Panola: General Store owner Dorothy Oliver has persuaded and helped almost everyone in her community to get their COVID-19 shots. In her decades living in Panola, Oliver has become one of the most influential people in the area. She is the vice president of the local day care center and on the board of the community center, in addition to owning her store. “All of them know me,” she said of her customers. “They come in, and I just start talking to them like I know them. I don’t have to know you to talk to you.” And she isn’t afraid to ask about their vaccination status. “Back in December, whenever vaccination started, I started with it,” she said. “I went to calling all the older people around in the community, trying to make sure how their mind is and make sure they started thinking on going and getting a shot whenever it got ready for them.” By the time doses were readily available in Alabama, there were not any vaccination sites in the immediate area, with the closest facilities about 40 minutes away. So Oliver volunteered to schedule neighbors’ appointments and drive them to and from the sites. According to Oliver’s records, only about 20 adults in the community of roughly 350 people are left unvaccinated. “I know all my people that haven’t got it,” she said.
Anchorage: Three-time Super Bowl champion Mark Schlereth returned home to encourage people to get COVID-19 vaccines. Anchorage Daily News reports the Service High alumnus made a halftime appearance Friday night at West High, where his alma mater squared off against the West Eagles. “I just want to encourage everybody to do your part, to talk to your doctor, and if it’s the right decision for you, please get vaccinated,” Schlereth said. “Please take care of one another.” He has been advocating for COVID-19 shots on social media, and he said the NFL Players Association reached out to him about spreading the word in his home state. Almost 54% of Alaska residents 12 and older have been inoculated, according to the state dashboard. Schlereth, 55, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder in 1993 while playing for Washington. He said one of the reasons he got the vaccine was to visit with his mother, who has cancer. “I wanted to spend as much time safely with her as possible … so it was just a no-brainer for us,” Schlereth said. He said one of his high school coaches whom he considered a mentor died Thursday from COVID-19. “I just lost a dear, dear friend who refused to get vaccinated, so that hit home for me,” he said.
Phoenix: Private businesses can require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 but must allow reasonable religious and medical exemptions under state and federal law, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich wrote in a legal opinion. And they can impose vaccine requirements on patrons as well, as long as they provide reasonable accommodation for customers who can’t take a vaccine because of a disability and don’t discriminate against those who won’t for religious reasons, the Republican wrote in Friday’s opinion. Public schools and universities and local and state government agencies are different because of laws enacted this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Doug Ducey. They are not allowed to require employees or students to get inoculated once the new laws take effect Sept. 29. But private schools can, if they allow exemptions for religious or health reasons. Ducey last week issued an executive order barring state and local governments from requiring vaccines, based on an existing law that says health agencies can’t force people to be treated if they comply with sanitary or quarantine rules. A violation carries criminal sanctions.
Little Rock: Connie Hamzy, a rock ’n’ roll groupie from the Natural State who was immortalized as “sweet, sweet Connie” in the 1973 Grand Funk Railroad hit “We’re an American Band,” has died. She was 66. “I was determined to become a famous groupie,” Hamzy, who lived in Little Rock, told KTHV in 2019. She told the station she was finishing her senior year of high school when the manager of Grand Funk Railroad called to say her name would be in a song. “I said, ‘Yeah I’ll have to see it to believe it,’ ” she said. But that summer, at the lake with friends, she heard a radio announcer introduce the new song and note that a local girl was in the first few lines, she said. “Out on the road for forty days. Last night in Little Rock put me in a haze. Sweet, sweet Connie, doin’ her act. She had the whole show, and that’s a natural fact.” Hamzy told KTHV she first got backstage at age 15 after her mother, who didn’t want to deal with traffic, dropped her off early to see Steppenwolf at Barton Coliseum. “We’d go out there, and then we’d wander around the backstage area, and one thing would lead to another,” she told KTHV. Hamzy, who worked for a time as a substitute teacher, hung out with groups including Queen, the Eagles and Kiss, KTHV reports. She told the station Van Halen was a particular favorite.
Malibu: Powerful surf washed away a section of a beach access road, and swimmers and surfers were urged to use caution as huge waves from a southern swell battered the Southern California coastline. The Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors tweeted photos Saturday that showed the ground under Westward Beach Road completely collapsed. Beach hazard advisories had mostly expired by Sunday morning, but officials warned that dangerous rip currents and localized flooding were still possible. “We cannot emphasize this enough: surf and swim in front of an open lifeguard tower,” the Department of Beaches and Harbors tweeted. “Check with the nearest lifeguard before entering the water.” Aerial video by CBS 2 News showed huge waves hitting the patio and second-story balconies of a hotel in the Orange County city of Laguna Beach.
Fort Collins: After taking last season off due to COVID-19 restrictions, Bustang rides to Denver Broncos home games are back with service from Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. The state Department of Transportation said the return of rides on its Bustang coaches will begin with the team’s final preseason game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Empower Field at Mile High against the Los Angeles Rams. Service was suspended last year due to the pandemic and restricted capacity at the stadium. This is the fifth season the service has been offered. The round-trip fare is $30 per person. Coaches are climate-controlled and equipped with Wi-Fi, restrooms, USB and power outlets, comfortable seats and wheelchair access. Face masks are required for drivers and passengers, and hand sanitizer wipes will be offered to passengers when boarding the bus. The buses are cleaned and disinfected upon completion of each route and each day’s routes, according to officials. Amber Blake, CDOT’s director of Transit and Rail, said the service provides an alternative for fans, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, provides a designated driver and enhances safety by reducing the number of vehicles on the road.
