The state Civil Service Commission voted to allow Jeffrey Godere to return to the Chicopee Police Department at a lower rank after winning an appeal of his termination, MassLive.com reports. Godere was fired by then-Mayor Richard Kos in November 2018 after he and three other officers were implicated in sharing images of a victim’s body and the crime scene in the 2011 killing of 20-year-old Amanda Plasse. The commission ruled last week that Godere would be demoted to patrolman because of his misconduct and prior disciplinary record. City officials and the police department are reviewing the commission’s decision with lawyers and exploring options to appeal it in superior court, according to Michael Wilk, public information officer.
Lansing: Marijuana will have to carry labels warning pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers about the health risks for their fetuses and infants under newly enacted state laws. Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist signed the two bills Wednesday because Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was out of the state. The labels must be placed on legal recreational and medical marijuana products and warn that use by pregnant or breastfeeding women may result in fetal injury, preterm birth, low birth weight or development problems for children. The laws also require that an informational pamphlet be made available at every point of sale. It must include safety information related to use by minors and include the poison control hotline number – in case children accidentally eat candy or brownies that contain marijuana.
Becker: Firefighters battled a stubborn fire at a metal recycling plant in this small community for a third consecutive day Thursday. The fire at the Northern Metals plant in Becker was unleashing noxious, billowing smoke, and the wind had shifted direction, prompting school officials to cancel classes for the day. Firefighters from around the region continued to work the blaze in the Sherburne County city about 50 miles northwest of Minneapolis. In a Facebook update late Wednesday, the Becker Police Department said the fire could last several more days. Firefighting crews were using heavy equipment to separate a portion of a burning stack of vehicles in hopes that the blaze would eventually die out. The strategy was intended to protect nearby buildings.
Biloxi: Replicas of Christopher Columbus’ Nina and Pinta have arrived along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, sailing into a Biloxi harbor as spectators aimed their phones out to the horizon. About a dozen spectators lined a pier Wednesday as the ships arrived. Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic on the Nina on his three voyages of discovery to the New World beginning in 1492. He was long celebrated in the U.S., but in recent years a reckoning has been held with the brutal aspects of his legacy. Columbus’ arrival brought violence, disease, enslavement, racism and exploitation to the native people. The original Nina was last heard from in 1501, but this replica, finished in 1991, serves as a floating museum. It was built entirely by hand, without the use of power tools, and is considered the most historically accurate Columbus ship replica ever built. The Pinta replica was built in Brazil and launched in 2005 to accompany the Nina on travels. While in port, the ships will be open for public tours. They are scheduled to leave Biloxi on March 2.
St. Louis: The St. Louis Zoo announced Thursday that it has a new resident in Teak, a black and white colobus monkey born Feb. 3. Colobus monkeys are born white with a pink face. By age 6 months, the little monkey will get his adult coloration – mostly black hair but with white hair around the face and part of the tail, though adults also have a distinctive mantle of long white hair from their shoulders around the edge of their backs. Colobus monkeys live in families with several females sharing in the care of newborns, a behavior called allomothering. Teak’s mother, Cecelia, has raised five babies of her own along with three other babies in the family, the zoo said. Teak’s father, Kima, watches over the family and often interacts with the youngsters, the zoo said. Teak’s sister and his half-sister also interact with and help care for Teak. The monkeys, also known as Guereza colobus, are native to east and central Africa.
Great Falls: Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame officials say they are saddling up with the C.M. Russell Museum on an inaugural exhibit within the internationally known museum in Great Falls that will add to the celebration of the American West. The exhibit, a two-year pilot project planned to open in September, would be a blend of Cowboy Hall of Fame honorees and their history. Efforts are underway to curate the specific content for the initial exhibit, Cowboy Hall of Fame board member Mike Gurnett said at a Feb. 7-8 meeting. The exhibit in Great Falls gives something of a foothold for the hall of fame. The Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, established by the Legislature, has spent nearly 17 years looking for a permanent home after an effort failed in Big Timber. Earlier attempts in Wolf Point and other communities never came to fruition.
