Montgomery: The state told a federal judge Tuesday that it has nearly finished construction to use nitrogen gas to carry out death sentences, an execution method authorized by state law but never put into use. The court filing did not describe how the proposed execution system would work. When legislation was approved authorizing nitrogen hypoxia, proponents theorized death by nitrogen hypoxia could be a simpler, more humane execution method. Death would be caused by forcing the inmate to breathe only nitrogen, depriving the body of oxygen. Alabama in 2018 became the third state – along with Oklahoma and Mississippi – to authorize the untested execution method. Lawyers for the state wrote in a court filing Tuesday that the Alabama Department of Corrections “is nearing completion of the initial physical build for the nitrogen hypoxia system and its safety measures.” The information was disclosed in a court filing Tuesday involving a lawsuit over the presence of spiritual advisers in the death chamber. State lawyers said they did not yet know if advisers could safely be present. No state has used nitrogen hypoxia to carry out an execution or developed a protocol for its use, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. He likened the planned first usage to human experimentation.
Juneau: High school seniors in the capital city will be required to earn half a credit less than prior graduating classes under a change adopted this week that was billed as a way to acknowledge the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on learning. Under the change adopted by the Juneau School District Board of Education, the classes of 2022, 2023 and 2024 would need 22.5 credits to graduate, rather than the 23 credits previously required. Reducing the elective credit total by a half-credit would allow “more time for recovery of core content credits or other credits lost,” the proposal said. The district superintendent, Bridget Weiss, said students still must complete core academic credits, such as in English and math, KTOO Public Media reports. “What we’re hoping is that this just relieves a little bit of the pressure for those students who lost some credits throughout the pandemic and provides a little bit of space in their schedule to make up those core academic credits,” she said. Juneau schools would continue meeting state graduation standards.
Tempe: Habitat for Humanity unveiled its progress on a 3D-printed home in the city Wednesday – the first of its kind for the nonprofit in the country – and said it could be a possible solution to the lack of affordable housing in the area. Between 70% and 80% of the three-bedroom, two-bathroom single-family home is 3D-printed. The remainder is a traditional build. PERI, a company based in Germany, provided its 3D printer for the project, shipping it to the U.S. in March before printing began in May. The company says it built Germany’s first 3D-printed house in 2020 and Europe’s largest 3D-printed apartment building. “The 3D printing project in Tempe is now continuing this success story in the USA,” PERI managing director Thomas Imbacher said in a news release. Jason Barlow, Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona’s president and CEO, said the organization had identified a family to live in the home, which was designed by Arizona-based architecture firm Candelaria Design Associates. Barlow said the family has lived and worked in Tempe for years but struggled to find affordable housing. Their new home “fits that bill,” he said. The project has been in the works for more than 18 months and is expected to be completed around September or October.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday approved performance-related merit pay raises of as much as 3% for state employees. Hutchinson announced that $28 million in state and federal funds was allocated for the merit pay increases, which he said will be the largest performance pay raises offered since he took office in 2015. The Republican governor cited the work from the state’s employees in response to the coronavirus pandemic. He said the raises will be added to employees’ existing pay and won’t be a one-time raise. Nearly 26,000 employees are eligible for the bumps. “This last year, our workforce has shown dedication, resilience and flexibility during this pandemic,” Hutchinson said at a news conference. “It’s been circumstances that no workforce has been through in the last 100 years.”
Long Beach: City officials have said they will spend $2.5 million to maintain the historic Queen Mary ocean liner for the next six months and plan out the repairs needed to reopen the tourist destination. The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to enter into a $2 million temporary caretaker contract with the ship’s current on-ship operator, Evolution Hospitality, for the next six months with the possibility of a six-month extension, The Orange County Register reports. Officials said the remaining $500,000 will pay for the city’s contract engineer, Moffatt & Nichol, to develop the engineering and design repair work, which is estimated to cost $5 million. It was not immediately known how the city would pay for future repair work. Council members agreed Tuesday that regaining control of the ship for the first time since 1978 provides the city an opportunity to preserve and leverage an asset considered synonymous with the city. “Anywhere we go, the Queen Mary represents Long Beach,” Councilwoman Mary Zendejas said. “Nobody is going to be able to take care of the Queen Mary as much as we can now that we have it back in our hands.”
Denver: The state has its first litter of gray wolf pups since the 1940s, wildlife officials said Wednesday. A state biologist and district wildlife manager each spotted the litter of at least three wolf pups over the weekend with their parents, two adult wolves known to live in the state, Gov. Jared Polis announced in a news release. Most wolf litters have four to six pups, so there could be more. The discovery comes after Colorado voters narrowly approved a ballot measure last year that requires the state to reintroduce the animal on public lands in the western part of the state by the end of 2023. Gray wolves lost their federal protected status as an endangered species earlier this year. But they remain protected at the state level, and hunting the animals in Colorado is illegal. Penalties for violations include fines, jail time and a loss of hunting license privileges. “These pups will have plenty of potential mates when they grow up to start their own families,” Polis said in a statement. Gray wolves were hunted, trapped and poisoned into extinction in Colorado in the 1940s. Officials last year confirmed the presence of a small pack of wolves in northwestern Colorado after a number of sightings since 2019. The animals were believed to have come down from Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.
Hartford: Lawmakers closed out a legislative session like no other Wednesday night, with the state Senate approving a two-year, $46.3 billion budget that proponents said will help Connecticut in its continued recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic while beginning to address some long-standing inequities in the state. Legislators wrapped up their work shortly before midnight. In the final moments, the House and Senate chambers were nearly filled with lawmakers – a rare sight this session, given the strict COVID-19 protocols. As in the House, there was bipartisan support for the budget in the Senate, where the bill passed 31 to 4. Shortly afterward, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said he will sign it into law, calling it the “most progressive, transformative and life-changing budget our state has ever seen.” The new fiscal year begins July 1. Wednesday’s vote marked the culmination of an unusual and challenging legislative session, during which the Capitol was closed to the public, and staff and legislators were forced to rely on Zoom meetings to get much of their work done, including committee meetings and public hearings. Besides dealing with the devastating impacts of the pandemic, the General Assembly was also under pressure to pass a budget that addresses the state’s racial and economic inequities.
