Huntsville: A project that’s been planned for more than a decade is nearing fruition, thanks to a $20 million federal grant. The Pedestrian Access and Redevelopment Corridor has been on hold for years because of a lack of funding, city officials said. Known unofficially as the skybridge, the PARC project will safely connect the downtown, Mill Creek and Lower Mill communities through greenways and a suspended pedestrian bridge, al.com reports. Those three areas are now separated by two major state and federal roads. The funding comes from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation. “We appreciate our partnership with the federal government and this grant, which will help us take Huntsville to the next level,” Mayor Tommy Battle said. Two other Alabama projects also received funding through similar grants. The town of Cordova received $5.2 million to improve deteriorating roadways, and the Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments received $2 million for the Shoals Area Railroad Overpass in Colbert County. Shane Davis, Huntsville’s director of Urban & Economic Development, said the city’s skybridge project has been a goal since 2006.
Anchorage: Baby boomers who retired early as the COVID-19 pandemic set in are a key factor behind the state’s labor shortage, Alaska Public Media reports. State economist Dan Robinson told the news outlet that many older workers felt they could afford to take the leap early, while many others who left the labor market in recent years were in their 30s and stymied by a lack of child care. He told APM that while the pandemic was a factor, employers will just have to adjust to a new reality, as a lack of stable funding for government services means Alaska’s population loss trend is unlikely to abate.
Phoenix: Proponents of three voter initiatives who each turned in hundreds of thousands of signatures last month to qualify them for the November ballot are trying to beat back legal challenges that could prevent them from going before voters. Two of the measures – one requiring disclosure of who is funding political campaigns and another rolling back or blocking efforts by Republicans to tighten voting rules – are being challenged by pro-business groups. They alleged that paid petition circulators made errors or omitted required information on their registrations with the secretary of state or petitions. The third measure, backed by a California-based employee union, would protect residents from predatory bill collection and raise the amount of assets shielded from bill collectors. It faces a similar challenge from a newly formed group funded by Arizona debt collection agencies, who say the description voters saw when they asked to sign was illegally misleading. Lawyers for challengers and the initiative proponents have spent the past two weeks in court, and three different Phoenix judges will decide who is correct. Whichever sides lose are are expected to appeal directly to the state Supreme Court.
Little Rock: A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the state’s use of the sedative midazolam in its lethal injections. A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court judge’s ruling upholding Arkansas’ execution process. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker ruled in 2020 that the state’s use of midazolam in injections is constitutional and dismissed claims that less painful methods of execution are available. “With no scientific consensus and a paucity of reliable scientific evidence concerning the effect of large doses of midazolam on humans, the district court did not clearly err in finding that the prisoners failed to demonstrate that the Arkansas execution protocol is sure or very likely to cause severe pain,” the appeals panel said in its ruling. The ruling comes more than five years since Arkansas raced to execute eight inmates over 11 days before its batch of midazolam expired. The state ultimately put four men to death after courts halted the other four executions. It hasn’t executed any inmates since 2017 and has none scheduled. “It is past time that justice be carried out in these cases of defendants killing innocent people, and the Eighth Circuit’s decision reaffirms that Arkansas’ execution protocol is constitutional,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said in a statement.
San Francisco: Nearly 2,000 Kaiser Permanente psychologists, therapists, social workers and other mental health workers in Northern California began an open-ended strike Monday over staffing shortages that their union said have led patients to wait for months to get help. The National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents the workers, is negotiating a new contract with the Oakland-based health giant. It said the strike is to demand Kaiser hire more mental health workers to ease the burden put on the current staff. Kaiser Permanente said in a statement it has hired hundreds of new mental health workers, including 200 since January 2021, and pointed out the shortage in mental health care professionals is happening nationwide. It said that what’s at issue is the union’s demand to increase the time therapists spend on tasks other than seeing patients. The union is demanding 9 hours be allotted for administrative work, which would leave only 31 hours to see patients per week, the company said. It said it proposed increasing the time for administrative tasks from 6 to 7.2 hours, leaving 32.8 hours to see patients. Jeffrey Chen-Harding, a clinical social worker with Kaiser who was picketing Monday in San Francisco, said that what Kaiser calls an administrative task is actually important work directly related to patient care.
Denver: A man had a rude awaking early Saturday morning when a roughly 400-pound bear flipped the lever doorknob to his home and rummaged through some dog food, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials said Monday. The homeowner, Ken Mauldin, grabbed a gun and shot the bear multiple times until it collapsed and died just after 2 a.m., said Rachael Gonzalez, spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Nobody was injured, she said. Officers removed the animal from the house, located in the ski resort town of Steamboat Springs. The couple had a legal right to shoot the bear if they felt threatened, Gonzalez said. Colorado has roughly 12,000 bears, and break-ins aren’t uncommon in Rocky Mountain towns. People shooting and killing bears in self-defense, however, is rare, Gonzalez said. This particular male bear was not tagged, and the department does not know if it was involved in other break-ins, she said. “Steamboat, that area, they’ve been dealing with bears getting into homes all summer long,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not impossible that this bear learned the behavior from another bear.” Residents of Steamboat Springs are warned by the agency to lock doors and windows, secure their trash and recycling in bear-proof bins, and even take down bird feeders to prevent these kind of confrontations.
