Montgomery: More than 500 hunters across the state have bought licenses to hunt feral pigs and coyotes at night, authorities said. It’s a new approach to try to control the destructive animals in Alabama, Al.com reports. State lawmakers passed a bill last year to allow the nighttime hunting. It’s aimed at targeting the wild pigs, which cause more than a billion dollars in damage annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Experts say that nighttime hunting could help control the population but that trapping and killing is the best way to do so. Feral pigs – also called feral hogs, swine and wild boars – roam Alabama and other Southern states, rooting up crops and pastures and stomping through forests, fences and gardens.
Juneau: The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced Tuesday that it is moving ahead with a new environmental review of oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after the interior secretary said she found “multiple legal deficiencies” in a prior review that provided a basis for the first lease sale on the refuge’s coastal plain earlier this year. The federal land agency said there will be a public process to determine the scope of the review and identify major issues related to a leasing program. Information gathered during that process will influence development of the review, according to an agency notice. President Joe Biden, in a January executive order, called on the interior secretary to temporarily halt activities related to the leasing program, review the program and, “as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, conduct a new, comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program.” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in June said her review identified deficiencies in the record underpinning the leases, including an environmental review that failed to “adequately analyze a reasonable range of alternatives.” She announced plans at that time for the new review and halted activities related to the leasing program while the analysis was pending.
Phoenix: The Phoenix Zoo is asking the public to help name one of its black-footed ferret litters. The zoo is caring for 27 black-footed ferret kits, and officials say it’s the most successful breeding season in 20 years. The first litter was born in May and the last in June. The Phoenix Zoo is one of six facilities worldwide breeding black-footed ferrets for release to the wild. The species is considered one of North America’s most endangered. Once thought to be extinct in the wild, the black-footed ferret has returned to its native habitat through reintroduction efforts facilitated by state, federal, tribal and nongovernmental wildlife conservation partners. The zoo has produced over 500 black-footed ferrets in 30 years of involvement with the breeding program, with many released into the wild in prairie grasslands in Arizona and other parts of their native range.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson pressed forward Tuesday with efforts to allow schools to mandate face masks as the state’s coronavirus cases continued to spiral, but he faced heavy opposition from fellow Republicans over the move. Hutchinson called the majority-GOP Legislature back into session to take up the change to a state law he signed in April prohibiting mask mandates by schools and other governmental bodies. The agenda for session started Wednesday also includes a proposal to prevent the state from having to resume making supplemental unemployment benefits to thousands of residents. Hutchinson has faced growing calls to revisit the ban as the state’s cases and hospitalizations surge. Arkansas on Monday reported its biggest one-day jump in hospitalizations since the pandemic began. “Local school districts should make the call, and they should have more options to make sure that their school is a safe environment during a very challenging time for education,” Hutchinson said. The governor is focusing on schools with students under the age of 12, since they’re not currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. Arkansas has one of the lowest inoculation rates in the country, with only about 36% of the state’s population fully vaccinated against the disease.
Sacramento: Some farmers in one of the country’s most important agricultural regions will have to stop taking water out of major rivers and streams because of a severe drought threatening the drinking water supply for 25 million people, state regulators said Tuesday. The Water Resources Control Board approved an emergency resolution empowering regulators to halt diversions from the state’s two largest river systems. The order could apply to roughly 86% of landowners who have legal rights to divert water from the San Joaquin and Sacramento river watersheds. The remaining 14% could be affected if things get worse. The rule won’t take effect for another two weeks and includes exceptions for some uses, such as water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, sanitation and generating electricity. Without the order, officials warned much of the state’s drinking water supply would be at risk if the drought continues into next year. “This decision is not about prioritizing one group over the other but about preserving the watershed for all,” said E. Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the Water Resources Control Board. The vote came one day after regulators halted water diversions from another Northern California river system, the Upper Russian River, warning Lake Mendocino would be empty by the end of the year, “putting both people and wildlife in harm’s way.”
Denver: A Christian baker found to have violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to make a birthday cake for a transgender woman has appealed the ruling to the state appeals court. In a notice filed Monday, lawyers for Jack Phillips asked the appeals court to review the June ruling by a Denver judge by looking at both procedural issues and whether the ruling violated Phillips’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion. Judge A. Bruce Jones ruled that attorney Autumn Scardina was denied a cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate her gender transition on her birthday because of her transgender status in violation of the law. While Phillips said he could not make the cake because of its message, Jones said the case was about a refusal to sell a product, not compelled speech. Phillips won a partial victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple when the court found the state civil rights commission showed anti-religious bias when it sanctioned Phillips.
New Haven: A bronze sculpture depicting Italian immigrants is the top choice of a city panel to replace a statue of Christopher Columbus that was removed from a city park last year amid protests. The design by Branford sculptor Marc-Anthony Massaro has been chosen by the Wooster Square Monument Committee to replace the Columbus statue that had stood for 128 years in Wooster Square, the New Haven Register reports. The choice is being submitted to the Board of Alders and three other city agencies for final approval. Massaro’s work is titled “Indicando la via al futuro,” Italian for “pointing the way to the future.” It shows a boy, his older sister and their parents, newly arrived in America from Italy with suitcases. The father is holding the boy, who is pointing to something in the distance. Massero made a one-sixth-scale model of the image. “I think the committee felt that his proposal exemplified the story that we are telling – that is, the story of Italian immigration,” said William Iovanne, co-chairman of the Monument Committee. “His sculpture is incredible.” Columbus statues across the country have been removed amid widespread racial injustice protests. The city Parks Commission had voted to take down the statue amid demands by many residents, including Italian Americans.