Lincoln: A state senator who is pushing the Legislature’s main bill to lower property taxes says she hopes to reach a deal with opponents who are trying to derail it out of concern that it could hurt the state’s K-12 public schools. Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, of Omaha, said Thursday that she and other senators will try to find an agreement with school officials who are lobbying against the measure. The bill has won support from farm and business groups and Gov. Pete Ricketts because it would lower taxes that have risen over the past decade. But school administrators, school boards and the state teachers’ union argue it would hinder their long-term spending flexibility. “This bill is bad for Nebraska, and it’s bad for our kids,” said Sen. Wendy DeBoer, of Bennington, who opposed the measure. The bill would boost state aid to schools by about $520 million over three years and redistribute it so that smaller, rural schools get a larger increase.
Las Vegas: Virgin Trains Las Vegas has released plans to build a proposed train station near the South Premium Outlets mall south of the Strip. The $4.8 billion high-speed rail link with Southern California would be two stories tall and span more than 273,000 square feet, with a seven-story-tall parking garage, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Construction is scheduled to begin later this year, according to planning documents submitted to Clark County. Operations are scheduled to begin in 2023. Plans call for the two-story station to include a self-ticketing area, departure lobby, retail space, baggage claim, office space, passenger waiting areas and security. Plans also include a parking garage that would connect to the train terminal and have more than 2,600 parking spaces. The project would be designed to provide easier access to California, while also providing thousands of jobs and opportunities in the area, company officials said.
Croydon: The police chief took it literally when he was stripped of his duties at a local board meeting, disrobing to his underwear and walking out into a snowstorm. Richard Lee has been chief in the small town of Croydon for 20 years. On Tuesday night, the three-member selectboard voted to eliminate the one-man department and move to 100% coverage by the New Hampshire State Police. Lee, who was at the meeting, was told to turn in the key to his cruiser, his guns and his uniform – immediately. He went into an office he shared with town officials and took off his clothes before the board chairman. “I gave them my uniform shirt. I gave them my turtleneck. I gave them my ballistic vest. … I sat down in the chair, took off my boots, took off my pants, put those in the chair and put my boots back on, and walked out the door,” Lee said. He didn’t have spare clothes or a ride home. He walked nearly a mile before his wife picked him up.
Egg Harbor Township: A Superior Court judge has denied a neighborhood’s attempt to leave the township and join a neighboring borough. Judge Julio Mendez ruled that Egg Harbor Township’s refusal to allow Seaview Harbor residents to join Longport was “not arbitrary or unreasonable.” The township argued against the move, declaring that it would harm the township economically and socially and benefit the homeowners only economically, the Press of Atlantic City reports. The homeowners stood to pay significantly less in property taxes in Longport, which does not have a school system. Mendez said court decisions have not favored de-annexation for “tax shopping.” Mendez’s opinion said the township stood to lose over $500,000 a year in municipal tax revenue and $1.8 million in revenue to township schools. The average homeowner would save almost $18,000 a year in property taxes, based on 2015 numbers.
Los Alamos: A conservation group is calling on members of the state’s congressional delegation to rethink proposed legislation that would change the designation of Bandelier National Monument to a national park. While one of the goals is to attract more tourists to the region with the “national park” brand, the nonprofit group Caldera Action said Bandelier would not be able to cope with additional crowding because of inadequate and crumbling infrastructure and limited staffing. The group also is worried about opening up part of Bandelier to hunting and trapping, saying there are other locations throughout the Jemez Mountains that already allow for hunting, and doing so at Bandelier would complicate management for the National Park Service. Tucked into northern New Mexico’s ancient canyons, Bandelier has a long history that stretches back more than 11,000 years to the days when nomadic hunters and gatherers tracked wildlife across the region’s mesas and canyons. Grand multistory structures were built into the walls of Frijoles Canyon and along Frijoles Creek centuries ago, but all that remains are stone and mortar outlines of the settlements.
New York: Animal rights advocates have lost a bid to get a Bronx Zoo elephant declared to have human-like rights and transferred to a sanctuary, though a judge said the case for sending the pachyderm to a sanctuary was “extremely persuasive.” Bronx Judge Alison Tuitt on Tuesday dismissed the Nonhuman Rights Project’s petition arguing that Happy the elephant is “unlawfully imprisoned” at the zoo where she has lived since 1977. She has been kept separate from other elephants for more than a decade. New York courts have previously said animals aren’t legally considered “persons,” and Tuitt said those rulings applied to Happy, too. But the judge said she was “extremely sympathetic to Happy’s plight.” “This court agrees that Happy is more than just a legal thing, or property. She is an intelligent, autonomous being who should be treated with respect and dignity, and who may be entitled to liberty,” the judge wrote, calling the arguments for transferring Happy from her “lonely” exhibit to a sprawling elephant sanctuary “extremely persuasive.”