Bridgeport: A federal bankruptcy judge on Monday cleared the way for a defamation lawsuit in Connecticut to proceed against Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The case was filed by relatives of some victims of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Jones has falsely claimed that the nation’s deadliest school shooting – which killed 20 students and six educators – was a hoax. Jones’ lawyer had sought to transfer the case to a federal bankruptcy court, rather than continue the case in Connecticut state court. That move brought the first day of jury selection to a sudden halt earlier this month. However, Monday’s ruling by Judge Julie Manning essentially allows the plaintiffs to continue the defamation lawsuit against just Jones as an individual, without Free Speech Systems, a company owned by Jones and a defendant in the Connecticut case. “The plaintiffs’ rights to have that process continue in the Connecticut Superior Court should not be disturbed,” Manning wrote in the decision, adding that the plaintiffs’ claims for damages were ready for trial. A Texas jury this month ordered Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of one of the children killed at Sandy Hook and another $4.1 million for the suffering he put them through by claiming for years that the shooting was a hoax.
Wilmington: A family is hoping for change after a 37-year-old man with an intellectual disability had his arm broken while he was taken into police custody earlier this year in an encounter advocates say could have gone differently if crisis intervention tactics were used. The man, who was violating a court order when he stood across the street from his aunt’s house in the New Castle area and is now facing charges, called police himself to report an argument with his aunt. The encounter ended with him being leg-swiped by an officer, which landed him on the ground with a broken arm that required surgery. New Castle County Police investigated the use of force officers exhibited that night and found that officer conduct was appropriate. But the encounter is one from which family and advocates say police can and should learn, as people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of police brutality. “Disability-related behaviors can be misunderstood by law enforcement officers who are trained to gain control and compliance on a scene but typically not trained to identify a disability or know how to interact or communicate with persons with disabilities,” said Carlean Ponder, director of disability rights and housing policy at The Arc, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for people with disabilities.
District of Columbia
Washington: The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general has refused congressional requests for documents and staff testimony about the erasure of Secret Service communication related to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, angering top Democrats who accuse him of unlawfully obstructing their investigation. In an Aug. 8 letter disclosed Tuesday, Inspector General Joseph Cuffari told the leaders of the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees that his office will not comply with their requests for internal documents and sit-down interviews due to the ongoing criminal investigation into deleted Secret Service text messages. In response, House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney and Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson sent a letter Tuesday demanding Cuffari turn over documents and make his staff available to lawmakers or risk facing a potential congressional subpoena “Your obstruction of the Committees’ investigations is unacceptable, and your justifications for this noncompliance appear to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Congress’s authority and your duties as an Inspector General,” Maloney and Thompson wrote in the letter. “If you continue to refuse to comply with our requests, we will have no choice but to consider alternate measures to ensure your compliance,” they wrote.
Fort Lauderdale: Tracks used by the nation’s deadliest railroad will see added fencing to keep pedestrians away and safety improvements at crossings under a $25 million federal grant announced Monday. Brightline and government officials announced the grant as the privately owned passenger line continues to be plagued by deaths along its tracks between Miami and West Palm Beach. In the past two weeks, Brightline trains have killed three people – and 68 since the service began its first runs five years ago. That’s about one death for every 33,000 miles its trains travel, the worst fatality rate among the nation’s more than 800 railroads, according to an ongoing Associated Press analysis of Federal Railroad Administration data. The grant, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program, will cover safety features, including 33 miles of fencing at locations of frequent trespassing along with extensive crossing improvements at all 333 crossings along the corridor, which will eventually stretch from Miami to Orlando, Brightline President Patrick Goddard said. The company will also install an additional 150 warning signs and 170 more suicide crisis hotline signs “to better reach those who might be struggling with suicide,” Goddard said.
Atlanta: Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday that he will spend up to $1.2 billion in federal COVID-19 aid on payments of $350 apiece to more than 3 million Georgians who benefit from Medicaid, subsidized child health insurance, food stamps or cash welfare assistance. The payments will start in September, said Katie Byrd, a spokesperson for the governor’s office. The move comes atop Kemp’s proposals last week to spend $2 billion in state surplus, split between property tax rebates and a second round of income tax rebates, if voters choose him for a second term in November over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams. Those separate plans would require legislative approval next year. Monday’s announcement will put money in the hands of less affluent Georgians in the months before the nationally watched election in a narrowly contested swing state. Those are voters to whom Abrams has been tailoring her economic platform. She also backs another round of income tax rebates, like those Kemp already pushed though, but has been arguing that Georgia also needs to do more to invest in long-term expansions of health, education and small-business assistance to try to create a less unequal economy.
Honolulu: A new monk seal on Oahu’s North Shore has marine officials asking the public to give the mother and pup plenty of room, HawaiiNewsNow reports. The baby monk seal is the 14th birthed by mother Right Spot and her first on Oahu, having typically given birth on the island of Molokai, where she was born.
Boise: A federal judge says the Legislature can intervene in the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit targeting the state’s total abortion ban – but only to present evidence about emergency abortions performed in Medicaid-funded emergency rooms. In the written ruling handed down Saturday, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said the Legislature’s interests are already well-represented by the Idaho Attorney General’s office and Gov. Brad Little, so there’s no legitimate reason to add another party to the lawsuit. The Justice Department sued Idaho last week over the state’s strict abortion ban, saying it would force doctors to violate the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law that requires anyone coming to a medical facility for emergency treatment to be stabilized and treated. Allowing a state legislature the right to intervene in every federal case without first proving a distinct need would allow a state to “turn into a nine-headed Hydra whenever it chooses,” Winmill said. The abortion ban was enacted in 2020 and set up as a “trigger law,” set to take effect Aug. 25 now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. Idaho’s law criminalizes all abortions, and anyone who performs, attempts or assists with abortions can face two to five years in prison and lose their health care license. Physicians who perform abortions to save a patient’s life or in cases of rape or incest can use that information as a legal defense during the criminal trial.