Dover: With the delta variant of the coronavirus spreading, state health officials recommended Tuesday that unvaccinated people get tested weekly and announced more ways to access testing, including take-home kits offered at libraries. In a statement, Gov. John Carney, the Division of Public Health, and the Delaware Emergency Management Agency urged everyone 12 and older to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and encouraged anyone who is unvaccinated to get weekly virus testing to prevent additional infections. Unvaccinated people also should undergo testing five to seven days after exposure to someone confirmed to have the coronavirus and should quarantine at home under such circumstances, especially if they develop symptoms. Cases climbed steadily in Delaware during the month of July, and more than 100 new cases have been reported every day for the past five days, officials said. Officials stress that the vaccine is effective against severe disease and death from the variants that are circulating in the United States. Only a small proportion of fully vaccinated people get infected, and those infections tend to be mild, officials said.
District of Columbia
Washington: The National Museum of Women in the Arts is planning its first major renovation in more than 30 years, but visitors can check it out for free this week before work closes the building down for two years, WUSA-TV reports. Officials said ahead of the long-term closure for changes and upgrades beginning Monday, the museum is offering free entry and extended hours. The two-year project will be the museum’s first major renovation since its doors opened in 1987. “We need an updated building to complement the groundbreaking work we do to champion women artists,” the museum said on its website. The museum is hoping to raise $66 million through a donation campaign to fund the renovations. Key improvements include enlarged gallery space, a new destination for researchers and education programs, enhanced amenities and accessibility for visitors, and infrastructure and storage upgrades to improve the long-term conservation and security of the museum’s collection of more than 5,500 works. NMWA purchased a landmark 78,810-square-foot former Masonic temple in 1983. “Updates to the building will refresh our space and heighten our impact as the only major museum in the world dedicated to women in the arts,” said Susan Fisher Sterling, the museum’s director.
St. Petersburg: Florida won’t put any state money into the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s unless it reverses a decision to stop selling ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday. The Republican governor said the State Board of Administration added London-based Unilever to its list of “scrutinized companies” that boycott Israel. This means if Ben & Jerry’s position on Israel is not reversed in 90 days, Florida will not invest in or contract with Unilever or its subsidiaries. “As a matter of law and principle, the state of Florida will not tolerate discrimination against the state of Israel or the Israeli people,” DeSantis said in a news release. “I will not stand idly by as woke corporate ideologues seek to boycott and divest from our ally, Israel.” The company’s founders, Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, said in a recent New York Times opinion piece that they no longer control the company but approve of the action in Israel as reflecting their progressive values. “We are also proud Jews,” the founders said. “But it’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we’ve opposed policies of the U.S. government.” Unilever’s 400 brands also include Dove personal care products, Lipton tea and Hellmann’s mayonnaise.
Atlanta: COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to rise rapidly, with some hospitals voicing concern as they fill with patients infected with the coronavirus. The state Department of Public Health on Tuesday reported 9,100 new positive tests but said that number included new reports dating back until Friday that hadn’t been included because of data transfer problems with electronic reporting. With the data dump, the state’s seven-day average rose above 4,000 cases, almost 11 times higher than when cases bottomed out in late June. The current seven-day average is the highest since Feb. 10 and higher than Georgia’s peak in July 2020. The state’s rolling average peaked above 9,500 in mid-January. Hospitalizations also continued their rapid increase, climbing above 2,600 statewide Tuesday. Statewide, 26 hospitals reported to the Georgia Coordinating Center that they were turning away all patients or new intensive care patients, including seven of 11 hospitals in the Piedmont system and half of the 10 hospitals in the Wellstar system. Dr. Alan Brown, chief medical officer of the Brunswick-based Southeast Georgia Health System, told The Brunswick News that the contagious delta variant and low vaccination rates have led to the system’s hospitals having 10 to 20 times as many patients as they had in early July.
Honolulu: Officials wrongly arrested a homeless man for a crime committed by someone else, locked him up in a state hospital for more than two years, forced him to take psychiatric drugs, and then tried to cover up the mistake by quietly setting him free with just 50 cents to his name, the Hawaii Innocence Project said in a court document asking a judge to set the record straight. A petition filed in court Monday night asks a judge to vacate the arrest and correct Joshua Spriestersbach’s records. The filing lays out his bizarre plight that started with him falling asleep on a sidewalk. He was houseless and hungry while waiting in a long line for food outside a Honolulu shelter on a hot day in 2017. When a police officer roused him awake, he thought he was being arrested for the city’s ban on sitting or laying down on public sidewalks. But what he didn’t realize was that the officer mistook him for a man named Thomas Castleberry, who had a warrant out for his arrest for violating probation in a 2006 drug case. It’s unclear how this happened, as Spriestersbach and Castleberry had never met. Spriestersbach somehow ended up with Castleberry as his alias, according to the Hawaii Innocence Project. Spriestersbach’s attorneys argue it all could have been cleared up if police simply compared the two men’s photographs and fingerprints.
Pocatello: Police in eastern Idaho are warning residents that counterfeit pain pills laced with a dangerous synthetic opioid have been found in the region. The Pocatello Police Department said a bag of about 3,000 pills that contained fentanyl – but that were disguised to look like less-potent oxycodone – were found at a local trailhead last month. Investigators fear the pills could cause lethal overdoses. “These pills are extremely dangerous and essentially impossible to discern as being fake or legitimate by appearance alone,” said Pocatello Police Capt. Bill Collins. “We have seen lots of overdoses in our area because of fentanyl, which we have found laced with methamphetamine, heroin and other pills. We don’t want anyone touching them, and we certainly don’t want anyone to ingest them.” Collins said the Pacific Northwest region has been “inundated” with similar pills in recent months, “but we haven’t seen them left out in the open in this quantity before.” The 3,000 or so pills – with a street value Collins said is somewhere around $60,000 – are colored and marked to resemble Oxycodone 30mg, a commonly prescribed medication for chronic or severe pain. Fentanyl is a controlled substance about 100 times more potent than morphine that is usually used to treat patients with chronic or severe pain after a surgery.
Chicago: The state will effectively end immigrant detention and further restrict local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with federal immigration authorities under a plan Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Monday. The new law targets local government agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement allowing jails to house immigrant detainees awaiting court hearings. Current contracts must end by January 2022, and new agreements are prohibited. Currently, three Illinois counties – Kankakee, Pulaski and McHenry – have such agreements at local jails and house roughly 260 immigrant detainees overall, according to ICE. “Every family, every child, every human being deserves to feel safe and secure in the place that they call home,” Pritzker said at an event in Aurora where he signed several other immigration-related measures. The measure likely ends the federal agency’s power to detain immigrants in Illinois. Most detainees in ICE custody nationwide are held in privately run facilities. The agency owns and operates only a handful of its own detention centers, and none exist in Illinois. The state barred private detention in 2019 following several failed attempts to build a new facility near Chicago.
Indianapolis: The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday denied an emergency request by state Attorney General Todd Rokita to stall Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s lawsuit challenging the increased power state legislators gave themselves to intervene during public health emergencies following conservative objections to his COVID-19 actions. Rokita petitioned the Indiana Supreme Court last month after a Marion County judge ruled against arguments from his office that he alone has the legal authority to represent the state in court and can decide whether the new law is allowed under the state constitution. The Republican attorney general asked the Indiana Supreme Court to order the trial court hearing the case to “cease all proceedings” in the lawsuit, arguing that Holcomb’s lawsuit does not meet the narrow standard for cases filed with the high court. The court turned down the emergency request 5-0 without comment. A request for a permanent writ is still pending, with briefs due Friday. The next hearing in Marion Superior Court is scheduled for Sept. 10. Holcomb’s lawsuit argues that the law passed this year over his veto by the Republican-dominated Legislature is unconstitutional because it gives lawmakers a new power to call themselves into a special legislative “emergency session” during governor-declared statewide emergencies.
Des Moines: A teenager who was critically injured in an amusement ride accident that killed his younger brother last month was released from the hospital Tuesday. David Jaramillo, 16, went home from Blank Children’s Hospital after having been placed on life support following the July 3 accident on the Raging River raft ride at Adventureland Park in Altoona. David initially was placed in a medically induced coma, and when he first regained consciousness, he could neither see nor speak. As of Friday he has regained his vision, speech, and ability to walk and eat solid food. “They say I’m mostly fine,” David said. “I just have to go to a few more speech therapy sessions and make sure my brain is OK.” That his recovery has been so quick and medical treatment so successful is nothing short of God’s work, said his father, also named David. The Jaramillo family, of Marion, Iowa, went to Adventureland to celebrate David’s birthday. Their boat on the ride, which has been a staple of the park since 1983 and uses a conveyor belt to push circular rafts through rapids, flipped upside down within seconds, causing all six to hit their heads on the surface below and trapping them in their seatbelts underneath the water. At least one other family who rode on one of the boats within minutes of the Jaramillo family reported problems with their raft. Amber Estrada, 31, said last month that the boat carrying her family at times struck and dragged along the bottom of the human-made river and that her family felt unsafe.
Topeka: State Attorney General Derek Schmidt said he will prosecute any violations of election laws in Douglas County upon which the district attorney refuses to act. Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, a Democrat, said last week that her office will not prosecute violations of new voting laws that took effect July 1. She said they are too vague and too broad and threaten “to create felons out of dedicated defenders of democracy.” Among the provisions is one that makes it illegal to “give the appearance of being an election official.” State-level voter engagement groups contend that could criminalize their work if Kansans mistake volunteers for election officials. Schmidt, a Republican seeking his party’s nomination for governor, urged law enforcement agencies in the county to refer election law cases to him, the Wichita Eagle reports. “Thousands of Kansans will go to the polls tomorrow in the municipal primary elections,” Schmidt said Monday. “Citizens throughout our state deserve assurance that state election-integrity laws will be enforced and election crimes, like all other crimes, will be prosecuted when warranted by the evidence.”
Frankfort: Fatal drug overdoses – an ongoing scourge that has ravaged communities in the state – surged nearly 50% last year, and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was a “major contributing factor,” a state report concludes. More than 1,964 Kentuckians died from drug overdoses in 2020, according to the report from the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and the Office of Drug Control Policy. The official count easily eclipsed the state’s prior record level of fatal drug overdoses and mirrored a national increase in overdose deaths, the report said. Kentucky’s rising death toll was driven by opioid abuse. A key factor was the prevalence of fentanyl – involved in about 71% of the state’s overdose deaths for the year, according to the report, issued Tuesday. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid increasingly added to other illicit drugs to boost potency. Kentucky has long been plagued by high rates of addiction to opioid painkillers. But the Office of Drug Control Policy pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a “major contributing factor” in the surge in deaths. “The interruption of routine for those in recovery, the sense of isolation, economic concerns and anxiety all contributed to the dramatic increase recorded,” the report said.
Baton Rouge: Education leaders said Tuesday that state standardized test results show public school students who attended in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic outperformed those who relied on distance learning. The Advocate reports the disparities surfaced on LEAP 2025, standardized tests that measure what students in grades 3-12 know about math, English, science and social studies. Students took the tests in April and May. Louisiana’s goal is for students to achieve mastery or better – the fourth-highest of five achievement levels. The education department said in grades three through eight, the rate of students who scored mastery or higher on the English and math portions of the test was 15% higher for students who spent the 2020-21 school year in the classroom compared to those who relied on online instruction. Students who used distance learning had an 11% greater rate of scoring unsatisfactory on the exams – the lowest achievement level. State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said in a statement the test results show it’s “absolutely critical that we keep our students in the classroom for this upcoming year while mitigating the spread of COVID-19.”