Asheville: A free downtown music and arts festival that organizers say draws 30,000 locals and tourists may be canceled this summer. LEAF Downtown AVL official Ehren Cruz has said the sixth annual festival scheduled for Aug. 7-8 until 10 p.m. at Pack Square Park may not happen, after organizers were asked to have equipment and gear removed by early Aug. 9, Cruz said. The downtown event is different from LEAF’s main festival, which happens at Lake Eden outside Black Mountain. LEAF, a nonprofit focused on arts and cultural enrichment, would have to pay subcontractors to work overtime overnight, including the staging company, tent suppliers and an “environmental green team,” Cruz said. That would cost $6,000-$10,000 and isn’t possible considering the limited revenue the festival brings in, he said.
Bismarck: State regulators on Wednesday unanimously approved expanded capacity for the Dakota Access pipeline, saying they believed the project had met exhaustive state and federal requirements. The 3-0 vote by the all-Republican Public Service Commission came after the body signaled last month that it was likely to approve a permit to expand the capacity of the pipeline, despite objections from opponents who said it would increase the probability of a disastrous oil spill. Commissioners said they expect their decision to be challenged in state court. Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said she welcomed such a review. Texas-based Energy Transfer proposed doubling the capacity of the pipeline last year to meet growing demand for oil shipments from North Dakota, without the need for additional pipelines or rail shipments. Commissioner Brian Kroshus said Wednesday that he believes the project would help take oil trucks off the road, reducing traffic fatalities.
Columbus: Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday presented the state’s highest non-combat decoration for service to a retired fighter pilot and astronaut. Col. Guion Bluford of Westlake in suburban Cleveland flew 144 combat missions in South Vietnam with the U.S. Air Force and later earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. In 1983, Bluford became the first black astronaut to fly in space on a shuttle mission. DeWine presented the 77-year-old Bluford with the Ohio Distinguished Service Medal at a Statehouse ceremony. Bluford, who was honored on the 58th anniversary of fellow Ohioan John Glenn becoming the first American to orbit the Earth, attributed his success to chasing his dreams and advised others to do the same by figuring out “what gets you excited.”
Oklahoma City: A state House committee overwhelmingly rejected a bill Thursday to repeal a new law that allows most adults to carry firearms without a background check or training. Despite the 11-1 vote against his bill by the House Public Safety Committee, Rep. Jason Lowe, an Oklahoma City Democrat, vowed to continue fighting the law with a signature-gathering effort to put a question on the ballot to repeal it. “I believe this law is absolutely dangerous,” Lowe said. “It’s a ticking time bomb, and it’s been an absolute disaster.” Dubbed permitless carry by its opponents, the new law allows most adults to carry firearms, concealed or openly, without a license. It was the first measure signed into law by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt and took effect in November. Oklahoma’s Republican-led Legislature has embraced numerous bills that expand gun rights in the state. The committee on Thursday approved a bill to expand the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Last week, the Senate approved a bill that would allow more public school teachers to carry firearms in their classrooms.
Portland: The Department of Land Conservation and Development says a proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay would have significant adverse effects on the state’s coastal scenic and aesthetic resources, endangered species and critical habitat. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that in a letter Wednesday to backers of the Jordan Cove Energy Project, agency director Jim Rue said that neither the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission nor the Army Corps of Engineers “can grant a license or permit for this project unless the U.S. Secretary of Commerce overrides this objection on appeal. The decision on one of the key state permits for the project is a rebuke that comes just before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is scheduled to issue a final environmental analysis on the project, approving or denying its primary federal license.