Hartford: Slot machine revenues generated at the state’s two tribal casinos continue to rebound. Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino report seeing an influx of visitors over the summer as COVID-19 restrictions have eased. Both destinations closed for more than three months at the height of the pandemic last year. Mohegan Sun, owned by the Mohegan Tribe, generated $49.9 million in slot machine revenues in July after paying out winnings. That’s a 5% increase from July 2020 and the most money the casino has retained since August 2019, according to The Day of New London. Foxwoods, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, kept $36.5 million in July, marking a 19.6% increase from the more than $30.5 million in generated in July 2020. It’s the casino’s highest amount since November 2019. Jason Guyot, CEO of Foxwoods, said slot revenues at the site increased by $7.1 million from June to July. To meet increased consumer demand this summer, he said the casino has offered new experiences, including an outdoor pop-up eatery and a “Cocktail Carnival.” Mohegan Sun has also rolled out more promotions and entertainment over the summer, helping to drive traffic, said Jeff Hamilton, the resort casino’s president and CEO.
Wilmington: As housing prices soared over the past year, the dream of homeownership was less achievable in the First State, where buyers need more cash for closing the sale. Delaware has the highest real estate transfer tax in the nation, making the average closing costs the second-highest behind Washington, D.C. On a $250,000 home, the transfer tax due at settlement in Delaware is $10,000, which is usually split between the seller and buyer and must be paid at closing. The buyer can’t roll that amount into the mortgage and pay it off over time. Mia Burch, president of the Delaware Association of Realtors, said she has worked with buyers who were in good financial shape in almost every way but had trouble coming up with all the cash they needed at closing. She calls the transfer tax a “discouragement” tax. In 2017, the Legislature hiked the real estate transfer tax from 3% of the property’s sale price to 4%. It was only supposed to be a temporary increase to help solve the state’s budget deficit, said Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Pike Creek. But four years later, even after a $1 billion budget surplus, the 4% tax is still in place. “Seniors and young people are the ones getting squeezed,” Ramone said. In January, he introduced a bill to reduce the tax to its previous level, but it’s yet to make it to the House floor for a vote.
District of Columbia
Washington: Ten years after an earthquake shook the nation’s capital, repair work is only half done on the National Cathedral, WUSA-TV reports. The Aug. 23, 2011, temblor registered a 5.8 on the Richter scale and dealt extensive damage to buildings across the area. “The quake lasted 58 seconds,” said Joe Alonso, National Cathedral head stonemason. He still can recall every single second of that shake that bent the historic cathedral’s beautiful spires, split its gargoyles and sent chunks of masonry to the ground. “I thought, ‘Wow we’ve got a task ahead of us, that’s for sure,’ ” Alonso said. Repairing the spires and towers is not as simple as slapping some glue on the pieces and putting them back up. “It’s just the nature of the work – everything is handmade, hand-done,” Alonso said. “But that’s how the cathedral was built.” For ten years, the stonemasons have had to reconstruct every single broken piece and reset it hundreds of feet in the air by scaffolding or crane. “What it costs to do this is very expensive, and we are doing (a) sort of a pay-as-you-go,” Alonso said. He believes the 58 seconds were the difference between a slow, tedious repair and complete reconstruction. “If the quake had lasted 2 or 3 more seconds, the stuff that was like a Jenga game would have just come completely down,” he said.
St. Petersburg: The state’s power struggle over wearing masks in school landed Monday before a judge considering a lawsuit that challenges Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order reserving the decision for parents. The three-day hearing before Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper pits pro-mask parents against the Republican governor and state education officials who say parents, not schools, should choose whether their children cover up inside schools. The hearings come as the highly contagious delta variant causes a surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths across Florida, where the school year is already being disrupted. Charles Dodson, a former judge representing the parents challenging the governor’s order, in an opening statement that the delta variant affects children more than the previous virus strain and places them at greater risk in crowded schools. He said the Florida Constitution and state law give local school boards the authority to decide health and safety matters affecting their students. Michael Abel, a lawyer for the defendants, said the state’s experts will testify that requiring students to wear masks causes many harms – speaking difficulty, mood changes, breathing issues and depression – while scientists disagree on their effectiveness against the coronavirus.
Atlanta: A federal judge has found that part of the state’s sweeping new election law that broadly prohibits the photographing of a completed ballot is likely unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee on Friday granted a preliminary injunction on that section of the law, meaning it cannot be enforced for now. In the same order, he declined to block a number of other provisions that mostly have to do with monitoring or photographing parts of the election process. The judge’s order came in a lawsuit filed by the Coalition for Good Governance, an election integrity group, and others. Boulee wrote that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit “have shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claim” that the broad ban on photographing a voted ballot in both public and nonpublic places violates their First Amendment rights. The new law, known as SB 202, also adds a voter ID requirement for mail ballots, shortens the time period for requesting a mail ballot, results in fewer ballot drop boxes available in metro Atlanta, and gives the State Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials. There are currently eight federal lawsuits challenging parts of the 98-page law enacted earlier this year, including one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Honolulu: State officials say a surge in tourists is leading to increased harassment of sea turtles on a popular North Shore Oahu beach. Hordes of people are crowding turtles at Laniakea Beach Park, known as Turtle Beach, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said increased patrols are being dispatched to enforce laws against approaching the turtles. “There are packs of 200 people at a time, throughout the day,” said Debbie Herrera, volunteer and education coordinator for turtle conservation group Malama na Honu. The state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement has assigned officers to Laniakea. “Typically, if there’s a uniformed officer standing on the beach, people are not going to break the law in front of them,” said Jason Redulla, division chief. Harassment of turtles and endangered Hawaiian monk seals led Gov. David Ige to warn that violators will be prosecuted if caught. Tourists at Laniakea Beach tell Malama na Honu they didn’t know touching turtles was illegal, Herrera said. Most follow the rules once informed, but there have been a “very few who refuse, despite dozens of cautionary signs or warnings from volunteers, to give green sea turtles on the beach or in the ocean wide berth,” she said.
