Rocky Mountain dry, ashes of American flags, Tom Petty degree: News from around our 50 states


At 2,407 feet above sea level, Cheaha State Park, located on top of Cheaha Mountain, offers breathtaking views.
At 2,407 feet above sea level, Cheaha State Park, located on top of Cheaha Mountain, offers breathtaking views.

Delta: The highest point in the state, Cheaha Mountain, will soon become a repository for the ashes of retired American flags. A vault called “Old Glory Lookout” has been added to Cheaha State Park in Delta and will be dedicated Tuesday, on the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The vault will hold the remains of old U.S. flags, which are supposed to be destroyed by fire. A statement from Alabama’s state park system said the container consists of a steel vault encased in quartzite that was cut by members of the Civil Conservation Corps, a New Deal program formed in the 1930s under then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The vault is on the eastern slope of a ridge near a public boardwalk. The project is a joint effort between an American Legion post in Atmore and the park, located about 80 miles east of Birmingham. Paul Chason, adjutant for the American Legion post, said military, veteran and civic organizations will be able to inter flag ashes at the site. “We believe it is the first of its kind in America,” he said. Flags that were retired and burned during a ceremony on the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will be placed in the vault during the ceremony Tuesday.


Juneau: The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is suing the Alaska Redistricting Board over recently drawn legislative boundaries that it says dilutes the votes of its residents. The lawsuit – brought on behalf of the borough and Michael Brown, the borough manager – was filed Thursday, their attorney Stacey Stone said. The board finalized its maps Nov. 10, triggering a 30-day period in which challenges could be filed. The board was charged with rewriting Alaska’s political boundaries following the 2020 census. The lawsuit cites concerns with the degree to which the target population for House districts was exceeded in the region and says two shared districts, with Valdez and parts of the Denali Borough, ignore “logical, municipal, and natural boundaries.” Peter Torkelson, the board’s executive director, said the board “will review any legal challenges with our counsel and then respond through the court system as contemplated by the Alaska Constitution.” A plan proposed by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough included four full House and two shared House districts. It did not seek to be paired with Valdez in one of the shared districts. Officials with the borough and Valdez argued against such a pairing.


Scottsdale: A high school principal will not be back next year after a firestorm over a summer book assignment. The Paradise Valley Unified School District governing board voted Thursday not to renew the contract of Linda Ihnat, principal at Horizon High School. Ihnat failed to follow procedure when it came to informing parents about sensitive content in a book, according to board members. The book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson, was an option on an Advanced Placement English reading list last summer. The book examines victims of social media mobs and so-called cancel culture. Controversy erupted last month after some parents became aware of sexual content in the book, including references to orgies and bestiality. Ihnat was put on leave. Superintendent Troy Bales issued an apology letter to parents Nov. 16. He wrote that the book was not on a district approved literature list, nor was it age-appropriate. He also promised better reinforcement of procedures when it comes to relaying assigned books to parents. Several parents and students – some with signs – showed up to Thursday’s meeting to give public comment. Some protested and called for the teacher to be fired. But others argued that the sexual content was only a small portion of the book and that teachers should be given more discretion.


Fayetteville: A computer used by Josh Duggar at work contained child pornography behind a partition that allowed the user to circumvent an application that monitors internet use, and metadata indicates the images were downloaded when the former reality TV star was working, computer forensics experts testified. Duggar, 33, is charged with receiving and possessing child pornography and faces up to 20 years in prison on each count if convicted. His federal trial began last week in northwest Arkansas. Defense attorneys for Duggar have argued that someone else downloaded or placed the child pornography onto the work computer, noting that no child pornography was found on Duggar’s phone or laptop. But federal prosecutors have detailed logs showing, minute by minute, the activity on Duggar’s computer that alternated between him sending personal messages, downloading child porn and saving pictures of notes. On Thursday, Justice Department computer expert James Fottrell testified that a Linux open-source operating system and a browser capable of encryption were installed behind a partition on the used-car dealership’s desktop computer. That essentially split the hard drive into a public-facing side that was business-related and included the tracking program and a secret second side using Linux and the browser, experts said. This allowed anyone using the computer to evade an accountability program installed to report to Duggar’s wife about inappropriate internet activity, such as searching for pornography.


Los Angeles: A stench that emanated from a flood-control channel in a Los Angeles suburb and triggered thousands of complaints resulted from chemicals that flowed from a storage yard during a fire and caused vegetation to decay, air regulators said Friday. The South Coast Air Quality Management District said in a statement that it issued notices of violation to four companies and Los Angeles County, which is responsible for maintaining Dominguez Channel. The notices allege the emissions of hydrogen sulfide caused a public nuisance. The fire began Sept. 30 at a warehouse property in Carson where two companies stored large amounts of wellness and beauty products, and chemicals including ethanol subsequently flowed into the channel, the district said. Complaints of a rotten-egg stench began Oct. 3 and eventually came from thousands of people in at least a half-dozen communities in the area. The air district sent violation notices to two companies’ whose products were involved, the company that owns the property and its parent company, and LA County. Prologis Inc., the parent of the company that owns the property, said in a statement that it was working with the Los Angeles County Fire Department to safeguard the property from stormwater runoff and to clean up the fire debris.


Denver: The Mile High City’s winter has started with a whimper, and the parched mountains to the west aren’t faring much better. Denver has already shattered its 87-year-old record for the latest measurable snowfall, set on Nov. 21, 1934, and it’s days away from breaking an 1887 record of 235 consecutive days without snow. The scenario is playing out across much of the Rocky Mountains, as the West at large is experiencing a megadrought that studies link to human-caused climate change. The warm, dry weather has drawn crowds to restaurant and bar patios in Denver, and the city’s parks and trails have been bustling with people basking in the sunshine in shorts, short sleeves and occasionally flip flops. As enjoyable as the weather is, climate scientists and meteorologists are warning that prolonged drought could threaten the region’s water supply and agriculture industry. It also could hurt tourism, which relies heavily on skiers, snowboarders, rafters and anglers. “Every day that goes by that we don’t see precipitation show up, and we see this year-to-year persistence of drought conditions, it just adds to a deficit. And we continue to add to this deficit year after year, particularly in the Colorado River Basin,” said Keith Musselman, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder.