Dover: Democratic lawmakers are proposing to give public officials more reasons to deny requests for public records under the state’s Freedom of Information Act and require people seeking records to pay new fees. The measure cleared a Democrat-led Senate committee Wednesday after a public hearing in which representatives of open-government groups spoke against it and warned that it could lead to more government secrecy. The legislation allows government workers to deny FOIA requests that they consider to be “unreasonably broad, unduly burdensome, intended to disrupt the essential functions of the public body” or “abusive.” The bill was filed on behalf of Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Jenning’s office, which is charged with reviewing petitions from people whose requests for public records have been denied. State solicitor Aaron Goldstein said the Department of Justice has seen “basically a tripling of the volume of work” in recent years. While the growing number of petitions suggests that more FOIA requests are being denied, Goldstein told committee members that there are “a small amount of abusive filers” whose record requests undermine the intent of the FOIA.
District of Columbia
Washington: Organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival plan to relocate the “Art in Bloom” sculptures from this year’s festival event throughout the area, WUSA-TV reports. Of the 26 oversized cherry blossom sculptures, at least one will remain in each of D.C.’s eight wards, with another five to be auctioned to the public for their “dynamic aesthetics and one-of-kind interpretations,” according to the festival’s website. “The Art in Bloom sculptures radiated springtime across the district and beyond, and now it’s time to find permanent homes for these one-of-a-kind creations,” said Diana Mayhew, president and CEO of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Mayhew said 17 of the sculptures have already been acquired by organizations, businesses and private citizens in the capital region. The five sculptures up for auction will primarily help fund the festival to ensure it can remain free and open to the public, but a portion of the proceeds will also be given to the Trust for the National Mall’s Cherry Tree Endowment, according to the auction’s webpage. The sculptures were part of this year’s “Blossom Hunt,” in which visitors were tasked with finding the sculptures around the city and posting them on social media for the chance to win prizes. The online auction ends Tuesday.
Tallahassee: The state Board of Education banned “critical race theory” from public school classrooms Thursday, adopting new rules it said would shield schoolchildren from curricula that could “distort historical events.” Florida’s move was widely expected as a national debate intensifies about how race should be used as a lens in classrooms to examine the country’s tumultuous history. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared by video at the top of the board’s meeting, urging its members, many of whom he appointed, to adopt the new measures he asserted would serve students with the facts rather than “trying to indoctrinate them with ideology.” The Black Lives Matter movement has helped bring contentious discussions about race to the forefront of American discourse, and classrooms have become a battleground. Supporters contend that federal law has preserved the unequal treatment of people on the basis of race and that the country was founded on the theft of land and labor. Opponents of critical race theory say schoolchildren should not be taught that America is fundamentally racist. Governors and legislatures in Republican-led states around the country are considering or have signed into law bills that would limit how teachers can frame American history.
Atlanta: Residents receiving unemployment benefits will once again be required to look for work, and those whose hours have been reduced will be able to earn less before payments drop, beginning June 27. Labor Commissioner Mark Butler announced the changes Thursday, also saying employers with many laid-off workers collecting benefits will face higher unemployment insurance taxes after that date. It’s a further tightening of Georgia’s unemployment assistance as Butler and other elected Republican leaders say the state needs to do more to push people into the workforce. Georgia announced last month that, beginning June 27, it would cut off federal programs that provide a $300-a-week boost to people on the jobless rolls, as well as programs that pay federal money to people who are not usually eligible for state unemployment or have been receiving jobless aid for longer than the state provides. Those federal programs will last through September. Butler had earlier signaled he would reinstate work-search requirements, a move underway in more than three-quarters of states. Employers will also be asked to report when workers refuse to return to work or refuse a job offer, which could cause workers to lose benefits going forward. To keep drawing benefits after June 26, residents must register with the EmployGeorgia.com website.
Lahaina: Restaurants are having a hard time serving an influx of tourists returning to the islands as pandemic restrictions across the nation ease. Gov. David Ige has said the 50% capacity limit on restaurants will not increase until 60% of residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But capacity increases won’t help some restaurants with limited space, Hawaii News Now reports. On Maui, Cool Cat Cafe General Manager Paul Kemp said his restaurant won’t be able to serve many more people until social distancing rules change. “If we can get 6 feet to 3 feet, that’s when everything will really come together for the restaurants and put everything really back to the old norm,” he said. People are currently waiting about an hour to eat at the cafe, he said. And restaurants that do take reservations are often booked, sometimes for weeks in advance. The owners of Sale Pepe restaurant appreciate the safety measures. “We need to be safe,” owner and chef Michele Di Bari said. “People think it’s over, especially people who are coming on vacation.” The restaurant is booked until the end of the month and has increased its takeout and delivery business. “We always remember that this is a temporary situation,” owner and general manager Qiana Di Bari said. “It’s uncomfortable right now. ... We just have to hang in there.”
Boise: The state could finish the fiscal year at the end of June with a record budget surplus of $800 million, Gov. Brad Little announced Wednesday. The Republican governor said he will advocate for additional tax cuts along with investments in key areas, with education topping the priority list. Lawmakers will take up the budget when they meet in January. Little said fiscal conservatism, swift action during the coronavirus pandemic, responsible allocation of billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 rescue money and “our relentless focus on cutting red tape are the reasons Idaho’s economy is catapulting ahead of other states right now.” Little noted that May revenue numbers came in $580 million ahead of forecasts and, at nearly $850 million, the best in state history. The Division of Financial Management said revenue numbers for May, also released Wednesday, were far above predictions because the deadline for paying income tax was delayed from April to May due to the pandemic. Overall this year, individual income taxes have brought in $2.3 billion, about 25% more than predicted. Sales tax collections are up nearly 8% to $1.8 billion.
