Montgomery: Legislative leaders are continuing to discuss prison construction and renovation alternatives, including whether pandemic relief funds can be used to offset costs or renovating and building prisons. Key lawmakers say they expect to continue discussions this month in advance of a possible special session later in the year. “I think the House and Senate are pretty close to an agreement,” said Rep. Steve Clouse, who chairs the House General Fund budget committee. “The vast majority of legislators want to move forward with a bond proposal and for us to own the prisons.” Clouse and Sen. Greg Albritton, chairman of the Senate General Fund budget committee, said a topic under discussion is whether federal funds from the American Rescue Plan may be used to offset some of the costs or do renovations. States can use that money for a wide range of uses to contend with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Albritton said the state is trying to get clarity on “what can we do with the recovery money.” Lawmakers are looking for more options after Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to rent prisons, which would be run by the state but built and owned by private companies, fell apart because of financing concerns. However, federal officials have been clear that new facilities will not solve the state’s prison woes.
Anchorage: A wildfire burned close to a vacation destination Tuesday, but fire officials believed Chena Hot Springs Resort would be spared. “They’re pretty confident that they’re going to be able to defend the resort, based on the measures that we’ve set up and the personnel we have on scene,” said Tim Mowry, a spokesperson for the Alaska Division of Forestry. Firefighters were working to protect the resort, homes and recreational cabins in the area of interior Alaska about 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Flames were about 100 yards from the resort, where crews were spraying water on buildings, the agency said in a statement. Firefighters also conducted a back burn near a trail that leads to two yurts for viewing the northern lights in hopes it would help stop the fire from advancing toward the main buildings. Hoses and sprinklers also were set up at nearby homes and cabins. No structures in the Chena Hot Springs area had burned, fire officials said. Light showers that fell overnight weren’t enough to put out the fire, but the increased humidity was helping to slow its growth. The Fairbanks North Star Borough on Monday issued a voluntary evacuation order. Alaska State Troopers conducted a survey of homeowners and cabin users and found that about 30 people decided not to leave, along with resort owner Bernie Karl.
Tucson: Officials in the city plan to ignore Arizona’s new “Second Amendment sanctuary” law that bars state and local governments from enforcing certain federal gun regulations, possibly setting up a court fight as a growing number of cities and counties in the United States declare themselves similar firearm havens. The move by Democratic Mayor Regina Romero and the City Council again puts Tucson and the Republican-led state at odds over how to regulate gun sales and use. The southern Arizona city has long tried to enforce gun laws stricter than the state’s, including mandating background checks for guns purchased on city property and destroying seized firearms. Over the years, those measures have been challenged after the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted laws barring the actions. The new action came after GOP Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill in April declaring that Arizona is a so-called Second Amendment sanctuary. It was partly a response to the election of President Joe Biden, who has vowed to enact tighter firearms regulations. In a growing movement, at least 1,200 local governments have declared themselves sanctuaries insulated from state and federal gun laws since 2018, when high-profile mass shootings prompted calls for stronger regulations. Many are symbolic, but some carry legal force.
Beebe: The Rev. Al Sharpton and attorneys for George Floyd’s family on Tuesday mourned a white Arkansas teenager fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy, as they urged support across racial lines for efforts to reform police practices. Sharpton eulogized 17-year-old Hunter Brittain, who was shot and killed by a white Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy, Sgt. Michael Davis, during a traffic stop June 23 near Cabot, about 30 miles northeast of Little Rock. The killing in the predominantly white community has drawn the attention of national civil rights activists such as Sharpton, who said concerns about police tactics aren’t just limited to the Black community. “The issue of policing is not about Black and white,” Sharpton told a packed auditorium at Beebe High School, where Brittain was a rising senior. “It’s about right and wrong.” Many attending the memorial wore jeans and shirts that read “Justice for Hunter.” Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley last week fired Davis for not turning on his body camera until after he had shot Brittain. Staley said the only footage police have is from the aftermath. Arkansas State Police are investigating Brittain’s death. Authorities have released few details about the shooting. Brittain’s family has said the teenager was unarmed and was holding a jug of antifreeze when he was shot.
Sacramento: State lawmakers will wait until next year to continue considering a bill that would give opioid users a place to inject drugs in supervised settings, the bill’s author said Tuesday. State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said he was told the Assembly Health Committee will delay a hearing on his bill until January. The measure would allow Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles County to start programs giving people a place to inject drugs while trained staff are available to help if they suffer accidental overdoses. “Safe consumption sites are a proven strategy to save lives and help people into recovery,” Wiener said. Currently the sites are illegal in the United States but legal in Canada. Wiener’s bill barely cleared the Senate in April. The Senate Republican Caucus said in a statement at the time that the bill would “establish taxpayer-staffed and funded drug dens.” The proposal is opposed by some law enforcement groups, but Wiener said in a statement that it “is very much alive, albeit delayed.” Wiener noted he was disappointed in another delay at a time when he said San Francisco and other cities are experiencing record overdose deaths. His bill would require workers at the centers to try to get users into drug treatment programs or refer them to medical or mental health care or social services programs.
Denver: The Denver Zoo will begin vaccinating some of its animals against COVID-19 as early as next week. Zoologists say they have been working with the veterinary vaccine company Zoetis to receive doses for the animals, and primates and carnivores will be first on the list. The veterinary vaccine, which is formulated primarily for mammals, is being developed separate from the ones for human use. Transmission is rare between humans and other species, but there have been several documented cases of COVID-19 in large cats, monkeys and certain rodent populations. “We know some of those animals – like gorillas and tigers, mink, otters – can all be infected. But for a lot of these others, we don’t know what the susceptibility is,” Dr. Scott Larsen, the zoo’s vice president of animal health, told KMGH-TV. “For animals, we want to be able to protect them similar to (how) we’re trying to protect people.” Veterinary scientists do not think common house pets like cats or dogs are in significant danger of catching COVID-19. “There are 85 million dogs in the United States and 90 million cats,” said Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, a veterinarian at VCA Alameda East Veterinary in Denver. “If we were going to see problems … I think we would be seeing it.”