Norwalk: Multiple students at a southwestern Connecticut high school were hospitalized after using a vaping product at school. WABC-TV reports police responded to the school Friday afternoon after receiving a report of a student needing medical attention. Officers found several students had used a vaping product that appeared to have been tainted somehow and made the students very ill. The Brien McMahon High School students were taken to Norwalk Hospital for treatment. The Norwalk Public Schools district did not immediately respond to a message Saturday seeking an update on the students and more information about the incident. Police warned parents to discuss the dangers of vaping products with their children and said they can be tainted with dangerous or deadly chemicals.


Dover: A federal judge on Friday rejected a request by the University of Delaware to allow the state Supreme Court to weigh in on a lawsuit over coronavirus restrictions imposed by school officials last year. The judge ruled in August that current and former students could pursue claims that the university breached contractual obligations and unjustly enriched itself by halting in-person classes and shutting down the campus last spring. The plaintiffs are seeking partial refunds of their spring 2020 tuition and fees. Judge Stephanos Bibas said in his August ruling that the students had plausibly alleged the school promised them in-person classes, activities and services. “True, the school never promised them expressly. But promises need not be express to be enforceable,” he wrote. “By its statements and history of offering classes in person, the school may have implied a promise to stay in person.” Following that ruling, the university sought to petition the Delaware Supreme Court for a determination on whether state law permits an implied contract to be formed between a university and a student where an express written contract exists. The university also wanted the court to determine whether any implied terms sought by a student are limited to those involving “good faith and fair dealing.”

District of Columbia

A 2021 gingerbread White House includes eight detailed replicas of community buildings representing front-line workers.
A 2021 gingerbread White House includes eight detailed replicas of community buildings representing front-line workers.

Washington: Holiday decorations unveiled last week for Joe and Jill Biden’s first White House Christmas honor front-line workers who persevered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses, doctors, teachers, grocery store workers and others are recognized in this year’s gigantic Gingerbread White House, which was made into a 350-pound gingerbread village with the addition of a school and police, fire and gas stations, as well as a hospital, a post office, a grocery store and a warehouse to honor workers who stayed on the job. Fewer people are likely to see the decked-out mansion in person this year, with public tours still suspended because of the continuing threat from COVID-19. But videos, photos and other details are available at “Gifts from the Heart” is the theme. In remarks thanking volunteers for decorating, the first lady explained the vision behind her theme, speaking of unity and her view that everyone comes together around faith, family and friendship, gratitude and service, and love for one’s community. Front-line workers are also represented in the iridescent doves and shooting stars that illuminate the East Colonnade hallway, “representing the peace and light brought to us by all the front-line workers and first responders during the pandemic,” the guidebook says.


A cutout of Tom Petty sits in the stands before the start of a University of Florida Gators game against South Carolina at Griffin Stadium in Gainesville on Oct. 3, 2020.
A cutout of Tom Petty sits in the stands before the start of a University of Florida Gators game against South Carolina at Griffin Stadium in Gainesville on Oct. 3, 2020.

Gainesville: Nearly two decades after earning a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and more than four years after his death, rock icon Tom Petty has been awarded an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Florida. The school’s board of trustees unanimously voted to award Thomas Earl Petty a posthumous doctoral degree in music during a Friday meeting. Born and raised in Gainesville, Petty once worked as a groundskeeper at UF as he tried to make it in the music industry, but he was never enrolled. Petty passed away from an accidental drug overdose in October 2017. Days later during a UF home football game, the song “I Won’t Back Down” was played at the stadium as a memorial to Petty. The song has since become a regular feature at Gators games. Usually backed by the Heartbreakers, Petty broke through in the 1970s and went on to sell more than 80 million records, featuring hits like “Free Fallin,’ ” “Refugee” and “American Girl.” Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.


Atlanta: The University of Georgia is asking regents to name two buildings for some of the university’s earliest Black graduates. Last week’s proposal followed a decision by the University System of Georgia regents not to remove names of any people associated with slavery, segregation or the mistreatment of Native Americans from 75 buildings statewide. University President Jere Morehead said UGA would seek to name its existing science library for Shirley Mathis McBay, the first African American to earn a doctorate from the university. UGA also is asking regents to name a dormitory under construction for Harold A. Black, Mary Blackwell Diallo and Kerry Rushin Miller. They were the first three African American students to enroll at UGA as freshmen and graduate. Regents decide the names of buildings and facilities at all of Georgia’s 26 public universities and colleges. Their next scheduled meeting is in January. “Through these namings, we acknowledge the importance of these pioneers in the history of our institution,” Morehead said in a statement. “We celebrate their remarkable achievements and recognize the profoundly positive, lasting impact they have made on the University of Georgia.”


Honolulu: Amid a continuing crisis over fuel contaminating the Navy’s tap water at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu’s water utility said Friday that it shut off one of its wells so it doesn’t taint its own supply with petroleum from an underground aquifer it shares with the military. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply said it acted shortly after the Navy on Thursday disclosed that a water sample from one of its wells had shown the presence of petroleum. The well is near a giant World War II-era underground fuel tank complex that has been the source of multiple fuel leaks over the years. The tap water problems have afflicted one of the military’s most important bases, home to submarines, ships and the commander of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific region. They also threaten to jeopardize one of Honolulu’s most important aquifers and water sources. Nearly 1,000 military households have complained about their tap water smelling like fuel or of physical ailments like stomach cramps and vomiting. The Navy water system serves 93,000 people. The Navy said Thursday that it would flush clean water through its distribution system to clear residual petroleum products from the water, followed by testing to make sure the water meets Environmental Protection Agency drinking standards. The Navy said it will investigate how contaminants got into the well and fix it.