Springfield: State lawmakers could take up a bill later this month that would restore voting rights to convicted offenders serving time in county jails or state or federal prisons, according to the measure’s House sponsor. Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said the bill almost came up for a vote during the final days of the regular session but was delayed due to some last-minute confusion. Lawmakers wrapped up the bulk of their spring session June 1, but they did not formally adjourn the session because negotiations were continuing on a massive energy bill that would put Illinois on a path to producing 100% of its electricity from renewable and carbon-free sources. The Senate plans to return next Tuesday to vote on the energy bill, with the House in session the following day. Ford’s proposal to restore voting rights to convicted inmates was the subject of a committee hearing in March, but the panel never voted on it. During that hearing, Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, questioned whether it would require a constitutional amendment before it could take effect because the Illinois Constitution states: “A person convicted of a felony, or otherwise under sentence in a correctional institution or jail, shall lose the right to vote, which right shall be restored not later than upon completion of his sentence.”
West Lafayette: When muscle is damaged, resident stem cells mediate the repair of the injured tissue. At the same time, circulating immune cells race to the site to aid the repair. The presence of these infiltrating immune cells at injury sites raises questions about their role in coordinating with muscle stem cells to build or regenerate muscle tissue. Shihuan Kuang, a Purdue professor of animal sciences, has identified a previously unknown subset of muscle stem cells, which he has dubbed “immunomyoblasts,” that have both muscle stem cell and immune cell properties and may shed light on how those cells interact. The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recently awarded Kuang $2.3 million over five years to develop a basic understanding of these cells’ origins and functions. “These stem cells have unique properties that raise questions about where they come from and how they relate to muscle and immune cells,” Kuang said. “This grant will provide the support for us to answer those fundamental questions and lay a foundation for applied research into ways immunomyoblasts could be targeted to treat diseases and improve animal agriculture.” The knowledge gained from Kuang’s work may open new avenues of research in muscular diseases.
Des Moines: Residents will no longer be able to use a state website to check their own vaccination histories or those of their children. The Iowa Department of Public Health is limiting public access to the website, partly because of concerns that employers could surreptitiously use it to see if their workers have been inoculated, department spokeswoman Sarah Ekstrand said. The change comes amid national controversy over whether employers should be able to require workers to receive COVID-19 shots and a state law banning use or government issuance of so-called vaccine passports. Hospitals, clinics and pharmacies have long been required to record vaccinations on the Iowa Immunization Registry Information System, which helps tracking of vaccination efforts, including in communities and for schools’ students. The website also lets health care providers check before administering a vaccine to see if patients have already received the shots elsewhere. Since 2012, individual Iowans could sign on to IRIS using their names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers or Medicaid numbers to view their own vaccination histories, Ekstrand said. They also could check their children’s records that way. But Ekstrand said legislators heard concerns that employers or others with access to that information could access the records.
Topeka: Eastern Kansas and western Missouri are facing a “blood emergency,” the Community Blood Center of Greater Kansas City announced Wednesday. The nonprofit organization asked the public to donate blood to help replenish its supply, which it said was only sufficient to last three days. Things were looking “a little bit grim” in terms of the lack of blood donations being made to the donor center the CBC operates in southwest Topeka, said Chelsey Smith, the CBC’s outreach and communications coordinator. The situation is similar at the six other centers operated by the CBC, Smith said. The blood shortage was triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the center. Smith said while figures weren’t available for specific locations, about 25,000 people who had been blood donors prior to the pandemic had not yet returned to donate in the greater Kansas City area alone. Meanwhile, Smith said, the CBC was seeing virtually no first-time donors among youths, while the number of blood drives being held had been reduced by hundreds. “Complicating matters, there has been a recent surge in blood usage as hospitals perform surgeries and patients seek medical care that was postponed during the pandemic,” the CBC said. “The increased need and lag in donors has created a chronic gap in blood donations.”
Louisville: A former nurse at a nursing home claims in a lawsuit that she was fired last year after raising repeated concerns about infection control and lack of personal protective equipment, such as masks, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Donna Frank, a registered nurse, alleges in the lawsuit filed June 3 that she was wrongly fired by Signature Healthcare at Jefferson Place Rehab and Wellness Center after about six months on the job. Frank was fired Sept. 9, 2020, the day after an investigator from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services Office of Inspector General showed up to investigate conditions at Signature-Jefferson Place, following a complaint from Frank. The lawsuit alleges she was fired in retaliation for that and other complaints related to COVID-19 and infection control procedures. “The more she complained, the more of a headache she became, and they just got rid of her,” said Frank’s lawyer, Charles W. Miller. A spokeswoman for Signature Healthcare, Ann Bowdan Wilder, said in an email that the company doesn’t comment on pending legal matters but that “there are two sides to every story and judgement or opinion should be withheld until allegations are proven and/or disproven in the legal process.”
Baton Rouge: All 5-year-old children in the state should receive a kindergarten education, lawmakers decided Wednesday. With one day remaining in the legislative session, lawmakers sent the measure by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, to the governor’s desk. The Senate voted 38-0 for the final version of the legislation, while the House backed it in a 70-32 vote. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he supports the bill and will sign it into law. The requirement, to take effect with the 2022-23 school year, is estimated to add up to 2,800 students to kindergarten rolls when the mandate starts. Louisiana children currently must attend school from the ages of 7 to 18, unless they graduate early from high school. Fields’ bill will require kindergarten attendance for children who turn 5 years old by Sept. 30 of each year. A parent can defer the kindergarten enrollment if the child is 4 years old on the first day of school or if the child is enrolled in a pre-K program. Supporters said mandatory kindergarten will help to keep children from falling behind, noting that studies show 90% of brain development happens between birth and age 5. They said 19 other states require mandatory kindergarten, and Southern states with the requirement have higher literacy rates than Louisiana.