Naperville: A suburban Chicago police officer who fatally shot a hatchet-wielding man during a June traffic stop was justified in the deadly shooting, a prosecutor has determined. DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said Monday that Naperville police Officer Frank Tonkovich “reasonably believed” Edward Samaan, 28, of Naperville, was trying to kill either him or a driver Tonkovich had pulled over separately. Berlin said in a news release that Tonkovich’s actions were not just reasonable “but necessary in order to prevent great bodily harm or death to himself or the motorist he had stopped,” The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald reports. The officer had pulled over a car June 3 and was standing at that driver’s window when Samaan pulled his vehicle up nearby, exited it and charged Tonkovich with a hatchet in his hand, Berlin said. Tonkovich then shot at Samaan six times, hitting him five times. Samaan was pronounced dead at a hospital. The officer, a 22-year-veteran of the Naperville Police Department, was not injured.
Evansville: Preliminary autopsy results released Monday for the three victims of a house explosion in a southern Indiana neighborhood show they died of blunt force trauma and compression asphyxia. A married couple who lived at the center of the Wednesday explosion in Evansville, 43-year-old Charles Hite and 37-year-old Martina Hite, both died of blunt force trauma to their chests, and 29-year-old neighbor Jessica Teague died of compression asphyxia, the Vanderburgh County Coroner’s Office said in a news release. Final autopsy reports and toxicology are pending, Chief Deputy Coroner David Anson said in the news release. The explosion injured a fourth person and damaged 39 homes, leaving 11 uninhabitable, authorities have said. A statement Monday by the Evansville Fire Department said the investigation is still in its early stages and likely will be lengthy. Suzanne Dabkowski, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said last week that the agency can’t speak to any possible causes of the explosion. Dabkowski said the ATF has explosive specialists and firearms investigators on site helping with the investigation. Evansville authorities have declined to speculate whether natural gas or another issue is responsible for the explosion.
Des Moines: The developer of a proposed $4.5 billion carbon capture pipeline must release the names of landowners who could be affected along its roughly 680-mile route, a district judge ruled. Summit Carbon Solutions, an Ames company that has proposed building a pipeline to transport liquefied carbon dioxide, failed to win a permanent injunction to keep secret the names of thousands of landowners it said could be in the pipeline’s path. Under state law, Summit was required to hold public meetings for landowners potentially affected by the pipeline project, and the company compiled a list with more than 10,000 names along the route. After the Iowa Utilities Board asked Summit to submit the names, the company asked state regulators to keep the list confidential. Summit also filed a petition with the court to keep the names secret. The Sierra Club of Iowa asked regulators to release the names under state’s open records law, a move state Consumer Advocate Jennifer Easler also supported. In November, the Iowa Utilities Board decided it would keep secret most of the names, saying property owners’ right to privacy outweighed the public’s interest. On Friday, Polk County District Judge David Nelmark said Summit had failed to show landowner information should be excluded from state public records law.
Topeka: The state plans to do a partial hand recount that won’t change the outcome of this month’s decisive vote in favor of abortion rights after abortion opponents charged almost $120,000 to credit cards Monday to cover the cost. The Kansas secretary of state’s office said the recount will occur in nine of the state’s 105 counties that account for more than half of the votes cast on the Aug. 2 abortion ballot question, including four of the state’s five most populous counties. Voters who want to keep the abortion rights allowed under the Kansas Constitution prevailed in eight of the nine counties. The recount request came Friday from Melissa Leavitt, an election conspiracy promoter from Colby in far western Kansas, but Mark Gietzen, a hard-right anti-abortion activist from Wichita who also promotes election conspiracies, pledged to help pay for the recount. Gietzen used a credit card to pay for all but $1,500 of the costs, which Leavitt will cover. Voters on Aug. 2 overwhelmingly rejected a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature to further restrict abortion or ban it. There has been no evidence of significant problems with the election. Leavitt has an online fundraising effort that had received more than $41,000 in donations as of Monday evening.
Frankfort: Experts who are visiting disaster centers can help people whose heirlooms and keepsakes were damaged in recent flooding. The Heritage Emergency National Task Force experts may be able to help save photos, artwork, quilts, important documents and other items, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. The experts are visiting Clay County Community Center this week Friday through Sunday, Knott County Sportsplex Tuesday through Sunday, and Hazard Community College First Federal Center Wednesday through Sunday. FEMA said the experts will discuss how to handle, dry and clean the items, and they can provide information about personal safety during the restoration process. The Heritage Emergency National Task Force is co-sponsored by FEMA and the Smithsonian Institution. The task force was created to protect cultural heritage from damage from natural disasters and other emergencies.
New Orleans: Law enforcement officers have ended a three-day peaceful protest by jail inmates who demanded improvements to living conditions, including quicker attention to requests for medical care. Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson issued a statement saying her deputies and state Department of Public Safety and Corrections officers entered a pod inside the Orleans Justice Center on Sunday night after inmates activated the sprinkler system and began to flood the area, WDSU-TV reports. The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported inmates had barricaded a pod and refused food, water and medication. Hutson said deputies repeatedly offered to bring food and medication, and inmates refused to accept it. Inmates produced a list of desired changes that Hutson released Sunday. It included demands for more recreation time, a new washer and dryer, a second television, and the lifting of restrictions on how many books and photos inmates may receive each month. They also demanded proper medication and said they wanted sick calls to be treated seriously. An altercation at the jail in June resulted in the death of an inmate, and three stabbings recently occurred in the pod where the protest happened.