Boise: Far-right activist Ammon Bundy says hours he spent campaigning to be the next governor should count toward his community service requirement after he was convicted of obstructing police during his arrest for trespassing at the state Capitol. Aaron Welling, Bundy’s campaign treasurer, wrote to Ada County’s 4th District Court that Bundy has “completed 1,621 hours of public service,” doing what appears to be campaign activities. In the letter submitted late last month on campaign letterhead, Welling said that Bundy has traveled the state while encouraging people to “become more active in holding public officials accountable” and that he encouraged people to register to vote. When asked by phone whether the letter described community service or campaign activities, Welling told the Idaho Press newspaper: “It is what it is. If the courts don’t like it, the courts don’t like it.” Bundy was convicted of misdemeanor trespassing and resisting or obstructing officers during a jury trial earlier this summer. He was ordered to pay more than $1000 in fines and sentenced to a few days in jail, but the sentence was commuted to 40 hours of public service to be completed within 6 months. The conviction stemmed from Bundy’s Aug. 25, 2020, arrest after he refused to leave an auditorium in the Statehouse that officials ordered cleared.


Chicago: A civil rights attorney joined Jelani Day’s mother Friday to demand the FBI take charge of an investigation into why the Illinois State University graduate student disappeared in August and was later found dead in a river. Ben Crump told a news conference at Rainbow PUSH headquarters in Chicago that the Justice Department must step in and investigate Day’s death as urgently as it has probed cases of suspected foul play involving white victims, such as Gabby Petito. Crump, who is Black, gained prominence by representing the families of victims of police brutality and vigilante violence. “We will make him a priority,” Crump said Friday of Day. “There is a killer out there on the loose of this young Black man, and we need to find him.” A coroner determined in October that Day died from drowning but said it was unclear how the 25-year-old had gone into the Illinois River, 60 miles north of Bloomington, where he was last seen. LaSalle County’s coroner said an autopsy on Day found no evidence of “manual strangulation, an assault or altercation, sharp, blunt or gunshot injury.” Authorities have said his death remains under investigation. But Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, said law enforcement officials have all but told her they believe her son died by suicide, which she dismissed out of hand.


Avery Stafancic, 4, watches Peanut Butter and Jelly, the two national Thanksgiving turkeys, as they walk around a pen on Purdue University's Memorial Mall on Nov. 29 in West Lafayette, Ind. The turkeys were grown in Southern Indiana and pardoned by President Joe Biden on Nov. 19. Now they'll reside at Purdue’s Animal Science Research and Education Center.
Avery Stafancic, 4, watches Peanut Butter and Jelly, the two national Thanksgiving turkeys, as they walk around a pen on Purdue University's Memorial Mall on Nov. 29 in West Lafayette, Ind. The turkeys were grown in Southern Indiana and pardoned by President Joe Biden on Nov. 19. Now they'll reside at Purdue’s Animal Science Research and Education Center.

West Lafayette: The two Indiana-raised turkeys given Thanksgiving pardons by President Joe Biden are now at their new Purdue University home. The turkeys arrived last week and were welcomed by visitors on the West Lafayette campus’ Memorial Mall. The turkeys named Peanut Butter and Jelly will live at Purdue’s Animal Sciences Research and Education Center, where the school says they’ll spend their days in an enclosed setting with access to a shaded grassy area. Animal sciences professor Marisa Erasmus told WLFI-TV that having the turkeys on campus will provide a chance to explain more about the birds. Indiana ranks fourth in the country in turkey production, according to Purdue. The two turkeys were raised by Jasper, Indiana-based Farbest Farms, which says it oversees the raising of about 15 million turkeys each year with growers in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. The birds were featured in a Nov. 19 ceremony at the White House during which Biden continued the annual tradition of sparing them from the fate met by millions of turkeys on Thanksgiving Day.


Des Moines: The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, launched in 2015 by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, has finally worked through the state’s evidence kit backlog, Attorney General Tom Miller announced last week. Iowa received $3 million in federal grant money to tackle its backlog, with roughly 3,800 untested evidence kits collected prior to April 2015, including some dating back to the 1990s. The initiative worked with a private lab to test 1,606 of those kits, resulting in 852 valid DNA samples and 290 matches with other DNA profiles in federal databases. Twenty-six of those belonged to people previously convicted of sex crimes. Others were referred to local prosecutors and have so far resulted in four criminal cases and two convictions. In announcing the conclusion of the project Tuesday, Miller touted not only the hard work of sorting out the backlog but also procedural changes and additional staffing that will allow the state to process sexual assault evidence faster, with more transparency to victims, and without allowing another backlog to develop despite an 87% increase in kits submitted to the state lab for testing. “We’ve gone from a backlog that was a significant problem to a system where it takes eight weeks to test – and it can be tracked during that eight weeks,” Miller said.


Topeka: Dr. Lee Norman, who led the state through the coronavirus pandemic until his abrupt departure last month, has said in an interview that he was “Fauci’d” out by COVID-19 politics. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly announced Nov. 19 that Norman had stepped down both as top administrator at the state Department of Health and Environment and as state health officer. He had been the health department’s top administrator since Kelly took office in January 2019. He was replaced quickly by Janet Stanek, a longtime hospital administrator from Topeka. But in an interview with Kansas News Service published Tuesday, Norman said he resigned because he was asked. He cited constant friction between the governor and the Republican-led Legislature. “The shameful treatment in the Trump administration of public health leaders, I think, set the stage for having the same thing happen at the state level,” Norman said, citing frequent criticism from the right of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert. Referring to the constant criticism, Norman said: “To be honest with you, I think I was Fauci’d.” Kelly, in announcing Norman’s departure, praised him as “the most consequential” leader in the department’s history.


Murray: A century-old Confederate statue outside a western Kentucky courthouse has been vandalized with red paint, authorities said. The incident involving a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee outside the Calloway County Courthouse was reported Thursday morning, Sheriff Nicky Knight told the Murray Ledger and Times. The monument had red paint on its base as well as the statue of Lee atop it before volunteers with Sons of Confederate Veterans and other community members cleaned it, news outlets report. The statue had drawn calls for its removal last year, including a resolution from the Murray City Council asking county officials to “expeditiously remove and relocate” the monument. County officials decided to keep it, saying it was erected to honor residents who fought for the Confederacy and not, “as several have argued, for the purpose of promoting continued oppression.”