Boise: One of two U.S. district judges for Idaho announced seven months ago that he’d take senior status in August, but there’s still no official nominee to replace him. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill planned to continue to hear a full caseload when he took senior status Aug. 16, but expected Idaho to have a new district judge to replace him by then – effectively giving the state the third judge it has needed for decades, the Idaho Press reports. “We desperately need the help,” Winmill said. But there’s been no word from the White House about a nominee for the now-open second federal judgeship, though Idaho’s top Democratic elected officials interviewed candidates last winter and submitted an all-female shortlist of four nominees to the Biden administration in March: Idaho Falls attorney DeAnne Casperson, Boise attorney Keely Duke, Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson, and former U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson. Traditionally, state senators are given a big say in federal district judge nominees, but that system was jettisoned under the Trump administration. The Senate – where Democrats hold a thin majority – must confirm any nominee by simple majority. It’s unclear what role Idaho’s Republican senators will play in the nomination.
Springfield: Public health officials have dropped a “do not eat” advisory for sport fish in the Illinois River for the first time since the 1970s. The Illinois Department of Public Health relaxed the warning because concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, have declined, the Chicago Tribune reports. The toxic contaminants were banned in 1979 but stick around in the environment, prompting the advisory. IDPH issues advisories annually based on fish samples collected from 40 to 50 streams, rivers and inland lakes, as well as from four stations in Lake Michigan. They are geared toward vulnerable populations including pregnant and nursing women, along with children younger than age 15. The department said there is no known immediate health hazard from eating contaminated fish in Illinois. But there are “concerns about the effects of long-term, low-level exposure” to contaminants including PCBs. Guidance also was relaxed for some Lake Michigan fish, including whitefish and rainbow trout. Recommended consumption is now no more than one meal a week. Previous guidance was to limit consumption to once per month.
Indianapolis: The Hoosier Lottery saw record profits in the past year as its ticket sales soared 26% from the year before. That big jump was fueled by 27% growth in scratch-off ticket sales that accounted for nearly 80% of the lottery’s $1.74 billion in revenue during the year period ending June 30, officials told the State Lottery Commission this past week. Lottery administrators had projected a slight drop in sales because of worries about coronavirus-related shutdowns and the possible economic impact. But the boost in revenue will result in the lottery sending a record $375 million in profits to the state – up about $71 million, or 23%, from the year before. That’s even higher than the $368 million profits that lottery officials had projected in May. “These are really extraordinary numbers,” Lottery Commission Chairman William Zielke said. “It certainly reflects the efforts of a lot of people who tried to keep it going (through the pandemic).” The state directs about $235 million of the lottery profits toward reducing auto excise taxes, with $60 million going to pension funds for teachers, police officers and firefighters. The scratch-off tickets sales growth follows the lottery’s long-term strategy to attract more players enticed by the regular release of new instant games.
Des Moines: When state Sen. Joe Bolkcom asked in June how much it would cost to deploy Iowa State Patrol troopers to the U.S.-Mexico border, the Department of Public Safety said expenses wouldn’t be calculated until the mission was completed. The response ignored that the state agency had run its own internal cost estimate a week before the since-completed deployment had even been made public, according to records reviewed by the Des Moines Register. The department recently released more than 2,200 pages of emails in response to a joint records request from the Register and the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced June 24 that troopers would be deployed to the border after Texas asked for help with an influx of migrants. The announcement led legislators and the media to ask questions of the Department of Public Safety and Iowa State Patrol. At the onset, Iowa officials issued scant details about the operations, citing concerns for officer safety. They did not cite that for costs. On June 17, Iowa State Patrol Maj. Robert Hansen sent top department officials an initial cost estimate: $383,700.24 to cover a 16-day deployment of 28 troopers of various ranks. Initial cost estimates after they returned were shy of $300,000, department Commissioner Stephan Bayens said at a July 28 news conference.
Topeka: If the Evel Knievel museum moves to Las Vegas, the owner of the museum dedicated to the daredevil has pledged to repay $117,000 it has received from the city of Topeka since it opened in 2017. It was reported earlier this month that the museum dedicated to the career of Robert Craig Knievel, who became known for his death-defying stunts and tricks on motorbikes, may move to the Las Vegas Arts District. Museum owner Mike Patterson told city officials in a meeting last week that he believes it is appropriate to repay the city even though it might not be required in the incentive contract the museum signed. Patterson said private loans were the main source of funding for the roughly $3.5 million museum. But it was also slated to receive up to $300,000 from the city over 12 years if it continued operating in Topeka. The money it received came from the city’s tax on hotel stays. City Council member Spencer Duncan said Topeka will make sure future incentive contracts with businesses include terms that require businesses to repay the incentives they received if they do leave the city.
Louisville: Gov. Andy Beshear has declared this week Healthcare Heroes Appreciation Week in honor of the doctors, nurses, hospital and clinic staff, and others who have helped the Bluegrass State during the COVID-19 pandemic. “They are heroes. They have earned that title,” Beshear said at a press briefing Thursday, urging local businesses and community members to find ways to show gratitude for health care workers. The most important way, he said, is to get vaccinated against COVID-19. “Let’s make sure that everywhere these health care heroes go, they see how much we care,” the Democratic governor said. Following a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling impacting his executive authority, Beshear on Monday rescinded his executive order requiring masks in schools. The move came a day before a federal judge is scheduled to decide whether to continue a temporary restraining order preventing the mandate from being enforced. Without an order to block, the legal challenge is likely moot. A separate mask mandate for public schools from the Kentucky Department of Education still stands, as does a similar measure for child care centers from the Department of Public Health. Without a mandate in place, private schools across the state are now able to adopt mask-optional policies.
Baton Rouge: More than 20 government agencies, universities and electric utilities in the state soon will be getting electric vehicle charging stations worth more than $1.7 million. The Department of Environmental Quality is awarding grants to 26 entities for 82 charging stations, using money from the state’s $19.8 million share from a settlement worth nearly $3 billion between the U.S. Justice Department and Volkswagen over violations of the Clean Air Act, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports. Volkswagen sold about 590,000 vehicles equipped with devices that worked against their air pollution control features, resulting in increased emissions of nitrogen oxide. Almost $12 million of Louisiana’s share of the 2016 settlement was set aside to replace 351 diesel engine buses owned by 16 school boards. The new engines will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions and other pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter. Another $7.3 million was given to the state Department of Transportation and Development and the Department of Agriculture to replace old diesel equipment and vehicles.
