White Sands dust-up, distracted-driving cams, hog rules: News from around our 50 states


Montgomery: The state’s near-total abortion ban will remain blocked by a federal judge as a lawsuit over the ban plays out in court. Alabama did not appeal the court injunction that blocked the state’s near-total abortion ban from taking effect last month, according to the attorney general’s office. The state has previously acknowledged the ban is likely unenforceable unless the U.S. Supreme Court makes a major shift on abortion rights. The preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson temporarily stopped the ban from taking effect Nov. 15 while he hears a lawsuit challenging the ban as unconstitutional. The 2019 law would make performing an abortion a felony in almost all cases. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has said the state’s objective is to get the case to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to get justices to reconsider rulings such as Roe v. Wade and Pennsylvania v. Casey.


Anchorage: The state’s list of missing people has been updated and now contains 1,239 names, public safety officials said Friday. The Missing Person Clearinghouse produced by the Alaska Department of Public Safety lists people missing from 1960 through Dec. 1. The online registry is the culmination of nearly three years of gathering and researching cases overseen by police agencies statewide, says Malia Miller, clearinghouse manager. “In Alaska, missing persons cases remain open until they’re resolved,” Miller said in an announcement. Among the latest names: Anesha Murnane, 38, a vulnerable adult missing from an assisted living facility in Homer since Oct. 17. Officials believe she was picked up and driven north.


Phoenix: Gov. Doug Ducey told President Donald Trump’s administration Friday that the state will continue its tradition of welcoming refugees, cheering resettlement agencies that have lobbied the state and local governments to keep opening their arms to people fleeing war and other horrific situations in their native countries. Ducey wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo that Arizona has historically been among the most welcoming states for resettling refugees who have been vetted by a host of U.S. agencies long before they enter the United States. Arizona ranks eighth among states for refugee resettlement. Ducey’s order is not the final determination on whether refugees will be completely allowed in Arizona: Under the executive order, individual counties and other localities could vote to block refugees from being allowed in their jurisdictions.


Little Rock: Trustees of the Arkansas State University System have approved a plan to merge the financially struggling Henderson State University into its system. The trustees approved a resolution on the merger Friday at their meeting in Little Rock, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. Henderson State’s trustees had approved a similar measure last month. Under the deal, Henderson State will keep its name and its mascot, the Reddies. The Arkadelphia-based school – Arkansas’ only public, four-year liberal arts university – has faced financial troubles in recent years. The Arkansas State system serves nearly 23,000 students. Henderson State will become the third school to merge with ASU in recent years, including Mid-South Community College in West Memphis and College of the Ouachitas in Malvern.


Los Angeles: The pork industry is challenging the constitutionality of a voter-approved measure that will prohibit the sale of meat products from hogs born to sows confined in spaces that don’t meet new minimum size requirements. A lawsuit filed in San Diego federal court by the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation targets Proposition 12, which voters overwhelmingly passed a year ago and goes into effect in 2022. “Proposition 12 has thrown a giant wrench into the workings of the interstate market in pork,” the filing says. The measure bans the sale in California of pork and veal from farm animals raised in conditions that don’t meet its standards. It also requires that all eggs sold in the state come from cage-free hens. The rules will apply to pork products coming to California from farmers nationwide. The lawsuit contends that extraterritorial reach intrudes on authority given to Congress.


Grand Junction: Entry fees at Colorado National Monument are scheduled to increase by $5 effective Jan. 1. Entrance fees at the monument will increase to $25 for private vehicles, $20 for motorcycles, $15 for seven-day passes for bicyclists and pedestrians, and $45 for the annual pass. The National Park Service says people can buy the annual pass for $40 before Dec. 31, and it will be valid for next year. Fees have been hiked at the monument multiple times in recent years, starting in 2017. At that point, according to the Daily Sentinel, the fees hadn’t increased since 2011. The Park Service decided, based on public feedback, to phase in hikes in fees, which are used to support park visitors, rather than immediately doubling or tripling some fees.