Holly Beach: Dredging has begun for a marsh creation project in southwestern Louisiana. The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority said the Great Lakes Dredge and Dock is expected to complete the 308 acres of marsh in January in Cameron Parish northwest of Holly Beach. “The project will restore critical habitat for fish, wildlife, and the people and communities who depend on those resources,” the authority’s executive director, Bren Haase, said Thursday. This is the second phase of a $3 million project that started by creating 2.3 miles of terraces to slow waves. The agency says those were finished in June. The area has been hit hard by subsidence, drought, surges from storms including Hurricane Rita in 2005, and saltwater retention caused by poor drainage resulting from silted-in canals. The authority said 1.9 million cubic yards of sediment will be pumped from the Gulf of Mexico to make the new marsh. “The Cameron Meadows project will fortify the natural buffer that protects southwest Louisiana from storm surge while restoring hundreds of acres of coastal marsh habitat lost due to hurricanes and other factors,” agency chairman Chip Kline said.


Augusta: An abandoned Maine Central Railroad Company corridor is being converted to a new multiuse trail. The Madison Branch spans 32 miles across Kennebec and Somerset Counties and will connect with the Maine Interconnected Trail System and Maine ATV Trail System, officials said. “Snowmobiles and ATVs are as much a part of the Maine outdoor experience as hiking boots, snowshoes, and skis,” said Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. “My administration has listened to our off-road recreational vehicle riding community who wants to be able to travel long distances, legally and safely, and have a good time.” The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry completed the purchase in November from Pan Am Railways at the cost of just over $1 million.


Poolesville: A home was accidentally burned to the ground by an owner trying to get rid of a snake infestation, officials said. The homeowner in Poolesville, a town about 25 miles outside Washington, D.C., was attempting to use smoke to purge the snakes from the house, according to Montgomery County Fire Department officials. In the process, the homeowner caught the house on fire, causing about $1 million in damage, The Washington Post reports. The fire broke out about 10 p.m. Nov. 23, officials said. Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the county fire department, said on Twitter that 75 firefighters were called to put out the blaze that started in the basement. Piringer said that the fire, caused by placing coals too close to combustible material, was accidental and that no people were hurt. But he said the well-being of the snakes was “undetermined.”


Boston: Middle and high school students would learn about the history of genocide and human rights issues under a bill signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker last week. The bill requires middle schools and high schools in the state to include instruction on the history of genocide. The legislation comes as incidences of hate and antisemitism are on the rise across the country, with several incidents reported in Massachusetts over the past year, according to supporters of the legislation. Massachusetts has not required education on the Holocaust or other genocides as part of its classroom curriculum. Lawmakers renewed the push for mandating education about the history of genocide earlier this year after a Duxbury high school football coach was fired following reports that the team used antisemitic language, including a mention of Auschwitz, in its on-field play calling. This bill would create a Genocide Education Trust Fund to support the development of teaching materials and to provide professional development training for educators. The legislation would also require school districts to annually file a description of their lesson plan and programs to educate students about genocides with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.


Lansing: The state Senate on Thursday unanimously approved $3.3 billion in water infrastructure spending to replace lead pipes and repair aging dams around the state while also sending money to a Detroit-area system that has struggled with flooding blamed on climate change. The House will next consider the massive influx of aid, likely in the new year. It includes about $2.4 billion in federal funding – $1.4 billion from the infrastructure law enacted last month and nearly $1 billion from the pandemic rescue law passed in March. Senators initially proposed $600 million to replace service lines that can leach lead into drinking water if the supply isn’t properly treated. They upped it to $1 billion following the passage of the federal infrastructure bill. Benton Harbor currently is grappling with elevated lead levels in homes. The Natural Resources Defense Council has estimated Michigan has 460,000 lead pipes in the ground, the third-most in the country. State regulations, made tougher following Flint’s water crisis, generally require that every line be replaced by 2040 – which could cost $2.5 billion in today’s dollars.


Duluth: The U.S. Forest Service plans to reduce the number of entry permits for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness next year, citing damage to natural resources, crowding and congestion. The Forest Service didn’t say how many permits would be eliminated, nor which entry points into the million-acre wilderness would be affected. Superior National Forest spokeswoman Joanna Gilkeson said the reduction will be spread across the entire wilderness, with a focus on more popular entry points and lakes where visitors have complained over the years about resource damage and an inability to find campsites. The number of visitors to the Boundary Waters has surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic as people look for more outdoor recreation. Nearly 166,000 people visited the BWCA in 2020, a 16% jump from the previous year and the most in at least a decade, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The number of permits issued jumped from about 25,000 to more than 30,000, Minnesota Public Radio News reports. The increased popularity played a role in what Forest Service officials said was “unprecedented natural resource damage,” including cutting of trees, littering, and improper disposal of human waste. There were also reports of increased crowding and noise levels, plus disruptive, oversized groups.


Jackson: A federal judge has declared that a state law allowing landlords to seize tenants’ belongings during the eviction process is unconstitutional. In his Tuesday order, U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills called the Mississippi law “unpredictable and absurd” and said it goes further than eviction statutes in any other state in the U.S. Under current law, “Mississippi tenants who overstay their lease may be confronted with the loss of virtually everything they own, even cherished belongings such as family photos and diplomas which have no discernable economic value to the lessor,” Mills wrote. Mills was tasked with reviewing Mississippi’s law after Columbus resident Samantha Conner filed a lawsuit last year against an apartment rental company, the apartment’s owner and manager, and the Lowndes County constable. She was aided by a low-income housing clinic at the University of Mississippi School of Law. When she was evicted in 2019, Conner said, her landlord changed the locks on her apartment and refused to let her take any of her belongings from inside, including her computer and hard drive needed for her work as a paralegal, keepsakes from when her son was a baby, family photographs and personal records. Many of her personal items were later discarded by her landlord.