Guilford: The state’s newest climate change legislation should put it in a good position to receive millions of dollars in anticipated federal funds to help foot the bill for expensive resiliency projects needed across Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont and other state officials said Tuesday. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes said the $30 million in bonding included in the new state budget to help municipalities identify and plan for such projects, including green infrastructure, will also give Connecticut a leg up on other states. “We’ll be shovel-ready. We’ll be at the front of the line,” Dykes said during a bill-signing event at a beach in Guilford. “It’s going to take a lot of dollars to help protect our communities from the impacts of climate change. And the best way to do that, dollars we really want to put to work, are federal dollars.” Curt Johnson, president of the environmental group Save the Sound, predicted Connecticut will receive $3 or $4 in federal funds for every $1 the state spends on these resiliency efforts. The new law gives all cities and towns, not just certain ones, the ability to establish stormwater authorities. Additionally, the law expands the duties of the 10-year-old Connecticut Green Bank, a first-in-the-nation entity.
Dover: Two deadly species of hemlock have been found in Delaware, and the state’s Department of Agriculture is warning people to avoid plants that look like wild carrots to prevent the possibility of being poisoned. Environmental scientists confirmed that poison hemlock and spotted water hemlock were located in Sussex County wetlands, according to a news release from the agency. Both plants have small white flowers and bloom between June and August. Poison hemlock also grows in meadows, pastures and ditches. The invasive plant can reach between 6 and 8 feet tall and has a hairless stem with purple blotches. The department said this type of hemlock releases an odor but shouldn’t be crushed to smell because toxic oils can be emitted. Spotted water hemlock is a native plant and can grow up to 6 feet tall. Its stems vary in color from solid green or purple to green with purple spots or stripes, and it has fern-like leaves. People who think they found either plant can email pictures to [email protected] for identification. The Agriculture Department said residents shouldn’t try to eradicate the hemlocks themselves and should instead find a licensed aquatic pest control company to treat them. It also advised against mowing the plants, which can release toxic particles into the air.
District of Columbia
Washington: Parking in the nation’s capital is often a nightmare for residents and especially for their guests, but D.C. has launched an easier visitor parking pass program, WUSA-TV reports. When the visitor parking pass was launched in 2013, it was met with widespread opposition. With the new program, people can register for the annual pass allowing their guests to park for two hours in a residential permit parking zone in all eight wards. “The intent of the system is to make getting a visitor parking permit easier and also to reduce parking congestion in residential areas,” said Everett Lott, acting director for the District Department of Transportation. The new online parking portal now allows people to print out their own parking permits for visitors and can be accessed through the portal provided by D.C. online or through an app on Apple or Android phones. “This particular system, the automated system, is connected to the resident and to the license plate,” Lott said. “So it makes it a lot more user-friendly but also helps to eliminate any of the abuse that was possible in the past.” Parking permits, which must be displayed prominently on the windshield of vehicles, can be printed at home, at D.C. Public Library branches, or at kiosks at DDOT Headquarters, the DDOT Permit Office and Metropolitan Police Department precincts.
Tampa: A couple is suing a Catholic school and demanding the return of a large donation, saying it isn’t adhering to Catholic values because of the way it’s handling issues like race and accepting the LGBTQ community. Anthony and Barbara Scarpo filed their lawsuit against the Academy of the Holy Names last month after one of their daughters graduated and a second transferred to another school, the Tampa Bay Times reports. The lawsuit comes four years after the couple pledged $1.35 million to the school, which named its theater for the family. The couple claims the school has “lost its way” by distancing itself from mainstream Catholicism and embracing a “woke culture” in which priority is given to “gender identity, human sexuality and pregnancy termination among other hot button issues.” The suit also takes issue with a blackboard in a common area that explains how to be an ally to the LGBTQ community, as well as how the school takes on the issue of race, saying white students are made to feel guilty. The Scarpos had paid $240,000 toward the pledge as of 2018, the lawsuit said. The school didn’t discuss details of the suit, but spokeswoman Emily Wise told the Times in an email that the school’s curriculum is based on Catholic values.
Atlanta: A federal judge on Wednesday declined to block some challenged sections of Georgia’s new election law ahead of two runoff elections next week, but he didn’t rule out the possibility for future elections. Election integrity activists had asked U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee to prohibit the state from enforcing sections of the new law that have to do with observation of elections, as well as a new deadline for requesting absentee ballots. Their request arose from one of eight federal lawsuits challenging the new law. The Republican-backed overhaul of election rules enacted this year has been blasted by Democrats and others who say it creates unnecessary obstacles to voting, particularly for people of color. Most of the lawsuits, including one filed last month by the U.S. Department of Justice, challenge the parts of law that critics say threaten voting rights. The targeted request that led to Wednesday’s ruling, though, focused on provisions mostly related to monitoring or photographing parts of the election process. The activists, led by the Coalition for Good Governance, said those sections criminalize normal election observation activities and could intimidate voters, election observers and members of the news media. A tighter absentee ballot request deadline makes it virtually impossible to get one for a runoff, they argue.
Honolulu: Lawmakers on Tuesday overrode Gov. David Ige’s veto of a bill that overhauls how the state funds the Hawaii Tourism Authority and allocates tourism tax revenue to the counties. The bill would stop funding the tourism agency with money raised by the transient accommodations tax on hotel stays and other short-term rentals. Instead, lawmakers intend to pay for the agency with money from the general fund, though for the current fiscal year they appropriated federal coronavirus relief funds. Further, instead of providing the state’s four major counties with a share of transient accommodations tax revenue, the legislation gives the counties the authority to levy their own surcharge to the tax. Currently, the state charges one uniform hotel tax rate across the islands. Sen. Bennette Misalucha, vice chair of the Senate’s Energy, Economic Development, and Tourism Committee, said special funds shouldn’t be protected for the benefit of one industry. She said the Legislature brought special funds like hotel tax revenue into the general fund to stop this practice. The Hawaii Tourism Authority will now be required to get support from lawmakers for its budget just like other state agencies, she said, which will require the agency to be more forthcoming with its strategic plans and force more communication between the agency and lawmakers.
