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Tuscaloosa: The city is ordering most of its water customers to use less, saying a leak in a key water line is reducing how much water it can pump out. Mayor Walt Maddox on Sunday ordered conservation measures for areas south of the Black Warrior River, including the University of Alabama, the Mercedes-Benz assembly plant and four rural water systems outside the city limits. City officials said they believed pipes that carry untreated water from Lake Tuscaloosa to a water treatment plant were leaking somewhere along a 2-mile stretch. But floodwaters from Tropical Storm Claudette were covering much of the low-lying areas where the pipes run. Maddox said it could be several days before workers found the leak. Water treatment capacity had fallen from 40 million gallons a day to 22 million gallons, the mayor said. He ordered people to turn off sprinkler systems, not wash cars, not wash pavement and not fill swimming pools until further notice. “That should sustain us with water conservation,” he said.
Juneau: An Alabama museum will return works of art to two Alaskan Native American tribes that requested the items back in 2017, decades after they were acquired for collections. A vote by the Birmingham City Council cleared the way for the Birmingham Museum of Art to return items to the Tlingit and Haida tribes, WBHM reports. The groups requested the return of pieces under a 1990 law that requires institutions which receive federal funds to return Native American cultural items to the respective tribes. The director of the museum, Graham C. Boettcher, told the council that the museum no longer had a “a moral, ethical or legal claim under federal law” to the art. The museum has several Tlingit items as part of its collection, including several spoons, baskets and bentwood boxes. Nearly all of them were purchased by the museum in 1956. The museum also lists three works by Haida artists, including two screen prints by Freida Deising and a Reg Davidson totem pole, all of which were acquired in 1994. Members of the Haida Nation and the Tlingit Nation live in southeastern Alaska. A central tribal government represents more than 32,000 Tlingit and Haida members, according to the groups’ website.
Phoenix: House Democrats refused to show up at the state Capitol on Tuesday, blocking debate on a budget and a major tax cut primarily benefiting the wealthy. The move kept the House short of the number of lawmakers required to conduct business, forcing Republican House leaders to delay budget work until Thursday, when all GOP lawmakers are expected to be at the Capitol. House Democratic Leader Reginald Bolding said Democrats and the public need more time to review proposed changes Republicans released shortly before the budget debate was scheduled to begin. “You can’t simultaneously ignore the wishes of half the state and then take us for granted to pass a partisan budget,” he said in a statement. Denying a quorum is a tactic increasingly being weaponized by the minority parties of state legislatures in an era of intense partisanship. That hasn’t previously been an issue in Arizona, where a quorum requires the presence of only a simple majority of lawmakers. But on Tuesday, several Republicans planned to vote remotely under rules created during the pandemic, allowing Democrats to exploit the absences.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday announced he is creating an office that will focus on outdoor recreation in the state. Hutchinson said the new office of outdoor recreation will be part of the state Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism under the direction of Secretary Stacy Hurst, who will soon start a search for a director to lead the office. The Republican governor said he’s also creating a 10-person advisory board to help guide the new office. At a news conference with U.S. Rep. French Hill, Hutchinson also said the 459-acre Blue Mountain Natural Area site will be part of the state’s inventory of outdoor recreation sites, putting Arkansas in charge of all three mountains in the chain of Maumelle Pinnacles, along with Pinnacle Mountain and Rattlesnake Ridge. The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission partnered with the Nature Conservancy to purchase Blue Mountain from PotlatchDeltic, a timberland owner and lumber manufacturer. Hutchinson also announced the state has signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government to offer expanded recreation opportunities at Camp Ouachita and Lake Sylvia.
Los Angeles: COVID-19 vaccination rates for police and firefighting personnel in the city and for prison employees across the state are significantly lower than the average for other adults, raising concerns among medical ethicists and public safety leaders about whether unvaccinated first responders could become a threat to public health. While about 72% of adult Californians and 64% of Los Angeles residents 16 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, only about 51% of LA firefighters and 52% of the city’s police officers are at least partially vaccinated, the Los Angeles Times reports. Less than 30% of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department staff have received vaccine doses through employee clinics, and about 54% of state corrections employees are at least partially vaccinated. The extent of the low vaccination rate is unclear because not all agencies keep track of who got their doses, whether through their workplace or elsewhere. Law enforcement analysts and ethicists said public safety workers should be allowed to make independent decisions about their health. However, they said the reluctance to get inoculated is a matter of public concern because they work in close spaces, such as jails and courthouses, and interact with some of the most vulnerable populations.
Denver: Gov. Jared Polis has signed three of six gun bills passed in the latest legislative session into law. The Denver Post reports the bills were all announced following a mass shooting at King Soopers in Boulder on March 22, when 10 people were killed. Earlier this year, Polis signed two other bills, setting regulations for safe storage of guns in homes and requirements for reporting lost or stolen firearms. One other gun bill, meant to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers, awaits the governor’s signature. The three bills signed Saturday will require an expanded background check before a person can buy a gun; give about $3 million to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment for the first year to create the state’s first Office of Gun Violence Prevention, which will be tasked with promoting efforts to reduce gun violence; and reverse a ban that keeps local governments, such as cities and counties, from creating their own gun regulations. Local jurisdictions can only make ordinances that are stricter, not more lenient, than state law. Any regulations currently in place that are less restrictive are overturned.
Hartford: Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration unveiled an $8 billion to $10 billion plan Monday that aims to reduce commuter rail times from Connecticut to New York City by as much as 25 minutes by 2035, while pledging in the meantime to make the trip from New Haven to the Big Apple 10 minutes faster as early as 2022. The announcement came on the same day Metro-North Railroad returned eight trains to the New Haven Line, as demand for commuter rail service increases as the region emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Another service increase is planned in August. “Connecticut is coming back from COVID-19. Commuters are returning to the rails,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said during a news conference held at the Stratford Train Station to announce the Time for CT plan with Lamont and other officials. While much of the initiative is dependent upon passage of a massive federal infrastructure bill in Washington, state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti said the state has already received enough federal funding to embark on some of the work needed to alleviate long-standing slowdowns along the rails. That includes improvements to signalization systems and movable bridges, as well as the creation of new sections of track that allow trains to pass one another.