Columbia: A state health department analysis shows cities that have required masks to combat the coronavirus pandemic this year saw fewer infections, but Republican Gov. Mike Parson insisted Thursday that mandates don’t work. The analysis was first reported Wednesday by The Missouri Independent and the Documenting COVID-19 project at the Brown Institute for Media Innovation following an open-records request. Parson’s office asked the health department for information on the impact of mask mandates on infections, according to emails obtained in the request. In response, the agency last month compared infection rates in urban centers, where mask mandates were in place, with rural areas between April and November. The data shows that cities with mask mandates saw fewer infections and deaths across the board. Parson on Thursday responded to the Independent’s report with a scathing 12-part Twitter thread attacking the reporter. He described the article as “purposefully misleading” and said it left out important context. “There is no definite evidence that proves mandates solely saved lives and prevented COVID-19 infections in Missouri’s biggest cities,” Parson said. He added that mask mandates “do not work and can have collateral health consequences.”


Billings: Helium prospecting is picking up in north-central Montana, with Canadian companies expanding south after years of development in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Montana oil and gas records show at least two companies drilling wells in an area spanning Toole, Hill and Liberty counties. Developers say geological formations on the U.S. side of the border share similarities with areas in Canada where helium development has become part of a larger plan for long-term economic development. “It all goes back to geology,” Genga Nadaraju, Avanti Energy vice president of subsurface geology, told The Billings Gazette. “Helium is the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium. It comes up from basement rock. Helium is everywhere, but in that area, there are higher concentrations of helium and the right geological conditions. We have reservoir rock, we have structure and we have a seal where you can trap it.” Drilling information at the Montana Board of Oil, Gas and Conservation shows development in potential helium sites. Permit holders have six months to show the state what they’re drilling for, but companies are disclosing Montana development to would-be investors.


Omaha: U.S. Rep. Don Bacon is among a list of Republicans being targeted by former President Donald Trump, who is calling for a “Republican patriot” to challenge the Omaha lawmaker in next year’s primary election. On Wednesday, Trump reiterated in a statement his call for Bacon and 12 other lawmakers to face primary challenges, the Omaha World-Herald reports. Trump has targeted Bacon for his vote last month in support of President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. Bacon was one of 13 House Republicans who voted for the bill. Bacon’s campaign said Wednesday that Trump is “entitled to his views” but that the congressman “has a strong record of delivering results for the people of Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District.” Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts also issued a statement Wednesday defending Bacon, saying the congressman “has served our country honorably, he has done a good job serving the 2nd Congressional District, and has earned their trust time after time.” So far, no primary challenger has filed to run against Bacon. At least two Democrats – state Sen. Tony Vargas, of Omaha, and Omaha therapist and mental health advocate Alisha Shelton – have announced their candidacies for the seat.


Carson City: In a federal effort to forcibly assimilate Native Americans into Euro-American culture, more than 20,000 students were sent to the Stewart Indian School, among more than 350 residential schools that the U.S. Interior Department plans to examine as part of the Federal Boarding School Initiative Review. On Friday, Gov. Steve Sisolak heard stories from tribal elders about the school’s history. The governor, tribal leaders, state agency heads and Interior officials discussed ways the state – which funded the school’s construction and helped gather children to send there – can contribute to the federal efforts to confront historic injustices and intergenerational trauma and honor the children who died at boarding schools. Descendants of Paiute, Washoe and Shoshone people who attended Stewart during the 90 years it was in operation told stories of bounties being offered to bring Native children to the school; of students attempting to run away due to starvation; and of extreme overcrowding in dormitories. The governor apologized on behalf of the state and promised to fully cooperate with the Interior Department and its first Native American secretary, Deb Haaland, as they review records and investigate the federal government’s past policies and oversight of Native American boarding schools.

New Hampshire

Concord: The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a long-brewing mental health crisis for the state’s children, particularly those whose illness manifests as aggression, according to the latest annual report by a state watchdog agency. The 2021 report released Thursday by the Office of the Child Advocate highlights the state’s recent rollout of community-based services to prevent psychiatric hospitalizations and the long waits in emergency rooms that often precede them. But implementation was long delayed, and in the meantime, the pandemic further stressed children with “isolation, uncertainty and fear,” the report says. The effect was greatest on children with chronic developmental disabilities or those whose illness was so neglected or aggravated that they became assaultive or aggressive, according to the report. Moira O’Neill, the child advocate, said such children have been systemically excluded from acute psychiatric care at Hampstead Hospital, the private psychiatric hospital that the state is in the process of purchasing for children’s treatment. The state moved children from New Hampshire Hospital to Hampstead last year, but the contract excludes patients with “violent or aggressive behaviors resulting in criminal charges or serious bodily harm.”

New Jersey

Atlantic City: The city will host a three-day country music concert festival next August, headlined by Luke Bryan and Morgan Wallen. The Tidalwave Music Festival will be held on the beach Aug. 12-14, 2022. An additional headliner will be announced in the coming weeks. “We knew we wanted to bring our country music festival concept to the northeast coast, but the location had to be just right,” said Brian O’Connell, president of country touring at Live Nation. “The perfect spot by the ocean in Atlantic City. We can’t wait until next summer to bring these world-class acts, alongside a tailor-made festival experience.” Also performing will be Lauren Alaina, Blanco Brown, Breland, Travis Denning, Riley Green, Lindsay Ell, Hardy, Jon Langston, Tracy Lawrence, Chase Rice, Runaway June, Elvie Shane, DeeJay Silver, Mitchell Tenpenny and Lainey Wilson. Three-day passes will go on sale beginning Dec. 13 at 10 a.m. EST at

New Mexico

Santa Fe: James Lujan has resigned as Rio Arriba County sheriff after being sentenced to prison on felony convictions of aiding a felon and intimidating a witness in 2017. Lujan submitted his resignation Thursday after being sentenced to a three-year prison term, one day after state District Court jurors convicted him following a three-day trial. A judge denied a request by Lujan’s attorney that his client remain free pending an appeal, and the 60-year-old Lujan was taken into custody by Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputies. Lujan was convicted on charges stemming from allegations he helped former Española City Councilor Philip Chacon evade police following a high-speed chase. The jury found Lujan guilty of harboring a felon for helping conceal Chacon as police were searching for him. Lujan also was found guilty of bribery of a witness for threatening one of his deputies to prevent him from revealing Chacon’s whereabouts to other officers.

New York

New York: A new allegation of sexual harassment against Chris Cuomo emerged just days before CNN announced it was firing the anchor amid an investigation into work he did defending his brother from similar harassment allegations. Attorney Debra Katz said Sunday that her client was the victim of “serious sexual misconduct” by Cuomo and that she had contacted CNN about the woman’s allegations Wednesday. CNN suspended Cuomo last week after details emerged about how he assisted his brother, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as the politician faced sexual harassment allegations. Katz said the accuser decided to come forward came after the New York attorney general’s office released evidence showing Chris Cuomo had taken a much more active role than previously thought in strategizing and helping to craft a response to the allegations his brother was facing. When the initial allegations surfaced against the then-governor, Chris Cuomo had told viewers he had “always cared very deeply about these issues,” Katz said. “Hearing the hypocrisy of Chris Cuomo’s on-air words and disgusted by his efforts to try to discredit these women, my client retained counsel to report his serious sexual misconduct against her to CNN,” Katz said in the statement.

North Carolina

Raleigh: The state’s 2022 elections under new legislative and congressional maps can begin as scheduled this week after judges on Friday rejected demands from lawsuit filers who claim the lines have to be blocked because they so egregiously favor Republicans. The refusal of a three-judge panel to issue preliminary injunctions against the boundaries drawn and approved by GOP majorities in the General Assembly last month means candidate filings for the March 8 primary may start at noon Monday. One of the lawsuits, filed by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, mathematicians and voters, challenges both the legislative and congressional maps. The other, filed by voters supported by a group affiliated with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, focuses solely on the state’s U.S. House map. The judges said there was a reasonable doubt about whether the lines violated the state constitution. The plaintiffs in the League of Conservation Voters lawsuit filed an appeal notice with the state Court of Appeals late Friday. And Friday’s ruling doesn’t throw out the lawsuits that formed the basis for the injunction requests heard in Wake County court.

North Dakota

Bismarck: The cost of the state’s special five-day session last month is within the amount allotted, a legislative budget analyst said Thursday. Figures released to the Associated Press show costs incurred by taxpayers total just more than $301,000. About $316,000 was budgeted for the session, highlighted by redistricting legislation and the spending of nearly the entire amount of the $1.1 billion in federal coronavirus aid available to the state. The Republican-led Legislature also approved policy-related measures, including bills banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the teaching of certain concepts about race and racism in public schools. Eleven of the Legislature’s 141 members had not submitted lodging and mileage expenses as of Thursday, said Allen Knudson, the lead budget analyst at the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s research arm. “We expect the final cost of the special session to be very close to the amount budgeted,” Knudson said. Most legislators make $189 daily while in session, with an extra $10 or $15 per day for certain leaders. Each day they are in a special or reconvened session costs taxpayers about $64,000, budget writers estimate. Legislators who do not live in Bismarck or Mandan are eligible for a housing and travel allowance.


Columbus: A judge on Friday refused to dismiss the 25-count murder indictment against a doctor accused of ordering excessive painkillers for hospital patients, meaning one of the biggest cases of its kind ever brought against a U.S. health care professional will proceed toward trial. William Husel, 46, has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers say he was providing comfort care for dying patients in the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System, not trying to kill them. Mount Carmel’s review concluded Husel ordered excessive painkillers for about three dozen patients who died over several years, but the fired doctor was charged only in cases involving at least 500 micrograms of the powerful painkiller fentanyl. The previous prosecutor on the case, who wasn’t reelected, had said using dosages that large in nonsurgical situations – for people being taken off ventilators – pointed to an intent to end lives. Husel’s attorneys argued that during the still-secret grand jury proceedings, the prosecution must have misrepresented whether such dosages would surely be deadly, and that the resulting indictment should therefore be dismissed. They noted that prosecutors had records from a patient who was not part of the indictment who received even larger dosages and survived for days.


Oklahoma City: Gov. Kevin Stitt denied clemency Friday for a death row inmate sentenced to die for the 1985 shooting death of a Putnam City schoolteacher. The Republican governor’s decision clears the way for Bigler Stouffer II, 79, to receive a lethal injection at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. It comes despite a 3-2 recommendation from the state’s Pardon and Parole Board that Stouffer’s sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole. Several members of the board voiced concerns about the state’s ability to humanely execute people after John Grant convulsed on the gurney and vomited during his lethal injection in October. Stouffer has maintained his innocence in the attack on Linda Reaves and her boyfriend, Doug Ivens, that left Reaves dead and Ivens seriously wounded. Stouffer was convicted and sentenced to death in 2003 after his first conviction and death sentence were overturned. He said at his parole board hearing last month that Ivens was shot as the two men fought over a gun at Ivens’ home and that Reaves was already dead when he arrived. Prosecutors said Stouffer went to the home to borrow the gun from Ivens, then fatally shot Reaves and wounded Ivens in an attempt to gain access to Ivens’ $2 million life insurance policy. At the time, Stouffer was dating Ivens’ ex-wife.


Portland: TriMet officials say bus services will be reduced starting Jan. 9 because of an extreme shortage of bus operators. The Portland-area transit agency said TriMet would temporarily reduce service levels by 9%, meaning TriMet will shrink weekly bus service on about 20 of its 84 bus lines, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. TriMet Spokesperson Roberta Altstadt said services will be less frequent on weekdays for those lines, and most affected lines will follow Saturday schedules. Altstadt said riders should check TriMet’s online trip planner after Jan. 9. As of last week, Altstadt said the agency was short 45 operators. The agency dropped service levels by about that much in April 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic led to a nearly 70% decrease in ridership. Public transit use slowly began to increase again, but TriMet has had trouble recruiting workers – a problem it hasn’t historically faced. Altstdat said TriMet has stepped up hiring efforts. Bill Bradley, an executive board member with Amalgamated Transit Union 757, representing about 2,700 TriMet workers, said the union believes the current shortage is higher, about 60 drivers. The agency saw a rise in assaults on operators around the beginning of the pandemic, which Bradley said hasn’t decreased. The stressors and dangers have taken a toll on operators, he said.