Wells: Scientists have determined that a black substance that had settled near the shoreline over several days is made up of millions of dead bugs. One of the regulars who walk Wells Beach, Ed Smith, took photos of the substance in the sand and sent them to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the Portland Press Herald reports. Smith wanted to know more because he said his feet were dyed black after walking through it, and he wanted to know if it was possibly toxic. Steve Dickson, a marine geologist with Maine Geological Survey, figured out what was going on with the help of two retired oceanographers who live nearby. One of them, Linda Stathoplos, took a sample from the beach and looked at it under her microscope. “It was clearly little bugs,” Stathoplos said. “This is the first time I’ve seen or heard of this in my 35 years,” Dickson said, adding that he is still trying to determine what the bugs are, where they came from and why. But he does not expect it to be a regular occurrence.
Ocean City: A controversy surrounding the placement of a 149-foot-tall Ferris wheel seems to have reached a conclusion after an amusement park informed town officials that it will move its ride off town property, but with the cost of a fix estimated to top $100,000, the Big Wheel won’t operate this summer. Ocean City leaders ordered Trimper’s Rides to move its Ferris wheel off the Boardwalk on Monday night. Questions about the structure’s proximity to the town-owned Boardwalk arose over the weekend, and the encroachment was confirmed Monday when a survey paid for by Trimper’s found it overhung town property by at least 10 feet. Park officials told the town it will dismantle the ride Monday, said Jessica Waters, communications and marketing director for Ocean City. The Big Wheel has been shut down, according to Waters, but the town will continue to issue fines for the zoning violation until it’s off the Boardwalk. Trimper’s had received at least three fines from Ocean City from Saturday through Monday, she said Tuesday. Each fine was $500, and Waters said it can be increased up to $1,000 each day until the ride is moved. Trimper’s President Antoinette Bruno has said the incorrect placement was the result of human error: “I think we made an error of a few inches, and we’re sorry.”
Boston: Roman Catholics across the state are being called back to Sunday Mass. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston and the bishops of Springfield and Fall River announced in similar statements Wednesday that the faithful are once again required to attend Mass starting the weekend of June 19-20. Houses of worship have either been closed or open under capacity limits for the past year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and services have either been broadcast or held remotely. O’Malley said Father’s Day was an appropriate time to lift the dispensation. “In this year of Saint Joseph, who was always a faithful observer of the sabbath, we chose Father’s Day as an appropriate day to encourage all of our people, and especially our families, to return to the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist,” he said in his letter to parishioners. Mass is a central part of being Catholic, Springfield Bishop William Byrne said. “The benefit of that is every time we go to Mass, we encounter Jesus Christ, we get to be together, we get to celebrate the obligation and the goodness of keeping the sabbath holy,” he said. The obligation to attend Mass does not apply to those who are ill or homebound, the bishops said. Worcester Bishop Robert McManus restored the Mass obligation for his parishioners last month.
Lansing: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation Wednesday that makes it easier for veterans and their families who are licensed professionals to continue their careers when they move to the state. Veterans, active-duty service members and their dependents with valid out-of-state professional licenses can get their licenses in Michigan under the new laws, and the fees for application will be waived. Current law allows veterans to have the initial application fees for professional licenses waived, but the new law expands that waiver to active-duty service members and their dependents. The families of the 550,000 veterans in Michigan face enough struggles seeking employment after service without having to figure out how to get re-licensed when they have a valid out-of-state license, Zeneta Adams, director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, said Wednesday at a bill signing in Lansing. Whitmer said the bill will help welcome service members and their families to Michigan and promote a skilled workforce, helping the state achieve its goal of raising the number of people with a professional certificate or college degree to 60% by 2030, up from the current 49%. The measure received bipartisan support in the Legislature.
St. Paul: A federal judge has sentenced a man to 15 months in prison for killing and then beheading a 700-pound black bear on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson sentenced 39-year-old James Stimac on Wednesday. The bear is one of seven clan animals of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa. The tribe doesn’t allow non-Indians to hunt bear on its reservation. According to prosecutors, Stimac, of Brainerd, isn’t a Red Lake tribal member and entered the northern Minnesota reservation without permission in September 2019. He used a compound bow to shoot and kill the bear near the reservation’s garbage dump. He returned to the dump the next day and posed for photographs with the carcass. He later posted the photos on social media. The bear was too big to move, so he sawed its head off and took it to a taxidermist in Ironton to make it into a trophy. He left the remainder of the carcass to rot.
Pascagoula: A shipyard that’s the largest private employer in the state says it plans to hire about 3,000 new full-time employees. Ingalls Shipbuilding held a hiring event Wednesday in Pascagoula. Its parent company, Huntington Ingalls Industries, said in a news release that it has been recruiting potential workers in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. “We are steadily adding new team members to our growing workforce,” Ingalls Shipbuilding President Kari Wilkinson said in the release. “Shipbuilding is a challenging, extremely rewarding and potentially life-changing career.” Ingalls is hiring ship fitters, electricians, pipefitters, pipe welders and structural welders. It is seeking people with mechanical, hot work or carpentry experience. The news release said free training is available to those without the required skills or work experience. The shipyard recently finished improvements that include more than a million square feet of covered work area, better access to work sites and tool rooms, cool-down and hydration stations, and a second dining area, the news release said.