Coeur d’Alene: High housing prices in northern Idaho are making it difficult to attract police officers, law enforcement officials say. Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. Dave Hagar told the Coeur d’Alene Press that low crime rates and an outdoor lifestyle are big draws but that skyrocketing housing prices are turning people away. “Five years ago, the cost of living in Coeur d’Alene was much more reasonable,” Hagar said. “Now it’s gone above that.” The Coeur d’Alene Association of Realtors said the median residential home sale price was $476,000 in March. That’s a 47% increase from a year ago. Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris said his agency has recruited new hires only to have them decline the job after discovering they couldn’t afford housing. “It’s a significant barrier,” he said. “The housing situation is severe.” The agency is looking to hire deputies, dispatchers, control room operators, clerks and jail staff. “We’re going to have to attract local candidates,” Norris said. “We can’t do that when some of our pay is $14 or $15 an hour.” Kootenai County Commissioner Bill Brooks said other county agencies are also having a hard time finding and retaining workers. Wages once considered normal are now not enough.
Chicago: The city’s schools will encourage student COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of the start of the school year with school-based vaccination sites and events, officials announced Wednesday. Officials with the nation’s third-largest school district plan to offer full in-person instruction in the fall and want to vaccinate as many students as possible before classes begin next month. District officials said they are “not in a position” to mandate COVID-19 shots but will ask families to submit COVID-19 vaccine documents, as is the practice with other immunizations. Starting next week, the district will offer vaccines at three school sites for students and their families. The sites will be able to administer 600 doses weekly. The district is also working with hospitals for events in areas with low inoculation rates and offering the shots at back-to-school events. “Schools are trusted pillars of our communities, and as a district we are uniquely suited to help expand vaccination opportunities, which helps create the safest possible learning environments at our schools,” said Jose M. Torres, interim schools CEO. More than 50,000 children under the age of 18 have already been vaccinated in Chicago, according to the city’s Department of Public Health. Roughly 350,000 students attend Chicago Public Schools.
Indianapolis: As federal officials debate pouring billions of dollars into broadband access, data suggests many of Indiana’s schoolchildren and adults who preferred to work from home spent the pandemic with subpar access to high-speed internet, particularly in the state’s least-wealthy counties. In about half of Indiana’s counties – 47 of 92 – measured by a Federal Communications Commission study, broadband access is available to at least 79% of residents. Yet in about half of the state measured by Microsoft – 47 of 92 counties – no more than 22% of households actually have high-speed access, a USA TODAY analysis shows. President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of Senate moderates have reached a deal on a far-reaching infrastructure plan that would direct $65 billion to increase broadband connectivity from coast to coast. Despite the agreement, it’s unclear whether it would address the solutions some lawmakers want to see such as continued broadband subsidies for low-income families, greater competition among wireless providers, and continued buildout of high-speed networks in poorer, rural areas. In Indiana, 12.4% of residents don’t have adequate broadband infrastructure, and 48.4% live in areas with only one internet provider, according to the White House.
Iowa City: A teenager injured in an accident on an amusement ride that killed his younger brother remained on life support Wednesday as he turned 16, his family pastor said. David Jaramillo has been in a medically induced coma at Blank Children’s Hospital since Saturday’s accident on the Raging River at Adventureland Park in Altoona, pastor Christian Shields said. David has some brain function and has woken up a couple times at the Des Moines hospital, opening his eyes and asking what happened, he said. He remains hooked up to breathing machines, but doctors are hoping to wean him off life support, Shields said. The pastor at Christian Life Church in Cedar Rapids said it’s a miracle that David is alive after being pinned underneath a boat in water for several minutes. The church, which planned a prayer vigil for the family Wednesday night, is sponsoring a GoFundMe page that has raised $30,000. Friends have brought balloons to the hospital for David’s birthday, but “there won’t be a lot of celebrating,” Shields said. The Jaramillo family, of Marion, Iowa, went to Adventureland on Saturday to celebrate David’s upcoming birthday. The junior at Linn-Mar High School had been excited about getting his driver’s license as a step toward freedom and adulthood, Shields said.
Topeka: Gov. Laura Kelly has expanded the paid leave that state employees can take from their jobs when they become parents or act as caregivers. Kelly issued an executive order Tuesday that provides an extra two weeks of paid leave for state workers who are a child’s primary caregiver and an extra week for secondary caregivers. The order also makes foster parents eligible for the same paid leave. Primary caregivers will now receive up to eight weeks of paid leave, rather than six. Secondary caregivers will receive four weeks instead of three. The order directed the state Department of Administration to put the new policies into effect immediately. Kelly said the state is demonstrating a commitment to recruiting and keeping talented workers and creating a “supportive environment for our families.” “Supporting working parents in our workforce is not only the right thing to do,” Kelly said in a statement. “It’s good for our economy.” The order also says new state employees become eligible for paid leave after 180 days.
Louisville: After years of planning and public input, the construction phase of the Sherman Minton Bridge rehabilitation project will soon be underway. The Sherman Minton Renewal project team said Tuesday that it will begin working on ramp improvements next week. The improvements “are being made to prepare for the first phase of the rehabilitation, which will include the first half of eastbound construction on the lower deck and painting of the bridge trusses,” according to a news release. According to the team, ramp shoulders at the Interstates 65 and 265 interchange, as well as the Interstates 64 and 265 interchange, will be modified to accommodate additional traffic. The modification process will take one to two weeks, the team said, and “will require nighttime lane closures and/or ramp closures to construct.” After the ramp improvements are completed, traffic will be reduced to two lanes in each direction as the team works on painting and deck replacement preparations. When lanes are restricted, I-65 and I-265 will serve as a detour route, the team said. The Sherman Minton, which spans the Ohio River to connect the Bluegrass and Hoosier states, is 59 years old. The proposal to rehabilitate the double-decker bridge was announced in 2018. The price tag for the project is roughly $137 million.