Harrisburg: Gov. Tom Wolf followed through on his veto threat Thursday, rejecting Republican-penned legislation to allow people to carry a firearm openly or concealed, without a permit, adding to his total for Pennsylvania’s chief executive with the most vetoes in more than four decades. Wolf, a Democrat, called the permitless-carry bill “dangerous.” Wolf’s veto comes amid a tide of deadly gun violence in Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, and political finger-pointing over blame. Republicans said the bill would have made people safer. Wolf has said it is a top priority to address what he says is a gun violence crisis affecting largely minority communities, but the Republican-controlled Legislature has rejected nearly all his proposals. The bill he vetoed Thursday would have removed the requirement that gun owners get a permit to carry a gun that is concealed, such as under clothing or in their vehicle’s glove box. It also would have wiped out a law, applying only to Philadelphia, that requires gun owners to get a permit to openly carry a firearm in the city. According to online state records, Wolf penned his 52nd veto with 13 months left in his second term, more than any other governor since Milton Shapp, who left office in 1979.

Rhode Island

Providence: The largest state employees’ union in Rhode Island has approved a new four-year contract that includes $3,000 COVID-19 vaccination bonuses, officials said. Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 3,800 workers, overwhelmingly approved of the deal Thursday. The contract also includes 2.5% annual raises. Union and state officials said the bonus will help retain strained public workers. “Our employees continue to provide services while shouldering increased demands because of the pandemic, and it is important we recognize those efforts and make the state an employer of choice,” state Director of Administration James Thorsen said in a statement. “This was done so that we could retain your public servants,” Council 94 Vice President Lynn Loveday said. Workers can get the bonus without being vaccinated against COVID-19 if they are granted a religious or medical exemption. The program is estimated to cost $9.6 million and will be funded with federal relief dollars. Democratic Gov. Daniel McKee told WPRI-TV that the contract “was fair to the workers and fair to the taxpayers.” The bonuses drew criticism from some Democrats and Republicans who said it was unfair and appeared to condemn the unvaccinated.

South Carolina

Columbia: Gov. Henry McMaster and his wife, Peggy, are inviting people to come to their house Monday evening to view their Christmas decorations and listen to carols. The open house at the Governor’s Mansion in downtown Columbia is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday. The Columbia Garden Club is decorating the mansion, and light refreshments will be served. Simone Bryant of Benedict College has been invited to sing Christmas carols. Admission is free, but the governor and first lady ask guests to please bring canned goods to donate to Harvest Hope Food Bank. Guided tours of the governor’s mansion are also available on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings over the next two weeks.

South Dakota

Pierre: The state Department of Health is beginning to issue medical marijuana cards, but officials say it could be months before dispensaries will have anything to sell. Municipalities across the state are also receiving applications for permits from those who want to open a dispensary. The businesses must sell marijuana that is grown in the state, and with no cultivation facilities licensed in South Dakota, the dispensaries, for now, will have nothing to sell. Importing cannabis products across state lines remains a federal offense. State health officials say they’ve received 11 cultivation applications. Commercial grow facilities are now going through the state and local application process. It could take months for them to begin selling cannabis. In the meantime, medical marijuana cardholders can grow up to three plants for personal use. Cities have taken different approaches to selling medical marijuana. Yankton will permit two medical cannabis dispensaries. “Once those two applicants get state approval, they still have to do a certificate of occupancy with the city,” said Lisa Yardley, the city’s deputy finance officer. “They still have to do a site permit. They still have to do any building permits, building inspection.” Yankton will not allow any marijuana cultivation or processing operations.


Nashville: A federal judge on Friday had harsh words for state officials who continue to enforce retroactive punishments against sex offenders, some of whom committed their offenses decades before the state’s sex offender law took effect. “Tennessee officials continue to flout the Constitution’s guarantees,” U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger wrote in her ruling ordering officials to remove eight men from the sex offender registry and stop subjecting them to restrictions on where they can live and work, among other things. In April, a different federal judge, also in the Middle District of Tennessee, ordered two men be removed from the sex offender registry, finding that it was unconstitutional to subject them to sex offender laws that were written after they committed their offenses. In her Friday order, Trauger cited the April ruling and other similar recent rulings. She noted that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 ruled against the retroactive enforcement of a Michigan sex offender law. “The federal district courts of this state have repeatedly concluded that the same analysis applies … to Tennessee’s own, very similar scheme and policies,” Trauger wrote. Despite those rulings, “Tennessee officials have continued to impose the state’s repeatedly-held-to-be-unlawful policy on other, similarly situated individuals.”


Houston: For more than seven years, no one has known what happened to $600,000 in checks and cash that were stolen from a safe at Pastor Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch, which has one of the largest congregations in the country. Now, there’s a possible plot twist in the case: The money might never have left the church, and a plumber could have helped solve the mystery. Houston police are investigating whether cash and checks discovered by a plumber during repair work that was being done at Lakewood Church is connected to the money that was stolen in 2014. The revived investigation comes after a plumber on Thursday called “The Morning Bullpen with George, Mo & Erik on 100.3 The Bull” during a segment on the Houston radio station in which people were asked to talk about the most unusual things of value they had ever found. The plumber went on the air with his story of what he found while repairing a leaky toilet at the church about four weeks ago. “I went to go remove the toilet, and I moved some insulation away, and about 500 envelopes fell out of the wall. I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ I got my flashlight, shined up in there,” he said in audio provided by the station. The plumber said he thought the envelopes full of money were connected to the 2014 theft and immediately told the church’s maintenance supervisor, who contacted police.


Salt Lake City: Zion National Park will soon require reservations to hike a famous southern Utah trail perched on the edge of a red-rock cliff, officials announced Friday. As of April 1, people who want to hike the narrow Angels Landing hike will need permits provided through a lottery system. The lottery will be fairer to visitors and reduce crowding on the trail, said superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh. Crowding is a major concern on the trail edged by a sheer cliff, where a small number of people typically fall and die every year, park officials have said. The number of people visiting Zion has been growing rapidly in recent years, swelling from about 2.8 million visits in 2011 to nearly 4.5 million visits in 2019. Angels Landing is one of the most sought-after destinations, and more than 300,000 people hiked it in 2019, according to park officials. There will be two lotteries, one seasonal and another for one day ahead of planned hikes. Each drawing costs $6 per person to enter, and people who win must pay a $3-per-person fee. That will cover the cost of running the lottery and rangers to check permits on the trail. The permit system will apply specifically to the narrowest section of the trail, often called the “chain section” because it has metal handholds driven into the rock.


Rutland: The public is invited to cut down a Christmas tree from Green Mountain National Forest. A required $5 permit can be purchased online or at Green Mountain National Forest offices in Manchester and Rochester. This year, the U.S. Forest Service is providing free Christmas tree vouchers to fourth grade students in support of the Every Kid Outdoors initiative. It was created so that the country’s fourth graders and their families could discover wildlife, resources and history for free. The students must register online at and present a printed voucher to redeem a Christmas tree voucher, U.S. Forest Service officials said. Trees may be harvested within designated areas of the forest and must be cut 6 inches or less from the ground, the Forest Service said. All trash and litter from the activity, including woody debris, must be removed from roads, ditches and culvert openings, officials said.


Virginia Beach: A three-judge panel overseeing a recount in a close Virginia Beach state House race upheld the Republican candidate’s victory Friday, a decision that also reaffirms the GOP’s takeover of the chamber and completes the party’s sweep of last month’s elections. Republicans also claimed the statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in the Nov. 2 balloting. Those wins were a dramatic turnaround in a state where the GOP had not won a statewide race since 2009. Democrats still hold a 21-19 majority in the Senate – where elections won’t be held until 2023 – splitting control of the Legislature. The certified results from the election showed Republicans leading in 52 districts and the Democrats leading in 48. The recount in the 85th District race resulted in Democratic incumbent Alex Askew gaining 12 votes, but he still trailed Republican challenger Karen Greenhalgh by 115 votes. There was one contested ballot. The panel found that the intent of the voter was unclear, so that ballot was not counted for either candidate. After Democrats requested recounts in two races with razor-thin margins, that left open the remote possibility of a 50-50 split. Though the second recount, in the 91st District, is still expected to proceed this week, Democrats no longer have a shot at undoing the GOP’s majority.


Olympia: An explosive device was tossed at the Islamic Center of Olympia – an act leaders of the facility said was an apparent act of intimidation. “It seems like it was meant to stoke fear,” Mustafa Mohamedali, social secretary for the Islamic Center of Olympia, told KING5. The Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said nobody was hurt, and there was no damage Nov. 23, but neighbors heard the blast. The explosion is the latest in a series of assaults on houses of worship in the Puget Sound region, including churches, synagogues and mosques. In October, someone set fire to the Islamic Center of Tacoma. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office didn’t respond to questions from KING5.

West Virginia

Charleston: John Hutchison will become the state Supreme Court’s chief justice Jan 1, the court announced Thursday. As chief justice, Hutchison will become the administrative leader of the state’s judiciary system, including circuit, family and magistrate courts. A new intermediate court system will open July 1. In 2020, Hutchison won a special election for a four-year term on the court. He was appointed in 2018 to the seat vacated by convicted former Justice Allen Loughry. The court also announced that Beth Walker will serve as chief justice in 2023. Walker also served as chief justice in 2019. The current chief justice is Evan Jenkins.


Madison: Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed five Republican-authored anti-abortion bills Friday. Evers, who is making his support for abortion rights a key plank of his 2022 reelection campaign, had been widely expected to veto the measures the GOP-controlled Legislature passed in October. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again today: as long as I’m governor, I will veto any legislation that turns back the clock on reproductive rights in this state – and that’s a promise,” Evers tweeted in announcing the vetoes. Republicans do not have enough votes in the Legislature to override the vetoes. One bill would impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to give medical care in the extremely rare circumstance in which a baby is born alive following an abortion attempt. Violators would be guilty of a felony punishable by up to six years in prison. The bill also would make intentionally causing the death of a child born alive as a result of an abortion a felony punishable by life in prison. Doctors insist the proposal is a solution in search of a problem, as doctors are already ethically and legally bound to try and keep those babies alive. A second bill Evers vetoed would require doctors to provide the parents of fetuses and embryos that test positive for a congenital condition information about the condition. A third would prohibit abortions based on a fetus’ sex, race or national origin.


Cheyenne: The 14th annual Menorah Lighting Ceremony was held Wednesday at the state Capitol, where Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn and Gov. Mark Gordon placed an emphasis on spreading a positive light this Hanukkah season. The event moved back indoors this year, filling a wing of the Capitol with people from around Wyoming, as well as food, music and the massive menorah that towered behind the podium. The Cheyenne Youth Symphony contributed a string ensemble to play classic Hanukkah songs prior to the event. When it was time to light the menorah, Medelsohn stepped to the podium and thanked the many people who had gathered for the event before holding a moment of remembrance for Rabbi Larry H. Moldo, who died in August 2020. To conclude the introduction, he offered a gift in the form of a metal sculpture of a menorah to Gordon, thanking him and first lady Jennie Gordon for embodying the “commonality that exists within each and every one of us.” “There’s so many different paths, so many different lifestyles and so many different political viewpoints,” Rabbi Mendelsohn said in his speech. “There’s a solid gold that brings us all together, with love, with humanity, with character and with a sense that we are all part of the same people of Wyoming.”

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rocky Mountain dry, ashes of American flags: News from around our 50 states

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