Jefferson City: A union representing state workers is urging Gov. Mike Parson to make accommodations for employees ordered last month to return to their offices, calling the directive “dangerous.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports Natashia Pickens, president of the Missouri State Workers Union Communications Workers of America Local 6355, wrote to Parson on Wednesday, saying that COVID-19 is still “raging” across the state and that Parson’s office failed to take into account health or child care concerns. The union asked that Parson, a Republican, consider demands that include paid time off to get vaccinated, personal protective equipment for employees, and that the state set up a process so workers with family and child care responsibilities may request a delayed return. Thirty-one House Democrats signed onto the letter. Last month Parson directed all state employees to return to in-person work after many spent most of the previous 14 months working remotely. He cited declining cases of COVID-19.
Nye: Two workers for the only palladium and platinum mining operation in the U.S. have died in an underground accident at a mine, company officials said. The employees were in a utility vehicle called a side-by-side that crashed into an underground locomotive Wednesday afternoon, said Heather McDowell, a vice president with the South Africa-based Sibanye-Stillwater, which owns the Stillwater Mining Co. The cause of the accident at the mine near the community of Nye, north of Yellowstone National Park, is under investigation. Mine officials said they are working with safety regulators. The identities of the workers were not made public. In a statement, company officials said that “we value safety above all else. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by this tragic event.” Stillwater Mining Co. has 2,335 employees and contractors, according to its website, including just over 1,200 workers at the mine in Nye, McDowell said. Its other palladium and platinum mine is near the small Montana city of Big Timber, and the company has a refining complex in the nearby town of Columbus.
Lincoln: The state continues to report only a small number of new COVID-19 cases, but that number crept up slightly over the past week. Health officials said Nebraska recorded 280 new coronavirus cases over the past week, up from 237 the week before. But as recently as April, the state was reporting more cases than that in a single day. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska fell over the past two weeks, going from 74.43 new cases per day May 25 to 40.00 new cases per day Tuesday. The state said 54 people were hospitalized with the virus across Nebraska on Wednesday. That number has been below 100 since the middle of May, and it is a fraction of the November peak of 987. Gov. Pete Ricketts ended the last of the state’s virus-related restrictions last month because hospitalizations remain at such a low level. The state has now confirmed a total of 223,749 virus cases and 2,256 deaths since the pandemic began. Roughly 44.5% of the state’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, but health officials said the pace of vaccinations has slowed significantly over the past month.
Carson City: Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday signed into law a bill that paves the way for Nevada to become the second state in the nation, after Washington, to offer state-managed health insurance plans. Sisolak signed the measure that seeks to create state-managed health insurance plans by 2026 at a Las Vegas medical center. It passed through the Legislature on May 30. The new law requires insurers that bid to cover Medicaid recipients and state employees to also bid to offer a so-called public option plan. State officials would select certain providers to be in-network for the public option plan and mandate that they charge 5% less in monthly premiums than the average plan on the state insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act and 15% less by four years after it is first offered. Proponents argue a state-based public option will expand coverage to Nevada’s 350,000 uninsured residents and lower the cost of health insurance throughout the market. The bill’s detractors decry the price controls and worry that forcing doctors and hospitals to accept patients at lower costs could lead them to leave the state and exacerbate a practitioner shortage. The public option plan will have to undergo an actuarial study, and then the state would need to apply for a waiver from the federal government.
Concord: A bill seeking justice for run-over cats is heading to the governor’s desk, minus the name of the animal that inspired it. State law already requires drivers who injure or kill dogs to notify police or the animals’ owners, or else face a $1,000 fine, but Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, sponsored a bill to give cats equal footing after the death of his 5-year-old cat, Arrow. The House passed the bill in April, as did the Senate, but the latter objected to dubbing it “Arrow’s Law.” The House agreed Thursday to drop the name and advance the bill to Gov. Chris Sununu, who has said he will sign it. Rep. Thomas Walsh, chair of the House Transportation Committee, urged his colleagues to support the bill despite the change. “While we will always remember Arrow, there was no objection from the committee,” said Walsh, R-Hooksett. In any state, hitting an animal with a car could be a potential violation as destruction of property, but animal advocates say the New Hampshire bill is part of a trend of states going further. In Massachusetts, the law includes cats and dogs. New York requires drivers to report injuries to dogs, cats, horses or cattle. And Rhode Island’s statute covers all domesticated animals.
Asbury Park: Surf shops have been swamped with both new and veteran surfers searching for a safe, socially distanced activity during a pandemic, along with the exhilaration that comes with the sport. Now, surfboard manufacturers racing to meet the demand can’t keep up. Surfers are waiting longer and paying more. Melissa D’Anna opened Lucky Dog Surf Co. in Sea Bright in 2017, helping the township recover from superstorm Sandy, and she quickly built a following. She worried the pandemic would put a stop to her momentum. But the surfing industry, estimated by the Surf Industry Manufacturers Assocation to generate upward of $8 billion a year, found itself with a nearly perfect set of circumstances. Some people with vacation homes at the Shore moved there full time and could surf after work. Others had federal relief checks that they could spend on new hobbies. Surfers said they began to see their tight-knit community expand. “You saw people you hadn’t seen out the water in a while,” said Mickey Schluter, a 23-year-old surfer from Fair Haven. Local manufacturers said orders for boards spiked, forcing them to scramble to fill them. Brian Wynn, owner of Wynn Surfboards in Egg Harbor Township, said he’s about two months behind schedule.
Santa Fe: The state’s top information technology official says a new $100 million state account for expanding access to high-speed internet is just a start, and investments of $1 billion are likely needed to modernize infrastructure. Information Technology Secretary John Salazar told a panel of legislators Thursday that international consultant Deloitte is helping the state anticipate opportunities for federal grant money to improve internet access and data transfer rates. “They’re scoping out those grants,” he said. “We need to be up there, front and center, asking for the money.” Salazar said the consultant is also looking at internet infrastructure programs in seven comparable states for effective solutions. He said states like Colorado, Minnesota and Montana have some things in common with New Mexico in terms of geography and obligations to Native American communities. The COVID-19 pandemic and a yearlong pivot to online learning have exposed gaps in internet access across swaths of the state. Over 20% of students were left without internet at home at the start of the pandemic, and a state district court judge has directed the state to move quickly on improvements for pupils.