Baton Rouge: Authorities say they’ve been searching for a 12-foot python that escaped from its enclosure inside the state’s largest shopping mall. Cara, a yellow and white Burmese python, slithered out of its enclosure at the Blue Zoo in the Mall of Louisiana in Baton Rouge on Tuesday, news outlets report. She was still on the loose early Wednesday morning, WBRZ-TV reports, after a search overnight, when such snakes are most active. “While we’ve created a very secure home for Cara, our Burmese Python, she has slithered out of her exhibit,” the Blue Zoo said in a statement. “Cara is a non-poisonous, friendly snake that enjoys her time interacting with guests during our Snake Education Shows.” Pythons slowly squeeze their prey to death before swallowing them. Cara was described as “very sweet” by her handlers, who released a photo of the animal. The Blue Zoo – which bills itself as “more than an aquarium, more than a zoo” – was closed Tuesday while search efforts continued, but the Mall of Louisiana remained open.
Bangor: Enrollment in public schools across the state dropped by 4.4%, nearly 8,000 students, between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, according to Maine Department of Education data. Most of those students transitioned to home schooling, which saw an increase of 5,000 students, according to department data. School systems expect many students to return for the 2021-22 school year, Bangor Daily News reports. According to an Education Week report, Maine had the fourth-highest decrease in the nation behind Vermont’s 5.3% decrease, Mississippi’s 5% drop and New Hampshire’s 4.7% decline. Steve Bailey, executive director at Maine School Management Association, said the change reflects concerns from parents about safety during the pandemic and child care challenges. The most significant decrease was in prekindergarten and kindergarten students, for whom the population decreased by 16%, compared to a 3% decrease in all other students.
College Park: Teenagers will be entered to win $50,000 college scholarships if they get vaccinated against COVID-19 in the state’s latest incentive program offered to encourage as many people as possible to get the shots. Gov. Larry Hogan announced the new lottery program Wednesday at the University of Maryland, College Park. Twenty Marylanders between the ages of 12 and 17 will win scholarships worth $50,000 each between now and Labor Day. The program will give away a total of $1 million in scholarships or the equivalent of full tuition and fees at one of Maryland’s public universities. Winners who choose to attend college out of state can transfer the scholarship to the school of their choice, Hogan said. The program will begin Monday and continue through Labor Day. Teens who have been vaccinated in Maryland are eligible and will be automatically entered, the governor said. Winners will be chosen using the same process as “VaxCash,” a lottery for adults that recently ended. That program awarded a total of $2 million in prizes to Marylanders 18 and older who had received a COVID-19 vaccine at any time. The scholarship prizes will be deposited into college savings accounts with Maryland 529.
Topsfield: A more than 200-year-old agricultural fair canceled last year because of the pandemic is scheduled to return this fall, organizers announced Wednesday. The 11-day Topsfield Fair, first held in 1818, will start Oct. 1, the Essex Agricultural Society said in a statement. “Having to cancel last year’s Topsfield Fair due to the COVID-19 pandemic was devastating,” General Manager James O’Brien said. “We are thrilled to announce that the fair will return this year with no restrictions, and we look forward to seeing everyone on the fairgrounds in October.” The fair was previously canceled for three years during World War II and in 1918 because of an influenza pandemic. Based on attendance in 1946 after the three-year shutdown, O’Brien said he expects high attendance this fall. In anticipation, fair personnel have installed extra sinks and hand-sanitizing stations around the fairgrounds north of Boston, he said. One of the fair’s most popular events is the giant pumpkin contest, but it also includes livestock exhibits, a midway, vendors, food stalls and live music. It typically draws up to 500,000 visitors per year. A schedule for concerts, which are free with fair admission, will be announced soon.
Roseville: CARE of Southeastern Michigan is hosting a free, two-week day camp for kids whose family members struggle with addiction. Open for children in preschool through eighth grade, Camp CARE will address communicating effectively, managing emotions, dealing with change, choosing friends wisely, resisting peer pressure and more. The skills are taught through hands-on activities like arts, crafts and games, said CARE director of substance use prevention Kaitlin Maloziec. The Roseville fire and police departments will also visit the camp for a teaching segment in the city about 15 miles northeast of Detroit. “It’s just a spot where kids can be kids, make friendships and see that they’re not alone,” Maloziec said. The camp will be held at Fountain Elementary in Roseville from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 19-23 and July 26-30. Zoom sessions for parents and caregivers will teach adults some of the same skills as the youth, along with parenting tips and advice on how to talk about addiction and address kids’ questions. The camp, which Maloziec said has been around for more than two decades, is hosting up to 60 students this year. Most activities will be held outdoors, with mask-wearing required and lunch provided. Registration is available online and closes at 11:45 p.m. Friday.
Minneapolis: With COVID-19 limits fading away, tourists are returning to Minnesota resorts, many of them from neighboring states. But a lot of employees are not coming back. The worker shortage has been building for more than a year, said Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for Hospitality Minnesota, the trade association for the state’s hotels, restaurants, resorts and campgrounds. The industry is down about 50,000 workers from its normal summer level of 280,000 to 290,000 workers. Many of them found other jobs during the first COVID-19 shutdown, and others left when a second hospitality shutdown was ordered, the Star Tribune reports. “After last year, we were hopeful that things would get back to normal,” said Sue Dutcher, manager of the St. Croix River Resort in Hinckley. Instead, “we’re being run ragged.” In Detroit Lakes, Joanne Anderson faces a similar challenge at the Forest Hills Resort. Anderson manages Izzo’s, the resort’s bar and restaurant, and is running it with eight workers instead of the usual 20. Some operators have been fortunate enough to escape the labor shortage. The Trail Center Lodge on the Gunflint Trail is “100% staffed,” according to owner Sarah Hamilton. That’s partly due to a new program that brings young adults from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to work at businesses on the North Shore.