Harrisburg: As many of the state’s counties adopt new hand-marked ballot voting systems, a persistent criticism is a perceived loss of privacy in polling places when filling them out and scanning them. The criticism, raised again Wednesday by state lawmakers, has emerged repeatedly ahead of the presidential elections, after a two-year push by Gov. Tom Wolf to get counties to switch to paper-based voting systems as an election security bulwark against hacking. Some lawmakers say they have heard from unhappy voters accustomed to electronic touchscreen voting machines that, in the past, had been screened off or arranged to allow voters to make selections unseen. Now, other voters or poll workers may be able to see how someone voted while they are filling out their ballot or while they feed their ballot into an electronic scanner that reads it. “I think we’re disenfranchising so many voters who don’t like the new system,” Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, told top state election officials at an Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday. “It’s not a secret ballot. Other people can see how they vote.”
Providence: The University of Rhode Island is using a $1 million federal grant to offer education and training about opioids to residents in rural areas of the state. Officials with the university in South Kingstown say health professionals and students have been preparing to start the outreach campaign. Funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will be used to send students and staff to farmers markets, fairs, festivals and other events to discuss issues related to opioids, hand out information about how to obtain overdose-reversal medication and offer related health counseling. Deborah Sheely, of URI’s Cooperative Extension, says the goal is to remove the stigma associated with opioid misuse and ensure that residents in rural areas have the information and technical assistance they need.
Columbia: The Columbia Housing Authority was fined just under $11,000 after pleading guilty Wednesday to 24 safety violations found after two residents died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a poorly maintained heater. One code violation was dropped as city officials appeared in court, and they asked for a jury trial on one other violation, WLTX-TV reports. The violations included broken smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers, as well as failing to do routine maintenance. Calvin Witherspoon Jr., 62, and Derrick Roper, 31, died in separate units in the same building in January 2019 at Allen Benedict Court in Columbia. Investigators immediately inspected all 244 of the units at the 80-year-old complex and found hundreds of problems missed as employees in the Housing Authority’s maintenance department either retired or left and weren’t replaced, authorities said. Prosecutors said they could not file criminal charges because South Carolina lacks a criminal negligence law.
Pierre: Legislation to prevent the spread of zebra mussels is headed for the state Senate after it received unanimous approval from the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday. The bill, which has already passed the House, requires people to decontaminate their boats by cleaning and draining them after leaving the water. It also creates inspection stations. Senators were told the invasive species has now been found in four South Dakota lakes. Zebra mussels can cause a foul taste and smell in drinking water, increase algae and alter aquatic food chains. The widespread invasive species wasn’t found in South Dakota until 2016, when the zebra mussels were discovered in Lewis and Clark Lake and McCook Lake. It was found to have spread to Sharpe and Francis Case lakes last year.
Nashville: A state panel won’t vote on whether to remove or add context to a bust of a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader in the Capitol until a board vacancy is filled, the board’s chairman said at a meeting Thursday. Finance Commissioner and Capitol Commission Chairman Stuart McWhorter said he’s unsure when Gov. Bill Lee will replace Tyreece Miller, who recently left the commission as the nominee for U.S. marshal in western Tennessee. McWhorter said he doesn’t want to act on Nathan Bedford Forrest’s bust before Miller is replaced. The Tennessee Heritage Protection Act also requires the state Historical Commission’s approval to remove the bust. Forrest amassed a fortune before the Civil War as a plantation owner and slave trader in Memphis. After the war, he was a leader of the Klan, which terrorized black people as it sought to reverse Reconstruction efforts and restore white supremacy.
Dallas: The state will close two of its more than 100 state prisons amid a yearslong decline in the incarcerated population and serious understaffing at some facilities, officials said Thursday. The closures of a prison in South Texas and another in suburban Houston will result in annual savings of about $20 million, according to the office of state Sen. John Whitmire, who heads the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The Garza East Transfer Facility in Beeville, 100 miles southeast of San Antonio, is set to close in May, but a date has not been set for the closure of the Jester I Unit in Sugar Land, according to Whitmire’s chief of staff, Lara Wendler. She said both prisons were at more than 90% population capacity as of Thursday, and those inmates will be transferred to other prisons.
Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University has revised its strict code of conduct to strip a rule that banned any behavior that reflected “homosexual feelings,” which LGBTQ students and their allies felt created an unfair double standard not imposed on heterosexual couples. The university is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches its members that being gay isn’t a sin, but engaging in same-sex intimacy is. BYU’s revisions to what the college calls its honor code don’t change the faith’s opposition to same-sex relationships or gay marriage. The changes were discovered by media outlets Wednesday. BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said in an email that the updated version of the code aligns with a new handbook of rules unveiled by the faith, widely known as the Mormon church.
Burlington: A panel formed to review community policing practices in the city has recommended changes to the police department’s use-of-force policy, with a focus on de-escalating potential physical confrontations. The 15-member committee, which released its report this month, also advises improving civilian oversight of police, Vermont Public Radio reports. The City Council formed the panel in June following several interactions in which officers allegedly used excessive force. The council told the committee to focus on the police department’s use-of-force policy and the police commission. Committee Chair Randall Harp told the council Tuesday that the panel advises making de-escalation a priority in the use-of-force policy. “And emphasize that officer behavior can escalate the level of force required, and it sanctions officers that do so,” he said.
Mount Vernon: George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate says it will no longer sell a souvenir depicting the founding father’s false teeth amid criticism that Washington’s dentures were made with teeth pulled from the mouths of his slaves. Critics said selling a souvenir magnet depicting Washington’s famous false teeth trivialized the fact that Washington’s slaves had to give up their own teeth. On Wednesday, Mount Vernon said on Twitter that it would remove the magnet from its online store. The webpage on which the magnet had been offered for sale was disabled as of Wednesday afternoon. The old story that Washington’s dentures were made of wood has long been known to be false. It has been known for years that Washington paid about six pounds for nine teeth that were pulled from slaves’ mouths. The payment is recorded in a 1784 ledger. The fact has received renewed attention following publication of a revisionist biography.
Olympia: Bills that would have limited how many rounds can be stored in gun magazines and what guns can be sold failed to make their way through the Legislature. KING-TV reports neither bill was approved before Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline. Lawmakers knew earlier this month that the proposed ban on firearms defined as assault weapons did not have the votes to proceed. The high-capacity limit bill passed out of House and Senate committees but never came up on the floor for debate. Republicans opposed to the bill filed an unusually high number of amendments on the bill, meaning debate could last a day or more, according to Democratic staffers. Aberdeen Republican Rep. Jim Walsh, who submitted six amendments, was asked if the long list of amendments was a political ploy to prevent debate. “That’s part of it,” said Walsh. “But it’s also a very bad policy.”
Charleston: Foster parents may soon get more money for adopting children under a measure passed by the House of Delegates this week aimed at alleviating the state’s overburdened foster care system. Delegates voted 96-1 to approve the bill, with Republican Del. Pat McGeehan as the lone “no” vote after he was told the measure would cost the state about $17 million. “Great emphasis has been placed on the projected cost of this bill, but we must acknowledge that this is an investment, an investment in West Virginia children,” said Del. Jason Barrett, a Berkeley County Democrat. The proposal, sent to the Senate, would give families at least $900 a month for each child adopted. Child placing agencies would also get $1,000 every time they finalize an adoption. The bill also establishes a foster care bill of rights, which would ensure children and parents understand their rights in the state’s foster system.
Milwaukee: A group monitoring a legal settlement over the Milwaukee Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices reports officers failed to document a justification in 80% of such incidents in the first half of 2019. The Crime and Justice Institute found many of the officers’ report narratives lacked the details necessary to establish reasonable suspicion that the people being frisked were armed or dangerous to others around them. The Boston-based institute is monitoring the police department’s compliance as part of a $3.4 million settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin in 2018 over stop-and-frisk practices. The ACLU had argued in its lawsuit that over the past decade, tens of thousands of minority residents in Milwaukee have been stopped by police without reasonable suspicion of a crime.
Cheyenne: Environmental groups are suing over plans for a potentially huge gas field they say would endanger antelope in Grand Teton National Park by hindering a migration route between the park and a basin. The Upper Green River Alliance, Western Watersheds Project and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne on Wednesday. The groups say the agency insufficiently took into account a 170-mile pronghorn antelope migration corridor between Grand Teton and the Upper Green River Basin before approving a plan to develop the Normally Pressured Lance gas field in the basin in 2018. The Jonah Energy project would potentially add 350 gas wells a year to the gas field over a decade. With 3,500 wells, the Normally Pressured Lance field could become one of the biggest onshore gas fields in the U.S.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lobster blood, Washington’s teeth: News from around our 50 states