Portland: The state’s $1,500 bonus to attract new workers back to the workforce this summer during the pandemic hasn’t been successful. Only about 5% of the 7,500 people whom the $10 million program could cover have been declared provisionally eligible, the Bangor Daily News reports. An extended deadline to file applications closed Friday. The bonus for new employees who work at least eight weeks and meet other criteria equates to about two weeks of unemployment pay. It may not have been enough to entice workers to give up benefits or to get overworked employers to handle the extra paperwork that the program entails, said Steve Hewins, executive director of the industry group HospitalityMaine. Maine’s neighbor to the west has had a bit more success. New Hampshire, which stopped the enhanced unemployment benefits in June, drew 700 applicants to its $1,000 return-to-work program in the first four weeks after it started July 19. In contrast, Maine had attracted only 400 applicants since mid-June.
Baltimore: The woeful record of the Baltimore Orioles is combining with the coronavirus pandemic to cost the state millions of dollars in rent payments. The Baltimore Sun reports the Major League Baseball team’s rent payments to the Maryland Stadium Authority have dropped precipitously in the past year due to low attendance and loss of ballpark-generated revenue. The Orioles paid $1.6 million in rent to the Stadium Authority for the use of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the fiscal year ending June 30. The team’s average annual rent of its 30-year lease has been $6.8 million. The rent payments are based on a percentage of ticket sales, concessions, parking and stadium advertising. The team has the worst record in the majors, and attendance is sparse. During the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, fans were not allowed in the stadium at all. The rent money is used specifically for the maintenance of the ballpark. Stadium officials say they have curtailed maintenance expenses accordingly. The rent losses are in addition to the loss of admission taxes on ticket sales. The newspaper based its reporting on data obtained under the state’s Public Information Act.
Natick: A retired flight attendant pushing an airline beverage cart more than 200 miles from Boston to New York City to honor colleagues who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is well on his way. Paul Veneto, 62, resumed his 20th anniversary journey Monday after a night at the Verve Hotel in Natick, two days after starting his trek at Logan International Airport and a day after braving drenching rains from the Henri storm system. He plans on pushing the cart – decorated with photos of all the 9/11 airline crews for inspiration and courage – to ground zero by Sept. 10. “I look on top of this cart, I see these crew members’ faces, every time my legs hurt, it’s cold, rainy, they’re smiling back at me, the pain goes away,” Veneto said Saturday before he departed. The walk called Paulie’s Push will benefit the families of his former colleagues as well as Power Forward 25, a nonprofit that assists people dealing with addiction. Veneto himself is in recovery from an opioid dependency caused in part by the attacks. “I turned my life around to be able to recognize these guys who were never recognized,” he said Saturday. United Flight 175, which was flown into the World Trade Center’s south tower, was Veneto’s regular run. But he had the day off Sept. 11, 2001. The Braintree resident spent 30 years as a flight attendant for five different airlines.
Detroit: A Bloomfield Township woman who won the grand $2 million prize in the state’s COVID-19 vaccination sweepstakes said Monday that she and her husband will save money for their three kids’ college education, remodel their house and donate a portion to improve mental health services. When the pandemic struck in 2020, Christine Duval left her full-time job as a project manager for a language training company in Troy to help her daughter, now 10, with remote learning after her school closed. She and her husband got their first COVID-19 shots in early April and their second ones weeks later. Their 18- and 15-year-old sons also are vaccinated. Winning $2 million “will help us achieve all of our dreams,” Duval said. “We are really lucky and want to give back to those in need. The pandemic was tough on everyone, and we believe the need for providing services that promote positive mental health care is more important than ever.” The MI Shot to Win Sweepstakes program was designed to boost the vaccination rate in July. The weekly number of people getting a first shot across the state rose for four straight weeks between July 11 and Aug. 7 before dropping in the past two weeks. About 65% of residents ages 16 and up have received at least one dose, federal data shows.
Rochester: Igor Vovkovinskiy, the tallest man in the United States, has died at age 38. His family said the Ukrainian-born Vovkovinskiy died of heart disease Friday at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. His mother, Svetlana Vovkovinska, an ICU nurse at Mayo, initially posted about his death on Facebook. Vovkovinskiy came to the Mayo Clinic in 1989 as a child seeking treatment. A tumor pressing against his pituitary gland caused it to secrete abnormal levels of growth hormone. He grew to become the tallest man in the U.S. at 7 feet, 8.33 inches and ended up staying in Rochester. His older brother, Oleh Ladan of Brooklyn Park, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that Vovkovinskiy was a celebrity when he arrived from Ukraine because of his size and the flickering Cold War of the late 1980s. But Ladan said Vovkovinskiy “would have rather lived a normal life than be known.” Vovkovinskiy appeared on “The Dr. Oz Show” and was called out by President Barack Obama during a campaign rally in 2009, when the president noticed him near the stage wearing a T-shirt that read: “World’s Biggest Obama Supporter.” In 2013, he carried the Ukrainian contestant onto the stage to perform in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Jackson: Mississippi Poison Control Center officials say they are receiving an influx of calls from people trying to treat COVID-19 by using anti-parasite medicine purchased at livestock stores. At least 70% of recent calls to the center have been related to ingestion of livestock or animal formulations of ivermectin purchased at livestock supply centers, Mississippi Department of Health officials said. Some of the symptoms associated with ivermectin toxicity include rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, neurologic disorders, and potentially severe hepatitis requiring hospitalization, though no hospitalizations have been reported. Most callers – 85% – have had mild symptoms, according to the Department of Health. “Patients should be advised to not take any medications intended to treat animals and should be instructed to only take ivermectin as prescribed by their physician,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers wrote in a memo Friday. “Animal drugs are highly concentrated for large animals and can be highly toxic in humans.” Ivermectin tablets are approved for human use at very specific doses for some parasitic worms, and there are topical formulations for head lice and skin conditions. Ivermectin is not a drug for treating viruses.