Portland: Federal regulators who want to enforce new vessel speed rules to help protect rare whales can expect some pushback from ship operators. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the new proposed rules, which are designed to protect the last remaining North Atlantic right whales, last month. The rules would expand seasonal slow zones off the East Coast and require more vessels to comply with the rules. The agency’s National Marine Fisheries Service is holding a series of informational meetings on the new rules. Some shipping and maritime groups said they have concerns the rules could make their jobs more difficult or less safe. The American Pilots’ Association is concerned the new rules would make operations more hazardous for pilot boats, said Clayton Diamond, executive director of the group. Pilot boats transport maritime pilots to and from larger ships, often in bad weather and at carefully calculated speeds, Diamond said. “We think that the NOAA/NMFS proposal to apply the speed restriction to pilot boats is unwise and unsafe,” Diamond said, adding that the group “strongly” supports protecting marine mammals. The agency isn’t commenting on industry concerns during the rulemaking process, said Allison Ferreira, a NOAA spokesperson.
Annapolis: The Maryland State Board of Elections voted Monday to file an emergency petition in court that seeks an earlier count of mail-in ballots for the general election in November. The board voted 4-0 to seek a legal remedy in hopes of speeding up the vote count for mail-in ballots, which have become much more popular with voters in the state. In a statement after the vote, the board said that the continued expansion of mail-in balloting and the inability of the local boards of elections to count mail-in ballots before Election Day could have significant implications. “It could leave local, statewide, and even federal contests without certified results until late December 2022 or early January 2023,” the board said. “Maryland is currently the only state in the union that forbids any kind of processing of mail-in ballots until after Election Day.” Currently, mail-in ballots can’t be counted until two days after Election Day. That caused delays in determining winners in the state’s primary last month. The state elections board certified the primary election Monday. Maryland’s primary was delayed by three weeks due to legal challenges involving congressional and legislative redistricting.
Boston: Michael Cox, a Boston police veteran who was brutally beaten by fellow officers while chasing a suspect and fought against efforts to cover up his assault, was sworn in Monday as commissioner of the police department. After taking the oath during a ceremony at City Hall Plaza, Cox thanked his family and friends who supported him through the incident that he said changed his life forever but does not define him. “I’ve worked to change policing since that incident occurred, and I will continue to do all I can to make sure that no Black or brown person or any individual, no matter their gender identity or race, is the victim of any kind of unconstitutional policing,” said Cox, who is Black. Mayor Michelle Wu called Cox a leader that Boston “deserves.” “I’m incredibly proud, grateful and inspired in the future for this city with Commissioner Michael Cox at the helm of the Boston Police Department,” she said. The Boston native most recently served as police chief in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Before taking that job in 2019, Cox served three decades in the Boston Police Department, where he took on the so-called blue wall of silence after he was attacked by colleagues who mistook him for a fleeing suspect whom he was trying to grab as he scaled a fence.
Flint Township: A name change for Flint Township will not appear on the fall ballot. Township trustees voted 4-2 Monday against placing the question on the ballot. The result would not have been binding, but there had been interest in getting the public’s opinion about a change to Oak Hills Township, MLive.com reports. Supporters of a name change say “Flint” carries baggage. The city is nearby. “In my business world, I have a really hard time selling Flint Township to outside folks,” said Winfield Cooper, a real estate broker. “I have to explain to them it’s not the city of Flint. I have to explain to them it’s not lead-contaminated water.” Flint’s water was contaminated in 2014-15 because state regulators didn’t require that water from the Flint River be treated to reduce corrosion. Changing the township name would cost at least $72,000 to change uniforms, vehicles and buildings at the fire and police departments. “It does nothing to change the township other than to spend money,” said resident Roger Powell, who opposed it.
St. Paul: The Minnesota Department of Corrections has dropped its order that 18 prisoners who were released from prison to protect their health during the coronavirus pandemic report back to prison. The state had ordered the 18 to return to prison by Monday. But a Ramsey County judge has granted a temporary restraining order, saying reincarcerating the individuals could still be detrimental to their health. Assistant Attorney General Corinne Wright on Friday asked Judge Mark Ireland to cancel further hearings on the corrections order and said the state instead will make individual determinations for the 18 people remaining on conditional medical release, according to an email shared by American Civil Liberties Union Minnesota attorney Daniel Shulman, who sued on behalf of the inmates. “I applaud them for taking this step, and I hope that they will let these people remain on (medical release) where they should be,” Shulman told the Star Tribune. The 18 former prisoners were among the 158 people granted conditional medical release as COVID-19 swept through the prison population in Minnesota. Nearly 2,300 prisoners had applied for release.
Flowood: For the second time in less than a month, an innocent bystander was killed during a police chase involving the same department. One person was killed Sunday during a police chase that began in Pearl. The chase ended when the vehicle that was being pursued crashed into a motorcycle, killing the driver. Public information officer Greg Flynn said a Pearl police officer attempted to make a traffic stop when a silver sedan took off. The officer pursued the vehicle into the neighboring city of Flowood, where police there joined the chase until it ended after the fleeing vehicle struck a motorcycle. Flynn said police later discovered the man was driving with a suspended license and had felony convictions at the federal and state levels. He is being charged with felony fleeing resulting in death. Pearl police, Flowood police, the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office and the Flowood Fire Department responded to the scene. Three weeks ago, another vehicle being pursued by Pearl police crashed into a U.S. Postal Service truck in Jackson, killing mail carrier Brad Pennington, 32. That chase began when police attempted to pull over a man for speeding. The man allegedly failed to pull over, and police chased him into Jackson until he crashed his Toyota Camry into Pennington’s mail truck.