New Haven: Students from Harvard and Yale universities, along with others who staged a climate change protest on the field during last month’s football game between the Ivy League schools, were sentenced Friday to perform community service. Judge Philip Scarpellino of New Haven Superior Court ordered about 50 people arrested on disorderly conduct charges during the Nov. 23 game to perform five hours of community service and return to court Jan. 27. If those conditions are met, the charges will be dropped, the judge said. Many participated in a climate change demonstration on the courthouse steps after their court appearances. Students and alumni from both schools occupied the midfield of the Yale Bowl during halftime. Some held banners urging their colleges to act on climate change. Other signs referred to Puerto Rican debt relief and China’s treatment of Uighurs.


Dover: A state agency is proposing a change in regulations that would allow people to bring their dogs onto restaurant patios and decks. The Delaware State News reports the proposed change follows an uproar from some over the state stepping up enforcement of a policy that prohibits most dogs from food establishments. The Division of Public Health increased enforcement in August after a weekly paper published an article on pet-friendly eateries. The agency said animals can pose a risk to public health because they shed hair continuously and may deposit liquid or fecal waste. In the state’s December list of proposed changes to regulations, the department proposes to allow dogs “in designated OUTDOOR SPACES that are not used for food storage or preparation, when a person controls the animal and if a health or safety hazard will not result from the presence or activities.”

District of Columbia

Washington: Election officials in the district have stopped an effort to recall a councilman already struggling to hold onto his seat amid allegations of ethics violations. Officials on Thursday found that activists fell about 1,000 signatures short of what would be required to force a recall election for Jack Evans’ seat, according to The Washington Post. The announcement comes after Evans’ lawyers challenged the validity of about 2,000 of the roughly 5,600 collected by activists over the past six months. The activist who led the recall effort, Adam Eidinger, disagreed with elections officials and says he plans to review their conclusion. He can appeal the decision to D.C. Superior Court, but it’s unclear if that will happen considering the rest of the D.C. Council has already voted in favor of expelling Evans, the newspaper noted.


Orlando: The roof has collapsed on a 94-year-old church that was only recently granted historic landmark status, further endangering efforts to preserve the surrounding black community. No one was injured when the roof of the Black Bottom House of Prayer in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood crumbled in on itself Thursday, news outlets report. It’s unclear what caused it, fire spokeswoman Ashley Papagni told the Orlando Sentinel. City officials ordered the unstable structure demolished. Pastor Dana Jackson and her two grandchildren raced inside Thursday trying to prevent that and prayed for several minutes before leaving. Jackson bought the church in 2015 and was leading restoration efforts. The church was built in 1925, according to its website. Black families had moved to the area in 1916, calling it “black bottom” for the rain-fed floodwater that lingered so long that people had to use canoes for transportation.


Brunswick: Glynn County has its first all-female firefighting crew. Three female Glynn County Fire Rescue firefighters have served together in the same engine company for the past several weeks, The Brunswick News reports. Capt. Elizabeth Hawkins, Syndal Tillotson and Brianna Depp share the same 24-hour shift and staff Engine 2 in the coastal county. “It’s fun whenever we pull up on a scene and the women say, ‘Look, it’s all females on that fire truck,’ ” said Hawkins, 51. “That’s kind of cool.” Hawkins says she encounters people who ask, “Do you actually fight fire?” “There’s always doubt, even just for being a female in the fire department, both from males and females,” she says. “There’s still surprise that there are women who actually do this.”


Pearl Harbor: A dozen frail survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor returned Saturday to honor those who perished when Japanese planes pierced a quiet sunny morning 78 years ago and rained bombs on battleships lined up below. About 30 World War II veterans and some 2,000 members of the public joined the survivors, the youngest of whom are now in their late 90s, to commemorate the anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that launched the U.S. into World War II. A moment of silence was held at 7:55 a.m., the same time the assault began. U.S. Air Force F-22 fighter jets flying overhead in missing man formation broke the quiet. The ceremony comes on the heels of two deadly shootings at Navy bases this week, one at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and another at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.


Idaho Falls: The Museum of Idaho has received a $500,000 donation that will be used to create a permanent exhibit telling the history of eastern Idaho. The Post Register reports Westmark Credit Union made the donation Friday at the museum in Idaho Falls. The new exhibit, called Way Out West, will be part of an expansion taking up two floors. The exhibit will cover the prehistory of the region up to the present. It’s expected to open in late 2020. “We’ve got a region that has some fantastic social, cultural and environmental history that has sometimes gone unappreciated even within our own state,” museum spokesman Jeff Carr says. Westmark President and CEO Rich Leonardson presented a ceremonial check to the museum in front of a 14-foot-tall replica mammoth called Bia-Dekape, meaning “Big Meal” in the Shoshoni language.


Urbana: Admissions applications to University of Illinois campuses no longer require potential students to disclose whether they have a criminal background. A student-led coalition urged the university to remove questions about criminal and disciplinary history, saying it discouraged people from applying, The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports. A 2015 study at the State University of New York, “Boxed Out,” found that more than 60% of students who had to check the criminal history box did not complete their applications. To maintain the safety of the campus and to ensure those ultimately admitted do not pose a security threat, the criminal history questions were moved to the point after an admissions decision has been made but before students enroll, “balancing safety and access.”


Indianapolis: The state’s driver’s manual will be translated into four more languages in order to settle a federal lawsuit. The agreement will have the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles by March 2021 provide the manual in Arabic, Burmese, Mandarin and Chin, a language spoken in Myanmar. That deal resolves a lawsuit filed last year by immigrant assistance group Neighbor to Neighbor of South Bend, which claimed the BMV was discriminating on the basis of a person’s national origin by providing the manual in only English and Spanish. A federal judge in Indianapolis dismissed the lawsuit this past week after the settlement was reached between attorneys for the state and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. The BMV didn’t admit any discrimination in the agreement, which requires the new translations be available for free on the agency’s website.


Des Moines: A group has raised about $1.2 million to fix damaged sculptures and add more diverse markers to the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens downtown. Iowa Asian Alliance Executive Director Nu Huynh says her organization, which received an extension on a $92,000 state tourism grant Thursday, plans to mend the 27 marble sculptures that a vandal shattered with a hammer two years ago. It also wants to protect the garden on the east bank of the Des Moines River from future potential flood damage. Huynh says the group also plans to build stronger ties to Ray’s legacy at the site. A five-term Republican governor, Ray advocated for the resettlement of 40,000 southeast Asian refugees in Iowa in the 1970s. “People wonder, ‘How in the world did you end up here, of all places – end up here, in Iowa?’ ” says Huynh, whose family immigrated from Vietnam in 1979. “It really goes back to the late governor’s efforts and leadership.”


Salina: Authorities are seeking help finding several Native American pieces that were stolen during a residential burglary near the city. The Saline County Sheriff’s Office released photos Friday of several of the items that were taken during the May heist in an effort to locate them. The items include a hand-carved mask, a moose jaw dream catcher, a beaver fur shield with a feather, and a dance stick made from a hawk’s leg with a talon. KSNW reports that the total loss is estimated at nearly $15,000.


Frankfort: All executive branch state agencies will accept emailed requests for public records to make it easier for people and the media to access information, Gov.-elect Andy Beshear says. Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a measure paving the way for agencies to voluntarily accept open records requests through email. Not all state agencies have adopted the policy, Beshear’s office said in a news release. Beshear said the change to accept emailed requests among all agencies will be a priority once he takes office Tuesday. “To be an effective, open and responsive state government, we must remove out-of-date and unnecessary hurdles that hinder those needing information from their government,” Beshear said. Kentuckians can also make records requests in person or via mail or fax.

Real-life couple Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Charlie Day, also known as "The Waitress" and Charlie Kelly, attends FX's "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" Season 14 premiere.
Real-life couple Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Charlie Day, also known as "The Waitress" and Charlie Kelly, attends FX's "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" Season 14 premiere.


New Orleans: Actor Bryan Cranston will be the celebrity monarch when the Krewe of Orpheus parade rolls Feb. 24, the krewe announced Friday. The Emmy- and Tony-winning “Breaking Bad” star will be joined by Charlie Day and Mary Elizabeth Ellis of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Country musician Lauren Alaina also will be part of the procession. And she will headline the krewe’s annual post-parade captain’s party, the “Orpheuscapade,” which will feature a tribute to New Orleans musician Art Neville, who died this year. The parade is one of the Mardi Gras season’s biggest. Some 1,200 krewe members will ride 30 elaborate floats in a parade that also features 32 marching bands and clubs.