Augusta: The Maine Public Utilities Commission has opened an investigation into a lack of phone numbers available in the 207 area code, the only code used in the state. The investigation centers on the number-forecasting practices of the provider Verizon, the Portland Press Herald reports. Last year, an assessment found that Maine no longer had access to most of the 8 million phone numbers in the area code. Because of expected demand, Maine’s area code could run out of usable numbers by late 2024, according to the newspaper. Carriers said that Maine should join the 25 states in the country that have added multiple area codes. Maine Public Utilities Commission said it questions how Verizon distributes numbers to people. “Verizon may be using unrealistic forecasting goals, unnecessarily tying up available phone numbers,” PUC Chairman Philip Bartlett said.
Baltimore: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has fired its principal flutist, months after distancing itself from her controversial social media posts. The orchestra didn’t offer a specific reasons for its decision to dismiss Emily Skala on Tuesday, but it comes six months after the orchestra publicly rebuked her for social media posts that questioned the safety of COVID-19 vaccines as well as the efficacy of face masks. She also questioned the authenticity of the presidential election results. BSO President and CEO Peter Kjome said in a statement that Skala was fired under the progressive discipline policy agreed to with the Musicians’ Association of Metropolitan Baltimore. “Ms. Skala has had discipline imposed upon her over these past few months for violating several policies; unfortunately, she has repeated the conduct for which she had been previously disciplined, and dismissal was the necessary and appropriate reaction to this behavior,” the statement said. Skala had been suspended from work duties and told The Baltimore Sun she was notified by phone Tuesday that she had lost her job of 33 years. “I’ve only ever wanted to state my truth,” Skala said. “I’m not going to sit passively by.” It wasn’t clear whether “repeated conduct” in the statement refers to new social media posts.
Boston: The famous islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are facing serious impacts from rising sea levels and more powerful coastal storms driven by climate change, a new environmental report released Wednesday warns. The “State of the Coast” report by the Trustees, a prominent Massachusetts conservation group, says the popular tourist destinations off Cape Cod risk losing hundreds of acres of marshlands to flooding and billions of dollars in coastal homes, buildings and infrastructure to erosion. What’s more, roughly 900 structures on the two islands may experience daily tidal flooding by 2050 as sea levels are predicted to rise more than 2.5 feet, the organization said. “The impacts of flooding and erosion on these beloved islands will affect thousands who live and work there and the thousands more who visit each summer,” said Tom O’Shea, a managing director at the Trustees. The island communities, which also include the small and sparsely populated Elizabeth Islands, also known as Gosnold, are taking climate change seriously, the organization said in its report. Island communities have hired staff focused on climate change and begun resiliency work – redesigning harbors, replenishing sandy beaches, raising roads and creating living shorelines to protect against coastal erosion.
Detroit: While COVID-19 upended and ended the lives of thousands of Michiganders, taking a profound emotional toll, the challenges of 2020 did not seem to bring about a rise in suicides, which early data indicates dropped last year after rising significantly over the previous decade. According to provisional data from the state health department, Michigan recorded 1,284 deaths by suicide in 2020, down nearly 200 from the 1,471 recorded in 2019 and more than 250 from the 1,547 deaths in 2018. Nationally, suicides dropped from 47,511 in 2019 to 44,834 in 2020, a decline of 5.6%, preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. In Michigan, suicides have been on the rise for years, increasing annually with few exceptions over the past decade. The decline indicated by preliminary data comes despite Michiganders and Americans reporting they felt more anxious and depressed – and GOP state lawmakers promising pandemic regulations would lead to skyrocketing suicide rates. The data came as a surprise to the state’s suicide prevention coordinator. “I think everybody’s assumption … was that there would be a dramatic increase,” said Patricia Smith, who leads the state health department’s prevention efforts.
Minneapolis: The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a state law requiring individuals to have a permit to carry a handgun in public is constitutional and does not violate the Second Amendment. The ruling comes in the case of a man who was charged with carrying a pistol without a permit. Nathan Hatch was arrested in 2018 after Metropolitan Airport Commission police stopped to help him after his truck broke down. He told officers he had a gun in the back seat and did not have a permit, and officers found a loaded pistol. Hatch was convicted of a gross misdemeanor. On appeal, he tried to strike down the state’s permit-to-carry statute, arguing it violated his right to bear arms and failed to survive strict scrutiny because it was not narrowly tailored to advance the state’s interests. The Supreme Court disagreed. “Considering the undisputed compelling governmental interest in ensuring public safety and the narrowly tailored provisions of the statute to achieve that interest, we conclude that the permit-to-carry statute withstands strict scrutiny,” the justices ruled. “We therefore hold that the permit-to-carry statute does not violate the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
Jackson: The sheriff of the state’s largest county has died, almost two weeks after he tested positive for the coronavirus amid an outbreak of the illness at a jail he oversaw, despite being vaccinated. The Hinds County Sheriff’s Department said an ambulance was sent to the home of Sheriff Lee Vance on Wednesday morning. “Sheriff Vance was non-responsive when medical personnel arrived and pronounced deceased,” the department posted on Twitter. The sheriff’s office announced July 23 that Vance had tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 and was in isolation at home. It was not immediately known whether that illness caused his death. Vance was elected sheriff in 2019. He had served more than 30 years with the Jackson Police Department and was chief from 2014 to 2017. Vance had been vaccinated against COVID-19, and he tested positive as cases of the virus were spreading rapidly at the Hinds County jail.