New York: The traditional Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks show will return to the city this year after the pandemic forced changes to the celebration in 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday. “This is really great, a tremendous sign of the rebirth of New York City,” de Blasio said at a virtual briefing. The fireworks will be launched from five barges in the East River starting at 9:25 p.m. July 4, said Will Coss, executive producer of the show. The show will be broadcast live on NBC as part of a two-hour special featuring the Black Pumas, Coldplay, OneRepublic and Reba McEntire, officials from Macy’s and NBC said. The big show was replaced by several small, unannounced fireworks displays last year in order to prevent crowds from gathering during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. De Blasio said there will be dedicated areas for fully vaccinated people to enjoy this year’s show, along with other areas for people who are not vaccinated or who want to join together with people who are not vaccinated.
Raleigh: Legislation that includes $2 billion in income tax reductions over the next two years and the phaseout of the state’s corporate income tax by 2028 received bipartisan approval again in the Senate on Thursday. The Republican-authored measure, which also would send up to $1 billion in federal COVID-19 recovery aid to hundreds of thousands of businesses and nonprofits, already received the Senate’s initial OK on Wednesday. Seven Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting 34-13 for the bill Thursday. The bill now heads to the House, where action isn’t expected. Rather, the Senate will insert the package in its state government budget plan later this month and negotiate it with the House after that chamber approves a competing tax and spending proposal. The Senate plan would reduce the individual income tax rate of 5.25% to 4.99% next year and increase the amount of income not subject to taxes for all filers by increasing the standard and per-child deductions. The corporate rate – at 2.5%, currently the lowest among those states that have such a tax – would start falling in 2024. Democrats opposing the bill say it would give tax breaks to out-of-state corporations and high wage-earners who don’t need them.
Fargo: Firefighters found themselves battling a string of dumpster fires on the city’s southern edge late Tuesday. The fire department said in a news release that the first call came in at 10:50 p.m. A half-hour later, firefighters responded to another dumpster fire at a different location. Three minutes later, they responded to three dumpster fires at the same location. The department said the fires are considered suspicious given the timing and proximity to one another.
Columbus: Gov. Mike DeWine has come out against a controversial bill that would weaken the state’s vaccination laws and grant more individual freedom. DeWine asked Ohioans to think of the impact vaccines have had on society. “Before modern medicine, diseases such as mumps, polio, whooping cough were common and caused great, great, great suffering and death to thousands of people every single year,” DeWine said during a news conference Thursday. A 1955 newspaper photo surfaced recently showing DeWine becoming one of the first second graders in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to get a polio vaccine. Hearings on House Bill 248 have drawn national attention as advocates have spread misinformation and conspiracies. Testimony from Dr. Sherri Tenpenny and nurse Joanna Overholt drew widespread derision and mockery. “I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures all over the internet of people who have had these shots, and now they’re magnetized,” Tenpenny said. “You can put a key on their forehead; it sticks. You can put spoons and forks all over, and they can stick because now we think there is a metal piece to that.” Later, there was some show-and-tell. “Explain to me why the key sticks to me. It sticks to my neck too,” Overholt said as a key failed to stick to her neck. Tenpenny also mentioned the false claim that the COVID-19 vaccine contains particles that can connect with 5G wireless technology.
Tulsa: Workers began excavating remains of possible Tulsa Race Massacre victims this week, removing them from a cemetery where searchers have found at least 27 bodies, according to Oklahoma State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck. The 1921 massacre occurred when a white mob descended on the Black section of Tulsa – Greenwood – and burned more than 1,000 homes, looted hundreds of others and destroyed its thriving business district. Most historians who have studied the event estimate the death toll to be between 75 and 300. The remains that have been found will be transferred for examinations led by forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield. Both Stackelbeck and Tulsa Mass Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee Chairman Kavin Ross said it’s possible the remains are from people who died from other things, such as the Spanish flu pandemic that killed an estimated 7,350 in Oklahoma in 1918 and 1919. The search began last year, and researchers in October found at least 12 sets of remains, although the remains were covered back up at that time for further study. Stackelbeck has estimated more than 30 bodies could be in the site. Searches of two other sites are planned.
Salem: Nearly six months after a Republican legislator let violent, far-right protesters into the state Capitol, a special committee will examine his role and could recommend he be the first member of the House to be expelled in its 160-year history. Ahead of the panel’s inaugural meeting Monday afternoon, more than 200 people sent written testimony. Some excoriated Rep. Mike Nearman as a seditionist. Others praised him for letting people into the Capitol on Dec. 21, 2020, when it was closed to the public because of coronavirus safety protocols, saying people should be allowed to attend even though hearings are livestreamed on video. “Mike Nearman’s behavior … was abhorrent and anti-democratic,” David Alba wrote to the committee. “Furthermore, by aiding and supporting extremists, he has placed people’s lives in danger. He should be removed from office and he is not fit to represent my district.” After video emerged in local news reports Friday showing Nearman choreographing how he would let protesters into the Capitol, pinpointing the door he would open for them and disclosing his cellphone number so protesters could text him, every other Republican member of the House on Monday strongly recommended he step down.
Harrisburg: An ambitious Republican proposal to revamp state election law was unveiled Thursday – a 149-page bill that would change deadlines, adopt new rules for early voting, alter mail-in ballot procedures and mandate IDs for all in-person voters. The measure produced by State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove is likely to encounter severe pushback from Democrats in a state where both parties are competitive in statewide races. Although Pennsylvania’s closely watched 2020 election was carried out smoothly, many Republicans have called for election-law changes in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voting fraud. “This is not a view of the Republicans or the Democrats,” said Grove, R-York, whose committee conducted hearings on the topic this spring. “This is a view of what we heard through 10 extensive hearings from all sides.” The bill was introduced by Grove and House Republican leaders with just three weeks left before lawmakers are due to wrap up business and head home for the summer. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s press secretary, Lyndsay Kensinger, said the bill aimed to install new barriers against voting, in effect silencing people’s voices and turning ballot access into a political weapon.
Providence: A trip to the beach this weekend could come with immunity benefits. The state Department of Environmental Management and the state Department of Health are partnering to host a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, officials said in a statement. The clinic – which will offer the one shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine – is open to beach employees and visitors, and state residents and nonresidents alike are eligible. People getting a shot must be 18 or older. The vaccine is free, but normal parking fees will still apply, officials said. There are just 37 people in Rhode Island’s hospitals with confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to the latest data released Thursday by the Department of Health – the lowest single-day total since the early days of the pandemic in March 2020. Of those patients, five are in intensive care and on ventilators. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state peaked at more than 500 in December. Rhode Island also reported about 40 newly confirmed cases, for a daily positivity rate of 0.7%, and no new virus-related deaths. Nearly 585,000 people in the state have now been fully vaccinated against the disease, according to agency data.
Columbia: The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a law requiring sex offenders to register for life, without prior judicial review, is unconstitutional. In a unanimous ruling, justices wrote that the “requirement that sex offenders must register for life without any opportunity for judicial review violates due process because it is arbitrary and cannot be deemed rationally related to the General Assembly’s stated purpose of protecting the public from those with a high risk of re-offending.” Justices set a 12-month timeline to implement the ruling, to give state lawmakers time to “correct the deficiency in the statute regarding judicial review.” The case stems from a lawsuit originally brought by Dennis Powell, who was arrested in 2008 for criminal solicitation of a minor after authorities said he had graphic online conversations with someone who he thought was a 12-year-old girl but who was actually an undercover officer. After pleading guilty, Powell was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender, which South Carolina’s statute mandates as a lifelong situation. South Carolina’s sex offender statute requires biannual registration in person at a sheriff’s office but provides for no periodic review by a judge, a situation the court called “the most stringent in the country.”
Sioux Falls: The union that had threatened a strike at a Smithfield pork processing plant says it has reached a tentative agreement with the company on a four-year contract. The Sioux Falls chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers had negotiated with Virginia-based Smithfield Foods for two days after union members rejected a previous contract proposal and authorized a strike. Union leaders said its members will vote on the proposed contract next week. The agreement appeared to assuage the possibility of a strike at the plant, which produces nearly 5% of the nation’s pork every day. UFCW said in a statement late Wednesday that the company dropped plans to take away a 15-minute break, and “the parties have reached an agreement on wages.” The union had pressed for Smithfield to boost pay from a proposed base wage of $18 an hour, as well as to keep a break during the second half of worker shifts. Smithfield has said that its initial proposal would have still ensured two 15-minute breaks for employees who work eight-hour shifts and that the company’s offer was “in full alignment” with agreements that the UFCW accepted at other locations.
Chattanooga: A former governor’s administration helped fund a contract murder of a key federal witness decades ago while embroiled in the state’s largest political scandal, law enforcement officials announced Wednesday. The new details revealed for the first time Wednesday have elements that ring of a movie: a trusted ally of union boss Jimmy Hoffa gunned down after testifying about a corrupt governor selling prison pardons and a gunman who donned a wig and blackface to throw authorities off the scent. Investigators in Hamilton County have been chipping away at the 42-year-old cold case of Samuel Pettyjohn since they renewed their investigation in 2015. No new charges will be filed because all of the major players involved are now dead, but authorities say closing the case provides closure to one aspect of a complicated piece of Tennessee history. Pettyjohn, a Chattanooga businessman and close friend of Hoffa, was fatally shot in 1979 in downtown Chattanooga after testifying before a federal grand jury during the early phases of Tennessee’s notorious “cash-for-clemency” scandal. The scandal ultimately led to the ousting of Democratic Gov. Ray Blanton, who was never indicted, but three of his aides were. However, questions have lingered about the extent to which the governor’s administration actively worked to thwart the investigation. Officials say at least five witnesses in the case were murdered or killed themselves.
El Paso: The El Paso Museum of Archaeology will reopen June 24, city officials announced Wednesday. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the museum to close in March 2020, but under the advisement of the Department of Public Health and the Office of Emergency Management, visitors will once again be able to learn about the Indigenous history along the Rio Grande Valley. “The reopening of the Museum of Archaeology along with the opening of the Camp Cohen Water Park are great illustrators of our commitment to enhancing the quality of life in Northeast El Paso and for all El Pasoans,” said Cultural Affairs and Recreation Managing Director Ben Fyffe. The museum will be open with free admission from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Upon opening, visitors can experience the exhibit “From the Edge of Center: The Chacoan Outliers.” The museum will showcase many artifacts from its permanent collection, as well as artifacts on loan from the Salmon Ruins near Farmington, New Mexico, and the San Juan County Museum Association. The El Paso Museum of Archaeology highlights 14,000 years of prehistory in the area, the greater Southwest and northern Mexico. The museum also features nature trails on 15 acres of land and an American Indian Garden.
Salt Lake City: The state’s congressional delegation on Wednesday requested a meeting with President Joe Biden before he makes his final decision on whether the boundaries of two sprawling national monuments in Utah should be restored. The delegation of Republicans sent a letter to Biden in which they also requested that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s full report be made available to Congress. “It is past time to end the political back-and-forth that the communities in our state have been subjected to for more than 25 years, and you have a historic opportunity to do so by working with Congress,” the letter said. Haaland made her recommendation about whether to reverse former President Donald Trump’s decision to downsize Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante last week, but details of her decision were not released. The Interior Department gave her report to Biden on June 2, according to a court filing Thursday in a legal battle that began more than three years ago after Trump’s decision. U.S. Department of Justice attorneys mentioned the report as part of a request to have until July 13 to address the judge’s question about whether the legal battle has become a moot point.