Dover: The state’s minimum wage is expected to rise to $15 an hour by 2025. The Democrat-led state House voted along party lines Thursday to give final approval to a bill raising Delaware’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. Democrats approved the measure after defeating half a dozen Republican amendments, including proposals to allow small businesses and nonprofits to pay 85% of the minimum wage and to require the controller general’s office to submit annual reports regarding the fiscal impact of the wage increases on the state budget and more broadly on the state economy. Democrats also rejected a proposal by one of their own party members, Rep. Sherae’a Moore of Middletown, to delay each of the annual wage increases for one year for businesses employing 20 or fewer workers. The bill was sent to Democratic Gov. John Carney, who is expected to sign it. The measure was one of the legislative priorities for several left-leaning progressives who were elected last year and were able to get veteran Democrats to sign on to their cause. “In the last 15 years, we’ve made 15 attempts to raise the minimum wage. Only three of them bore fractional (fruit),” said Wilmington Democrat Rep. Gerald Brady, chief House sponsor of the bill.
District of Columbia
Washington: D.C. Public Schools is combining graduations and vaccinations this week. The district plans to hold pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics at all its commencement ceremonies this week at Audi Field, WUSA-TV reports. While the class of 2021 gets to walk across the stage to receive diplomas, the graduates, friends and family can take time before and after the ceremony to get COVID-19 shots. The clinics are open to any graduate and their guests over the age of 12. On Friday, the district’s health department announced it’s giving away $51 gift cards to those who get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at select clinics. And the district also launched a new task force last week to encourage residents to get their shots.
Tallahassee: Crime was down overall in the Sunshine State during 2020, but violent crime rose, according to statistics released by the state Monday. There were 1,285 murders in Florida last year, an increase of 260, or 14.7%, from 2019. Of those, 1,025 were committed with a gun, up 20.2% from the year before. Murders committed with a gun made up nearly 80% of the state’s total, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s annual crime report. In a year when many people worked at home or stayed home more often during the coronavirus pandemic, burglaries, robberies and larcenies dropped significantly. There were 13,439 robberies, a drop of 17% from 2019; 51,928 burglaries, down 17.8%; and 291,923 larcenies, down 18.5%. Florida also saw a drop in the number of reported rapes, from 8,439 in 2019 to 7,650 in 2020, or a decrease of 9.3%. Motor vehicle thefts also slightly dropped. Aggravated assaults increased by 9.5% from 55,333 in 2019 to 60,567 last year. Overall, factoring in the state’s growth in population, all crime was down 15.7% in 2020.
Decatur: The Sons of Confederate Veterans group has sued to return a 30-foot-high obelisk to a site in front of a courthouse in what a lawyer for the city calls “a lost cause.” The monument was taken down and moved to storage last year after a judge agreed with the city’s argument that it had become a threat to public safety during protests about racism and police brutality. The suit was filed Wednesday, two days short of a year after the monument’s removal, news outlets report. The group suggests city officials colluded to get around a state law protecting historic monuments, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. It contends the monument was not found to be a public nuisance. DeKalb County Judge Clarence Seeliger said in his ruling last year that it was “a figurative lightning rod for friction among citizens.” In his final order, in September, Seeliger said the obelisk should never be returned to the square. But “the world is full of controversy,” attorney Walker Chandler, who filed the lawsuit, told WXIA-TV. “And if we were to say anything that causes controversy is a public nuisance, that’s an endless road to go down.” In an email to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Decatur City Attorney Bryan Downs called the suit a “tardy, vexatious attack on properly entered rulings by a Georgia court of law. ... In short, it is a lost cause.”
Honolulu: Dozens of baby squid from the state are in space for study. The baby Hawaiian bobtail squid were raised at the University of Hawaii’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory and were blasted into space earlier this month on a SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station. Researcher Jamie Foster, who completed her doctorate at the University of Hawaii, is studying how spaceflight affects the squid in hopes of bolstering human health during long space missions, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The squid have a symbiotic relationship with natural bacteria that help regulate their bioluminescence. When astronauts are in low gravity, their body’s relationship with microbes changes, said University of Hawaii professor Margaret McFall-Ngai, under whom Foster studied in the 1990s. “We have found that the symbiosis of humans with their microbes is perturbed in microgravity, and Jamie has shown that is true in squid,” McFall-Ngai said. “And, because it’s a simple system, she can get to the bottom of what’s going wrong.” The Kewalo Marine Laboratory breeds the squid for research projects around the world. The tiny animals are plentiful in Hawaiian waters and are about 3 inches long as adults. The squid are slated to come back to Earth in July.
Idaho Falls: Less than half of nursing home workers in the state have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The agency said 47.5% of Idaho nursing home workers were fully vaccinated by May 30, compared to more than 82% of residents in the facilities. The Post Register reports Idaho had the 17th-highest resident vaccination rate but 15th-lowest staff vaccination rate among states and territories. About 38% of Idaho’s 2,100 COVID-19 deaths are linked to long-term care facilities. Of all COVID-19 deaths in the state, 93% were among people 60 and older. About 75% of Idaho residents age 65 and over are at least partially vaccinated. Almost half of all Idaho adults are at least partially vaccinated, compared to 65% of all Americans.