Jackson: Farmers in the state are losing the catfish wars against their foreign competitors with the very weapon they saw as their salvation. The domestic catfish industry, along with lawmakers including the late U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, lobbied to move oversight of catfish processing from the Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture five years ago with the expectation the USDA’s stricter eye would limit the foreign imports that had decimated domestic production throughout the Mississippi Delta. Instead, imports of siluriformes – the larger category of catfish and catfish-like fish sometimes referred to by their family name, “pangasius” – have only increased since the switch to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service in 2016. Meanwhile, domestic prices and production, mainly in Mississippi and other Southern states, have continued to decline. Almost 65,000 additional tons of catfish were imported in 2019 compared to 2015 before the Food Safety and Inspection Service took over, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce lists recent processing volumes at 5 million pounds per month less than in 2015 during FDA oversight.
Jefferson City: Seventeen more people in southwest Missouri died from COVID-19 in a two-week period ending Sunday as the coronavirus continues to surge in the region, officials said. The deaths were recorded in the two-week reporting period from June 21 to July 4 and were disclosed Tuesday by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, the Kansas City Star reports. The dead ranged in age from their 40s to 90s, and none of those who died was fully vaccinated, health officials said. Republican Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday told reporters that his administration has done “everything possible” to fend off outbreaks. Missouri has reported nearly 530,000 cases of the virus and 9,375 deaths since the pandemic began. The state has administered more than 5 million doses, with 44.9% of the population getting at least one. Parson said he’s focused on encouraging people to get inoculated and making the shots available to them. He said he’s still wary of incentivizing vaccinations with prizes. “Right now, the vaccine’s out there,” Parson said. “I mean, people walk past it every day, whether they’re in a pharmacy, whether they’re in a Walmart, whether they’re in a health center.” Parson also on Wednesday signed a bill into law to limit lawsuits against companies for wrongdoing related to the pandemic.
Helena: Wildlife officials were searching by ground and from the air Wednesday for a grizzly bear that killed a woman who was camping. A helicopter was flying over the area around the small town of Ovando, in western Montana, in pursuit of the bear, which will be killed if found, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesperson Greg Lemon said. Large traps made out of culverts were set around the area in hopes of capturing the bruin. Ovando, about 60 miles northwest of Helena, is a community of fewer than 100 people at the edge of the sprawling Bob Marshall wilderness. Long-distance bicyclists such as the victim often spend the night in the town. Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles said the bear wandered into the victim’s camping area a couple of times before Tuesday’s fatal mauling. Someone at the scene used bear spray, and other campers called 911, Roselles said. Roselles closed down any camping in Ovando as the search for the bear continued, following creeks leading away from the town. Further circumstances surrounding the attack were under investigation. Officials said their priority was to find and kill the bear to prevent another dangerous encounter.
Niobrara: A tomahawk once owned by Chief Standing Bear, a pioneering Native American civil rights leader, is returning to his Nebraska tribe after decades in a museum at Harvard. The university’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology said it’s been working with members of the Ponca Tribe in Nebraska and Oklahoma to repatriate the artifact. Larry Wright Jr., chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, said Tuesday that the return of the historic weapon is a powerful symbol of homecoming for the tribe, which was among many forcibly relocated from their homelands to other territories by the federal government in the 1800s. Standing Bear was arrested 1878 for leaving the tribe’s reservation in order to fulfill a promise he made to bury his eldest son back in their tribe’s homeland in the Niobrara River Valley. In his landmark federal trial, he successfully argued for the recognition of Native Americans as persons entitled to rights and protection under law. “That hand is not the color of yours. But if you pierce it, I shall feel pain,” Standing Bear famously said in court. “The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.” Wright said the tribe is preparing its own museum, located near Standing Bear’s grave, to properly display the tomahawk and other artifacts.
Las Vegas: A 110-acre property at the south end of the Las Vegas Strip has been purchased to be the site for a terminal station for a planned new high-speed passenger rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California. Brightline Holdings announced the purchase Tuesday without announcing the price, but local news outlets report that Clark County records indicate the purchase by the holding company for Brightline West closed Thursday for $140 million. The site is on the west side of Las Vegas Boulevard across from Premium Outlets South mall and near McCarran International Airport. Company officials have said Brightline West trains would carry up to 500 passengers at speeds up to 200 mph on the planned route between Las Vegas and Victorville, California. The project has been delayed over the years, most recently because of the pandemic.
Concord: Plans to close the state’s youth detention center are quickly taking shape, with a consultant due to submit a preliminary report in the next two weeks. The two-year state budget Gov. Chris Sununu signed June 25 includes a mandate to close the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester by March 2023. But the state Department of Health and Human Services didn’t wait for lawmakers and the governor to act; it signed a $55,000 contract with Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services of Washington, D.C., on June 8. The contract, paid for with federal pandemic aid, requires the consultants to deliver a draft closure plan by mid-July and a final report by August. According to details submitted to the governor’s Executive Council last week, the department didn’t have time to solicit bids given the time-sensitive work but consulted with stakeholders before hiring the firm. Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette told the council she met with advocates for juvenile justice, including the Disability Rights Center and the Office of the Child Advocate. “We have this opportunity to build the right-sized program on a clinical model instead of a detention model. So I brought the advocates together to say, ‘What is your ideal model?’ ” she said. “They said they weren’t qualified and that I should hire a consultant. So that is what I did.”
Bridgewater: The pandemic that closed restaurant dining rooms last year also put a stop to food tours. But with eateries up and running again, food tours are starting back up, too, inviting food lovers to explore a town by enjoying its restaurants’ signature dishes and learning about local history. “For the first time in 15 months, we are opening public tours again, and it is really exciting,” said Alessia Aron, owner of Beyond the Plate Tours, which presents excursions in Jersey City, Red Bank and Somerville. Local restaurants “have been through hell and back, and we are just trying to support them as much as possible.” Her company, previously Jersey Girls Food Tours, is one of seven that comprise the NJ Food Tour Trail. “We thought that coming together and creating the New Jersey Food Tour Trail would help us come out of the pandemic better,” said Audrey Wiggins, owner of On the Town Food Tours, another participant. “July 1 is our official opening date for all tour companies; some have started a little earlier than that, but everyone is now officially open.” Other NJ Food Tour Trail companies include Asbury Park Food Tours, Cape May Food Tours, Sister Cities Food and Shop Tours, Savor and Stroll Culinary Tours and Have You Met Newark Tours.