Marlboro: The ongoing ownership dispute over the former Marlboro College campus has prompted the organizers of a music festival to offer to front the costs of campus maintenance this summer. The Marlboro School of Music asked a court Wednesday to allow it to temporarily pay for campus upkeep so that its annual music festival, which is held there over 10 weeks, can move forward, the Brattleboro Reformer reports. Marlboro College merged with Emerson College in Massachusetts and finalized the sale of its campus in July 2020 to a nonprofit group, Democracy Builders. But there is now a dispute about whether Democracy Builders owns the campus or whether another group, Type I Civilization Academy, holds the deed. A judge for Windham Superior Court ruled that the music school may place its $250,000 rent payment in escrow. The estimated maintenance costs could be $1 million, the newspaper reports. In court, the parties agreed to review the maintenance expenses paid by the School of Music at the end of the summer and then determine what should happen to the escrowed rent and what expenses might need to be reimbursed to the music school by the rightful owner, whoever that might be.
Norfolk: A city engineer who fatally shot 12 people in a Virginia Beach municipal building in 2019 “was motivated by perceived workplace grievances” that “he fixated on for years,” according to findings released by the FBI on Wednesday. The investigation, conducted by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, found that DeWayne Craddock “struggled with how he perceived his own work performance and how others at work viewed him.” “The shooter’s inflated sense of self-importance contributed to this conflict and led him to believe he was unjustly and repeatedly criticized and slighted,” the FBI said in a news release. “Violence was viewed by the shooter as a way to reconcile this conflict and restore his perverted view of justice.” But the FBI cautioned that no person or group was in a position to “see the confluence of behaviors that may have forewarned the attack” because Craddock had purposely isolated himself and disengaged from his relationships. The agency also said that Craddock suffered from significant mental health stressors, although they “alone cannot explain the Virginia Beach attack.” The FBI’s findings appear to go a step further than two previous investigations into the mass shooting in the coastal city of nearly half a million people. Virginia Beach police said in March that they could not determine a motive.
Spokane: A pet dog who vanished for two days after being ejected from a vehicle during a car accident has been found apparently doing the job it was bred to do – herding sheep. Linda Oswald’s family and their dog, Tilly, were driving along Idaho State Highway 41 on Sunday when they crashed into another car, launching the dog through the rear window, The Spokesman-Review reports. The unharmed but stunned dog then ran away, prompting an immediate search with at least six complete strangers who witnessed the crash and pulled over along the highway to help, Oswald said. “People just kept going out,” she said, noting that the search lasted about 10 hours Sunday before the family went home. “We were sore and exhausted.” Oswald said the family then wrote a Facebook post that included a picture of the 2-year-old border collie and red heeler mix, and more than 3,000 people shared the post. That’s when Tyler, Travis and Zane Potter recognized the dog in the photo as the same dog they saw on their family farm south of Rathdrum on Tuesday. Both the Potters and Oswald think Tilly was drawn to the farm and their sheep. “I think that dog was trying to herd,” Travis Potter said. Oswald said if it weren’t for the post, he would still be out there.
Charleston: Two newly dedicated state offices will deal with child welfare and family assistance. The state is creating a Bureau for Social Services and a Bureau for Family Assistance and Supports to streamline its handling of child welfare, The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington reports. Their staff will continue operating under the Department of Health and Human Resources. Both bureaus will be tailored to their mission, and the changes will take place in July. They were previously within the Bureau for Children and Families. Cammie Chapman, counsel for the Department of Health and Human Resources, detailed the changes to a legislative commission Tuesday.
Madison: Jim Doyle and Scott Walker don’t agree on much, but the former governors are joining together to call for people to get COVID-19 vaccines in a new public service television advertisement. The spot released Thursday, produced by UW Health, features Walker, a Republican, placing a Zoom call to Doyle, a Democrat. Both are in their personal offices and never appear in the same room together. “I’m just ready to be done with this pandemic,” Walker says. Doyle responds: “I couldn’t agree with you more.” “That’s what I thought,” Walker says. “Here’s another thought: Let’s do a commercial together – reminding people in Wisconsin how important it is to be vaccinated.” Doyle quips: “That may be the best idea you’ve ever had.” Both Walker and Doyle have been vaccinated. Both governors said in statements that they hoped the ad would encourage everyone to get vaccinated to enjoy the summer and return to a more normal life. “It just makes sense,” Walker said Thursday on Twitter in response to a post about the ad. A third former governor, current interim University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson, wielded a sledgehammer in a series of videos last year urging people to “smash COVID.”
Casper: Gov. Mark Gordon has announced that up to $12 million of the remaining $67 million of coronavirus relief money sent to the state will be allocated toward oil and gas projects through the Energy Rebound Program. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will accept applications for funding from June 15 through June 25, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. The Energy Rebound Program, which was launched in November, was created to boost the state’s oil and gas industry as it recovers from an economic decline by using federal aid as an incentive to push efforts to create jobs and stimulate the economy in Wyoming instead of in other states. “This is about trying to keep jobs in Wyoming,” Petroleum Association of Wyoming spokesman Ryan McConnaughey said, noting that projects will still need large investments because of a $500,000 cap on each project of the $12 million. The program was initially allocated $15 million from the federal government, but Gordon doubled the amount – all of which was awarded, governor’s office spokesman Michael Pearlman said. The Wyoming Business Council estimated that the last round of program projects will receive more than $150 million in oil and natural gas in 2021.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Surfboards up, 3D-printed home: News from around our 50 states