Springfield: A new podcast from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum features conversations about legendary Illinois musicians and bands, sometimes with the performers themselves. The State of Sound podcast is a companion to an exhibit launched earlier this year at the Springfield-based museum, called “The State of Sound: A World of Music from Illinois.” It showcases the achievements and contributions of Illinois artists, including Muddy Waters, Earth Wind and Fire, and Chance the Rapper. The podcast is another way for people to explore the history of the state’s music, museum officials said. Episodes available now include discussions with Kevin Cronin from REO Speedwagon, Tim McIlrath from Rise Against, and Rosanna Goodman, daughter of singer-songwriter Steve Goodman. A new, official gallery guide includes dozens of photos of artifacts such as a red trumpet that belonged to Miles Davis and mementos John Prine carried on stage to help with his performance anxiety. “This exhibit is packed with sound, pictures and stories that we wanted to share with as many people as possible,” said Christina Shutt, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. “The podcast will give people around the world a chance to hear those stories.”
Indianapolis: A Bloomfield woman plans to plead guilty Wednesday for her role in the U.S. Capitol riot after appealing to the court that she has since learned “what life is like for others in our country” from movies and books, including the films “Schindler’s List” and “Just Mercy.” Anna Morgan-Lloyd, 49, has agreed to plead guilty to one of her pending federal charges in the Jan. 6 insurrection in exchange for three years’ probation, $500 in restitution and community service. In a letter to the judge, Morgan-Lloyd apologized for entering the U.S. Capitol and said she feels “ashamed” about how the march turned violent on that day, which she previously described on Facebook as “the most exciting day.” She attached movie and book reports to her letter, summarizing “Schindler’s List” and “Just Mercy,” movies she said her attorney recommended. “I’ve learned that even though we live in a wonderful country things still need to improve,” Morgan-Lloyd wrote. “People of all colors should feel as safe as I do to walk down the street.” In “Schindler’s List,” protagonist Oskar Schindler diverts hundreds of Jews from sure death by employing them in his factory in Nazi-occupied Poland. In “Just Mercy,” Bryan Stevenson recalls his career representing disadvantaged clients and establishing the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989.
Indianola: The city recognized LGBT Pride Month for the first time Monday with an official proclamation at a City Council meeting. According to Indianola Mayor Pamela Pepper’s proclamation, “Pride Month is an opportunity for people to embrace who they are and to celebrate acceptance of diversity,” and the city should value everyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. LGBTQ Pride Month is recognized annually through the month of June to honor lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other voices related to gender and sexuality, as well as to draw attention to the issues members of the community still face. Pepper has recently issued proclamations recognizing other holidays and months not normally recognized or celebrated by the city, including one to recognize Juneteenth ahead of the holiday’s official commemoration over the weekend. Pepper said recognizing more holidays makes clear that the city welcomes all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender. She said the act is a small step the city can take amid efforts to reestablish a human and civil rights commission that was dissolved around 1998.
Topeka: The Country Stampede returns this weekend after being canceled in 2020. The three-day festival will be held Thursday through Saturday at Heartland Motorsports Park. National and local country musicians are expected to play, and stampede president Wayne Rouse said this is the best lineup yet. “I hope people come out and enjoy all the great music,” Rouse said. “There will be a lot of great vendors out there.” Country Stampede officials learned a lot in 2019 about what works and doesn’t work for the venue where the festival takes place. And a year off because of the pandemic allowed for officials to make needed changes that will enhance festivalgoers’ experience. In 2019, muddy grounds caused by several inches of rain created a mess. Rouse said a new layout, an additional 300 acres and a larger festival area are all improvements made based on knowledge gained from that year. This year’s festival grounds have been designed to drain in the event of rain. Country music lovers will see performances from some of the biggest up-and-coming artists in the industry, including Ashley McBryde, Maddie and Tae, Mitchell Tenpenny, Blanco Brown and Gabby Barrett. Luke Combs, Sam Hunt and Riley Green will each headline one night of the festival. Hunt replaced Morgan Wallen, who’s been mired in controversy in the past year.
Louisville: A man has sued his father’s estate over the effects of secondhand smoke on his health, five years after being left out of the will when his dad died. Hugo J. “Joe” Bobzien Jr. amassed a sizable fortune as president and CEO of American Commercial Barge Line, the nation’s largest barge operator. When Bobzien died March 30, 2016, at age 81, he left his estate to three of his children but gave nothing to his oldest child. The other siblings later speculated their father didn’t like how Michael treated his wife and a daughter, according to court filings. But now Michael Bobzien is trying to get his piece of the pie. In a lawsuit whose trial began Tuesday in Jefferson Circuit Court, Michael J. Bobzien, 63, says his father destroyed his health by chain-smoking Lucky Strikes, Carltons and cigars. In what is believed to be the first secondhand-smoke lawsuit filed by a child against a parent, Bobzien claims he is suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other ailments caused by being “forcibly, knowingly, intentionally, wantonly, chronically and recklessly” subjected to his father’s ever-present cloud of smoke while growing up in Louisville. Bobzien, an occupational therapist before he was disabled by his diseases, is seeking as much as $50 million for his pain and expected shortened life span.
Baton Rouge: The state continues to see major racial gaps in which students take high school classes for college credit, an education consultant told public school and college leaders. The Advocate reports the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Regents received a report showing 22% of Black students take dual enrollment courses, compared to 42% of white students. The percentage of students enrolled in the classes drops as the percentage of Black students in a school rises, according to the data from Adam Lowe, a consultant with Education Strategy Group. The first annual report on dual enrollment came in a meeting between the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees K-12 public schools, and the Board of Regents, the state’s higher education policy-making panel. “To develop talent and eliminate equity gaps in higher education, much greater intentionality and commitment is needed from all high schools, school systems, colleges and universities in harnessing these successful programs for the benefit of students of color, those from low-income households, first-generation students and special education students,” the report said. Louisiana has long lagged other states in the number of high school students who earn college credentials, The Advocate reports.