Santa Fe: A new podcast called Parks urges visitors to America’s national parks to educate themselves about and acknowledge the Indigenous tribes whose ties to these sacred spaces span millennia. The aim of the documentary podcast is to explore the history of tribes on these lands, the ways in which the lands were dispossessed, issues the Indigenous communities face today, and how they’ve kept their culture and traditions alive, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports. “There’s so much that was written, but when it was written, it was from the point of view of Eastern colonizers,” said Mary Mathis, 25, a former photo editor at National Public Radio and Outside magazine who serves as the host of Parks, co-created with fellow Santa Fe-based multimedia journalist Cody Nelson. “It wasn’t every story, it was just one story – the quote-unquote ‘winner’s’ story. We see that a lot in our education system, and I think that was where the idea (for Parks) kind of came from.” The first episode follows a format the Parks team plans to replicate throughout the project, one in which Indigenous guests are closely involved in each step of the editing process so as to maintain complete ownership of their stories.
New York: A consortium of businesses and nonprofits will run Central Park’s Wollman ice rink, one of four recreational concessions that were operated by Donald Trump’s company until the city canceled its contracts with the former president, the city Department of Parks and Recreation announced Tuesday. A joint venture called Wollman Park Partners LLC is expected to be awarded a five-year contract to run the rink after submitting the winning bid for the project, city officials said. The joint venture, which includes Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, Related Companies, Equinox, caterer Great Performances and local groups such as Ice Hockey in Harlem, will reinvest all profits into upgrading the rink, city officials said. “It’s the Summer of New York City, but we’re already preparing for an iconic winter, too,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a news release. “I’m thrilled that NYC Parks has found a quality operator for Wollman Rink that is committed to reinvesting in the community and creating a welcoming space for all New Yorkers.” The Democrat announced in January that the city would terminate business contracts with the Trump Organization over Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The cancellations affected a golf course in the Bronx and a carousel and two ice skating rinks in Central Park.
Raleigh: A Superior Court judge put a small-town newspaper editor behind bars last month after one of his reporters used an audio recorder for note-taking purposes at a murder trial – a punishment the paper and media rights groups consider excessive. Judge Stephan Futrell sentenced Gavin Stone, the news editor of the Richmond County Daily Journal, to five days in jail before having the editor hauled off to jail. Stone was released the next day but still faces the possibility of more time in lockup. Brian Bloom, the paper’s publisher, acknowledged that his reporter shouldn’t have had the recorder in court because it was not allowed but criticized the judge’s move to imprison an editor for a minor infraction committed by a colleague. “The penalty does not fit the crime,” he said. “Let’s put this in perspective: You stop a murder trial not once, but twice, because a guy had a tape recorder sitting next to him on a bench at a courtroom. Let’s put our priorities in place here.” Futrell did not respond to a request for comment. Superior Court rules allow electronic media and still photography coverage of public judicial proceedings but grant judges the authority to prohibit the technology.
Mandan: The Mandan City Commission has agreed to equip the community’s police force with body cameras. The commission approved the cameras unanimously Tuesday with no discussion. The police department received a quote from Digital-Ally, which already has cameras inside the police vehicles. A memo from police to commissioners said that using the same company for the cameras will allow for better integration of the equipment, the Bismarck Tribune reports. The package of 28 body cameras, upgraded in-car cameras, accessories, set-up, training and cloud storage would cost about $165,000 for a five-year subscription. The police department also received approval to request funding from the U.S. Department of Justice to offset the cost of the cameras. It is asking for nearly $37,000 over five years, according to the memo. The Lincoln Police Department began using body cameras in early 2020. The Bismarck Police Department and the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department do not use the technology.
Cincinnati: The top prosecutor in one of the state’s most populous counties has decided his office will no longer offer plea bargains in any cases involving gun violence or possession of illegal firearms. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters announced his decision Tuesday, saying it would take effect immediately. “It’s time for this nonsense to end,” Deters said. The directive comes in the wake of a violent holiday weekend in Cincinnati. Among the incidents was a Fourth of July shooting at a downtown park where authorities say a 19-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy opened fire on each other, leaving both of them dead and three innocent bystanders wounded. Hundreds of teens were gathered at Smale Park when the shooting occurred shortly before 11 p.m. Sunday, authorities say. At the time, police officers were working to clear out the riverfront park before its closing time. “People must be held accountable for their choices. As a community, we must stand together and say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Deters said. “No amount of money can fix the problems we are facing. Parents must parent their children. Communities must speak up.”
Edmond: U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s office announced Wednesday that he requested $4 million in federal funds to help combat illegal marijuana growing operations in the state. Inhofe’s chief of staff, Luke Holland, announced the request during an Oklahoma Sheriffs Association meeting, saying Inhofe requested a direct appropriation through the U.S. Justice Department to allow the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to establish a unit to combat “transnational and national drug organizations.” The unit would work with sheriffs to combat illegal drug operations. Medical marijuana is a booming business in Oklahoma, where voters in 2018 approved one of the nation’s most liberal medical programs. As a result, out-of-state weed entrepreneurs have flocked to the state to get involved. But sheriffs and other law enforcement groups, which opposed the state question in 2018, have said illegal marijuana grow operations are setting up in rural parts of Oklahoma and funneling cannabis into the illegal drug trade in Oklahoma and other states.