Kansas City: Two groups that work to overturn wrongful convictions argued in a petition filed Monday that a man who has spent more than 20 years in prison for killing his mother did not commit the crime. Michael Politte was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2002. He was 14 when his mother, Rita Politte, was burned to death inside their home in Hopewell, eastern Missouri, in 1998. The Midwest Innocence Project and the MacArthur Justice Center argue in the petition filed with the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District that Politte was convicted because of a biased investigation, faulty science and an incompetent defense at trial. Michael Politte and a friend were sleeping when they awoke to smoke early Dec. 5, 1998. Michael told authorities he found his mother’s burning body in her bedroom as he and his friend tried to escape, according to the petition. She also suffered blunt force trauma to her head. The petition alleges fire investigators quickly decided the fire was started with gasoline, and police immediately zeroed in on her son as a suspect, although no blood or other injuries were found on him. Investigators also said he did not show much emotion or remorse in the following days. Law enforcement did not investigate other viable suspects, the attorneys say.
Billings: A judge has ordered the director of the state’s public defender office to appear before him next month to explain why her office is failing to assign public defenders to Billings-area cases in a timely manner and why she shouldn’t be held in contempt of court. District Judge Donald Harris set a Sept. 13 hearing for Rhonda Lindquist, The Billings Gazette reports. The director of the Office of Public Defender is required to ensure that qualified attorneys are immediately assigned after a judge assigns cases to the public defender’s office, according to Harris’ order, which was signed Tuesday. At times, public defenders have a conflict of interest in representing a defendant. When that happens, their case is assigned to the agency’s Conflict Office to hire an outside attorney. The managing attorney for the Conflict Office told Harris that as of July 31, his office had a backlog of 663 unassigned cases. State law requires the Office of Public Defender to immediately assign a lawyer to any case in which a judge designates the office as counsel. Harris said the office has not been able to meet this obligation for months, causing “significant delays in conducting court proceedings and jeopardizes the administration of justice.” The state’s jobs website lists postings for three public defenders and an appellate defender.
Omaha: The state currently appears relatively safe on some national websites tracking the spread of COVID-19, but state health officials say those maps aren’t accurate. The problem is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been using different data for Nebraska since the state retired its website that reported coronavirus figures daily and started reporting updates weekly with fewer details. So two-thirds of Nebraska’s counties shouldn’t be colored blue on the CDC map, indicating low COVID-19 transmission rates, at a time when cases are surging statewide, the Omaha World-Herald reports. “The color blue on the map may not be an accurate representation of transmission rates,” said Olga Dack, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Over the past two weeks, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has nearly doubled from 374.14 new cases per day Aug. 6 to 727.57 new cases per day Friday. In its most recent update, the state said Wednesday that 2,676 cases had been reported in the previous week – more than 10 times higher than the 253 cases per week the state reported in late June. Dack said the state continues to report county-level virus data to the CDC, but the agency hasn’t been using that for some technical reasons.
Las Vegas: Several organizations led by women of color have banded together to shed light on the ways the state’s low-income and diverse communities are disproportionately affected by climate change and pollution. The advocacy groups are creating a website, breathefreenv.com, that aims to raise awareness about climate change and steps that can be taken to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, improve public health, and lower energy costs for families, especially in low-income communities. Erika Washington, executive director of Make It Work Nevada, one of the groups involved in the effort, told the Las Vegas Sun that Black communities have not received as much outreach about climate change or the environment as white communities. “It’s been very white-led for a very long time,” said Washington, who is Black. “You have to include the people who are closest to the issue in order to actually make any sort of change.” Along with Make It Work Nevada, other groups participating include Battle Born Progress, CHISPA, Make the Road Nevada, Mi Familia Vota Nevada, the Faith Organizing Alliance and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Action Fund. All seven groups are led by women of color.
Concord: The New Hampshire Department of Revenue has completed a three-year project aimed at providing a better online experience for taxpayers. The department, which collects more than $2 billion in taxes each year, launched the first phase of its online user portal and revenue management system in 2019. The final phase of the Granite Tax Connect portal was completed this month, allowing tax preparers and others to file taxes electronically, schedule automated payments, check on the status of refunds, and complete other tasks. Officials said the system could serve about 148,000 taxpayers. The portal also can be used to anonymously report suspected tax fraud.
Trenton: The state joined a small but growing list of places Monday to require COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers and state workers or for them to undergo regular coronavirus testing. Gov. Phil Murphy announced the new mandate during a news conference, saying pre-K-12 teachers and staff and state employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or get tested once or twice a week. New Jersey has about 130,000 public school teachers, 1.3 million public school students and an estimated 70,000 state workers. “Scientific data shows that vaccination and testing requirements, coupled with strong masking policies, are the best tools for keeping our schools and communities safe for in-person activities,” Murphy said. The Democratic governor, who’s running for reelection this year, announced the move just as schools across the state prepare to begin the new academic year. The decision follows an announcement earlier this month to require staff, students and visitors to wear masks on school grounds. The state’s biggest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, supported the order, as did the state’s School Nurses Association and the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Santa Fe: The ritual burning of a giant, ghostly marionette in the city will be a hybrid event this year. Organizers of the Zozobra burning said they are planning to limit in-person attendance to 10,000 while also broadcasting the event on television and online. The nighttime spectacle that’s been transformed by modern pyrotechnics is in its 97th year. A team of a dozen puppeteers heaves on cords to flex the groaning marionette’s arms, head and jaw. Will Shuster, a painter from Philadelphia who migrated to the Southwest, created Zozobra, a name derived from a Spanish word for “anguish.” Donations from energy companies ensured the event could move forward Sept. 3. It typically happens around Santa Fe’s weeklong community fiestas that include historic and religious processions. Anyone attending in person must prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours of the event. Face masks will be required for anyone who is not vaccinated. The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe uses the event to raise money for youth charities. Organizers said they’ll tweak the event as needed to comply with federal and state public health orders.