Augusta: The state will investigate potential new uses for its dormant rail corridors. Gov. Janet Mills recently signed into law a proposal that directs the Maine Department of Transportation to evaluate possible uses for the state-owned corridors. The department will eventually submit a report to the Legislature. Democratic Rep. Art Bell of Yarmouth, who proposed the bill, said Monday that he is “hopeful that it will provide an opportunity to reimagine the way we interact with miles of dormant, state-owned rail corridors, lying fallow.” Democrats in the state said the transportation agency will create a transportation plan that will serve as a framework as it looks to create new opportunities for outdoor recreation in Maine. That plan will include potential uses for the rail corridors.
Baltimore: The city has once again delayed implementing its ban on single-use plastic bags. The Baltimore Sun reports the city is now giving retailers until Oct. 1 to comply with the ordinance. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said more time is needed to distribute reusable bags and to educate community members. “Now that Baltimore is beginning to emerge from the pandemic and recover from its impacts, we recognize that retailers and residents could benefit from additional time to adopt this important change,” Scott said in a news release. This is the second time the ban has been pushed back. In January the effective date was moved to July 9 because of the economic hardships created by the coronavirus pandemic. The ban requires shoppers at grocery stores, restaurants and other retailers to bring their own reusable bags. Otherwise, they must purchase a paper or compostable bag for 5 cents. “We had hoped that by summer, everything would have been more amenable to the rollout,” said the city’s director of sustainability, Lisa McNeilly. “But what we’ve seen is that there continued to be some concerns from retailers about using reusable bags and having the capacity for it.”
Boston: The area’s notoriously frustrating traffic dried up in March 2020 as many people started working remotely from home, and businesses closed. Now, it’s pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels. “Traffic, for all intents and purposes, is back to about 2019 levels on most roadways in Massachusetts at this point,” Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said in a presentation to the state Department of Transportation’s board Monday, The Boston Globe reports. Traffic on the Massachusetts Turnpike is still “running a little bit lower” than before COVID-19 hit, Gulliver said, particularly closer to Boston. And fewer vehicles are traveling through the tunnels to and from Logan International Airport. The morning and evening rush hours are still crowded, but Gulliver said they do not last as long as they did before the pandemic. “I think we’re in for a really major adjustment period that’s going to occur throughout the fall and early winter before things settle,” Gulliver said. The use of ride-hailing services plummeted last year, with such companies providing about 35 million rides that started in Massachusetts – a 62% drop statewide from the 91.1 million rides started in 2019, according to reports released by the state Department of Public Utilities.
Meridian Township: The state is fully open again. After facing 15 months of capacity restrictions and being hit by the country’s worst surge of coronavirus infections this spring, restaurants, entertainment businesses and other venues can operate at 100% occupancy – instead of 50% – as of Tuesday. Limits on large indoor gatherings such as weddings and funerals are gone. So is a broad requirement that the unvaccinated be masked indoors, a rule that remains in about a dozen states. Unvaccinated teen athletes will no longer have to undergo weekly coronavirus testing. Michigan is among the last states to lift gathering caps, which has frustrated the business community. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and public health officials have said the restrictions were needed until enough people could be vaccinated in a state with about 21,900 suspected virus-related deaths. Last year, the governor faced an alleged plot to kidnap her over COVID-19 rules after drawing the ire of then-President Donald Trump, who tweeted calls to “LIBERATE” Michigan. “It’s time to play. It’s time to have fun again,” said Jordan Munsters, co-founder and president of High Caliber Karting and Entertainment, an indoor action park near Lansing where adults can race go-karts, throw axes and smash stuff to smithereens.
St. Paul: Gov. Tim Walz has requested funding to outfit Minnesota State Patrol troopers and officers working at the state Capitol with body cameras. The $7.5 million to buy and maintain the cameras for the officers and troopers is contained in a transportation funding package that could come up for a vote later this week. The bill also includes funding to add nearly two dozen state troopers and a dozen additional Capitol security officers to the detail, Minnesota Public Radio reports. Body cameras are standard for many local police departments, but the state has been slower in adding them to its forces. Capitol security has been a serious concern over the past year. A tall, chain-link fence surrounded the building as protests turned violent in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in May 2020. Crews took down the fence earlier this month, and the Capitol reopened to the public for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March 2020.
Natchez: The city is now part of a trail commemorating what was then a nationwide tour by a French general who had participated in both the American and French revolutions. The Marquis de Lafayette visited Natchez on April 18, 1825, during the second and final year of a tour made at the invitation of President James Monroe and the U.S. Congress. During those two years, Lafayette stopped at 320 cities and towns in the 24 states then in the union, Lafayette Trail founder James Icher said. He said he hopes eventually to have 175 markers, including one at Le Havre, the port from which Lafayette departed to return to France. About 40 markers have been approved since the project started in 2017, with about 25 installed in 13 states so far, he said. A marker describing Lafayette’s stay in Natchez was unveiled last week at a lot overlooking the Mississippi River, The Natchez Democrat reports. The Historic Natchez Foundation and the Daughters of the American Revolution worked with The Lafayette Trail Inc. on the project. Two families offered the property, foundation executive director Carter Burns said. When Lafayette made his tour, the 50th anniversary of the American Revolution’s end was nearing. Lafayette, who had been 19 when he first came to America, was “the last surviving general of the Continental Army,” Icher said.