Harrington: Thousands of wreaths made in the Pine Tree State have begun the long journey to Arlington National Cemetery. A caravan of trucks loaded with wreaths departed Saturday from a high school parking lot in Harrington. The national president of American Gold Star Mothers Inc., Mona Gunn, will lead the caravan as grand marshal. Her son died in a terrorist attack on the USS Cole. About 250,000 wreaths on 10 tractor-trailers are headed to the cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, where they will be placed on headstones Saturday, Dec. 14. Wreaths are also being shipped to veterans cemeteries across the United States and around the world. The tradition began when Maine wreath maker Morrill Worcester’s Worcester Wreath Company donated 5,000 wreaths to Arlington Cemetery. A spokeswoman says more than 2 million wreaths will be placed on markers across more than 2,000 locations this holiday season.


Rockville: A new set of eyes may soon be watching area roads – surveillance cameras that can see if drivers are using their cellphones. Montgomery County Councilman Tom Hucker has asked Democratic Maryland Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher to file a bill that would allow the county to use automated cameras to catch distracted drivers and issue tickets. If implemented, it would be the first program of its kind in the country, new outlets report. The cameras would work similarly to red light cameras and be mounted on poles or on other county vehicles, capturing footage through the drivers’ window. Police officers and artificial intelligence would identify the offense, and tickets would be mailed out. The proposal has some worried about privacy. “This technology is creepy to me in a Peeping Tom type of way,” says John Townsend, a public affairs manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic, which represents 1 million motorists in Maryland.


Boston: The city is considering designating a section of a neighborhood as the “Little Saigon Cultural District” for its significant Vietnamese community. The proposal calls for the Field’s Corner section in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood to be given the designation. A hearing was held on the idea Thursday. Supporters say the goal is to recognize the Vietnamese community’s role in revitalizing the area. Boston is home to the state’s largest Vietnamese population, with most settling in Dorchester as refugees after the Vietnam War. Many of the city’s more than 9,000 Vietnamese residents live in and around Field’s Corner, which became home to the country’s first community center for Vietnamese Americans in the 1990s. But some residents have voiced concern over the years that the idea doesn’t represent the diversity of Dorchester.


Lansing: The number of people in the state installing solar panels or other renewable energy to generate their own electricity continues to rise. The Public Service Commission reports the installations increased by nearly 57% in 2018. Participation in the state’s net metering program has grown every year since 2006. There were more than 5,200 customers who participated, up from more than 3,200 in 2017. The projects still represent a tiny portion of Michigan’s total electricity sales. Solar power is by far the most popular type of what is called distributed energy generation. About 94% of participants installed solar projects.


Minneapolis: A Brainerd man was charged Friday with federal misdemeanor counts of wildlife trafficking and trespassing on Indian lands after he allegedly shot and killed a bear on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Brett Stimac, 40, knowingly and willfully entered the reservation without permission Sept. 1 to hunt a bear. Prosecutors say he killed a large American black bear with a compound bow. They say that on Sept. 2, he posed for photos with the bear’s carcass and later posted them on Facebook. Because of the bear’s size, Stimac could not move the bear from the reservation, so he took its head and paws, harvested a small amount of meat, and left the rest of the carcass behind, prosecutors say. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa does not permit non-Indians to hunt bear within the reservation’s boundaries due to the bear’s spiritual importance to the band.


Jackson: A Confederate statue would be moved from a central spot on the University of Mississippi’s campus to a less prominent Confederate cemetery, under a proposal approved Friday by a state board. The cemetery is still on campus, but it’s in a place few people walk or drive. The vote Friday was by Mississippi Department of Archives and History trustees, who said the university’s architectural and engineering plans meet U.S. Department of Interior standards for treatment of historical monuments. A separate board that governs Mississippi’s eight public universities must also approve the plan to move the monument. That board’s next meeting is Jan. 16. For now, the marble soldier will continue to salute silently from the same prominent site where it has stood since 1906, near the university’s white-columned main administration building.


Caruthersville: Dozens of sinkholes, some up to 12 feet deep, are dotting the landscape in this small southeastern Missouri city, forcing road detours, swallowing sections of people’s yards and leaving city leaders scrambling to make repairs. Months of flooding along the Mississippi River are to blame for the problems in the city of 6,000 people, which was “built on a swamp,” according to Mayor Sue Grantham. The nearly four dozen sinkholes have caused an estimated $4.5 million in damage, and things may get worse. “It’s probably going to continue, and we may find more,” Grantham said Friday. The holes range wildly in size, but the largest are up to 10 feet wide and up to 12 feet deep, Grantham estimated. Federal and state money will help with about 90% of the repair costs, but the city, which is near the Tennessee border and in one of Missouri’s poorest counties, will be hard-pressed to cover its approximately $450,000 share.


Missoula: The state’s most disadvantaged students, especially Native American students, have missed a disproportionate number of school days due to out-of-school suspensions, referrals and arrests, according to an ACLU of Montana report. It found that students across Montana lost more than 18,000 days of instruction, or about 12 days for every 100 students, due to out-of-school suspensions during 2015-2016 alone, using the most recent state and federal data available. Native American students lost nearly six times the amount of instruction due to out-of-school suspensions and were arrested more than six times as often as their white peers in that school year. The report highlights the use of exclusionary discipline, or any type of discipline that removes a student from their usual educational setting, as well as referrals to and arrests by law enforcement officers.


Omaha: The University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine are in the early planning stages of developing a new state-of-the-art research and patient care facility, officials with both entities say. The project could cost as much as $2 billion and is imagined as several buildings to be constructed on the northwest corner of the medical center campus, the officials said at a news conference Thursday. Those buildings could include one or more new towers for research and inpatient care, the Omaha World-Herald reports. UNMC Chancellor Dr. Jeffrey Gold said the plans are in the preliminary concept stages, and no final planning has been completed. “We are just setting the stage at this time,” Gold said.


Las Vegas: A blogger’s legal fight with a brothel owner who sits on a local lawmaking board has led to a state Supreme Court ruling extending journalism shield law protection to online reporters as well as newspaper, television and radio news gatherers. Sam Toll said Friday from his home in the old northern Nevada mining town of Gold Hill that he would rather be known as an online journalist than a blogger, and he’s proud of the unanimous ruling issued Thursday by the seven-member court. Nevada was already among 30 U.S. states and the District of Columbia with laws shielding reporters from having to reveal confidential sources. The court rejected a state court judge’s finding that because Toll wasn’t a member of a press association, and his blog wasn’t in printed form, the state law didn’t apply to him.

New Hampshire

Bedford: A Bedford High School senior has designed an award-winning app for a congressional contest designed to encourage interest in computer science. Daniel Ethridge won the 2019 Congressional App Challenge for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas said Friday. His app, called Now-Do, is a task management tool that allows users to sort tasks and reminders by time and location. For example, a grocery list could be set to pop up when the user gets to the store. “I was inspired to make this app after being burned by countless to-do apps that simply did not work for me,” Ethridge said. “So I took upon this challenge to do something I haven’t done before – to design, prototype and finalize a real-world, fully functional app from scratch in less than a week.” Winners from each congressional district will be invited to an annual event in Washington called #HouseOfCode.

New Jersey

Asbury Park: Prosecutors say a suspended police officer and a former special law enforcement officer face additional charges relating to two alleged vandalism incidents. Monmouth County prosecutors say the Asbury Park officers – Thomas Dowling, 26, and Stephen Martinsen, 29 – were charged Saturday with two counts each of official misconduct. They also face eight charges filed earlier including conspiracy, criminal mischief and weapons counts. Authorities have alleged that the two wore disguises when they rode their bikes in September to two vehicles owned by a citizen who had filed a complaint and then proceeded to slash the vehicles’ tires and break windows. Dowling, who was a special officer, has been fired. Martinsen, a full-time officer, was suspended without pay.

New Mexico

Albuquerque: Iconic gypsum sand that the group Cowboys for Trump had said was from White Sands National Monument and was sent to Washington for the U.S. Capitol Tree lighting ceremony last week was actually gathered just outside the monument, one of the group’s co-founders said Friday. The group had caused a political furor after announcing it sent the sand because it’s illegal to remove sand from the park – and Democrats said the group might have violated federal law. But Otero County Commission Chairman and Cowboys for Trump co-founder Couy Griffin says the group collected its four “big plastic bins” of extremely fine, pure white sand from outside the monument’s perimeter for delivery to Wednesday’s tree lighting ceremony after getting permission from the New Mexico Department of Transportation. The agency has not confirmed that.

New York

Albany: The state is moving ahead with a law that will raise the minimum wage on New Year’s Eve. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget director says several studies show New York’s gradual increase in the minimum wage hasn’t directly caused a loss in jobs. State law required the budget director to assess whether New York should keep raising the minimum wage or delay such an increase. The state has been raising its minimum wage at different rates in different regions since 2016. Last year the minimum wage increased to $15 in New York City for all business with more than 10 employees. The $15 wage will expand to small businesses in the city with 10 or fewer employees starting Dec. 31. The minimum will increase from $12 to $13 in Long Island and Westchester. The rest of the Empire State, mainly Upstate New York, will see a small wage bump to $11.80 from $11.10.

North Carolina

Bodie Island: The Cape Hatteras National Seashore has a new wheelchair-accessible duck blind. The structure near state Highway 12 on Bodie Island is the seashore’s first accessible blind and among few found elsewhere, The Virginian-Pilot reports. “It was just something we needed to do,” says the island district park ranger, Lynn Edwards. Wheelchair-accessible duck blinds on public lands remain rare, according to Andi Cooper, a spokeswoman for the national conservation nonprofit Ducks Unlimited. Waterfowl hunting is a long-held tradition in the area and is a hard task even for more ambulatory hunters, who haul firearms, ammunition and decoys through a trail in the marsh to traditional blinds. Such shore blinds, covered in camouflaging vegetation, typically sit along a bank and have room for up to two people. Duck hunting season starts Saturday.

North Dakota

Bismarck: State education officials are seeking public input on new rules that have been created to govern a program that will allow armed first responders in schools. The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction is hosting a meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Capitol to hear from the public, the Bismarck Tribune reports. The Legislature passed a law earlier this year that allows a school board to designate an armed first responder to carry or have access to a concealed weapon at a specific school. Under the proposed rules, an armed first responder can’t be a teacher or anyone with direct supervision of children at a school. Among other requirements, the first responder must have training equivalent to a law enforcement officer or be retired from law enforcement for three years or less; complete a physical and mental health evaluation; and be trained in crisis management and advanced first aid.


Cincinnati: Researchers at the University of Cincinnati are working on developing hearing protection for canines on the battlefield. The head of the project tells WKRC-TV in Cincinnati that the goal is to prevent short-term hearing loss in military working dogs. The researchers have been testing different materials and designs while trying to find how to muffle high-decibel noise from explosions and gunfire. The U.S. military contacted the University of Cincinnati about creating the special headgear because the school has a unique hearing clinic for animals. While the headgear is being tested and created for dogs in the military and law enforcement, researchers say they hope it could be available to all dog owners.


Oklahoma City: Gov. Kevin Stitt has appointed a longtime Department of Corrections veteran to lead the agency. Stitt announced Friday that Scott Crow, a 23-year employee of the agency, would serve as the new executive director. Crow has been the agency’s interim director since June, when his predecessor Joe Allbaugh abruptly resigned. In a statement, Stitt praised Crow for helping organize reentry fairs ahead of a mass commutation last month and for improving morale among agency employees. “Crow is strengthening morale among employees and setting goals to modernize operations, and he is the right person to receive the appointment to be the next director of ODOC,” Stitt said. The Department of Corrections employs about 4,300 workers at its 24 facilities across Oklahoma and has an annual budget of more than $550 million. Crow’s appointment will require state Senate confirmation.


Portland: Backers of an initiative to decriminalize small amounts of illicit drugs started collecting signatures last week. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports advocates need 112,020 signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. Campaign manager Peter Zuckerman says the proponents will decide to push ahead with the initiative depending on the success in collecting signatures this month. The effort, called Initiative Petition 44 or the 2020 Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, is backed by the Drug Policy Alliance. Zuckerman says the initiative’s aim is to shift to a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.” It would use most tax revenue generated by recreational marijuana sales to fund treatment centers statewide. The proposal would remove criminal penalties for personal, non-commercial possession of drugs including heroin, methamphetamine and ecstasy.


Philadelphia: The debate over criminal justice reform and second chances grew heated Friday when a lifer freed by the governor remained jailed over a lame-duck prosecutor’s efforts to hold him on a 1992 shoplifting charge involving stolen jeans. David Sheppard, 54, had served nearly 30 years for his role in a fatal robbery that took the life of a beloved pharmacist in West Philadelphia. Sheppard was not the gunman but was serving life for felony murder before the state pardons board and governor approved his release. Hours before he was to leave prison Friday, outgoing Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland filed the detainer over his failure to show for court decades ago in the stolen jeans case. “This store went out of business 25 years ago and even got the items back,” said Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who chairs the five-member pardons board and called Copeland’s tactic an abuse of power.

Rhode Island

Providence: Capitol and state police arrested 14 climate activists at the Statehouse for trespassing Friday night. Several hundred citizens gathered on the Statehouse steps asking Gov. Gina Raimondo to decline contributions from fossil fuel companies or to sign on to the Green New Deal. The Capitol and State Police closed the building, which normally closes at 4 p.m., at 7 p.m. and arrested those inside who refused to leave on charges of trespassing, the Providence Journal reports. “Right now, she really is controlled by fossil fuel money, and she’s taken over half a million dollars from big fossil fuel billionaires and executives, and they pretty much control all her decisions, and her decisions are influenced by it,” Providence high school student Anjali Subramanian told WPRO radio. Subramanian led the rally. “While I admire them for their activism and their initiative, you know, it’s easy for them to wave a piece of paper and say, ‘Sign this.’ I actually have to govern,” Raimondo told the station.

South Carolina

Columbia: Gov. Henry McMaster and his family are opening up the governor’s mansion Monday to show off their Christmas decorations. The open house will run from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the governor’s residence in downtown Columbia. Admission is free, but first lady Peggy McMaster is asking guests to bring gifts of canned goods that will be donated to Harvest Host Food Bank. The governor’s mansion was decorated by the Columbia Garden Club and includes Christmas trees and poinsettias from farms in Lexington. There will be a farm scene built from gingerbread by governor’s mansion executive chef Jared Hudson and wreaths that were made by prison inmates. Santa and Mrs. Claus will show up, and there will be hot cocoa and cookies, the first lady said in a statement. The governor’s staff will also offer tours by appointment on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings through Dec. 19.

South Dakota

South Dakota may change up its high school football class system.
South Dakota may change up its high school football class system.

Sioux Falls: Plans for a radical overhaul of the state’s high school football system are gaining some traction. An advisory committee on Thursday advanced plans to reconfigure the seven-class system to five classes, a proposal to be considered by the state’s athletic directors and ultimately the South Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors. The committee took a look at the current system and considered trends across the state with respect to the increasing number of consolidations and co-ops, variances in enrollment and growth of the Sioux Falls metro. “The committee took all those things and tried to balance it out,” SDHSAA assistant executive director John Krogstrand says. The five classes would be renamed 11AA, 11A, 11B, 9A and 9B, just as they were in 1999, the last time South Dakota had five football classes.


Nashville: A bank, a farm and a fallout shelter are among eight sites in the state recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Tennessee Historical Commission says the eight properties have been deemed cultural resources worthy of preservation. The Wooten Fallout Shelter in Memphis is one of the sites named to the register. Built in the early 1960s, it was designed to hold 65 people for a month. Now part of a gated community, it has been used as a community center. Hardwick Farms in Cleveland, which includes a 1930s Spanish revival house, will be put on the register. Historians say the Bank of Loretto in Lawrence County was built after the original building burned around 1924. The bank moved in 1967, and the building is now used as a restaurant. The Barksdale Mounted Police Station in Memphis, a municipal police station that housed both police officers and horses, was also among sites that made the cut.


Houston: Health officials identified a cancer cluster in a north Houston neighborhood polluted by the wood preservative creosote from a nearby railroad operation, prompting calls from residents and the city for a more in-depth investigation of potential ongoing risks. An assessment by the Department of State Health Services didn’t attempt to determine whether the cancers were linked to chemicals beneath homes in the city’s Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens. But the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requested the assessment because of residents’ concerns that a plume of polluted groundwater from the Union Pacific site had made some of them sick, and city health officials said it underscored the need for a closer examination. Creosote, deemed a probable human carcinogen, was used for more than 80 years in a rail yard in the historically black area, until the 1980s, the Chronicle reports.