O’Fallon: Gov. Mike Parson announced Tuesday that he made good on his promise to pardon a couple who gained notoriety for pointing guns at social justice demonstrators as they marched past the couple’s home in a luxury St. Louis enclave last year. Parson, a Republican, on Friday pardoned Mark McCloskey, who pleaded guilty in June to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and was fined $750, and Patricia McCloskey, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was fined $2,000. “Mark McCloskey has publicly stated that if he were involved in the same situation, he would have the exact same conduct,” the McCloskeys’ lawyer Joel Schwartz said Tuesday. “He believes that the pardon vindicates that conduct.” The McCloskeys, both lawyers in their 60s, said they felt threatened by the protesters, who were passing their home in June 2020 on their way to demonstrate in front of the mayor’s house nearby in one of hundreds of similar demonstrations around the country after George Floyd’s death. The couple also said the group was trespassing on a private street. Mark McCloskey emerged from his home with an AR-15-style rifle, and Patricia McCloskey waved a semiautomatic pistol, according to the indictment. Special prosecutor Richard Callahan said his investigation determined the protesters were peaceful.
Helena: Gov. Greg Gianforte announced the allocation of over $35 million in coronavirus relief dollars Wednesday. More than $32 million will go toward COVID-19 screening and testing in schools. Over $1.6 million will go toward an employment and training program that assists people supported by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program gain skills and workforce experience. Gianforte said the funds will help SNAP recipients become self-sufficient. Currently, the program is only available in three Montana counties: Yellowstone, Missoula, and Lewis and Clark. Gianforte also approved $1.2 million for a program that provides early intervention services for infants with significant developmental delays or disabilities. The Montana public health department reported that enrollment in the program dropped by 48% during the coronavirus pandemic. About 1,540 infants were served by the program in the 2020 fiscal year. Over $300,000 will go to Montana’s Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act grant to provide training and technical support to teams responding to child abuse in the state.
Omaha: An 8-foot bulge near the north end of Offutt Air Force Base’s single runway will disappear during a $198 million reconstruction project that is the most extensive in its history. For the past five months, construction equipment has been swarming over Offutt’s 2-mile runway, chewing it to bits and depositing it into giant piles of rubble, the Omaha World-Herald reports. Much of that concrete will eventually be recycled, mixed with other fill, and compacted to form a base for the new runway. The hump was one of the airfield’s quirks. It and the 8-foot valley toward the south end were gentle enough that they never posed a threat to pilots, said Lt. Col. Derrick Michaud, director of the 55th Wing Runway Project Management Office. The paved runway still in use was put down in 1941 to accommodate the Glenn L. Martin Bomber Plant, which produced more than 2,000 military aircraft during World War II. The runway was extended to its current length in the mid-1950s. Over the years, the original concrete was patched and repaired but never completely replaced. The runway had deteriorated so badly by 2015 that it was ranked as the worst of any at the 17 bases operated by the Air Force’s Air Combat Command.
Las Vegas: An uptick in coronavirus cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant and Nevada’s flagging rate of vaccinations has pushed hospitalization rates in the state past levels seen in a surge last summer, well before vaccines were available. Nevada reported Tuesday that 1,148 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, and 67 others were suspected to have the illness. Those are levels last seen in late January but below the peak seen since the pandemic began. That came in December, when hospitals were pushed to near capacity, with few people having access to vaccines and many gathering over the holidays. On Dec. 15, Nevada reported 1,857 confirmed COVID-19 patients. Now, hospitals have more COVID-19 patients than during a previous surge last summer, when 972 were hospitalized and 174 were suspected of having the virus. As of last week, the Nevada Hospital Association said seven hospitals were reporting a surge in cases above licensed bed counts, and five had staffing shortages. There were 231 COVID-19 patients in intensive care last week – about half the peak of 460 seen Dec. 22. There were 142 people on ventilators, less than half the level seen at the peak the same December day.
Jaffrey: A theater that offered entertainment from 1922 to 1976 before it closed is reopening. A ribbon-cutting is scheduled for Thursday at the Park Theatre in Jaffrey. The theater has been rebuilt to feature two auditoriums seating 450. They will feature movies, live theater – including children’s productions – concerts, lectures and community gatherings. Construction began in 2019. “This project is the culmination of the efforts of more than 1,000 people. We are so proud to present the new theatre to our town, the region, and New England,” Nancy Belletete, theater board president, said in a statement. On Thursday, two classic films will be presented as part of a “Quarter Day” in the auditoriums: “Field of Dreams” and “Cinderella.” The ticket price will be 25 cents for either film, with popcorn costing 10 cents.
Jackson: Six Flags Great Adventure will host three daylong COVID-19 vaccination clinics this month. All guests who receive a shot on site will also get a free ticket to the park’s Wild Safari Drive-Thru Adventure for the 2021 season. Vaccinations will be available 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, with additional clinics Wednesday, Aug. 11, and Tuesday, Aug. 17. The park has partnered with the Ocean County Health Department for the free vaccination clinics, which will take place in the Membership Building in the park’s outer mall. Participants will have their choice of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Reservations are not required, and parking fees may apply. “We’re honored to partner with the Ocean County Health Department to encourage New Jersey residents and our out-of-state guests to get vaccinated,” Six Flags park president John Winkler said in a statement. “The vaccination helps us protect ourselves and those we love.”
Santa Fe: The state prides itself on having the best chiles in the world, but a shortage of farmhands could leave a big portion of this year’s bumper crop rotting on the vine. “We have one of the best chile crops the state has ever seen because the weather just set up perfectly in most areas,” Joram Robbs, executive director of the New Mexico Chile Association, told the Santa Fe New Mexican on Tuesday. “There are some farmers that got hit by monsoons in a negative way, but there’s tons of chile on these plants, so we’re going to see a huge loss if we don’t get it picked.” Some GOP lawmakers and farmers in the Hatch Valley are blaming the labor shortage on the extra unemployment insurance benefit payments they believe are keeping workers at home instead of in the field, and they’re urging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to “immediately” cut them off. In a letter to the governor, Sen. Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte and Reps. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences and Luis Terrazas of Silver City contend the supplemental unemployment benefits are responsible for a lack of workers “in virtually every area of our state’s economy.” Joe Paul Lack, who grows chile in addition to onions and pecans, said he’ll probably only be able to harvest half of the 80 acres of onions he grew this year because he doesn’t have enough workers.
New York: The New York International Auto Show has become a casualty of the coronavirus’ fast-spreading delta variant. Show organizers said Wednesday that they’ve decided to cancel it this year, a little over two weeks before the scheduled start. The reasons are the growing spread of the variant and recent restrictions announced by state and local officials to fight it. “Over the past few weeks, especially within the past few days, circumstances have changed, making it more difficult to create an event at the high standard that we and our clients expect,” Mark Schienberg, the show’s president, said in a statement. The show was scheduled to begin with a press day Aug. 19. The next show will come in April 2022, spokesman Chris Sams said. The event was scrubbed before automakers’ trucks left warehouses to start moving into the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, Sams said. He said current government precautions wouldn’t have stopped this year’s show, but organizers feared the situation could worsen between now and the start. Once the trucks depart, costs to automakers grow, he said.
Raleigh: Young people would need parental permission now before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in legislation approved unanimously Tuesday by the state Senate. The bill, which now must return to the House for consideration, contains a parent or guardian requirement for vaccines approved by federal regulators for emergency use, such as the Pfizer COVID-19 shot. It’s currently the only COVID-19 vaccine available to children as young as 12. North Carolina law currently allows those under 18 to make the vaccine decision on their own “if they show the decisional capacity to do so,” according to the state Department of Health Human Services. DHHS said it’s expected most teens would receive parental consent anyway. But legislators wanted more assurances that parents will have the say over whether their child gets an immunization still authorized for emergency use. The consent provision is contained within a bill that also would expand the types of medications immunizing pharmacists can administer. The state health director would issue standing orders for immunizing pharmacists to administer more medications without a doctor’s prescription. Those would include certain nicotine smoking cessation programs, some oral contraceptives or those delivered via a skin patch, and prenatal vitamins.
Fargo: An attorney for a man accused in the gruesome killings of four people at a property management firm said Wednesday that the case amounts to a rush to judgment based on bad information that led to the wrong conclusion. A prosecutor, though, said every piece of the puzzle leads to the defendant. Chad Isaak, 47, of Washburn, is on trial for the April 1, 2019, deaths of RJR Maintenance & Management co-owner Robert Fakler, 52, and co-workers Adam Fuehrer, 42, and spouses Bill and Lois Cobb, 50 and 45. He pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder and three other counts. It was one of the most heinous crimes in North Dakota history, defense attorney Bruce Quick acknowledged in his opening statement. Three of the victims were shot and stabbed. Combined, the four of them were stabbed about 100 times. Prosecutor Karlei Neufeld began the trial being livestreamed from Mandan by describing the horrific crime scene and said evidence would include photos, surveillance video, lab reports, bullet fragments, and a knife and other things found during searches of the suspect’s home and vehicle. Quick spent a good chunk of his opening statement pointing out what evidence was overlooked or not investigated, saying law enforcement was under a “tremendous amount pressure to solve this case.”
Columbus: Mike Carey, a coal lobbyist backed by former President Donald Trump, beat a bevy of Republicans in central Ohio, while Cuyahoga County Council member Shontel Brown pulled out a victory for the Democratic establishment in Cleveland, in a pair of primary elections for open House seats Tuesday. The special elections were both viewed as a measure of voters’ influences, though low turnout and huge candidate fields complicated interpreting the results too broadly. In both races, party leaders showed they still held sway. Carey’s race reinforced Trump’s status as GOP kingmaker, particularly after the former president’s preferred candidate lost a special election in Texas last week. Brown’s primary win over progressive Nina Turner handed another blow to a liberal wing that has been challenging the Democratic old guard with a more confrontational style. Turner, a leading national voice for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns, was for many months the best known and most visible among 13 Democrats running in the fiercely fought primary and the choice of Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others. But Brown – a centrist backed by Hillary Clinton, influential House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the Congressional Black Caucus, leading unions and many local leaders – prevailed after a surge in national attention.
Oklahoma City: More than 150,000 Oklahomans have qualified for Medicaid under an expansion of the program approved by voters, and state health officials say they suspect many more residents are eligible but haven’t yet applied. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority reported Monday that 154,316 people have qualified for the additional health benefits. Of those, nearly 91,000 live in urban areas and about 63,000 in rural Oklahoma. About half are between 19 and 34 years old. “We are currently working with our community partners to reach those hard-to-find eligible adults,” said OHCA CEO Kevin Corbett. “We encourage Oklahomans to spread the word to their family and friends in hopes of providing health care coverage to those who need it.” After a decade of Republican resistance, Oklahoma voters narrowly approved a constitutional amendment last year to expand eligibility for benefits. Now, an individual who earns up to $17,796 annually or $36,588 for a family of four qualifies for Medicaid health care coverage. The Health Care Authority has projected that about 215,000 residents would qualify for expanded Medicaid for a total annual cost of about $1.3 billion. The estimated state share would be about $164 million.
Portland: As COVID-19 cases continue to climb, some counties – most where less than half of the area’s adult population is vaccinated – are experiencing their highest hospitalization numbers of the pandemic. Statewide coronavirus-related hospitalizations increased to 379 patients Tuesday, 39 more than the previous day. Some hospital officials, including those at Oregon Health & Science University, said they are postponing some surgeries that are not urgent, KOIN-TV reports. In addition, Oregon health officials reported 1,575 newly confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the most since early January. “The vaccines that we currently have available to us in Oregon, and across the United States, are highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19,” Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, said Friday. “But that depends on people being vaccinated.” About 29% of adults in Oregon are unvaccinated, and more than 102,000 vaccine doses have been thrown away due to non-use. The impacts of the virus on unvaccinated people are apparent when looking at high infection rates in counties with low vaccination rates, such as those in eastern Oregon, including Baker, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties.
Harrisburg: A Republican state senator who wants to have the committee he leads force three counties to turn over election machines, ballots and related material said Tuesday that he thinks subpoenas will be issued in the next two weeks. Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County told the conservative-friendly outlet Newsmax that he’s working on a broad subpoena to York, Tioga and Philadelphia counties. “Obviously I can’t operate on my own, so I have a committee, so the committee will have a vote, hopefully in the next week or two, that will authorize the committee, and me as their chair, to send the subpoenas to three counties,” he said. The deadline for voluntary compliance that Mastriano gave the counties expired in recent days – officials in Tioga and Philadelphia have said no, and York has raised concerns but has not directly turned him down. Mastriano has been a leading proponent in Pennsylvania of former President Donald Trump’s attempt to reverse his election loss. Mastriano was outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when Trump encouraged a mob that subsequently forced their way past police into the seat of federal legislative power. He said Tuesday that the subpoenas would help the committee look into the November election as well as the May 2021 primary in Pennsylvania.
Providence: Fifteen more nonprofits have each been awarded $10,000 as a part of the state’s vaccine incentive program, which releases the awards as more residents get inoculated, Gov. Daniel McKee announced Tuesday. The RI Gives Vax Challenge launched last month awards grants to nonprofits that have been on the front lines of the pandemic response for every 5,000 people in the state who get a first dose of a vaccine. 15,000 first doses have been administered since the program was announced, the state Department of Health said. “It takes a team to get the job done, and Rhode Island is lucky to have so many nonprofits stepping up to keep us safe, support vaccination efforts and help those in need,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. Nearly 660,000 people have been fully vaccinated in the state, and almost 80% of adult Rhode Islanders are now at least partially vaccinated, according to state health officials. “It is inspiring to see Rhode Islanders stepping up to help organizations that are delivering food, housing and health care to those most affected by the pandemic,” said Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, which is partially funding the $750,000 initiative. “But make no mistake, more resources will be necessary.”
Columbia: The mayor is considering issuing a school mask mandate, a move he says would protect vaccine-ineligible children amid the coronavirus’ resurgence. The effort would put Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, a Democrat, at odds with Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, as well as the GOP-controlled Legislature, which recently barred such policies for all public schools. Benjamin, who has previously declared a state of emergency during the pandemic, said during a City Council meeting Tuesday that he was considering issuing a new one, which he said would allow him to impose mask requirements in schools within the city’s limits. Because adults, as well as children age 12 and older, are eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Benjamin said he was not considering a universal mask mandate – only one intended to protect age-ineligible kids. “The challenge is that our babies are unvaccinated,” said Benjamin, currently in his third and final term as Columbia mayor and among South Carolina’s most notable Democrats. “If we as a community are not willing to do what is necessary to keep them safe and keep them alive, then that is indeed a statement on who we are as a people.”
Pierre: Education leaders say that as the new school year approaches, the state doesn’t have enough teachers and support staff, a situation they attribute to the coronavirus pandemic. State Education Secretary Tiffany Sanderson said every school district in South Dakota is dealing with staffing shortages for the upcoming year. “The open positions right now, going into the school year three weeks away, we still have almost 120 unfilled positions for classroom teachers,” she said. Sanderson said some teachers decided to retire earlier than planned because of COVID-19. She said schools are also looking for additional staff to help students who need tutoring or special assistance to make up for lost learning during the pandemic. Sioux Falls Superintendent Jane Stavem said her district is having trouble finding enough bus drivers and other support staff. Stavem said she is concerned the pandemic will make college students rethink pursuing a teaching career, South Dakota Public Broadcasting reports. “The complexities that our staff dealt with in just the dailiness of teaching were immense, and it was very exhausting,” she said. Stavem said one way to recruit more teachers is to raise their salaries. The Sioux Falls school board voted in May to raise the base pay for new teachers from $37,000 to $41,000.
Nashville: The state has sent nearly half a million dollars to farmers who have vaccinated their cattle against respiratory diseases and other maladies over the past two years. But Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who grew up on his family’s ranch and refers to himself as a cattle farmer in his Twitter profile, has been far less enthusiastic about incentivizing herd immunity among humans. Even though Tennessee has among the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country, Lee has refused to follow the lead of other states that have offered enticements for people to get the potentially life-saving shots. Lee hasn’t always been against incentivizing vaccinations. Tennessee’s Herd Health program began in 2019 under Lee, whose family business, Triple L Ranch, breeds Polled Hereford cattle. The state currently reimburses participating farmers up to $1,500 for vaccinating their herds, handing out $492,561 over the past two fiscal years, according to documents from the Tennessee Agriculture Department. Lee, who so far has avoided drawing a serious Republican primary challenge in his 2022 reelection bid, has been accused of complacency in the face of the deadly pandemic. Tennessee’s vaccination rates for COVID-19 hover around 39% of its total population, versus more than 49% nationally for the fully inoculated.
Austin: A federal judge on Tuesday blocked Texas from allowing state troopers to stop vehicles carrying migrants on the grounds that they may spread COVID-19 as worries and new cases are rising along the U.S.-Mexico border. The temporary order by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone of El Paso is at least a short-term victory for the Biden administration, which had warned that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan would create more problems amid high levels of summer border crossings in Texas – particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, which one U.S. official called the “epicenter of the current surge.” In a sign of the growing strain, local officials there who have rebuffed Abbott’s hard-line immigration actions to jail border-crossers and build new barriers declared a local state of disaster this week as coronavirus cases climb and as capacity at migrant shelters is stretched. Cardone said Abbott’s directive would have the effect of “exacerbating the spread of COVID-19.” She scheduled another hearing for next week. Abbott spokesman Renae Eze said that the decision was “based on limited evidence” and that the governor’s office looked forward to providing evidence to the court.