Eugene: The University of Oregon said Tuesday that it will start the second phase of building the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact after receiving another $500million donation for the project. Construction on the first phase of the new campus started in 2016 – after the first half-billion-dollar gift from the Nike co-founder and his wife – with a large science building including a pedestrian bridge over the street. A second building for “bioengineering and applied science research building to support expanded research programs and facilities” will be built next, according to a university news release. The building is planned to cover 175,000 square feet, with multiple stories, and be located north of the first building. The focus of the new campus is to translate scientific discoveries into advances in health care and other fields. The latest money will also pay for 14 to 16 additional faculty members and their teams. The new campus currently employs 13 tenure-related faculty members and their research teams, for a total of about 90 employees. “The aim of the new campus is to compress the timeline between discovery and “societal impact,” said Robert Guldberg, vice president and executive director of the new science operation.
Harrisburg: Tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike will rise another 5% in January, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission decided Tuesday. The agency board voted to impose the higher rates as of Jan. 2. The most common E-ZPass fare for a passenger vehicle will rise by a dime, from $1.60 to $1.70. Those being charged through a scan of their license plate will see the most common fare go from $3.90 to $4.10. The most common truck fare will go from $13 to $13.70 for E-ZPass and from $26.60 to $28 for toll-by-plate. Officials say 2022 will be the first time in six years that fares will have jumped by less than 6%. The turnpike has pumped more than $7 billion in funding from tolls to the state Transportation Department since 2007.
Providence: Almost $54 million worth of fraudulent unemployment claims have been filed during the coronavirus pandemic, state officials say. The latest total is about $9 million more than in May, with even more victims coming forward in the past month, according to WJAR-TV. State Department of Labor and Training Director Matt Weldon said that doesn’t necessarily mean the claims were filed during that time span, just that they are coming to light now. The agency has managed to get back about $3.75 million so far with the help of federal agencies, but Weldon said he believes that will grow significantly in the coming months. The agency is also enforcing rules that require people to look for work while collecting benefits, he said. With 64,000 Rhode Islanders receiving unemployment benefits, that will be a slow process, with the agency only able to get through a few hundred claims per week to start, he said. “As you can imagine, trying to audit claims and go through information is difficult when there are more than a workable number, so we are going to begin with hundreds and see how that goes, and then that can grow in the future,” he said.
Columbia: The governor wants a new abortion law to take effect, arguing Wednesday that a judge’s decision to put the whole measure – and not just the parts being challenged in court – on hold during a lawsuit “oversteps the bounds of federal judicial power.” Gov. Henry McMaster’s brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asks appellate judges to lift a lower court’s injunction on the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act. The Republican signed the measure into law earlier this year that requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus, which can typically be detected about six weeks after conception. If cardiac activity is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or if the mother’s life is in danger. Planned Parenthood attorneys sued immediately, and the entire law has been blocked from going into effect during the litigation. In his brief, attorneys for McMaster argued that decision represents “overreaching federal power to interfere with state law.” McMaster, along with other defendants including state Attorney General Alan Wilson, also argue that the groups that sued don’t have proper standing to challenge the law.
Madison: An increasing number of primarily social media complaints from residents in Madison and Lake County have brought to light a little-known county ordinance banning people from occupying their campers or recreational vehicles outside the confines of a campground. Lake County Planning and Zoning Officer Mandi Anderson said the ordinance has gone undetected for many years until a recent barrage of postings that have led to heated debate among residents. Some who are opposed to the rule say that it infringes on property rights and that there should be nothing wrong with letting visitors use a camper for a short time. “I didn’t realize it was this out of hand,” Anderson said. One theory for the ordinance, Anderson said, is that people who construct large lakeside homes on small lots do not want to be inundated with noise from adjoining property when three campers pull in for the weekend and 50 people take up temporary residence, The Madison Daily Leader reports. Anderson said citations are only issued if the matter is not addressed after the property owner has been notified about the ordinance and has been given an opportunity to comply. She emphasized she does not drive around looking for violators but only responds to complaints.
Nashville: City officials are inviting the public to celebrate and remember civil rights icon John Lewis in a dedication ceremony next week. Earlier this year, Nashville’s Metro Council renamed a large portion of Fifth Avenue North to Rep. John Lewis Way. Councilwoman Zulfat Suara submitted the request last year, focusing on Lewis’ work to desegregate Nashville’s lunch counters before becoming a long-serving congressman in Georgia. The city will host a dedication July 16-17. The event was originally scheduled for February but was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak. As a college student at American Baptist College and then Fisk University, Lewis helped desegregate public spaces in Nashville and pushed for racial justice across the South. Lewis was a Freedom Rider, spoke at the March on Washington, and was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. Lewis died July 17, 2020. He was 80.
San Antonio: A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Air Force is mostly responsible for a former serviceman killing more than two dozen people at a church in 2017 because it failed to submit his criminal history into a database, which should have prevented him from purchasing firearms. U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez in San Antonio wrote in a ruling signed Wednesday that the Air Force was “60% responsible” for the massacre at First Baptist Church in the small town of Sutherland Springs, where Devin Kelley opened fire during a Sunday service. Authorities put the official death toll at 26 because one of the 25 people killed was pregnant. The attack remains the worst mass shooting in Texas history. “The trial conclusively established that no other individual – not even Kelley’s own parents or partners – knew as much as the United States about the violence that Devin Kelley had threatened to commit and was capable of committing,” Rodriguez wrote. Kelley had served nearly five years in the Air Force before being discharged in 2014 for bad conduct, after he was convicted of assaulting a former wife and stepson, cracking the child’s skull. The Air Force has publicly acknowledged that the felony conviction for domestic violence, had it been put into the FBI database, could have prevented Kelley from buying guns from licensed firearms dealers and from possessing body armor.