Salt Lake City: Officials say a dropped phone may have resulted in a typo that overvalued a home for almost $1 billion. And taxpayers may have to pay for the mistake. The Deseret News reports a house built in 1978 in an unincorporated area of the county was recorded in 2019 tax rolls with a value of more than $987 million. That’s an overestimate of about $543 million in taxable value. Wasatch County Assessor Maureen “Buff” Griffiths told officials last month that a staff member might have dropped a phone on a keyboard. Griffiths said the accident has resulted in a countywide overvaluation of more than $6 million. Griffiths added that the blunder also produced revenue shortfalls in five taxing entities. Wasatch County officials say residents will likely see an increased tax rate over the next three years to make up for the lower amount collected in 2019.


Castleton: Castleton University says it has received a $200,000 grant to help revitalize a building that was constructed around 1800 and serves as an important example of Federal-style architecture from the early history of the state. The university says the grant from the Alma Gibbs Donchian Foundation aims to help revitalize the Granger House, which is part of the Castleton Village Historic District and is one of the oldest homes in Castleton. It was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Following the renovations, Granger House, which was acquired by the university in 2012, will become the new residence of the university’s president. It will also be the setting for campus, community and philanthropic events. The renovations are part of the university’s plan to create the Early Childhood Lab, which will be housed in the current home of the university president.


Richmond: State officials say an imported fire ant quarantine has been expanded to include a total of seven counties and 11 cities. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says the area of quarantine was expanded after survey data showed that imported fire ant populations were widespread in additional localities. The imported fire ant is known for its aggressive behavior and ferocious sting. Once established, it has the potential to spread to uninfested areas through natural means or through the movement of infested articles. The quarantine now includes the counties of Brunswick, Greensville, Isle of Wight, James City, Mecklenburg, Southampton and York. It also includes the cities of Chesapeake, Emporia, Franklin, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg.


Spokane: Washington State University researchers have released a study saying licensed cannabis companies are more likely located in less-educated neighborhoods across the state. The Spokesman-Review reports that the research used publicly available data from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board checked against data from the Area Deprivation Index including median family income, single-parent households, median home values, employment levels and highest education attained. Researchers say marijuana businesses from 2014 through 2017 were more likely to be in areas with high deprivation scores compared to their middle-class and upper-class counterparts. University researchers say there is no definitive explanation for the results, but they could be due to higher demands for the drug, affordability of real estate and laws regulating where businesses can operate.

West Virginia

Charleston: West Virginia University will hold a summit on food deserts this week as part of an ongoing project to increase access to healthy food in the state. The school says it will hold the meeting Tuesday at the Bridgeport Conference Center. It will include food retailers, farmers and food access specialists. The meeting will mark the college’s third installment of its series on finding solutions to food insecurity in West Virginia. The goal is to make the public aware of the importance of access to healthy foods and then to figure out collaborative ways to make nutritious food more widely available.


Madison: Gov. Tony Evers lit the state Capitol’s “holiday tree” while praising scientists as a choir sang Christmas carols Friday in an odd juxtaposition of the two sides of the ongoing debate over the tree’s symbolism. The state Department of Administration places a huge evergreen in the Capitol rotunda every year ahead of Christmas. Politicians have quarreled about what to call it for decades. They referred to it as a Christmas tree until 1985, when they started calling it a holiday tree to avoid perceptions that they were endorsing religion. The Republican-controlled state Assembly passed a resolution in 2007 declaring the tree a Christmas tree, but it died in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the son of a Baptist minister, called it a Christmas tree when he took office in 2011. Evers, a Democrat, called the tree a holiday tree last month and asked schoolchildren to submit science-related ornaments to adorn the tree. The name change infuriated Republicans.


Cheyenne: Gov. Mark Gordon is asking for a federal disaster declaration to help farmers affected by cold weather in October. Two cold spells with warm weather in between harmed sugar beet crops in northern and southeastern Wyoming. The first cold spell halted sugar beet growth. Ensuing warm weather caused beets to rot in storage. The second cold spell made harvesting more beets impossible, Gordon told Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue in a letter Thursday. Gordon wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare Laramie, Goshen and Platte counties in southeastern Wyoming and Park and Big Horn counties in northern Wyoming federal disaster areas. The designation would enable affected farmers to qualify for financial aid to address the crop losses.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: White Sands dust-up, distracted-driving cams: News from around our 50 states

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