Salt Lake City: The state’s hospitals are feeling the strain as coronavirus cases increase, the vast majority among unvaccinated people, officials said Tuesday. Republican Gov. Spencer Cox called the latest wave a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” yet maintained the state wouldn’t be following New York in requiring people to show they got their shots. Still, if private companies require some sort of proof, the state would support them, he said. “The delta variant is highly contagious, and it’s spreading rapidly. Our hospital ICUs are filling up, and our health care workers are feeling the strain,” he said. Hospitals have a shortage of qualified health care workers more than a year into the punishing pandemic. Intensive care units around the state have exceeded 100% capacity multiple times over the past several days, according to officials with Intermountain Healthcare. The state had more than 6,000 new cases over the past week, and about 90% of those were among unvaccinated people, hospital system officials said. There’s also a national shortage of a medication shown to be effective in treating COVID-19 called Tocilizumab, doctors said. Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who said she still suffers the effects of her own battle with COVID-19, was blunt: “Everybody who is unvaccinated is part of the problem,” she said.
Montpelier: Performance venues across the state that were closed by the COVID-19 pandemic will get up to $18.7 million in federal funding to help them survive, according to Vermont’s congressional delegation. The money for the 59 locations comes from the Small Business Administration Shuttered Venue Operators Grants, which are available to live music venues, movie theaters and performing arts organizations affected by the pandemic. The three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation said what began as the “Save Our Stages” movement over a year ago has now materialized into meaningful relief for the affected venues. “Our independent live music and entertainment venues not only bring joy and energy to our downtowns and communities, they are economic engines that help make Vermont such a special place to live and visit,” said the statement by Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. The program provides support to businesses in the music and entertainment sector that were forced to shut their doors due to coronavirus restrictions. The grants have served as a lifeline for the venues, the statement said.
Richmond: The state House gave initial approval Wednesday to a spending plan for billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief money, a day after the Democratic majority flatly rejected a Republican-proposed alternative. The chamber ultimately advanced the legislation on a bipartisan vote of 71-25. The budget proposal crafted by Gov. Ralph Northam and fellow Democratic leaders calls for spending most of Virginia’s $4.3 billion share of the American Rescue Plan funding on initiatives aimed at helping small businesses, improving air quality in public schools, bolstering mental health and substance abuse treatment, increasing broadband access, and replenishing the state’s depleted unemployment trust fund. Republicans, in the minority in both chambers, have complained that they were kept out of the budget-writing process and were stifled by Democrats in the House who allowed no amendments to be offered in committee and squashed a GOP counterproposal offered on the floor Tuesday by House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert. Gilbert was given two minutes to discuss his proposed alternative. Democrats said their budget would help struggling families and businesses.
Seattle: Amid a tough summer for agriculture across the state, with crops like berries struggling under record heat and drought, some farmers now worry about how smoke in August could stunt the growth of some crops should the haze intensify and linger, KOMO-TV reports. Jennifer Schuh has worked with her father Steve Schuh for decades in the Skagit Valley, growing everything from corn to berries, squash, cucumbers and pumpkins. She said a long stretch of thick smoke could hurt their crops. Steve Schuh isn’t letting the potential of damaging smoke worry him, but he acknowledged ash can block a plant’s access to light and food. “They don’t function right if they’re all covered in smoke,” said Steve Schuh. While smoke has stayed in the upper levels of the atmosphere in Western Washington this week, communities in Central and Eastern Washington have battled wildfires and bad air quality for weeks. Some winemakers say smoke has not affected their wine grapes so far, but it could get bad in August. “They can get something called ‘smoke taint,’ ” said Nick Bond, the Washington state climatologist. “That is especially a problem right before they’re harvested.” Bond said wildfires could intensify in the next few weeks, posing a threat to agriculture around the region.
Charleston: People who inject drugs in Kanawha County should have expanded access to sterile syringes, testing and treatment in response to one of the nation’s highest spikes of HIV cases, according to federal and state recommendations released Tuesday. The report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources, and the health department in its largest county comes amid a new West Virginia law that tightens requirements for needle exchange programs. Other guidance resulting from the CDC investigation includes getting the community involved in addressing the HIV outbreak and doing more analysis of public health data to understand the extent of injection drug use in Kanawha County. The agency also recommends expanding and improving so-called harm reduction programs that connect people with substance abuse treatment, recovery support and other health services. And it outlines actions that should be taken by agencies such as health departments, social services, clinical and correctional settings, and public safety. The report found there were 63 new intravenous drug-related HIV cases in the county from January 2019 through May 13 of this year. Before 2019, the average number of such cases in the county was below five per year.
Madison: Anyone who gets vaccinated against COVID-19 at a clinic at the Wisconsin State Fair will get a free cream puff, Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday. AMI Expeditionary Healthcare will run the free clinic at the fair in West Allis, the governor said. The clinic will offer Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Anyone who gets a shot there will receive a voucher for a free cream puff redeemable at the Cream Puff Pavilion. The incentive comes as COVID-19 cases are surging across the state, driven largely by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus that causes the disease. The fair begins Thursday and is scheduled to run through Aug. 15.
Cheyenne: Vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike should resume wearing masks indoors in most of the state amid a rise in infections of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, the state health officer said Wednesday. Fifteen of Wyoming’s 23 counties – including Laramie, Campbell, Sweetwater, Albany and Fremont – had moderate to high virus transmission, according to a health department dashboard. People should wear masks indoors in those and 10 other counties, said Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state health officer. “We are deeply concerned. The delta variant has really changed the COVID fight we have on our hands. Unfortunately, Wyoming’s low vaccination rate makes our state more vulnerable to this highly contagious variant,” Harrist said. A recent survey of more than 5,000 people with lab-confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases in Wyoming showed that 95% were not fully vaccinated against the disease, the health department said. About one-third of residents are fully inoculated, according to the department. That’s one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the U.S.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hatch chile crisis, cream puff sweetener: News from around our 50 states