St. Louis: Changes in the way the city’s police record crime statistics have prevented the department from publicly publishing crime data for nearly six months, officials said. The problem is related to a switch the department made in December to a new way of tracking crime, the National Incident-Based Reporting System. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the change was made to comply with new reporting requirements from the FBI which has said it required the change to help it improve the statistics it keeps and offer a more complete picture of crime. The city is still working on a way to resume publishing monthly incident data. Switching to the new reporting system required an overhaul of the department’s records software. The city started taking bids on that job in 2019 and hired a company to install new software in 2019. Police department spokeswoman Michelle Woodling said the project to report data publicly using the new system is behind schedule. But she said anyone can still request crime data under public records laws. Researcher Christopher Prenner, who is a sociologist at St. Louis University, said the department used to have better transparency than most other police agencies in the region.
Helena: A commission governing wolf hunting in the state is considering new wolf management rules that would make it easier to take the animals after the Legislature passed several laws earlier this year to encourage additional wolf hunting. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks already expects the number of wolves in the state to decrease from about 1,150 to between 900 and 950 wolves following a particularly successful hunting season. Over 320 wolves were harvested during the 2020 hunting season – significantly more than the preceding eight-year average of 242 wolves per year, according to a report released by the department. Still, the department believes the state’s wolf population can support increased wolf hunting without leading to adverse biological effects, according to the report. The fish and wildlife commission – which governs hunting regulations – is expected to meet Thursday to hear public comment on proposed rules released last week to implement laws passed by the Legislature. The department proposed adopting several new measures, including increasing the number of wolves an individual can hunt to between five and 10, allowing snaring during trapping season and night hunting on private lands, using baits for hunting and trapping, and extending the season dates.
Omaha: The number of new COVID-19 cases continued to decrease last week in the state, which currently has one of the lowest rate of new cases in the nation. For the eighth week in a row, Nebraska reported fewer coronavirus cases than the week before, the Omaha World-Herald reports. The state reported 168 new COVID-19 cases last week, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is down from 234 cases the week prior and 254 the week before that. At the peak last fall, Nebraska reported 16,740 new cases during the week of Nov. 20. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska also decreased over the past two weeks, going from 40 new cases per day June 6 to 31.14 new cases per day Sunday. Over the past two weeks, Nebraska reported 21.61 new cases per every 100,000 people in the state, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The only states with lower rates of new cases over that period were Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, South Dakota and Vermont. The number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 continues to slowly increase in the state. As of Friday, 63.4% of Nebraska’s population 18 and older had received at least one dose of a vaccine. That’s up from 63% the week before.
Elko: Rural residents and local law enforcement over the weekend celebrated decisions by two county commissions to become members of a group that believes sheriffs have the final say on any given law’s constitutionality. Hundreds of people gathered for festivities in Elko City Park on Sunday as the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association presented Elko and Lander county commissioners with a plaque to honor their membership, making them the first local governments to join, the Elko Daily Free Press reports. “You know what I train sheriffs to do? Kick ’em the hell out of your county,” association founder Richard Mack told an applauding crowd, referring to criticism of federal government and the Internal Revenue Service. Mack, a former sheriff from rural Arizona who is also involved in the Oath Keepers militia movement, denounced white supremacy and compared sheriffs’ bucking of federal laws to Rosa Parks’ civil disobedience on a bus in 1955. Founded in 2011, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association believes county sheriffs have a duty to interpret and uphold the Constitution that supersedes other elected officials up to the president. It is against federal gun laws and COVID-19 restrictions and sees sheriffs as a final defense against government overreach.
Concord: As children get ready for summer camp, federal COVID-19 response funds are being used to offer mental health training for camp counselors. The Department of Education is partnering with the New Hampshire Community Behavioral Mental Health Association to provide the training. Also, the 10 community mental health centers around the state will have staff on site at camp locations weekly to provide mental health support for children. The effort is a part of the department’s “Rekindling Curiosity: Every Kid Goes to Camp” program, which offers families camp-tuition support. “In spite of the heroic efforts by so many over this past year, so many children across New Hampshire have experienced anxiety and trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Frank Edelblut, commissioner of education, said in a statement Tuesday. “The Rekindle Curiosity program will simply give many of our children the opportunity to be a kid again and build some childhood memories.”
Atlantic City: The state is investing $200,000 in a center to help Atlantic City and New Jersey become a national hub for the billion-dollar competitive video game industry, known as esports. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority and Stockton University on Tuesday signed an agreement to establish an esports Innovation Center at the university’s Atlantic City campus. The authority will provide staff support for the Innovation Center, which will also include leaders in the esports industry. It was the latest manifestation of New Jersey’s interest in being not just a player but a leader in the fast-growing field. Newzoo, a research firm that tracks the esports industry, projects it will generate $1.08 billion in global revenue this year, an increase of 14.5% over last year. “I was shocked when I saw the numbers,” said Brian Sabina, the authority’s chief economic growth officer. “It’s the fastest-growing college sport in America. Nearly 500 million people tune in to watch esports events.” The center is designed to create new academic and workforce development opportunities and to support local economic development. It plans to identify industrywide technology development opportunities and to host “hack-a-thons” and similar coding challenges focused on creating innovative solutions.
Alamogordo: Officials in southern New Mexico are seeing an increase in pets surrendered and expect numbers to keep rising. In 2020, Alamogordo Animal Control took in 1,260 animals, saw 563 adopted and euthanized 36, according to Alamogordo Police Department data. The Otero County Animal Shelter took in 1,605 animals, saw 542 adopted and euthanized 364 last year, according to the shelter’s own data. Officials with both organizations expected the number of surrendered animals to increase post-pandemic as pet owners find their way back to offices and away from home. “It’s post-COVID-19 stuff; everyone was home and had time for the dog, and now everyone is going back to work, and we’re getting the same stories, you know?” Alamogordo Animal Control Manager Dwaine Martinez said. He said a surge in pet surrenders was already noted. Alamogordo Animal Control and Kitty City hold regular adoption events at White Sands Mall nearly every other Saturday. “We’ve seen a little bit of returns, but I don’t think it’s been any increase of what it would have been without COVID-19,” Kitty City Director Kathy Denton said. Under the rescue’s return policy, it works with the adopter to find out what issues may have arisen, Denton said.