Wyatt: A gas explosion Monday at a southeast Missouri home killed one person and injured nine others, authorities said. The explosion happened about 7 a.m. in Wyatt, a town of about 280 people that’s about 130 miles south of St. Louis, said Capt. Barry Morgan with the Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office. He said authorities were trying to determine whether a water heater or stove was to blame. He identified the person killed only as a man in his mid-20s. Nine other people – the youngest just 6 months old – had serious or critical burn injuries. Several were flown to hospitals in St. Louis and Memphis, Tennessee. “That is a ton of people in a house,” Morgan said. “So that’s what we’re trying to determine, why there were so many people in there, because when I arrived on scene, it was just there was victims lying everywhere, badly burned.” The garage of a neighboring home also caught fire, but no one inside that structure was hurt, Morgan said. The State Fire Marshal and a state propane commission were investigating.
Helena: Native Americans who must travel long distances to election offices and cope with unreliable and infrequent mail delivery are further disenfranchised under election laws approved last year, a lawyer said Monday during opening statements in a trial challenging the laws’ constitutionality. Jacqueline De León, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, said she would present evidence that the laws ending Election Day voter registration in Montana and banning the paid collection of voted ballots put unreasonable barriers on Native Americans who already face other economic and logistical obstacles. The new laws were passed by the Legislature in 2021, and a similar ballot collection law was declared unconstitutional by two state judges in 2020. “We should not have to bring this case again. But we will certainly prove, once again, that Native Americans are disproportionately and unfairly impacted” by the two bills, De León said. The trial that began Monday in Billings also challenges a law that requires additional proof of residency besides student IDs for college students to register and vote. The trial before District Court Judge Michael Moses is scheduled to last 10 days.
Lincoln: A state audit says the former head of the nonprofit History Nebraska organization diverted COVID-19 relief money to a private foundation, the Omaha World-Herald reports. Deputy State Auditor Craig Kubicek’s report suggested potential criminal liability for former History Nebraska Executive Director Trevor Jones over the 2020 transfer of two pandemic aid checks representing more than $270,000 to the History Nebraska Foundation, a then-new group that rivaled History Nebraska.
Reno: As officials in some rural parts of the state vow to bypass voting machines in favor of hand-counting ballots this November, the Nevada secretary of state’s office is proposing statewide rules that would specify how to do it, including requiring bipartisan vote counters, creating room for observation and instructing how many ballots to count at a time. On Friday, four voting rights groups came out against the proposal, calling it an “admirable attempt to ensure higher standards” for counting votes by hand but urging the secretary of state to prohibit the practice outright, noting that the push for hand-counting stems from “unfounded speculation” about voting machines. “The regulations are not enough to address the underlying accuracy issues and remediate the legal deficiencies of hand count processes,” the groups Brennan Center, All Voting is Local, ACLU Nevada and Silver State Voices said in a statement Friday. Both voting rights groups and hand-counting proponents spoke at an online hearing Friday, the first meeting convened to discuss the regulations. Voting rights groups lobbied to prohibit hand counts, while voting machine skeptics, a majority of the speakers, said the proposed regulations were a power grab meant to sabotage hand-counting.
Dover: As COAST enters its 40th year, the regional bus transportation service is preparing to build a new operations, maintenance and administrative facility, funded in large part by $7.7 million from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas were among those legislators instrumental in getting the $7.7 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to improve public transportation in the area. “COAST has provided reliable public transportation throughout the Seacoast region for more than 40 years,” Shaheen said. “Its current Dover facility is too small and outdated to achieve its full potential, which is why I helped secure this $7.7 million grant to construct a new facility. This improved facility will advance the quality and sustainability of public transit in the region, which will help drive local economic growth.” Hassan said the grant will “ensure that Granite Staters can get where they need to go safely and efficiently,” while Pappas noted “this grant will help COAST achieve its mission of providing affordable and accessible public transportation.” COAST said the federal funding will greatly enhance its ability to meet the Seacoast’s public transportation needs.
Trenton: With three state Supreme Court seats vacant, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner announced that a trio of appellate court judges would be temporarily promoted to fill the gaps. The order, issued Monday, comes amid a “crisis” of judicial vacancies statewide, causing massive backlogs for cases such as divorces and estate settlements. That shortage includes the New Jersey Supreme Court, which hasn’t had as many vacancies as it does now in recent memory – an “outrageous” scenario, one lawyer said. “Assigning one appellate judge is not uncommon, but three may be unprecedented,” said Carl Golden, who was director of communications for the judiciary from 1990 to 1993 under then-Chief Justice Robert Wilentz. Rabner’s order named Judges Clarkson Fisher Jr., Jack Sabatino and Douglas Fasciale to the state’s highest court. These judges, “who are senior in service,” Rabner said, will “participate in new matters presented for the court’s consideration.” Jeralyn Lawrence, president of the state’s bar association, said these jurists are the “best of the best,” but this is “not what the constitution envisioned, and the triage continues.” “All three levels of our courts are being impacted solely because our governor and our Legislature can’t fill these vacancies, and they are hurting the public,” she said.
Santa Fe: Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin is fighting to keep his seat as a county commissioner as he faces possible removal and disqualification from public office for his participation in last year’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Griffin was previously convicted of a misdemeanor for entering Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021. He was sentenced to 14 days and given credit for time served. Three residents of Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties filed a lawsuit seeking to remove Griffin from being commissioner of Otero County’s 2nd district for the rest of his term. Griffin, a 47-year-old Republican, is representing himself in the two-day bench trial that began Monday. “This lawsuit is about removing a duly elected county commissioner from office through the civil court,” Griffin said in court. “By allowing this case to move forward, you’re going to set a very dangerous precedent.” On the witness stand Monday, Griffin said he went to Washington, D.C., to peacefully protest and pray with other Trump supporters. “I had no intention of breaking the law on that day,” he said. The three plaintiffs in the case argued in a 259-page petition that Griffin should be disqualified from holding public office on the basis of a clause in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
New York: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is endorsing Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler in his contentious primary contest with another veteran U.S. House member from the state, Carolyn Maloney. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement that “New York has a lot of outstanding leaders but few of them lead with the courage, conviction, and brilliant legislative effectiveness” that Nadler has. He called Nadler a “critical partner” who “was right on the issues years before so many others.” Nadler, 75, and Maloney, 76, have each represented Manhattan-area districts in Congress for 30 years but have gone from allies to rivals after their Upper West Side and Upper East Side districts were drawn together under new redistricting maps. Schumer’s backing comes on the heels of Nadler winning an endorsement from The New York Times over the weekend ahead of the Aug. 23 primary. The newspaper’s endorsement carries a lot of weight in deep-blue New York City but is expected to be especially decisive in a contest featuring two veteran lawmakers. Nadler and Maloney chair the powerful House Judiciary and Oversight committees, respectively. Another Democrat, 38-year-old attorney Suraj Patel, is also running in the primary race for New York’s 12th District.
Raleigh: After receiving more than a dozen reports of conduct violations by party-appointed poll watchers during the May primaries, the state elections board tightened regulations for precinct observers Tuesday to prevent partisan interference in the November general election. The board unanimously voted to approve temporary rules for the upcoming election that more clearly outline the code of conduct for partisan observers, prohibiting them from standing close to a “tabulator, laptop, pollbook or other voting document” where they could view marked ballots or confidential voter information. The revisions heighten scrutiny for observers and poll workers alike, adding to a list of prohibited conduct for precinct officials that forbids them from tampering with voting equipment or expressing their political views on the job. While poll watching has been an element of electoral transparency since the 1800s, the practice grew in prominence in the 2020 election cycle due to ex-President Donald Trump’s unfounded allegations of voter fraud. A survey of county elections directors in late May found violations in 15 North Carolina counties, where officials observed poll watchers harassing voters and attempting to enter restricted areas to view confidential voting records.
Bismarck: Gov. Doug Burgum said Monday that he’ll work with legislators on a bill next session to “guarantee that the opportunity exists” for students and elected governing bodies to say the Pledge of Allegiance, if they choose. The Republican governor’s announcement comes after the Fargo School Board last week announced plans to stop reciting the pledge on the grounds that it doesn’t align with the district’s diversity code. Under current state law, governing bodies and schools can’t be required to recite the pledge. Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the governor’s aim is to ensure that those who wish to say it may legally do so. “America is the land of opportunity. And students in every public school in North Dakota, along with elected governing bodies and those who attend their meetings, should have the opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and express support for the American ideals upon which our country was founded,” Burgum said in a statement. “Our administration is creating a framework for legislation to guarantee that the opportunity exists to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, as other states have done,” the statement said. Burgum said he is working with state Sen. Scott Meyer of Grand Forks and state Reps. Pat Heinert of Bismarck and Todd Porter of Mandan to draft the legislation.
Columbus: Ohio mothers who rely on Medicaid will now be eligible for up to a year of health coverage after the birth of a child, up from 60 days previously. Up to 21,000 low-income and disabled people annually will benefit from this change, said the Ohio Department of Medicaid, which announced the change before April but only received final approval from the federal government Tuesday. “We know that access to postpartum care not only saves lives but leads to better health outcomes for moms and their babies,” Maureen Corcoran, director of Ohio Medicaid, said in a statement. “Extending eligibility for a full year postpartum ensures women have access to critical services that impact maternal morbidity and mortality as well as the health of their baby.” Available coverage includes treatment for postpartum depression; medical care for chronic conditions such as hypertension or diabetes; breastfeeding resources; and nurse home visits. The change was initiated by state lawmakers in the previous state budget. Ohio suffers from one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the nation, at 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2019. The extended coverage, for now, will be available for a five-year period through April 2027.
Oklahoma City: Gov. Kevin Stitt granted death row inmate Richard Glossip a 60-day stay of execution Tuesday while a state appeals court considers his claim of innocence. Stitt signed an executive order delaying Glossip’s execution for the 1997 killing of Glossip’s boss, motel owner Barry Van Treese, that was scheduled for Sept. 22. “This stay is granted to allow time for the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to address a pending legal proceeding,” the order said. A Stitt spokeswoman declined to comment on the governor’s decision, which also means that a clemency hearing before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board that was scheduled for next week will be delayed. Glossip asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for a new evidentiary hearing following the release of an independent investigation by Houston law firm Reed Smith that raised new questions about his guilt. The firm’s report did not find any definitive proof of Glossip’s innocence but raised concerns about lost or destroyed evidence and a detective asking leading questions to Glossip’s co-defendant, Justin Sneed, to implicate Glossip in the slaying. Sneed admitted killing Van Treese but said he did so at Glossip’s direction. Sneed was sentenced to life in prison and was a key witness against Glossip.