Albany: Andrew Cuomo defended his record over a decade as governor and portrayed himself as the victim of a “media frenzy” Monday as he prepared for a midnight power transfer that will make Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul the state’s first female governor. Cuomo, a Democrat, was set to end his term at 11:59 p.m., just under two weeks after he announced he would resign rather than face a likely impeachment battle over sexual harassment allegations. In a prerecorded farewell address released at noon, Cuomo boasted of making government effective in his years in office, cited his work battling the COVID-19 pandemic and struck a defiant tone on the harassment allegations. He said the report that triggered his resignation – a scathing account of what Attorney General Letitia James said was sexual harassment or inappropriate touching of 11 women – was “designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive topic, and it did work,” Cuomo said. He also touted his “progressive” record and positioned himself as a bulwark against his party’s left-wing faction that he said wants to “defund the police” and “demonize businesses.” He touted New York’s long-awaited passage of same-sex marriage under his administration, as well as gun control legislation and a law setting an eventual statewide $15 minimum wage.
Raleigh: Tens of thousands of state residents who have been convicted of felonies but whose current punishments don’t include prison time can register to vote and cast ballots, a judicial panel declared Monday. Several civil rights groups and ex-offenders who sued legislative leaders and state officials in 2019 argue the current 1973 law is unconstitutional by denying the right to vote to people who have completed their active sentences or received no such sentence, such as people on probation. They said the rules disproportionately affect Black residents. In a brief hearing following a trial last week challenging North Carolina’s voting restrictions upon felons, Superior Court Judge Lisa Bell said two judges on the three-judge panel have agreed they will issue a formal order soon allowing more felony offenders to vote. The judges are acting before issuing a final ruling from the trial, as voting in October municipal elections begins next month. The law says felons can register to vote again once they complete all aspects of their sentence, including probation and parole. With Bell’s ruling, felons who only must complete these punishments that have no element of incarceration can register again.
Bismarck: A petroleum company has reported a saltwater spill in northwestern North Dakota to state regulators. The Bismarck Tribune reports Whiting Oil and Gas says the spill occurred Thursday. The company told regulators that a broken fitting in a pipeline system operated by Goodnight Midstream resulted in the spill at a well site 11 miles south of Stanley in Mountrail County. The company said 1,400 barrels containing 58,800 gallons of saltwater spilled but were contained, and most of the fluid has been recovered. Saltwater, also known as brine, can come up along with oil and gas from a well. The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division said a state inspector has visited the site and will monitor cleanup efforts.
Cleveland: More than 120 activists, scholars, pastors, students and average citizens attended the first hearing Monday of a new panel charged with redrawing state legislative districts for the next 10 years, most advocating new maps that are more fair and representative. Witnesses at the first of nine public hearings of the Ohio Redistricting Commission at Cleveland State University maligned the current gerrymandered maps and called the process disheartening, embarrassing, demoralizing and unfair. “My vote doesn’t count,” Daisie Reish, 77, of Grafton, told the panel. “I call my representatives constantly, and they never vote for me. They always vote the opposite.” Person after person – young, old, Black, Muslim, immigrant, and people whose families have lived in the area for generations – told the panel they feel disadvantaged and unheard by their government as a result of the current district maps. Meanwhile, Tom Hach, executive director of Free Ohio Now, complained that all nine of the commission’s hearings will be held at universities, which he said don’t attract a diversity of political participation. He called the process unfair and said commissioners, the majority of whom are Republicans, were being bullied by Democrats. An Associated Press analysis has found Ohio to have some of the nation’s most gerrymandered maps.
Oklahoma City: Blocks from where she initiated one of the nation’s first sit-in movements, civil rights icon Clara Luper is now memorialized in the name of the city’s downtown post office. Luper’s descendants, former students and original “sit-inners” joined local dignitaries Saturday for the dedication of the Clara Luper Post Office Building, formerly called the Center City Station. Luper’s daughter, Chelle Luper Wilson, said her mother would want others to take it as a call to action against inequality. “One of the things I know she would say is she never wanted her name to just be a symbolic gesture,” Wilson said. “She was never about symbolism without any action. She was about structural and systemic change. I know she would want people whenever they see her name not to just think, ‘Oh great, what a great woman,’ but hope it sparks them to become passionate about a cause.” Luper, a longtime public school teacher, died in 2011 at age 88. The renaming coincided with the 63rd anniversary of the Oklahoma City sit-in movement. Luper and a group of Black schoolchildren arrived at the whites-only lunch counter of Katz Drug Store on Aug. 19, 1958, and refused to leave until they were served. It was the beginning of a successful six-year campaign to end racial segregation in Oklahoma City establishments.
Portland: Opposing rallies that drew hundreds of people sparked clashes Sunday. The two groups had gathered in different parts of the city after a far-right group changed the location of its event. The right-wing rally drew about 100 people in a parking lot of a former Kmart store, and clashes began as it wound down, KOIN-TV reports. A van tried to drive into the parking lot but crashed, and the driver ran away. Demonstrators then began igniting fireworks and similar devices. It was not immediately clear whether anyone suffered serious injuries. Later, shots were fired near demonstrators downtown. Dustin Brandon Ferreira, 37, a left-wing activist, told The Oregonian/OregonLive he was with others Sunday evening when a man used a slur against a Black man in the group and then fired multiple rounds in their direction. Portland police said the man was arrested. No one was injured. Demonstrations associated with anti-fascists had earlier drawn more than 200 people downtown. The plans for the opposing demonstrations had prompted Portland police to call in all available police personnel. Sunday’s event fell on the one-year anniversary of a particularly violent political clash in which opposing groups brawled on the street next to police headquarters for hours.
Harrisburg: More drivers have been hitting the road as coronavirus restrictions have loosened, and it’s showing in the number of those who have been caught speeding through photo-enforced construction zones. The state has issued more than 220,000 violations in the first seven months of this year, surpassing the total for all of 2020, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Nearly $2.9 million has been collected in fines so far, higher than the $1.7 million remitted in 2020, said Jennifer Kuntch, a spokeswoman for PennDOT. Drivers receive a warning for the first offense, but second and subsequent violations carry a fine. Traffic volumes were down last year because of the pandemic, and that led to fewer violations than what might have been expected, Kuntch said. Meanwhile, the program remains on track to double its speed camera deployments this year. PennDOT is expecting to see a downward trend in violations through the rest of the year, Kuntch said. Based on evaluating Maryland’s trends and in having consistent deployments to the same work zones in Pennsylvania, drivers begin to comply with the speed limits, which leads to fewer violations, she said. In addition, drivers tend to watch their speed after getting their first warning.
Providence: Public health officials are warning residents about a fake form circulating that purports to give the bearer a medical or religious exemption from coronavirus mask requirements. The certificate even includes a Rhode Island Department of Health logo, the agency said in a tweet Sunday. “It was not developed by RIDOH or any official source, should not be filled out, and should not/will not be accepted by any entity, as the form is not legitimate,” the department wrote in the tweet. The agency did not say where the fake certificate originated. The state has recently been restoring mask mandates for some indoor spaces in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus’ delta variant. Last week Gov. Daniel McKee issued an executive order requiring masks in K-12 schools for the upcoming school year regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. Before the order, McKee had simply recommended masks for schoolchildren, leaving the final decision up to individual school districts. But state officials said more than a quarter of Rhode Island’s new coronavirus cases are among children under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible for a vaccination against the disease.
Charleston: Prosecutors are now required to share evidence of innocence they find even after a defendant is convicted of a crime. The changes to the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct were announced last week, The Post and Courier reports. South Carolina is joining about two dozen other states with the rules, which were first developed by the American Bar Association in 2008. They require a prosecutor to disclose any information when they become aware of “credible, material” evidence that indicates a defendant was wrongfully convicted to the defendant or defense attorney as well as the chief prosecutor where the person was tried. Prosecutors who have “clear and convincing” evidence that a person was wrongfully convicted in their jurisdiction then have an ethical obligation to remedy the conviction, according to the new rules. Prosecutors will have discretion to determine what exactly crosses the threshold of the new rules, said John Freeman, professor emeritus for the University of South Carolina School of Law. The rules also protect a defendant even after exhausting all normal appeals, Freeman said. “What this says, basically, is that so long as there is a possibility of proof surfacing that shows that the guy is innocent, it ain’t over,” he said. “And, frankly, isn’t that the way it should be?”
Rapid City: The state is facing a shortage of nurses at a time when they are needed most, officials say. South Dakota News Watch reports that stress, long hours and fear of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused more nurses than usual to leave the field, move to other states or retire early. From 2015 to 2016, about 1,700 registered nurses left South Dakota. Last year, more than 2,500 nurses dropped out of the state workforce. “The pandemic just kind of burned them out,” said Michelle Bruns, a spokeswoman for the nursing program at Oglala Lakota College. “It’s a tough situation.” The state’s higher education system has not produced enough nursing graduates to keep up with a growing population and rising demand for health care services, and educators are scrambling to find ways to lure more students and produce degrees more quickly. Meanwhile, a shortage of nurses in other states has raised competition to attract new graduates and experienced providers, but South Dakota health care systems are at a competitive disadvantage because median pay for nurses in the state is the lowest in the nation, according to federal labor data.
Nashville: The University of Tennessee announced Monday that it will extend its mask mandate to all indoor public spaces due to the ongoing spike in coronavirus cases and increasing hospitalizations. UT had been under a temporary mask mandate that only applied to classrooms, laboratories and indoor academic student events. Officials say the new requirement will extend to all indoor public spaces, but exceptions will include private offices, residence hall rooms and while engaging in fitness activities. According to a news release, the university will “re-evaluate the need for the expanded face-covering requirement by Sept. 7.” “While we are trying to do our part to keep our campuses healthy, we continue to stress the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” UT System President Randy Boyd said in a statement. As of Monday, Tennessee has seen 13,135 COVID-19-related deaths to date, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. That death count is the 15th highest in the country overall and the 24th highest per capita at 194 deaths per 100,000 people. The state is averaging 2,508.3 current COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to data through Aug. 20 from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Austin: Dell Medical School at the University of Texas is beginning a three-year study using video games and virtual reality to try to rewire the brains of teens with epilepsy. It’s taking the concept of neuroplasticity – that brains can create new pathways after an injury – and seeing if brains also can create the new pathways before the injury ever occurs. In this case, the injury is surgery to the affected area of the brain that is causing the epileptic seizures. The study is funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Coleman Fung Foundation. Fung is the founder of software company Open Link Financials Inc., and his Austin-based business venture, Blue Goji, is a wellness technology company that uses treadmills, virtual reality and video gaming to create a fitness experience. Dell Medical School will receive two Infinity treadmill virtual realty game systems from Blue Goji to use in the study. Dr. David Paydarfar, chair of Dell Medical School’s department of neurology and the study’s lead researcher, said that while people have studied neuroplasticity for decades, this study will actually implement the research. Previously, it was like studying rocket science without trying to go to the moon. The study is targeting 15- to 20-year-olds with epilepsy who need to have surgery to stop their seizures.
Salt Lake City: A ban on school districts requiring masks is forcing parents of vulnerable kids to wrestle with the painful choice of whether to risk coronavirus infections at school or keep them at home yet again, according to a lawsuit filed Monday. Parents like Jessica Pyper say a Utah law that blocks districts from passing mandates wrongly prevents children from getting a safe education. She wants her 10-year-old son, Ryker, to join his fifth grade classmates this year, but his Type 1 diabetes puts him at serious risk. “It just sort of seems like nobody cares,” she said. “Kids with disabilities often get left behind. They don’t get considered when these types of decisions are being made.” The case filed by a group of nine parents is the latest U.S. lawsuit of its kind from families and educators concerned about school without masks as the highly contagious delta variant surges. Officials, mostly Republican, contend that there are downsides to kids being masked all day and that parents should have the power to decide whether to put them on children, who tend to be less vulnerable to the virus than older adults. The lawsuit was filed against Republican Gov. Spencer Cox, whose office didn’t immediately respond to messages requesting comment, and Republican Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who declined comment.
Burlington: The state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development has launched its latest relocation program to get workers to move to Vermont – especially cooks, servers, child care workers, registered nurses, construction laborers, delivery drivers, elementary school teachers and retail salespeople. The reimbursement grants are for up to $7,500 for “eligible expenses” after moving. The online application for the grants requires proof of residency and documentation of eligible expenses. Grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. In 2018, the Legislature created the remote worker grant program, which offered reimbursement grants of up to $10,000 for workers who could relocate to the state and bring their current job with them. The next year, in 2019, the Legislature created the worker relocation grant program, which offered reimbursement grants to move to the state and take a job. The two programs together have awarded more than 300 grants to “newly settled Vermonters” in towns across the state, according to a news release. The worker relocation program is available to those who relocate to Vermont on or after July 1, 2021, and fill one of the qualifying positions with a Vermont employer. Remote worker grants are for those who relocate on or after Feb. 1, 2022.
Richmond: Democrat Terry McAuliffe on Monday urged all employers to require COVID-19 vaccines for eligible workers, sharpening a policy debate in the governor’s race over how best to deal with the pandemic. McAuliffe’s call followed a decision by federal regulators to give full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The former governor now seeking a second term has previously urged Virginia health systems and school divisions to issue mandates and required his own campaign staff to be fully inoculated. McAuliffe is facing Republican Glenn Youngkin, a former business executive and political newcomer, in the November general election. Youngkin has consistently urged Virginians to get COVID-19 shots but said he opposes vaccine or mask mandates. At a campaign event last week, the former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group was asked about his approach to managing the pandemic as the delta variant drives up coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. “First of all, we pray it’s behind us every day,” he said. “My expectation is, this virus is tough. And so first thing that I would ask everybody to do is get the vaccine.” He said in a statement Monday that McAuliffe was trying to “bully” Virginians and businesses into compliance with a step that will “clearly evolve into closing down businesses and locking down Virginia again.”
Blaine: Authorities say they have found the first Asian giant hornet nest of 2021 in a rural area of the state, about a quarter-mile from where a resident reported seeing one of the hornets earlier this month. The Washington State Department of Agriculture narrowed the search area last week and located the nest east of Blaine, department officials said. Crews found the nest Thursday after they followed a hornet that was equipped with a tracking device, KOMO reports. Crews were able to net and tag three hornets between Aug. 11 and Aug. 17. State entomologists will now develop a plan to eradicate the nest, most likely this week. The 2-inch-long invasive insects, first found near the U.S.-Canadian border in December 2019, are native to Asia and pose a threat to honeybees and native hornet species. While not particularly aggressive toward humans, their sting is extremely painful, and repeated stings, though rare, can kill.
Point Pleasant: An annual festival that celebrates a local legend about a “Mothman” has been called off for the second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Organizers of the Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant announced the festival’s cancellation Thursday. It had been set for next month. The organizers said in a statement that thousands of people pack the town along the Ohio River during the festival and that local health officials predict rising COVID-19 cases could peak around that time. “We are disappointed, but it was not an easy decision to make, we can assure you of that,” the statement said. Mothman is a mysterious creature with glowing red eyes that witnesses described seeing in 1966 and 1967. It was the subject of the 2002 film “The Mothman Prophecies.”
Madison: Residents who get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine between Aug. 20 and Labor Day will receive a $100 gift card, Gov. Tony Evers announced Monday. The reward being offered just as students return to school is Wisconsin’s latest incentive designed to entice those who have yet to be inoculated to receive the shots. As of Monday, just over 50% of the state’s entire population and 61% of adult residents were fully vaccinated, according to the state health department. Many other states have offered similar programs to get more people vaccinated. Recently in Wisconsin, attendees at the state fair who got vaccinated received a free cream puff. More than 600 fairgoers took advantage of that promotion. The $100 Visa gift card will be available to anyone age 12 and up who gets their first shot during the 18-day eligibility window that closes Sept. 6. To receive the gift card, those being vaccinated will need to fill out an application form, available at 100.wisconsin.gov. The cards will be mailed up to six weeks later. Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths caused by the more contagious delta variant have spiked in Wisconsin and across the country in recent weeks.
Jackson Hole: The outdoor gear and clothing company Patagonia has stopped providing its merchandise for sale at a Wyoming ski resort to protest the owners’ sponsorship of a Republican fundraiser featuring Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and other top supporters of former President Donald Trump. Well known for decades for its outspoken support of progressive causes and environmentalism, Patagonia in the past has brought unwanted attention to Facebook and Instagram and the Outdoor Retailer shows in Salt Lake City. Now, the company’s activism could spell trouble – among left-leaning skiers, at least – for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. A major tourism destination in Wyoming, the resort known for its bright red gondola car and logo with a silhouetted bucking horse and rider is among the best-known brands from one of the most Republican states. “We join with the local community that is using its voice in protest. We will continue to use our business to advocate for stronger policies to protect our planet, end hate speech and support voting rights and a strong democracy,” Patagonia spokeswoman Corley Kenna said in a statement. The boycott, first reported by WyoFile, means Patagonia merchandise won’t be available in three shops at the resort that Kenna said were Patagonia’s largest account in Jackson Hole.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Paulie’s Push, sweet Connie: News from around our 50 states