Albany: Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation requiring general hospitals to seek input from nurses and other staff in creating staffing plans that are to include specific guidelines on how many patients each nurse is assigned. The new law requires hospitals to form committees composed of registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, ancillary staff members providing direct patient care, and hospital administrators to form the staffing plans. Hospital staffing committees must adopted their first staffing plans and submit them to the state health department by July 1, 2022. It’s unclear how the law will play out in non-unionized workplaces. Lawmakers passed the legislation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put a strain on staffing and resources at many hospitals throughout New York. Supporters of the law want to boost staffing levels. The original bill would have mandated statewide minimum staffing levels, but those were negotiated out. “This legislation requires hospitals to create committees that include the very same staff who treat patients on the ground every single day and come up with plans that take their concerns into consideration when allocating staff,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Raleigh: Republicans in the state Senate unveiled a two-year state budget proposal Monday that sticks to earlier spending limits even with recent news of a massive revenue windfall. They instead earmark billions more now for savings, with plans for deeper tax cuts and more construction projects to follow the rest of the decade. The measure also offers pay raises and one-time bonuses to public school teachers and state employees, although the permanent raises fall short of what Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper proposed in his budget in March. The bill, which is expected to pass through the chamber by Friday, seeks to spend $25.7 billion in state funds in the year starting July 1 and $26.6 billion the following year, in keeping with a spending cap that senators settled on with House Republicans this month. However, state economists predicted last week that the state would have $6.5 billion more at its disposal over the next two years above and beyond what was anticipated, beginning with an extra $1.9 billion in state coffers by June 30. Still, senators say they’re committed to the cap – otherwise concerned that much of the cash influx attributed to a resurgent post-pandemic economy can’t be counted on in the long term to pay for permanent initiatives.
Bismarck: Legislative leaders on Tuesday dismissed criticism of new limits on emergency spending by a governor-led panel, saying they have no interest in repealing or amending the law. Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said in an interview that criticism that the new law could hamper the state’s ability to address emergency spending is unwarranted. “I don’t think this is a life-or-death thing,” Wardner said. “We can live with this.” The law, passed shortly before the GOP-led Legislature adjourned in April, effectively furthers an ongoing battle between Gov. Doug Burgum and the Legislature, which has long argued that it decides spending matters and that the second-term Republican has stepped too far onto its turf. The Legislature easily overrode Burgum’s veto of the bill that he said “clearly violates the separation of powers doctrine” and would be unconstitutional. Burgum has declined to say if he would challenge the law in court. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman said in an interview that she supports the law. “It is OK for us to do this,” she said. “Otherwise, we don’t know what’s being spent where.”
Cincinnati: The coronavirus pandemic appears to have triggered more smoking among smokers in the region and prompted 1 in 10 former smokers to light up again, a newly released survey shows. Tobacco use by Cincinnati area adults had declined for more than 20 years, from 35% in 1999 to 19% in 2018. “But the COVID-19 pandemic stalled progress,” officials at Interact for Health said in a news release Tuesday. The percentage of adult current smokers in the region was fairly stable between 2018 (19%) and 2020 (21%), the organization said. In the wake of the new poll results, Interact for Health, a Norwood-based nonprofit that partnered with the University of Cincinnati Institute for Policy Research on the survey, is offering grants for tobacco-use cessation projects in the Cincinnati area. The Greater Cincinnati COVID-19 Health Issues Survey found that 23% of responding smokers said they smoked more frequently during the pandemic and that 9% of those who had quit started smoking again last year. The survey, conducted between Oct. 7 and Nov. 17, 2020, polled a random sample of 879 adults from the Cincinnati region, including an oversample of Black residents, interviewed by phone. The potential margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, researchers said.
Oklahoma City: A big boost is coming to efforts to “restart the arts” in Oklahoma, as nonprofit cultural organizations struggle to overcome the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kirkpatrick Family Fund has announced a $1 million commitment to Allied Arts over a three-year period to assist local nonprofit arts organizations recover and regain forward momentum. “As we emerge out of a pandemic year, the Kirkpatrick Family Fund is committed to helping restore the educational, visual, and performing arts that are vital to a thriving society and economy,” Kirkpatrick Family Fund President Christian Keesee said in a statement. Allied Arts found staggering financial losses when it surveyed 39 central Oklahoma cultural organizations about their operations between March 2020 and February 2021. The local impact of the pandemic was more than $21.2 million in revenue losses for these nonprofits, even after the groups received almost $12 million in COVID-19 assistance. “And that’s not even including the ripple-effect spending, which is looking at the true economic impact,” Allied Arts President and CEO Deborah McAuliffe Senner said. “It’s for those special events and occasions that people are getting their nails done, their hair done, a new dress. All of that was lost.”
Portland: With the state and federal eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of June, lawmakers passed an added safety net for struggling tenants Tuesday that will “pause” some evictions. Under the “Safe Harbor” amendment on Senate Bill 278, tenants who are unable to pay their July or August rent would not be evicted for 60 days if they provide proof to their landlord that they’ve applied for rental assistance through Oregon Housing and Community Services. The amended bill, which passed in the House 56-2 and in the Senate 26-3, was sent to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk to be signed. An eviction moratorium has been in place in Oregon since April 2020. In addition, last month lawmakers voted to extend the grace period for past due rent during the moratorium, allowing tenants to have until Feb. 28, 2022, to pay back rent. While the governor announced earlier this month that she was extending the state’s mortgage foreclosure moratorium through September, she said she did not have the authority to extend the eviction moratorium. “That means, by law, Oregon’s eviction moratorium will expire on June 30,” Brown said. Officials had warned that as the moratorium expired, the state would likely see a mass wave of evictions.
Harrisburg: The state locks up far too many first-time and low-level youth offenders, with Black youth in particular disproportionately yanked from their homes and prosecuted as adults, according to a governmental task force that made recommendations Tuesday to reform juvenile justice in the state. “Serious racial disparities pervade Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system,” the bipartisan Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force said in its report, adding that changes are urgently needed to make the state’s juvenile justice system more fair and more effective. A substantial percentage of young people who commit a minor crime and are considered at low risk of reoffending are nevertheless removed from home and placed in a residential facility, the group found in its 16-month review. The practice is widespread despite research showing that out-of-home placement is “generally not effective at reducing recidivism for most youth – and can instead be counterproductive,” the report said. Policymakers found widespread geographic and racial disparities in how youth offenders are treated, with Black youths more likely than white youths to be removed from home and prosecuted in adult court.
Providence: The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank has approved a $400,000 loan to help in the redevelopment of a brownfields site in Pawtucket. The loan will finance environmental remediation work as part of the larger Nexus Lofts project that will include 27 affordable market-rate apartments with ground floor office and retail space, the bank said in a statement. “This $400,000 loan for site remediation work at the Nexus Lofts project will help catalyze further development in the surrounding buildings,” infrastructure bank CEO Jeffrey Diehl said in a statement. Co-developer Michael Leshinsky called the loan a critical part of the project. The Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank is the state’s central hub for financing infrastructure improvements for municipalities, businesses and homeowners.
Columbia: Lawmakers are considering a bill to let mental health professionals refuse to provide care that violates their religious beliefs in response to an ordinance banning conversion therapy for minors in the capital city. The Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee heard testimony on the legislation Monday but didn’t take a vote. The state already has such medical conscience protections in place for doctors and other health care providers, allowing them to opt out of providing nonemergency services to people when it contradicts their religious, moral, ethical or philosophical beliefs or principles. The legislation would expand those protections to mental health professionals, said bill sponsor Sen. Josh Kimbrell, R-Spartanburg. The bill is a direct response to Columbia’s new ordinance barring attempts by licensed therapists and counselors to change the sexual orientation of minors. Opponents say the bill would harm LGBTQ individuals and make health care more difficult to access for many marginalized and rural South Carolinians. Kimbrell previously asked South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to block the Columbia measure, which was passed last week and is reported to be the first of its kind in the state.
Sioux Falls: The state’s largest health care providers proposed Monday that lawmakers drop part of the requirement for people seeking medical marijuana identification cards to obtain a physician’s recommendation to use the drug. Under the proposal, physicians would still need to certify that patients have conditions such as severe pain, seizures or multiple sclerosis that would qualify them for a medical marijuana ID. But they would not need to specifically recommend that medical marijuana be used to treat the condition. The proposal was welcomed by medical marijuana advocates, who have worried that patients will have a difficult time getting medical pot recommendations. Doctors have expressed hesitancy about recommending medical marijuana as the state prepares to legalize it. Although a voter-passed law legalizing medical marijuana takes effect July 1, the full medical cannabis program is still in flux. The state has until November to start issuing ID cards, meaning people wouldn’t be able to legally buy medical cannabis until then. In the meantime, legislators are planning changes to the law. Sarah Aker, director of fiscal policy at the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations, said doctors might be more comfortable writing certifications if they didn’t specifically recommend using cannabis.
Memphis: Justin Timberlake was back in his hometown, virtually, as he videoconferenced into a workshop with students of the Stax Music Academy. Timberlake and a team of his associated producers, musicians and industry figures helped guide a two-month creative class and mentorship program. Eight Stax Music Academy students, working as teams, were invited to take part in the “All Star Song Lab.” On Thursday evening, the Memphis-born pop star celebrated the program’s completion with the students and their parents during an event in which the songs they wrote and recorded as part of the program were played. Although Timberlake had conducted a similar workshop in 2019 in person at the academy, the pandemic forced this year’s more expansive effort to take place through computers. Two summers ago, as part of a Levi’s funded initiative, the company and Timberlake installed a creative space called “The Song Lab” in the Stax Music Academy building in South Memphis. That August, Timberlake surprised students with a two-day workshop that also featured noted producers Timbaland and Rob Knox and Memphis guitarist Elliot Ives. Timberlake also pledged to contribute $100,000 toward a scholarship fund for SMA students.
Austin: The veto period from the regular legislative session has ended with Gov. Greg Abbott blocking 20 bills from becoming law, including efforts to protect dogs from dangerous restraints and allow police to issue citations for trespassing. Abbott also vetoed legislation requiring middle schools and high schools to provide instruction on preventing child abuse, family violence and dating violence. Though the subjects are important, Senate Bill 1109 “fails to recognize the right of parents to opt their children out of the instruction,” Abbott said in a statement accompanying his veto. “I have vetoed similar legislation before on this ground, because we must safeguard parental rights regarding this type of instruction.” The governor also took exception to SB 474, which sought to prohibit owners from tethering unattended dogs outdoors without providing access to adequate shelter, shade and water, among other protocols. “Texas is no place for this kind of micromanaging and overcriminalization,” Abbott wrote, saying that animal cruelty laws already protect dogs. The Texas Humane Legislative Network spent six years working toward passage of the bill, and its members were devastated by the veto, Executive Director Shelby Bobosky said.
Moab: Arches National Park is on track to have its busiest year ever, and that increase in visitation has caused the park to close its gates more than 80 times so far in 2021. Two other popular national parks in the West – Rocky Mountain and Yosemite – implemented reservation systems last year due to the pandemic. Both brought reservations back this summer in anticipation of record visitation. Park advocates along with Moab and Grand County officials say a similar system could help alleviate congestion and protect Arches. But efforts to implement a timed-entry system there have failed in the past. Lines and closures have been a problem at Arches since about 2016, according to Joette Langianese, director of a nonprofit called Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks that helps raise funds and advocate for both parks. Visitation dropped a bit last year because of the pandemic, but she said tourists are back in full force this year, and they’re wreaking havoc on the park, littering and wandering off paths. Langianese said those are the kinds of things rangers are supposed to monitor, but the sheer number of visitors is making it hard. She said a reservation system would spread visitors out over the course of the day during the high season so that the park isn’t swamped. “Let’s just try it, see how it works,” Langianese said.
Montpelier: The state is ending its pandemic-related emergency housing in hotels and motels for some of the homeless population because the program is not sustainable, hotel capacity is shrinking, and it was never meant to be a permanent solution, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said Tuesday. Roughly 700 people, or about a third of the homeless people put up in motels during the coronavirus pandemic, will no longer be eligible July 1, officials estimate. “This was possible because the public health and travel restrictions essentially closed Vermont tourism, and hotels and motels stepped up,” Smith said during the governor’s weekly coronavirus briefing. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is reimbursing the state for the nearly $79 million cost of the program, he said. It was projected to rise to $108 million in fiscal year 2022 if changes weren’t made while federal reimbursement is uncertain, he said. The Legislature asked the Human Services Agency to create a work group to come up with a transition plan, Smith said. The plan was accepted by the Legislature and includes a more expansive program than before the pandemic – estimated to cost $41 million, compared to $6 million pre-pandemic, he said.
Richmond: If a court clears the way, the state expects to remove not just a soaring statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue but also a little-known piece of history tucked inside the massive sculpture’s base: a 134-year-old time capsule. Historical records and recent imaging tests suggest the presence of the time capsule, which some have speculated might contain a rare, valuable and historically significant photo of deceased President Abraham Lincoln. “Anyone who has an interest in Civil War history or Richmond history would be very intrigued by this item,” said Dale Brumfield, a local historian and author who has conducted extensive research on the aged copper receptacle and rumored photo. The removal work is contingent on the resolution of two still-pending lawsuits seeking to keep the monument in place. The bronze equestrian statue of Lee was one of five enormous Confederate tributes along Monument Avenue and the only one that belonged to the state. Like many other cities across the South, Richmond removed the figures on its monuments last summer amid nationwide protests against racial injustice and criticism that the statues are symbols of white supremacy that should not occupy public places.
Spokane: The medical school at Washington State University has received full accreditation, the final step in an academic journey that took nearly six years. The Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, in Spokane, on Tuesday received full accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which accredits medical degree programs in the U.S. and Canada. “Achieving full accreditation marks the culmination of a journey that began the day we started the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine,” said John Tomkowiak, founding dean of the medical school named for the late WSU president. The effort started in 2015, after Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that gave WSU authority to create a medical school. That overturned a previous law that had been in place for nearly 100 years prohibiting the creation of a new public medical school in the state. In 2016, the LCME granted preliminary accreditation to the WSU College of Medicine, which allowed the college to begin recruiting students and accepting applications for the college’s inaugural class of 2021. The college was granted provisional accreditation in 2019. Accreditation is a peer-review process that determines whether a medical school’s program meets established standards.
Charleston: Lawmakers will convene Thursday to take up $250 million in spending proposed by Gov. Jim Justice after a “tremendous” budget surplus. The Republican governor has suggested moving the millions to a wide variety of state departments, from tourism to natural resources. There are proposed upgrades to correctional facilities and expansions to some West Virginia State Parks. The Legislature will meet at noon to act on the funds. Earlier this month, lawmakers met to pour federal funds and extra state cash into road repairs, health care and education programs such as school lunches. Those efforts included about $902 million in federal funds received through pandemic relief legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden. Much of that funding came through grants directed by the federal government to be spent on programs such as substance abuse prevention, aid for needy families and child care services. Another $150 million from a state budget surplus was dedicated to fund 702 miles of road paving and projects on 40 bridges across all 55 counties.
Madison: Federal officials have designated a huge swath of the state’s Lake Michigan coastline as a National Marine Sanctuary to protect historic shipwrecks in the area, Gov. Tony Evers’ office announced Tuesday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will publish regulations designating 962 square miles from Kewaunee County south to Ozaukee County as a sanctuary, Evers’ office said. The designation will protect 36 shipwrecks, 21 of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Evers’ office said research suggests the area may include as many as 60 additional shipwrecks. The designation is subject to congressional and gubernatorial review. Evers said his administration is “really excited” about the designation, according to comments posted on NOAA’s website. The shipwreck sanctuary would become the 15th marine sanctuary NOAA has established. The network encompasses more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. Then-Gov. Scott Walker nominated the Lake Michigan area as a sanctuary in 2014. Boats would be prohibited from anchoring on shipwrecks in the sanctuary, and the sanctuary could draw tourists to the area, but beyond that the designation appears to have little practical effect.
Casper: Drivers were caught speeding less last year in Wyoming, but those who got nabbed were going faster than usual. Citations for speeding fell 15% in 2020, but there were 29% more citations for people driving over 100 mph, according to the Wyoming Highway Patrol. While highway traffic was down during the coronavirus pandemic, the drivers out there “felt that they could be going faster,” patrol Capt. David Wagener said. Law enforcement gave out nearly 1,500 citations in the state last year for “excessive speeding,” defined as going 15 mph or more above the posted speed limit. That was more than 300 more tickets for excessive speed than the number issued in 2019, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. Driving too fast, especially in foul weather, is a leading factor in Wyoming’s serious accidents. More than 1,600 such crashes in the state in the last decade involved excessive speeding.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
I know that geoFence blocks unwanted traffic and disables remote access from FSAs and that's no joke!