Return of Alienstock, Mardi Gras hate crime, much ado about a hat: News from around our 50 states
Montgomery: About 300 sandhill cranes were killed during the state’s first hunting season for the birds in more than a century, the state conservation agency said. A news release from the agency said about 400 people bought permits to hunt the large birds, which some people like to eat. While not everyone with a permit got a bird, migratory game bird coordinator Seth Maddox said the final numbers will probably be in line with other states that have hunting seasons for sandhill cranes. The state last allowed sandhill crane hunting in 1916 after hunting nearly wiped out the species. A hunting ban allowed the bird’s populations to recover enough to allow a season. Warm winter temperatures caused diminished duck numbers in Alabama this season and also affected the sandhill population, Maddox said. Officials estimated a population of roughly 12,000 cranes, down about 3,000 from average.
Juneau: Hundreds of Alaskans gathered over the weekend to celebrate one of the state’s civil rights icons, whose image will soon appear on a U.S. gold dollar. The Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood sponsored the event in Juneau on Sunday to honor Elizabeth Peratrovich, The Juneau Empire reports. The U.S. Mint announced in October that the member of Tlingit Nation will become the first Alaska Native to appear on U.S. currency. The collectible coin is scheduled to go on sale this year as part of the mint’s Native American $1 Coin program. The Elizabeth Peratrovich Day event at the Juneau Tlingit and Haida Community Council marked the 75th anniversary of a famed speech by Peratrovich before the territorial legislature of Alaska in support of the Anti-Discrimination Act, which was designed to outlaw discriminatory practices against Alaska Natives across much of the territory.
Phoenix: A state House panel voted along party lines Monday evening to advance a proposal barring new fees on ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. The 4-3 vote came after a lengthy hearing of the House Regulatory Affairs Committee. Majority Republicans backing the proposal say it will prevent Phoenix and other airports from raising ride-hailing service fees that they contend violate a voter-approved ban on new taxes or fees on services. Phoenix says the airport charges fees or rent to everyone who does business on the city-owned property. Other companies that pay to use Sky Harbor say barring the new fees on Uber and Lyft rides will shift the costs to them. They include companies that run parking lots and Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, the two biggest operators at the airport.
Jasper: The 400-acre property in Newton County that was once home to the Dogpatch USA theme park will be auctioned off on the courthouse steps next month, according to a legal notice published in the Newton County Times. A notice filed in January in the Newton County Circuit Court said Great American Spillproof Products had 10 days to pay a little more than $1 million owed on the property. It that wasn’t paid, the property was to be advertised for sale at auction. Dogpatch opened in 1968 with rides and other attractions. At its peak, it drew 9,000 visitors a day. The theme was the characters of the Li’l Abner comic strip, which began in 1934. The hill-folk-filled strip – featuring the likes of Li’l Abner, Daisy Mae, Mammy and Pappy Yokum – found an enthusiastic audience in the Ozarks. The park closed in 1993. The action will be held at 9:30 a.m. March 3 outside the courthouse in Jasper.
Lee Vining: Federal firefighters have set fire to invasive non-native weeds on an island in the Sierra Nevada’s Mono Lake in an effort to clear space for California gulls to build their nests on the ground. The burn Friday cleared nearly half of 11-acre Twain Island, the Los Angeles Times reports. The lake is an important nesting ground for gulls, but the recent arrival of a Eurasian bush known as five-horn smotherweed has left little room for nesting. About 32,000 gull nests were counted at Mono Lake in the early 1990s. A gradual decline began in 2004, then steepened when the weed arrived in 2016 and quickly covered about 70% of the breeding grounds. Last year, there were 11,705 nests, the lowest number in 34 years of study. Biologists will now wait to see if the decline in the gull breeding population will be reversed.
Pueblo: Colorado State University will offer a cannabis-related degree program after receiving approval from the state. The university is expected to launch the program this fall at its Pueblo campus about 115 miles south of Denver, The Denver Post reports. The Cannabis, Biology and Chemistry program would focus on the science necessary to work in the cannabis field and emphasize natural products and analytical chemistry, officials said. The curriculum would be similar to double-majoring in biology and chemistry, they said. The natural products coursework would place students in a lab setting to learn about the genetics of cannabis or other plants with additional courses in neurobiology, biochemistry and genetics, university officials said, and the analytical chemistry coursework would have them learn about the chemical compounds, such as determining what kind of cannabidiol concentration should exist in a product.
New Haven: A group of students at Yale University has set up a drone delivery service on campus. Kiki Air promises to deliver candy, snacks and other small items to students who place orders through an app. The service is currently being tested using a small group of student customers before being launched campuswide. Developers told the Yale Daily News that users order items from a menu on their phones and receive them at one of several drop locations around campus in a padded envelope attached to a drone. Kiki Air’s founder, Yale senior Jason Lu, says his company grew from a class project and has won a $150,000 grant from Y Combinator, a California-based investor in startups. The newspaper reports a Kiki Air drone fell last week onto a campus walkway, but nobody was injured. Orman describes the incident as a “controlled landing” and says the company has increased training and changed drop locations after the incident.
Wilmington: Odyssey Charter School board President Josiah Wolcott resigned from his position at an emergency board meeting Sunday night. But leaders at neighboring Academia Antonia Alonso Charter School don’t think his resignation is enough. Leaders at the school who felt targeted by jokes made during a January board meeting are demanding that two other board members, along with a school administrator, step down. If not, the Spanish immersion school that rents space from Odyssey will seek a new location, Maria Alonso, Academia board president, said in a statement Monday. Odyssey has been under fire for weeks. It was placed under state investigation, prompted by two recorded exchanges among board members in the past two months on issues of race – jokes targeting Academia, a majority Hispanic school, and ruminations on whether a black woman would be a token if hired.
District of Columbia
Washington: The online lottery has begun for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, WTOP-FM reports. The lottery, which is free to enter, is open until Monday morning at 10 a.m. The White House has said it will notify winners via email by March 4. The April 13 event is held the morning after Easter Sunday. Families with children ages 13 and younger are invited to join President Donald Trump and the first lady for a day of festivities on the South Lawn, where children use wooden spoons to roll dyed hard-boiled eggs. The Easter Egg Roll is an annual tradition dating to 1878 and the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes. Easter is April 12 this year.
Fort Lauderdale: Fewer of the state’s manatees died in 2019 compared with the year before. Manatee deaths statewide decreased to 606 deaths last year, down from 824 in 2018. Experts say it appears the main cause of the decline in deaths is the reduced effect of red tide algae on manatees. Twenty-one manatees died of red tide in 2019, compared with 288 in 2018, said Jaclyn Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Florida Center for Biological Diversity. The Sun-Sentinel reports that boats and other watercraft were the biggest cause of manatee deaths last year, causing at least 136 of the fatalities – or about 22% for the year. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data, 129 of the gentle giants were not recovered. A cause of death hasn’t been determined in 119 cases. Broward and Miami-Dade counties saw fewer deaths, although manatee deaths increased slightly in Palm Beach County.
Atlanta: Budget writers in the state House want to preserve money for mental health, substance abuse, public defenders, agricultural research and diverting people away from prison. While overall spending won’t rise above the cuts proposed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, the House Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday to shift tens of millions to protect programs lawmakers have been trying to build up. The amended document makes midyear changes to Georgia’s current state budget, which will spend more than $27 billion in state money and billions more in federal money by June 30. The full House is scheduled to debate the spending plan Wednesday. Lawmakers grabbed money from other places to shore up their priorities, including $11 million meant to implement electronic health records in the state prison system and $2.7 million more cut from the Department Public Safety.
Hilo: The University of Hawaii’s new administrative rules governing Mauna Kea could take up to a year before they are fully implemented, officials said. Democratic Gov. David Ige approved the rules in January. But it is likely to be six to 12 months before they are put into effect on the state’s highest mountain, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. The rules codify what activities are permitted on the Big Island lands managed by the university, but a framework for action has not yet been finalized, officials said. The rules prohibit littering, speeding, noise disturbances, fires, drugs, alcohol, drones and camping. They are also intended to regulate commercial activities, tours and motorized traffic, including off-road driving. Demonstrators blocked access to Mauna Kea’s summit to prevent construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope from July through December. Demonstrators said the project could damage land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians.
Hamer: The state Department of Fish and Game is reporting an additional 32 pronghorn have been killed in a second train accident in eastern Idaho. A train collided with 64 pronghorn Feb. 3, killing 45 on impact and severely injuring another 19 in the same area near Hamer, Idaho. KBOI reports that authorities gave a second update Friday that an additional 32 were struck by a train in a second incident. Fish and Game staff were in the area on a continued search for pronghorn that were hung up in a fence the evening before officials made the discovery. Five pronghorn had severe injuries and were put down by an officer. Another 27 appeared to have been killed on impact. All salvageable meat was donated to needy families around the region.
Springfield: State officials’ plan to combat infestations of the gypsy moth will be the focus of several upcoming meetings in northern Illinois. The state Department of Agriculture has planned nine open houses to discuss treatment strategies at infested sites, including the use of a naturally occurring type of bacteria and a pheromone specific to gypsy moths that prevents males from breeding. Officials say there’s no danger to humans, pets or other wildlife. The non-native pest eats more than 250 species of trees and shrubs but particularly feeds on oak leaves. Officials say large populations can strip plants bare, making them vulnerable to other insects and disease. Trees also can die because of severe defoliation. More information on the treatment sites in DuPage, Jo Daviess, Kendall, Ogle and Will counties is available at the department’s website, along with information about the open house events.
Indianapolis: The Eiteljorg Museum is continuing a year of exhibits honoring the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage with a feature on quilts and the stories they tell. The exhibit opening March 7 highlights quilts made by women from the early 1800s to the present day. Johanna Blume, the museum’s curator of Western art, history and culture, said quilts have long been a way to document history. “Quilts embody personal stories and symbolize community relationships,” Blume said. “They document people, places and events and serve as visual records – ones created largely by women – that help us study and understand Western art, history and culture.” The quilts featured showcase a variety of artists from different background and time periods. The exhibit runs until Aug. 9 and is included with regular admission to the museum in downtown Indianapolis.
Des Moines: Cities could not prevent landlords from turning away tenants who use public assistance to pay rent under bills that advanced Monday in the state Senate and House. Proponents said they believe so-called legal source of income laws are an issue of property rights and can burden landlords who don’t want to accept federal housing choice vouchers. Des Moines, Iowa City and Marion have ordinances requiring landlords to accept the vouchers, according to the Poverty & Race Research Action Council. But opponents of the legislation said such ordinances help ensure those using federal housing choice vouchers and other assistance can secure housing in their communities. The bills had enough Republican support to pass through subcommittees Monday, but lawmakers in both chambers said they want to investigate the bills more thoroughly to work through some of the details.
Wichita: An effort to have a Kansas priest who died in a North Korean prison camp reach sainthood could take an important step forward next month. The Wichita Eagle reports a panel of archbishops and cardinals will meet March 10 to vote on whether Emil Kapaun is worthy of the title of “Venerable,” which is the second step in the process toward sainthood in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis will make the final determination. Kapaun was named a “Servant of God,” the first step toward canonization, by the church in 1993. If the “Venerable” title is bestowed, the church would begin the process of investigating alleged miracles attributed to Kapaun. The Diocese of Wichita has long championed the cause of sainthood for Kapaun, who was raised on a farm in the town of Pilsen.
Grand Rivers: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was on hand Monday to witness a massive harvest of invasive Asian carp from Kentucky Lake, after an experimental roundup that wildlife officials say could be the first of many. The roundup began Feb. 3, with state and federal fisheries officials working in boats to methodically drive the fish with electricity and noise through a series of nets. The technique was designed to leave most native fish unharmed. McConnell watched as dozens of fish jumped about the water in a large netted area where they were driven days earlier. Crews in small boats Monday worked to reduce the size of the area to guide the fish toward a large vacuum hose, which discharged the fish into a net pen where they would be removed from the lake. McConnell, who was joined at the lake by Gov. Andy Beshear, recently helped secure $25 million in federal funding to implement the Asian carp national management plan first developed in 2007.
Baton Rouge: A Louisiana State University geology professor now has a scientific namesake in a newly discovered variety of tourmaline. Barbara Dutrow said she’s surprised and thrilled by the honor. “A lifelong passion has been to discover and decode the geologic information embedded in tourmaline; this recognition is a highlight of our discoveries!” she said in a news release from LSU. The statement said Italian researchers named dutrowite for her because of her contributions to mineral sciences, especially her research showing that tourmalines – a family of gemstones – hold evidence of their geological history. The International Mineralogical Association accepted the name in December. Christian Biagioni of the University of Pisa and other researchers in Italy, Sweden and Austria recommended the name in October, papers provided by Dutrow showed.
Bangor: Some biologists and hunting enthusiasts believe the state’s stable population of grouse could help tourism at a time when other parts of the country are seeing declines of the popular game birds. Grouse are ground-feeding birds that belong to the same order as turkeys and chickens. State game bird biologist Kelsey Sullivan said Maine is home to abundant habitat for the animals, and their population is in good condition. Meanwhile, the number of the birds has fallen elsewhere in the U.S., where West Nile virus and habitat loss are among the factors hurting populations. Wisconsin cut its grouse hunting season short last year, and New Jersey canceled the season for the foreseeable future. People who would normally hunt in the Midwest or elsewhere are now looking to come to Maine to pursue the birds, Sullivan told the Bangor Daily News.
Annapolis: Voters would no longer be required to decide whether to allow gambling expansion in the state, under a measure approved by the state Senate on Tuesday. The Senate voted 46-1 for the constitutional amendment. If the House approves, Maryland voters would still have the final say about whether they want to take themselves out of the process in November. It takes a three-fifths vote by both chambers of the General Assembly to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Under the proposed change, lawmakers would decide whether to expand gambling. The law requiring lawmakers as well as voters to decide on any further gambling expansion was part of the constitutional amendment voters approved in 2008 to allow casinos. State analysts project Maryland’s six casinos will generate about $1.8 billion in gross gambling revenue in fiscal year 2021. That includes $542 million for the state’s Education Trust Fund.
Eastham: One of the jurors who convicted notorious crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger says she regrets her decision after learning that he was an unwitting participant in a covert CIA experiment with LSD. Bulger terrorized Boston from the 1970s into the 1990s with a campaign of murder, extortion and drug trafficking, then spent 16 years on the lam after he was tipped to his pending arrest. In 2013, Janet Uhlar was one of 12 jurors who found Bulger guilty in a massive racketeering case, including involvement in 11 murders, even after hearing evidence that the mobster was helped by corrupt FBI agents. But now Uhlar says she regrets voting to convict Bulger on any of the murder charges. Her regret stems from a cache of more than 70 letters Bulger wrote to her from prison. In some, he describes his unwitting participation in a secret CIA experiment with LSD. The agency dosed Bulger with the powerful hallucinogen more than 50 times – something his lawyers never brought up in his federal trial.
Detroit: The city’s Animal Care & Control office wants a live release rate next year of at least 90% for animals coming through its shelter. Live release rates include adoptions, animal transfers and returning stray dogs to owners. The average monthly rate by the end of last year was 77%, according to the city. Changes to how the office operates were announced last year. Animal care, under the city’s Health Department, handles sheltering, treatment licensing and adoptions. Animal control is under the General Services Division and responds to citizen complaints, strays and ticketing owners violating city ordinances. Animal Care has hired two new veterinarians for its shelter. The city also is investing $3 million to expand the shelter to help house 250 dogs. Currently, it can house 150 dogs.
St. Paul: With the threat of spring flooding looming, Gov. Tim Walz asked lawmakers Tuesday to approve $30 million to replenish a state disaster aid fund that was drained by a string of disasters last year. Walz said an updated flood forecast from the National Weather Service is expected in early March, but there are “flashing yellow lights” already due to the “incredibly wet fall” that left soils saturated in many parts of the state heading into the winter, as well as the heavy snowpack since then. “It would be irresponsible not to assume that we’re going to have a pretty wet spring and the potential for flooding as there was last year,” the governor said at a news conference. Rep. Gene Pelowski, of Winona, who created the state’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account, is sponsoring the proposal and plans to hold a hearing on it Monday.
Biloxi: A 12-year-old-girl received a black doll with beads forming a noose around its neck at a Mardi Gras parade, and officials said Monday that police were investigating the incident as a hate crime. Nicole Fairconeture of Pass Christian said she and her family were attending the Krewe of Nereids parade Sunday when a man riding on one of the floats called her daughter to get a Mardi Gras throw. “She grabbed the item, put it to her chest, and was coming back and he called her back,” Fairconeture told The Sun Herald newspaper. “When she turned around, he said, ‘That’s you.’ ” The doll was black and “was dressed like a slave,” Fairconeture said. The upset mother found police and handed the doll to the officers; her uncle later filed a police report. Waveland Mayor Mike Smith said the incident is being considered a hate crime, with both Waveland and Bay St. Louis police working on the investigation.
Jefferson City: State House lawmakers on Monday advanced a bill that would allow doctors to track prescription drugs in an effort to combat the opioid epidemic, but there are still significant roadblocks to making Missouri the final state to adopt such a system. All other states have adopted a prescription drug monitoring program, which is a database that provides physicians and pharmacists with a patient’s prescription history so they can intervene with medical help for those who could be struggling with addiction. At least six Republican senators in the newly formed Conservative Caucus oppose the measure, citing privacy concerns and saying they’re not convinced a database would stop overdoses. House lawmakers voted 98-56 to pass the bill Monday. It now heads to the state Senate, where Republican Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin said she and other members of the Conservative Caucus are prepared to stand and speak against the bill for hours.
Bozeman: State officials say the livestock disease brucellosis has been found in elk in the Ruby Mountains, the latest evidence that the disease slowly continues to spread among wildlife in the Yellowstone region. Two elk tested positive for exposure to the disease during recent sampling by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. State Veterinarian Marty Zaluski says it’s the first time brucellosis has been found in the mountain range east of Dillon. The two infected animals were among 100 elk that were tested. The bacterial disease can infect cattle, bison and elk. It causes female animals to prematurely abort their young and can spread through infected birth tissues and fluids. It’s been essentially eradicated in U.S. livestock herds but persists in wildlife populations in and around Yellowstone National Park.
Omaha: Results from new tests for the COVID-19 disease on 13 people evacuated to an Omaha hospital from a cruise ship in Japan await confirmation from federal experts, a hospital spokesman said Tuesday. Taylor Wilson with Nebraska Medicine said results from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention aren’t expected for several days. The 13 were part of a larger group of American citizens who’d been aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship and flown back to the U.S. One of the 13 was placed in a biocontainment unit at Nebraska Medical Center to receive a higher level of care because he had a cough and other symptoms in addition to a chronic illness that places him at higher risk for complications. The other 12 are in the National Quarantine Unit nearby on the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus, officials said.
Rachel: The Alienstock festival could attract thousands of extraterrestrial fans to the area for a second consecutive year if county commissioners grant permission. The owners of restaurant and motel Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel announced plans to host Alienstock 2020 for three days beginning Sept. 10, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Last year’s event was conceived after a viral Facebook meme urged people to storm the gate of the secretive Air Force base commonly known as Area 51, which has long been rumored to house extraterrestrial technology. The prospective gate-crashers were urged to head to the site to “see them aliens.” The first Alienstock – featuring music acts, food vendors and other activities – saw a peak attendance of about 3,000 visitors. Little A’Le’Inn owner Connie West’s request to host a second Alienstock is expected to be heard at a future Lincoln County Commission meeting.
Manchester: The state has been chosen as the site of a new public-private partnership focused on biotechnology. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is launching the nation’s first Foundry for American Biotechnology in Manchester, led by inventor Dean Kamen’s Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute. The goal is to develop technology and products that will allow Americans to recover faster from natural disasters and other public health emergencies. The foundry’s first project will focus on small devices that could be brought to disaster locations to make medicines on-site. The consortium will include the federal Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response as well as representatives from industrial pharmaceutical and industrial automation sectors.
Morristown: NJ Transit’s next phase of positive train control testing has the green light from the Federal Railroad Administration as the agency races to complete the mandated safety project before Dec. 31. The first line scheduled for revenue service demonstration, or testing when passengers are on the trains during normal service, is the Morristown Line between Summit and Denville. Field testing without passengers has recently expanded to other lines, NJ Transit CEO and President Kevin Corbett said at last week’s board meeting, and that testing will continue. Positive train control is technology that involves installing software and transponders to communicate about how fast trains should be going on certain areas of track. The system, once fully installed, will automatically slow or stop a train if a locomotive engineer does not.
Santa Fe: The state has moved to phase out medical cannabis cards for nonresidents starting at midyear, under a bill approved by the Legislature on Monday and supported by the governor. More than 600 people from Texas, Arizona and beyond have enrolled as patients in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program since September based on a change in state statute signed into law last year by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. State health officials backtracked and said the residency requirement was dropped unintentionally from that legislation. They urged legislators this year to reinstate the requirement, arguing that opening up the program to states without legal marijuana might prompt federal intervention and tempt out-of-state patients to illegally transport marijuana across state lines. House lawmakers voted 44-19 on Monday to restore the residency requirement.
Albany: Retailers have begun giving up single-use plastic bags as the state prepares for the March 1 implementation of a ban aimed at reducing pollution, but many of those who support a move away from plastic are worried the new law doesn’t go far enough. The law bars many types of businesses from using the thin plastic bags that have been clogging up landfills, getting tangled in trees, and accumulating in lakes and seas. Single-use paper bags will still be allowed, but counties have the option of imposing a 5 cent fee. As the deadline to drop plastic bags nears, though, some environmentalists worry the state’s new regulations include a loophole that could allow stores to skirt the ban by handing out plastic bags thick enough to be considered suitable for multiple uses. “It is a giant loophole which they should close in the future,” said Judith Enck, a former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who now leads the environmental advocacy group Beyond Plastics. “It’s not good for the environment if you go from thinner plastic bags to thicker plastic bags.”
Raleigh: A state trooper shouldn’t have been fired for losing his hat and lying about it, an appeals court ruled Tuesday in a case that’s spanned a decade and multiple trips through the courts. The case of the lost hat began in 2009 when former Trooper Thomas Wetherington mislaid his signature round-brimmed hat during a traffic stop and later told a supervisor it had blown off his head. The matter has gone all the way to the state Supreme Court once before and generated more than 1,000 pages of legal briefs, rulings and evidence. “It is unlikely so many lawyers have ever before written so many pages because of a lost hat,” wrote North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Donna Stroud in an opinion joined by the two other judges. The hat was eventually found by a motorist and returned.
Fargo: A former officer in a labor union is accused of embezzling from the organization. An indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Fargo accuses Chad Michael Waldoch of stealing more than $107,000 from the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, Transportation Local 980. Court documents say the assets were embezzled between January 2012 and October 2017 while Waldoch served as the union’s secretary-treasurer. KFGO reports Waldoch was arrested Friday in Fargo. A trial is scheduled to begin March 31.
Portsmouth: A judge has dismissed a professor’s lawsuit against a small, public university that rebuked him for not addressing a transgender student using the student’s preferred gender terms. Nicholas Meriwether’s federal lawsuit alleged that Shawnee State University officials violated his rights by compelling him to speak in a way that contradicts his Christian beliefs. Schools officials contended that such language was part of his job responsibilities, not speech protected by the First Amendment, and that the case should be dismissed. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott dismissed it last week, agreeing that the manner in which Meriwether addressed the student wasn’t protected under the First Amendment. Meriwether had received a written warning for violating the school’s nondiscrimination policy and unsuccessfully challenged his reprimand in a grievance process. Meriwether said he treated the student like “other biologically male students.”
Oklahoma City: A state panel led by Gov. Kevin Stitt certified a relatively flat budget for the upcoming fiscal year Tuesday, and the governor urged the Legislature to use caution while drafting a state spending plan. The State Board of Equalization certified the Legislature will have about $8.2 billion to spend on the upcoming budget, about 1% less than current spending levels. But the governor cautioned that included in that spending level is about $310 million in one-time cash that won’t be available next year. That money is left over from a 5% cushion that’s built into each year’s state budget, but is unlikely to be available next year. As a result, Stitt urged lawmakers to spend that money on one-time items, like technology upgrades or building construction, and not build it into the base for state agency spending.
Salem: Experts say the big one is coming to the Pacific Northwest – a massive earthquake that will cause buildings and bridges to collapse and unleash a tsunami that will devastate the coast. But, doubling down on its decision last year to allow the construction of critical facilities in tsunami inundation zones, the Legislature appears headed to approve building standards for those facilities, like police and fire stations. The House Committee on Natural Resources last week approved the measure 6-1, sending it to the House floor for a vote. A leading earthquake expert, the lone dissenting voter, says lawmakers are making a big mistake. “I don’t think that we should have ever opened up tsunami inundation zones to important infrastructure like police, fire stations and so forth. So that’s why I’ll be voting no for the bill,” Rep. Chris Gorsek, a Democrat from the Portland suburb of Troutdale, told the committee.
Philadelphia: The former president of a now-suspended Temple University fraternity has been convicted in an attempted sexual assault case but acquitted of sex assault charges in another case. Jurors convicted 23-year-old Ari Goldstein of attempted sexual assault and indecent assault of a woman who was a freshman at the north Philadelphia university in February 2018. But jurors acquitted the Wrightstown resident of sexual assault and indecent assault of a woman in the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house in November 2017. Jurors deliberated for about two hours Friday and resumed deliberations Tuesday morning. Goldstein, who did not visibly react to the split verdict, was taken into custody pending a sentencing hearing in May. Defense attorney Perry de Marco Sr. argued that the encounters were consensual and that one of the women had engaged in a “sustained” sexual relationship with his client.
Providence: Legislation is advancing in the General Assembly to draw more movie and television productions to the state. The House of Representatives passed a motion picture tax credit bill, sending it to the state Senate. The bill was sponsored by House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin Abney, a Newport Democrat, to amend the current program by allowing productions to use tax credits even if the majority of filming isn’t done within the state, as long as at least $10 million is spent in Rhode Island within a year. Currently, a production must shoot the majority of its project within Rhode Island to qualify for the program. Abney said this stipulation has caused larger productions to bypass the state. “If you want to see James Bond running through the Newport mansions or perhaps your favorite Marvel superhero on the streets of Providence, you should support this much-needed bill,” Abney said in a statement.
Orangeburg: Racist graffiti tagged on all four sides of a black-owned business is being investigated as a hate crime. The owners of Cloud 9 Hookah Lounge and Bistro painted the outside of the business Monday to cover up the graffiti found by an officer Sunday night, The Times and Democrat reports. Symbols including an inverted cross, “666” and “KKK” were spray-painted on the outside of the building. “We’re treating it as a hate crime until the investigation shows otherwise,” said Col. Ed Conner of the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety. Dean Gillespie, who owns the business with his brother, Aaron, says they decided to keep “pressing on” despite the graffiti. “There’s a multitude of emotions when you see it. There’s everything from sadness, hurt, anger,” Dean Gillespie said. “Regardless of who did it, it’s up there, and we have to accept it, and we have accept all of the emotions that come with it and be willing to have those tough conversations, those sensitive conversations, that nobody likes to have.”
Pierre: A proposal to start schools that focus on teaching Native American language and culture has gained a key ally in Gov. Kristi Noem. Noem has found herself at odds with many of the tribes in South Dakota as she pushed revamped laws to punish the “urging” of riots ahead of expected construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The Republican is looking for common ground with the tribes on things like law enforcement, meth addiction treatment and education. After initially opposing the proposal for Oceti Sakowin schools that teach Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota language and culture, Noem’s office helped present a revamped bill to a Senate committee Tuesday. The schools would attempt to address the low rates of high school graduation and college attendance in some Native American communities in the state.
Lebanon: A person using a metal detector found a mortar round Monday that experts said was live and dates back to World War II. The mortar, estimated at 10-12 inches long, was found behind Hartmann Plantation apartments, according to the Lebanon Police Department. The mortar is believed to have remained from when Wilson County was used for World War II training, police said. A Tennessee Highway Patrol bomb technician liaison and Fort Campbell personnel confirmed the mortar was live. The apartment complex was aware of the mortar discovery and Monday night’s detonation, Lebanon Police Department Sgt. PJ Hardy said. The mortar was too unstable to move a long distance and was moved to a safe area and detonated, according to police.
El Paso: The El Paso Zoo staff is celebrating the birth of a Przewalski’s horse, the second Mongolian horse to be born at the zoo. The good news comes after the recent death of an aging male Mexican gray wolf. Officials said the filly’s birth is part of vital conservation efforts for the endangered species. Przewalski’s horses are an endangered species that are managed in North America via an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan program. The filly is the second for parents Brianna and Vitalis. The first filly, Misha, was born in 2018 and has recently been transferred to a facility in Minnesota to acclimate to winter conditions before making another journey to the Orenburg Reserve located in the Preduralskaya Steppe in Russia.
Draper: Nearly 200 of the 540 positions at Utah State Prison are vacant, forcing state corrections officials to fill the shortage by busing in officers from another prison twice a day, officials said. Eight corrections officers travel more than 100 miles from the other state-run prison in Gunnison to the prison in Draper each morning, then another eight are sent there in the evening, KUTV-TV reports. The staffing shortage also has led to scheduled and mandatory overtime for officers, sometimes adding up to 63 hours of overtime or more a month, said former state legislator and current Fraternal Order of Police lodge director Chad Bennion. “It takes a toll,” Bennion said. He called the prison working conditions “pretty dire” and a matter of public safety. Corrections department officials confirmed the staffing shortage and their use of officers from the Gunnison prison, KUTV reports.
Manchester: The public may weigh in on an environmental assessment of a proposed U.S. Forest Service project on 71,000 acres in southern Vermont near the Somerset Reservoir. The land is mostly in Dover, Glastenbury, Searsburg, Somerset, Stratton, Wilmington and Woodford, with small sections in Sunderland and Wardsboro. The proposal includes activities to improve wildlife and fish habitat, restore soil and water conditions, increase recreation and scenery viewing opportunities, and improve the trail and road network, the Forest Service says. Timber harvesting is also included to provide wood products, improve forest health and diversity, and make more diverse plant and wildlife habitat, the Forest Service says. Written comments will be accepted until March 16.
Richmond: The General Assembly is moving to ban the discredited practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ children. Conversion therapy is a practice used to try to change sexual orientation or gender identity. The Virginia Senate voted Monday to ban licensed therapists and counselors from subjecting minors to the practice. The bill now heads to Gov. Ralph Northam, who is expected to sign it into law. The American Psychological Association has said conversion therapy is not based in science and is harmful to mental health. Many people who have been through it say it deepened feelings of depression and increased thoughts of suicide. Several Republican lawmakers have joined Democrats in passing the measure.
Sultan: Despite concerns from scientists and conservationists, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife says fishing does not make a large enough impact on wild winter steelhead to delay the fishing season. The season is scheduled to open May 23, The Everett Herald reports. The wild winter steelhead population in the Snohomish watershed has dropped by thousands since the 1980s, earning the fish a threatened designation under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2007. State biologists counted 28 steelhead in 2018 and 55 in 2019 on the Sultan River, a tributary of the Snohomish River. Some biologists and anglers argue the state has not seized an opportunity for an easy fix to the population decrease by delaying the start of the fishing season.
Charleston: The state Senate on Monday passed a bill to give pay raises to judges statewide. The bill, passed on a 29-3 vote, now goes to the House of Delegates. The West Virginia Judicial Compensation Commission recommended the raises in August, saying judges in the state are among the lowest-paid in the country. Supreme Court, circuit and magistrate judges would get 18.3% raises. Supreme Court justices would be paid almost $161,000 under the commission’s recommendations. Circuit judges would be paid $149,000, while magistrates would be paid $68,000. Family court judges would receive a more than 20% pay increase to bring their salaries up to nearly $114,000. The commission said the raises would bring West Virginia in line with national pay scales. The last judicial pay increase occurred in 2011.
Madison: A group of parents filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that the city school district’s transgender-student policy is unconstitutional because it prohibits teachers and staff from informing parents that their children want to switch sexes. Conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed the lawsuit on the parents’ behalf in Dane County Circuit Court. According to the lawsuit, Madison schools adopted a policy in 2018 that says a person’s gender identity can be male, female, a blend of both or neither and is determined by person’s sense of self. The policy says that the district is committed to affirming each student’s self-designated gender identity and that the district will strive to “disrupt the gender binary” with books and lessons stating that everyone has the right to choose their gender. The policy allows students to pick new names and pronouns they can use at school regardless of whether they have a parent’s permission.
Cheyenne: State officials have discussed purchasing land to improve public land access and generate new revenue, and Republican Gov. Mark Gordon has announced two pieces of legislation that would allow him to enter into negotiations to purchase more than 1,560 square miles of land, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. The bills would authorize the State Loan and Investment Board to appropriate funding from multiple state saving accounts to make the purchase in southern Wyoming along Interstate 80, officials said. The proposal also would ease land swaps between the government and the public, giving the state more flexibility to exchange public lands for private lands. Both bills are necessary to begin negotiations on the purchase, which the state hopes to close by the end of summer, Gordon said. It is unclear how much the purchase would cost.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Return of Alienstock, Mardi Gras hate crime: News from around our 50 states