Salem: The state’s chief justice fired all the members of the Public Defense Services Commission on Monday, frustrated that hundreds of defendants charged with crimes and who cannot afford an attorney have been unable to obtain public defenders to represent them. The unprecedented action comes as Oregon’s unique public defender system has come under such strain that it is at the breaking point. Criminal defendants in Oregon who have gone without legal representation due to a shortage of public defenders filed a lawsuit in May that alleges the state is violating their constitutional right to legal counsel and a speedy trial. In a letter to the commission members, Chief Justice Martha Walters said that “it is now clear that it is time to reconstitute the current commission.” Oregon’s public defender system is the only one in the nation that relies entirely on contractors: Large nonprofit defense firms, smaller cooperating groups of private defense attorneys that contract for cases and independent attorneys who can take cases at will. But some firms and private attorneys are periodically refusing to take new cases because of the workload. Poor pay rates and late payments from the state are also a disincentive. The American Bar Association found that Oregon has only 31% of the public defenders it needs.
Berwick: Two people remained in critical condition Tuesday after a car drove through a crowd at a weekend fundraiser for victims of a house fire, killing one woman and injuring 17 other people, authorities said. Of the 17 injured, two remained in critical condition in Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, while five others were listed as fair, a hospital spokesperson said. Ten other people had been released following treatment at several hospitals, state police said. Adrian Oswaldo Sura Reyes, 24, is charged with homicide in the death of 50-year-old Rebecca Reese, of Wilkes-Barre, at the fundraiser in Berwick shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday. He faces another homicide count in the slaying of his mother at their Nescopeck home minutes later. Police allege in a criminal complaint that Sura Reyes told investigators he was driving in Berwick after arguing with his mother. At the time, about 75 people were in a blocked-off parking lot outside the Intoxicology Department bar for a fundraiser to benefit victims of the Aug. 5 blaze in Nescopeck that killed seven adults and three children. Police say Sura Reyes told them he drove past, then turned and headed back “to drive through the crowd of people.” They allege that video corroborates his alleged statement to investigators that he “sped up into the crowd purposefully.”
East Providence: A carousel that’s the last vestige of an amusement park next to the Providence River is spinning again after getting a new foundation. The Crescent Park carousel started running again Aug. 6 and will continue to operate Saturdays and Sundays between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. until Oct. 10, as well as on three Fridays: Aug. 26, Sept. 23 and Oct. 21. Rides cost $2. Having sat closed since the start of the pandemic, as cleaning procedures would have damaged the antique horses, dragons and a camel, crews used the time to stabilize and then replace the carousel’s foundation. This month, as it cranked up again after the hiatus, the carousel gave 958 rides. Carousel Manager Tracy Johnson is training new staff members on how to operate the attraction. Caretaker Ed Serowik said he started working at what was then the Crescent Amusement Park as a child in 1948, setting up pins at the bowling alley before working the carousel in 1950. He is now one of the primary people conducting maintenance on the ride. “It’s exactly the same,” he said, looking up at the mirrors that ring the carousel.
Columbia: A small group of state lawmakers have given their approval to a near-total abortion ban that does not include exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. The 3-1 vote Tuesday – all Republicans on a House subcomittee for it and the lone Democrat against – set up a showdown later in the day on whether to send the restrictive bill to the House floor. South Carolina currently has a six-week ban passed in 2021 that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. Republican lawmakers plan a special sessions over the next month to consider even more restrictions. The bill bans all abortions except when the life of the mother is in danger. It lists a number of different medical emergencies that would fit into the exceptions. The legislation still has a long way to go before it could reach Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has said he wants to see no abortions in the state. Opponents and supporters alike said the proposal could change considerably on its way through the General Assembly. Outside the House’s office building on Statehouse grounds, about a dozen demonstrators with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic gathered. They were outnumbered by law enforcement, who set fencing and barricades expected to stay up most of the week.
Sioux Falls: Final vehicle counts for vehicles entering Sturgis indicate traffic was up 2% from the past five years during the 10-day Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, according to the South Dakota Department of Transportation. A total of 502,835 vehicles entered Sturgis over 10 days, according to SDDOT. The previous five-year average was 492,535 vehicles. The first day of the rally on Aug. 5 had 11% more traffic than the past five years, according to SDDOT.
Nashville: The Nashville Predators Foundation is teaming up on an event offering people gift cards, preseason vouchers and giveaways if they turn in guns to the city’s police. The NHL team says its foundation is partnering on the event Saturday at Greater Revelations Missionary Baptist Church. People can turn in guns to the Metro Nashville Police Department there with no questions asked. They can also drop off unused or expired medication that police will destroy. In seven Gift Card for Guns days since 2011, people turned in 658 firearms. It’s the first year the Preds Foundation has been involved in the event. Predators Vice President of Community Relations Rebecca King expressed hope that the initiative would make the community safer.
Austin: As they consider pay raises for other city employees, the Austin City Council’s members this week are poised to give themselves a 40% pay raise – one some members defend as long overdue and more reflective of the hours they work. The topic will come up Wednesday as the council works on setting the city’s operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The money for the pay increase would come from the additional $20 million the city recently discovered for the council to spend in any way it sees fit. Several council members say there is enough money available not only to boost their pay but also to identify an estimated $5 million to $10 million needed to raise the minimum hourly wage for city employees to $20. In total, the council pay raises would cost the city’s taxpayers an additional $371,000 per year. “The dollar amount we’re talking about is very little in the scheme of things,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said. This year, Austin’s 10 district council members are each making $83,158 – about the same as a sixth-year officer with the Austin Police Department. The last time the council approved a pay increase for themselves was in 2006, when a council member made $57,736 and the mayor made $67,981. Since then, they’ve received only cost-of-living increases.
Salt Lake City: The Utah Democratic Party is suspending a longtime lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct from party-related activities at all levels and has called for state Sen. Gene Davis to step down from the Legislature. The decision, announced in a statement over the weekend, came after a former intern’s allegation exposed a rift in the party over its handling of sexual harassment. In prior statements, the party’s stance was that it couldn’t take action unless it received an official complaint, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. “Following Ms. Weglinski’s statement last week, party leaders and members of the Executive Committee spoke privately with Senator Davis,” Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Thom DeSirant wrote in the statement. “Though he denied specifics of the allegations in his interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, we believe the behavior he acknowledged, regardless of context or intent, was unacceptable. We requested he voluntarily step down.” University of Utah student Sonia Weglinski, a former intern who also worked on the senator’s reelection campaign this spring, said in an Aug. 3 Instagram post that Davis touched her in ways that made her feel uncomfortable on multiple occasions during the five months she worked with him.
Montpelier: The certification of last week’s primary election results in Vermont has been delayed by a technical issue, the secretary of state’s office announced Tuesday. The statewide and federal primary election canvassing was expected to take place Tuesday. The secretary of state’s office said a state software contractor has been unable to resolve a technology issue affecting the office’s ability to produce reports from votes submitted by town and city clerks. The process is separate from the official counting of ballots and local certification by town clerks, the office said, adding that the delay does not impact its 100% confidence in the accuracy of the vote totals reported by town clerks. “The Secretary of State’s mission is to provide a secure and accurate election. The office will always default to a delay to ensure integrity and confidence of the results when they are certified,” the office said in a statement.
Richmond: An author’s investigative effort to uncover the origins of a racist photo on Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page has ended inconclusively, according to the author, who has written a book that offers new details about the 2019 scandal and the former governor’s remarkable political survival. “Of course, I would like to have determined exactly who was in the photograph. And I gave that my best effort,” Margaret Edds, a retired journalist and the author of “What the Eyes Can’t See,” told The Associated Press ahead of the book’s November publication. Although Edds – like journalists and two groups of law firm investigators before her – did not arrive at any definitive answer about the photo of one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume, her 296-page book offers a behind-the-scenes look at the turmoil the image sparked. The book details Northam’s decision to remain in office despite tremendous pressure, as well as the steps he took to become better informed about the legacy of racism, redeem his reputation and work with Black leaders to sharpen his administration’s focus on racial justice. Northam participated in 14 interviews for the book. “What the Eyes Can’t See” also draws on interviews with Northam’s wife, staffers, consultants, friends and public officials.
Seattle: The West Seattle Bridge will open Sept. 18, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation. The date is the most specific milestone set by the city since the bridge closed more than two years ago due to safety concerns, and it provides weary West Seattle travelers with a beacon of hope. The city previously set the week of Sept. 12 as its window for reopening the bridge but hedged the announcement with caveats about possible unanticipated hiccups in the final stretch of construction. The date provided Thursday reflects the progress crews have made in recent months, most notably the final post-tensioning of nearly 50 miles of new cable, which compress the span of the bridge to strengthen the concrete, The Seattle Times reports. The cables are anchored by concrete blocks capable of holding 20 million pounds of force. SDOT previously hoped to open the bridge in July, but a labor strike of concrete workers delayed progress. The 40-year-old bridge is among the city’s most important, previously allowing 100,000 drivers and 20,000 transit users to move between West Seattle and the rest of the city every day.
Charleston: The state Division of Motor Vehicles is making it easier for residents to get a REAL ID ahead of the May 3 federal deadline. The department recently announced a new online service that offers a guided path through pre-enrollment and cuts the time spent at the DMV, according to a news release. REAL ID Headstart allows applicants to verify their identities, upload required documents, and schedule their REAL ID appointments online. While the federal REAL ID Act requires documents be presented in person, a change is in progress. Once the act is amended, the DMV aims to enhance REAL ID Headstart so that no in-person visit is needed. Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005 to establish minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards following a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission. The updated identification cards will be required for airport check-in and to enter federal facilities. REAL ID Headstart is available at dmv.wv.gov.
Madison: The state can’t impose property taxes on tribal lands that have changed hands unless it gets congressional approval, a federal appeals court ruled Monday. The decision from a three-judge panel from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marks another chapter in a lawsuit four Chippewa tribes from northern Wisconsin filed in 2018. The Lac Courte Oreilles, the Lac du Flambeau, the Red Cliff and the Bad River sued after the state imposed property taxes on land within their reservations. Such land is immune from state property taxes under an 1854 treaty, but the state argued that the land is eligible because tribal members sold it to non-American Indians before the land was were sold back to tribal members. The three-judge panel affirmed that the land isn’t taxable without congressional approval, saying only Congress can diminish tribes’ sovereignty, and the treaty is best read to promise tax immunity even for reacquired lands.
Gillette: The tax incentives offered under the Inflation Reduction Act and a $2.5 billion infusion from Congress last year are spurring hopes of more carbon storage projects in the rolling prairie lands of northeastern Wyoming. Geologist Fred McLaughlin has been drilling nearly 2 miles into the ground, far deeper than the thick coal seams that make this the top coal-mining region in the United States. McLaughlin and his University of Wyoming colleagues are studying whether tiny spaces in rock deep underground can permanently store vast volumes of greenhouse gas emitted by a coal-fired power plant. The concept known as carbon storage has long been touted as an answer to global warming that preserves the energy industry’s burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity. One goal of McLaughlin’s project is to preserve the lifespan of a relatively new coal-fired power plant, Dry Fork Station, run by Basin Electric Power Cooperative. State officials hope it will do the same for the whole beleaguered coal industry that still underpins Wyoming’s economy. The state produces about 40% of the nation’s coal, but declining production and a series of layoffs and bankruptcies have beset the Gillette area’s vast, open-pit coal mines over the past decade.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Carbon storage, commissioner comeback: News from around our 50 states