Salt Lake City: Hospital leaders renewed their pleas for people to get vaccinated Wednesday as the state experiences another surge in new coronavirus cases from the faster-spreading delta variant. That strain has begun to surge in Utah over the past month and now represents about 80% of cases in the state, said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the state health department. Utah has averaged about 386 confirmed cases per day over the past week, nearly double the case rate the state was experiencing at its lowest point in early June. The surge is largely occurring in unvaccinated people who are being infected and hospitalized at six times the rate of vaccinated people, Hoffman said. “The frustrating part about all of this is that, unlike last year, we have all the tools to stop this pandemic in its tracks,” Hoffman told reporters during a virtual briefing. “The COVID-19 vaccines work.” Utah now ranks fourth in the nation for new cases per capita, and the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 31% over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Utah met health officials’ goal of vaccinating 70% of adults and 25% of children ages 12 to 15 with at least one dose by the Fourth of July, but hospital leaders say more people need to be vaccinated to avoid hospitals from being overrun again.
Killington: The FIS Ski World Cup will be returning to the Killington Ski Resort this November. Over the years the event has drawn tens of thousands of people to the town on Thanksgiving weekend. It was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Resort & Pico Mountain, said in a news release that in addition to skiing, there will be a full weekend of activities, including live music. Joshua Eckler, owner of Trailside Inn, told the Rutland Herald he thinks this will be a big year for the World Cup, given the past 14 months of travel restrictions. “We try to encourage a lot of guests to come for it even if they’re not ski racing fans because it’s more of an experience,” Eckler said. “You don’t have to be a die-hard racing fan to enjoy the event, just because of the music and the atmosphere and the excitement – everybody is screaming for everybody.”
Richmond: Workers removed a statue of Harry F. Byrd Sr., a former governor, U.S. senator and staunch segregationist, from the state’s Capitol Square on Wednesday morning. A crane hoisted the larger-than-life statue off its pedestal, and workers then strapped it to a truck to be hauled into storage until lawmakers determine its final disposition. Byrd, a Democrat, ran the state’s most powerful political machine for decades until his death in 1966 and was considered the architect of the state’s racist “massive resistance” policy to public school integration. Lawmakers voted to remove the statue earlier this year, a decision that came amid a yearslong movement in history-rich Virginia to rethink who is honored in the state’s public spaces. The statue erected in 1976 was located a stone’s throw from the Capitol. A nearby plaque said the statue was dedicated in appreciation of Byrd’s “devotion throughout a long public career to governmental restraint and programs in the best interest of all the people of Virginia.” Byrd’s son, the late Harry Byrd Jr., a Democrat-turned-independent who began his career as a segregationist, succeeded his father in the Senate, serving until 1983.
Richland: A new state report finds that more than 57% of Hanford Nuclear Reservation workers reported exposure to hazardous material on the former nuclear weapons production site in south-central Washington state. The Hanford Healthy Energy Workers Board recently released its final report and recommendations on the unmet health care needs of Hanford workers. The report’s central recommendation calls for creation of a new, independent Hanford Healthy Energy Workers Center. It would provide a centralized clearinghouse for dissemination of accepted scientific literature. Important functions would also include evaluation and communication of newly available studies about Hanford-specific hazards. For incurable diseases such as chronic beryllium disease, information sharing could be key to finding cures. Additionally, the center would promote research to increase the body of knowledge for the Hanford workforce. Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons, and thousands of workers are now tasked with cleaning up the nation’s largest volume of radioactive wastes. “The working families that make up the Hanford community represent a very unique population, with occupational risks not easily quantified or identified,” said Nickolas A. Bumpaous, Hanford Healthy Energy Workers Board co-chair.
Charleston: Traffic on the West Virginia Turnpike around the Fourth of July weekend was the heaviest since 2010. The turnpike saw 668,000 vehicles pass through its toll booths between Thursday and Monday, the state Department of Transportation said in a news release Tuesday. That’s 28% higher than for the five-day period a year ago, when travel was affected by the coronavirus pandemic. “It was a huge Fourth of July period,” said West Virginia Parkways Authority executive director Jeff Miller. “People are just ready to get out and travel.” Miller said many travelers started trips the weekend before the Fourth of July and returned home the weekend after. Between June 27 and Monday, more than 1.12 million vehicles went through the turnpike’s toll booths, the statement said.
Madison: In a cheese-obsessed state that proudly touts itself as America’s Dairyland, the dairy cow is the official domestic animal, milk is the official state beverage, and cheese is the official dairy product. But even though Wisconsin produces more cheese than any other state at 3.4 billion pounds each year, there is no official state cheese. A bipartisan bill heard by a state Assembly committee on Wednesday would change that. The measure makes colby, which was created in Wisconsin more than 100 years ago, the official cheese. Colby may be as “gouda” choice as any, but the choice threatens to turn fans of cheddar, swiss, provolone and other varieties red, or perhaps blue, in the face with rage. Colby also holds a special place in Wisconsin cheese history. It was created in the central Wisconsin city of Colby in 1885 by Joseph Steinwand, who named it after the township where his father built northern Clark County’s first cheese factory, according to a state historical marker in the city, located about 40 miles west of Wausau. Colby isn’t the most-produced cheese in Wisconsin. Mozzarella is tops, followed by cheddar and some Italian varieties, according to the USDA. Still, more than 45 million pounds of colby are produced at Wisconsin’s 150 cheese plants each year.
Cheyenne: The state’s first female federal district judge plans to semi-retire in 2022, opening the way for Democratic President Joe Biden to nominate a judge in the deeply Republican state. Going on senior status will give U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal in Cheyenne more control over the number and type of cases she oversees. She plans to spend more of her free time with her husband, former Gov. Dave Freudenthal, and grandchildren, Freudenthal told the Casper Star-Tribune. She hasn’t decided yet how she will use her time as judge but might stop taking new criminal cases to provide freedom from speedy trial requirements, she said. Freudenthal had no experience with criminal cases before becoming a federal district judge in 2010. She has found those cases the most rewarding because they can be life-changing for convicts, Freudenthal said. “Yes, their lives going forward will still be very challenging, but they have the opportunity to rebuild that life, take advantage of resources, hopefully live a life of sobriety,” she said. Freudenthal, 67, holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Wyoming. She was an attorney in the offices of Govs. Ed Herschler and Mike Sullivan from 1980 to 1989.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports