Raven Story stamp, Willie Nelson, Hells Angels: News from around our 50 states

·49 min read

Alabama

Egan's Bar, a staple on the Strip in downtown Tuscaloosa, Ala., for 42 years, closed over the weekend and will reopen with a new name, Unique, in August.
Egan's Bar, a staple on the Strip in downtown Tuscaloosa, Ala., for 42 years, closed over the weekend and will reopen with a new name, Unique, in August.

Tuscaloosa: A dive bar known to two generations of University of Alabama students, football fans and music lovers has ended its run. Egan’s Bar shut down over the weekend after 42 years in Tuscaloosa on a stretch of nightspots and restaurants called “The Strip.” A “Last Call at Egan’s” event was held Saturday, with Sunday the final day in operation. Owner Mike McWhirter said he’s selling Egan’s and plans to move to Texas for a job opportunity with his son. Another bar, Unique, will open at the same location this month. McWhirter, a longtime regular who took over the popular bar in 2018, said he made the hard decision to sell Egan’s within the past month, and the decision to close was tough. “To see that era end is a little difficult, and I’ve had my reservations, but being with my family is incredibly important to me,” McWhirter said. Bands including the Grammy-winning Alabama Shakes have played at Egan’s. It’s unclear what will become of a well-known sign that hangs over the door that reads: “Thick Smoke. Dim Lights. Loud Music. Welcome to Egan’s.”

Alaska

Juneau: Alaska Native artist Rico Worl has created a stamp for the U.S. Postal Service that he hopes will be a gateway for people to learn about his Tlingit culture. A ceremony marking the release of Worl’s Raven Story stamp was held Friday in Juneau, where Worl lives. The event featured dancers, including Worl, and the telling of a version of the Raven story. Two ravens, birds that are ubiquitous in Juneau, happened to fly overhead after the story was told. Worl said his Twitter following exploded from five to more than 8,000 after he shared the Postal Service’s tweet highlighting the stamp announcement last month, with his own quote tweet adding: “I did a thing.” Raven, a trickster or transformer, is a key figure in Tlingit culture. Worl described as an influence for the stamp a story in which Raven discovers that a clan leader had in his possession the sun, moon and stars. Raven assumed human form to share those items with the world. The stars were in the last box Raven opened. In a statement, Worl said he wanted to showcase “a bit of drama,” with Raven trying to hold onto as many stars as possible while transforming back into bird form during a frenzied escape. The Sealaska Heritage Institute, which hosted the unveiling in front of its building, said this is the first stamp by a Tlingit artist.

Arizona

Phoenix: The state on Saturday reported more than 2,000 newly confirmed COVID-19 infections for the first time in nearly five months amid a continuing increase in its rolling average of new cases and more coronavirus-related hospitalizations. “Unlike last summer when we were headed into school w/ declining rates, the match has been lit and the kindling is aflame this time,” Dr. Joe K. Gerald, a University of Arizona researcher who tracks COVID-19 data, said on Twitter. In another development, a Republican legislator who supported a measure enacted in late June to prohibit school districts from requiring mask-wearing, said she has asked government lawyers to determine when the prohibition takes effect. Sen. Kelly Townsend’s requests Friday to the Legislature’s legal office and the state Attorney General’s Office was a response to Phoenix Union High School District’s announcement that it will require students, staff and visitors to wear masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19. The prohibition in budget legislation is retroactive to July 1, but the budget legislation itself doesn’t take effect until Sept. 29. “It is clear we still have an issue with rogue school boards when it comes to forcing masks,” Townsend said in a statement. District officials said they were most concerned about protecting health and safety.

Arkansas

Little Rock: The superintendent of the city’s schools on Friday called for suing to overturn the state’s ban on mask mandates, saying he wasn’t confident legislators would allow local school boards to impose their own requirements. Superintendent Mike Poore said he’ll ask the Little Rock School Board to challenge the state law prohibiting state and local government entities from requiring masks. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed the ban in April, said Thursday that he’ll call the majority-GOP Legislature back into session this week to lift the ban for K-12 public schools. Hutchinson and legislative leaders have said they face an uphill battle in changing the law, especially since it would need two-thirds support in the House and Senate to take effect before school begins. “I’m not confident that will occur,” Poore said in a YouTube video released by the district. “This lawsuit allows us a place in order to take this situation to the judicial branch and act on (the ban).” If approved, Little Rock’s lawsuit would be among at least two expected in the coming weeks challenging Arkansas’ ban as the school year approaches. A group of parents is also expected to file a lawsuit challenging the ban’s constitutionality.

California

Los Angeles: The FBI is investigating what one commercial airline pilot said might have been an airborne person with a jetpack, high in the busy skies near Los Angeles International Airport. The Los Angeles Times reports the Boeing 747 pilot radioed to report “a possible jetpack man in sight” about 6:12 p.m. Wednesday, according to a recording from the website LiveATC. The pilot spotted an object that might have resembled a jetpack 15 miles east of LAX at 5,000 feet altitude, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson told the newspaper, saying: “Out of an abundance of caution, air traffic controllers alerted other pilots in the vicinity.” “Use caution, the jetpack guy is back,” said one air traffic alert. “Did you see a UFO?” one air traffic controller asked a pilot. “We were looking but we did not see Iron Man,” the pilot responded. The FBI is working with the FAA to investigate the report, FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller told the Times in an email. The agency has already looked into three other possible jetpack sightings in the skies above Los Angeles and has “not been able to validate any of the reports,” she said.

Colorado

Glenwood Springs: More than 100 people had to spend the night on a highway, including nearly 30 who took refuge in a tunnel, after rain over an area burned by a wildfire once again triggered mudslides in western Colorado, authorities said Friday. The people were caught with their vehicles on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon on Thursday night. Those in the tunnel were stuck for about nine hours until crews could carve out a path through the mud to reach them about 6:30 a.m. Friday, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Walt Stowe said. The tunnel serves as a 24-hour operations center for the Colorado Department of Transportation, so it is relatively well-lit and has telephones, Stowe said. No injuries were reported. The transportation department accounted for 108 people, including 29 in the tunnel, who were stuck on the highway overnight. Between 65 and 70 people remained stranded at a rest stop Friday afternoon as crews worked to punch a safe passage through the debris. Mike Goolsby, a regional director for the transportation department, said the area was affected by about 10 slides, some 12 feet deep and up to 150 feet wide. Glenwood Canyon has cliffs towering up to 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, making it prone to rockslides and mudslides.

Connecticut

New Haven: Supporters of Nelson Pinos, an Ecuadorian immigrant who first sought sanctuary from a federal deportation order in a New Haven church in 2017, are celebrating his temporary reprieve. The father of three, who has lived in the U.S. for 29 years, learned last week that immigration authorities have granted him a one-year stay, and supporters said Saturday that he has left the church for now. At the celebration Saturday, supporters of Pinos, 47, vowed to make sure he gets to remain in the country permanently, noting that the fight for his freedom and the freedom of other immigrants without legal status is far from over. “Today, we are not only celebrating a temporary stay, but we’re sending a loud message about a broken process,” said Miguel Castro, chairman of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus. “This is the time to fix it and fix it good so families like Nelson and his wife and his children and many like him will never, ever go through something like this ever again.” Organizers of Saturday’s event said Pinos is the last of the sanctuary-seekers in Connecticut to be given a stay of deportation. Pinos could not attend Saturday’s celebration because he was quarantining after being exposed to someone infected with the coronavirus. But he thanked the crowd by cellphone.

Delaware

Wilmington: School officials across the state are trying everything to find bus drivers as a shortage causes logistical nightmares all over the country. Among the efforts are programs that would pay drivers more money, increase their wages if they service more than one route, and offer bonuses for steady attendance. But at least one school, EastSide Charter, might have a different solution: paying parents. The school on Tuesday launched a survey to determine the interest level in a program that would offer parents $700 per year per student to drop off their children and pick them up from the Wilmington school. “We’re looking at every idea right now,” said Aaron Bass, the school’s CEO. He said officials around the state are considering many options, even providing passes for students to take public transportation to school. That, however, wouldn’t work at EastSide, which services students through the eighth grade. “I can’t put a 5-year-old on a DART bus and say, ‘Good luck,’ ” he said.

District of Columbia

Washington: Local music venue the Anthem finally reopened Friday, kicking things off with a special one-night-only performance from comedian and D.C. native Dave Chappelle, WUSA-TV reports. The first musical guest at the reopened venue will be Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons on Aug. 7. Other upcoming shows include Modest Mouse, Kesha and Glass Animals. Masks are required inside the Anthem. Chapelle’s untitled documentary, meanwhile, was screened at the Kennedy Center on Sunday. The film centers on Chappelle’s current home in rural Ohio as the town deals with the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and as the community undergoes a cultural evolution following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which galvanized protests around the country against racial injustice and mistreatment at the hands of police.

Florida

Sebring: The 22-year project to restore the Kissimmee River from a straight, human-made channel to its natural meandering state has marked a major milestone. Officials involved in the nearly $1 billion Kissimmee River Restoration Project said at an event Thursday that 44 miles of the waterway have been returned to its curving path in central Florida. The project began in 1999 amid evidence that converting the river to a straight flood control canal in the 1970s damaged the environment, dumping more polluted water into Lake Okeechobee, sharply reducing waterfowl and bald eagle populations, and harming fish and invertebrates. The Kissimmee River’s restored floodplains and oxbows will help clean water laden with nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff, which has fed harmful algal blooms, plaguing the lake for decades. “Not only are we keeping water in the watershed and delivering it in the right volumes and frequencies; we’re also connecting with the floodplains where it cleans the water before it heads down into the lake,” said South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Drew Bartlett. Now that construction is complete, the next step is to increase storage in headwaters lakes and mimic how the river once naturally flowed. That will be done by 2026, officials said.

Georgia

Atlanta: Republican lawmakers have started a process that could lead to a takeover of elections in the state’s most populous county. Many in the GOP continue to claim that wrongdoing in reliably Democratic Fulton County had stolen the 2020 election from Donald Trump, even though an independent monitor found no evidence of fraud or impropriety. Lawmakers are using a tool created by Georgia’s sweeping new election law to exert influence over local elections. Democrats and voting rights advocates decry the takeover provision as an invitation for political interference. The county, with about 11% of the state’s electorate, includes most of the city of Atlanta. But Fulton County has been plagued with problems for years, and Republicans say it’s time for answers. State House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones and four other GOP state representatives whose districts include parts of Fulton submitted a letter Friday to the State Election Board demanding a performance review of the county’s board of registration and elections. “I wrote the letter as a representative of constituents who have expressed concerns over the sloppy manner in which elections were conducted in Fulton County in 2020 and in the years leading up to then,” Jones, who represents a suburban north Fulton district, said Friday.

Hawaii

Honolulu: State officials announced 622 new coronavirus cases Friday, the highest number of confirmed infections since the start of the pandemic. The total included cases from lab reporting delays from the prior three days, officials said, but the number is still a significant spike for the state of about 1.4 million people. The seven-day positivity rate rose to 5.1%. Officials said the average daily case count from the prior three days had topped 300. Previously, the record-high total for confirmed cases in a single day was 355, set in August 2020. Officials said the surge is associated with the highly contagious delta variant and encouraged people to get inoculated against COVID-19. “The pandemic is not over, and the best way forward is for people to get vaccinated,” Gov. David Ige said. Just over 60% of Hawaii residents are fully vaccinated. Hawaii Department of Health Director Libby Char said about 25% of the new infections are among children, but officials still plan to have kids return to school this week. “There is risk involved in everything. But I think we also have to be cognizant that there is a cost to not having children in school and having them fall further behind in learning and the continued social isolation,” Char said.

Idaho

Boise: The Boise Police Department says officers removed flags emblazoned with the emblem of the neo-fascist Proud Boys organization after someone hung them from several overpasses on a busy interstate. Police spokesperson Haley Williams told the Idaho Statesman that officers removed the flags Saturday morning. It wasn’t immediately clear who hung up the flags on Interstate 84 overpasses in Boise, but Williams said anyone with information should contact the police department. The Proud Boys are considered a hate group by organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Proud Boys members describe themselves as a politically incorrect men’s club for “Western chauvinists.” Several members of the group have been charged in federal court with offenses related to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The flags mark the second recent public display from the neo-fascist group in southern Idaho. Proud Boys members marched in a Sagebrush Days community parade in Buhl in early July, raising concerns for many. At the time, the Buhl Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the parade, told The Times-News newspaper in Twin Falls that it would not “feed into any negative propaganda” about the Proud Boys’ appearance.

Illinois

Chicago: The University of Illinois Chicago has received $6 million from the federal government to test a potential treatment for COVID-19. Researchers say the drug candidate, called VT-109, has been shown to help restore function to damaged lungs, among other things. The drug, administered as an intravenous treatment, will be tested in pre-clinical animal models of COVID-19 to determine efficacy and toxicity before human trials are considered. The money comes through a technology and therapeutic development award from the U.S. Department of Defense, university officials announced in a recent news release. Researchers hope the testing will culminate in an application to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration program overseeing how potential drugs are evaluated for human clinical trials. It could take three or more years to get to that point, researchers estimate. Research on the drug has already been funded by awards from UIC and the National Institutes of Health, among others.

Indiana

Indianapolis: More than 200 police agencies across the state will be boosting their patrols this fall to crack down on school bus stop-arm violations and dangerous driving near school bus stops and in school zones. Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the extra patrols Wednesday and urged motorists to keep watch for school buses in the weeks ahead. “We’re entering back-to-school season in Indiana, which means motorists need to watch for buses and drive cautiously at all times,” Holcomb said in a statement. Bus drivers and school transportation officials will help police identify areas where extra patrols are most needed under Indiana’s SAVE blitz, which stands for Stop Arm Violation Enforcement. That program is supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, The Journal Gazette reports. In 2019, Indiana lawmakers approved tougher penalties for drivers who pass school buses with extended stop arms after three children were fatally struck while crossing a highway to board a bus. A spring police enforcement period netted more than 5,600 citations, including 251 for stop-arm violations, 309 for texting while driving, and almost 1,900 for speeding, the Criminal Justice Institute said in a news release. About 1,700 warnings also were issued.

Iowa

Des Moines: Gov. Kim Reynolds has no plans to offer $100 incentives to Iowans to get COVID-19 shots after President Joe Biden pleaded with states and local governments to use federal funds to entice people to stop the rapid spread of a coronavirus variant, an aide said Friday. While many states and some Iowa counties have offered incentives for citizens to get vaccinations, Iowa’s governor continues to call for citizens to get vaccinated while repeating that ultimately it’s their choice. Iowa had 49.5% of the population fully immunized as of Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That ranks 21st in the nation. Vaccination rates have fallen rapidly in the state since the spring, from a seven-day average of more than 17,000 people becoming fully vaccinated in May to 1,402 in recent days. Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said Friday that the governor has no plans to comply with Biden’s offer Thursday for states to spend $100 in federal funds for each newly vaccinated person. In an email, Iowa Department of Public Health Sarah Ekstrand said the state’s strategy is unchanged from its current “education and communications efforts.”

Kansas

Topeka: Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday recommended that nearly everyone inside K-12 schools or riding school buses in the state be required to wear a mask, and Kansas State University will require masks in its buildings, whether people are vaccinated against COVID-19 or not. Kelly’s office issued updated guidance for elementary, middle and high schools in response to a surge in new COVID-19 cases over the past five weeks tied to the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. She also is citing revised recommendations on masks from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We know our children belong in the classroom, but it’s critical that we provide Kansas school districts with support and tools they need to keep our kids safe,” Kelly said in a statement. Last week she issued a mask mandate for state government workers and visitors to state buildings in most of Kansas’ 105 counties. Kansas State cited that order and the CDC’s new guidance on masks in announcing its mandate for people to wear masks indoors when not alone. It takes effect Monday on Kansas State’s main campus in Manhattan, its Polytechnic Campus in Salina and its satellite campus in Olathe. The University of Kansas is also recommending that everyone wear masks indoors.

Kentucky

Louisville: The Kentucky Lottery smashed its sales record in its just-completed fiscal year, with the boon largely due to a lack of other entertainment options during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the head of the 32-year-old organization. The Kentucky Lottery announced last week that from July 2020 through June 2021, the organization saw total sales of $1,586,325,000. That marked a 31.8% increase, or $382.9 million in additional sales, from the prior fiscal year. Mary Harville, Kentucky Lottery president and CEO, said that during the start of the pandemic in March 2020, “things started to close, including a lot of entertainment venues.” But “places that sell lottery tickets – grocery stores, convenience stores and gas stations – stayed open,” said Harville, the first female head of the organization. She said while other items sold out at stpres during the early months of the pandemic, her team ensured ticket dispensers and vending machines were “fully stocked.” That helped out retailers, who received more than $90 million in commissions through Kentucky lottery sales. The record-breaking year for sales also paid its dividends for Kentucky, as proceeds to the commonwealth totaled a historic $354.8 million – which is $76.3 million, or 27.4%, more than last year.

Louisiana

West Grand Terre Island: Excavators, bulldozers and a dredge miles away from them are working on a $100 million project to raise and reshape a barrier island. West Grand Terre Island helps protect communities from New Orleans’ west bank to Bayou Lafourche from hurricanes and storm surge, depending on the storm’s direction, said Greg Grandy, deputy executive director of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. But like East Grand Terre Island, where some of the BP oil spill’s iconic images were made, West Grand Terre was heavily oiled during the 2010 spill and was severely eroded before that. The two islands were one when Jean Lafitte and his Baratarian pirates made Grand Terre and nearby Grand Isle their headquarters but now are more than a mile apart. About $100 million in spill restoration money is being used to restore and create about 256 acres of beach and dune and 143 acres of marsh on West Grand Terre. About $2 million from various other sources was used to remove a fisheries lab destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “It is one of the most historically and ecologically important barrier islands in Louisiana,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said when funding for this and two other projects was announced in May.

Maine

Belfast: The hospital in a community that was the epicenter of a so-called superspreader event plans to require all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, becoming the first hospital in Maine to do so. All staff at Millinocket Regional Hospital will be required to be fully vaccinated with either Pfizer or Modern vaccines within six weeks of final approval by the Food and Drug Administration, officials said. “Millinocket Regional Hospital is committed to providing a safe working environment for all employees and the safest environment possible for patients to receive care,” said Dr. Robert Peterson, the hospital’s chief executive officer. A wedding nearly a year ago in the Millinocket area was linked to outbreaks in at least two other locations in Maine, with more than 170 people contracting the coronavirus and seven deaths since then. Several other Maine hospitals are in discussions about vaccine requirements after national organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Nursing Association, urged them to do so. More Maine hospitals are expected to follow Millinocket in announcing vaccine mandates for employees in the near future, Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, told the Portland Press Herald.

Maryland

Baltimore: The family of a Maryland woman who unwittingly spurred a research bonanza when her cancer cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951 has hired a prominent civil rights lawyer to seek compensation from pharmaceutical companies. The relatives of Henrietta Lacks have hired Ben Crump, an attorney who has represented the families of a number of Black people who have died at the hands of police and vigilantes in recent years. Those clients include the families of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin and Breonna Taylor. The Baltimore Sun had reported that a lawyer for the Lacks family said a legal team was investigating lawsuits against numerous potential defendants. Cells taken from Lacks have been widely used in biomedical research. The so-called HeLa cells became crucial for key developments in such areas as basic biology, understanding viruses and other germs, cancer treatments, in vitro fertilization and vaccine development. Lacks became famous in 2010 with publication of Rebecca Skloot’s best-selling book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” As that book relates, Lacks was under anesthesia on an operating table at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore one day in 1951, undergoing treatment for cervical cancer, when a surgeon shaved tissue from her tumor for a research project.

Massachusetts

Boston: Gambling regulators, in response to complaints, want to know why two of the state’s casinos have not yet brought back poker. Bruce Band, deputy director of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, said at a meeting Thursday that the commission normally receives about five complaints a month but lately has been receiving about 50 per month, many of them regarding poker, the Boston Herald reports. When casinos reopened after being shut down during the pandemic, the commission limited poker tables to four players. Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield said that limit would not have made poker profitable enough to bring back. Even though the limit was lifted in May, poker has still not returned. Encore executive Jacqui Krum told the commission that what was once the poker area has been repurposed during COVID-19 and that the casino is having trouble hiring. “We remain in continual hiring mode. We simply cannot find enough dealers, cashiers or food servers,” Krum said, adding that reopening poker right now would require shutting down other games.

Michigan

This view from April 27, 2021, shows the progress of the United States side of the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Smarter technologies are anticipated for the Gordie Howe International Bridge project, which is expected to be running by the end of 2024.
This view from April 27, 2021, shows the progress of the United States side of the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Smarter technologies are anticipated for the Gordie Howe International Bridge project, which is expected to be running by the end of 2024.

Detroit: The White House and Canada have issued a joint statement of support for a commuter bridge that when completed will span the Detroit River, connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. The statement issued Thursday calls the Gordie Howe International Bridge “a top infrastructure priority” for both governments. It comes as Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican senators try to work out a compromise over a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure package. “This full-throated support of this vital bridge comes as President Biden and Congress continue to make progress on bipartisan and significant investment in transportation and other infrastructure,” Michigan Gov. Whitmer said in her own statement. “The ongoing construction of this bridge has created jobs on both sides of the border, and will continue to spur economic development for many years to come.” In 2012, then-Gov. Rick Snyder and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper struck a deal calling for Canada to pay for the bridge after the Republican governor ran into opposition in the GOP-led Legislature. The $4.4 billion, six-lane span is expected to open in late 2024. It’s named for Gordie Howe, a native of Canada and hockey legend who starred for the Detroit Red Wings.

Minnesota

Minneapolis: The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has extended an air quality alert until noon Tuesday for the entire state, due to what authorities are calling an “unprecedented significant air quality event.” Minnesota has been dealing with smoke from Canadian wildfires that has created some of the highest particulate readings on record. An air quality alert was set to expire Friday afternoon, but it was extended through Tuesday and includes the whole state. The wildfires are north of the Canadian border in Ontario and Manitoba. The MPCA said smoke would continue pouring into the state into Sunday. High pressure will build over the area, and the smoke will recirculate under that high pressure through Tuesday, leading to a prolonged period of heavy smoke. The agency said fine particle levels are expected to reach the purple category, a level considered very unhealthy for everyone, across north-central and south-central Minnesota. That area includes Roseau, Hibbing, Brainerd, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities. It also includes the tribal nations of Red Lake, Leech Lake and Mille Lacs.

Mississippi

Vicksburg: A movie called “My Stolen Life” started filming last week in this city that has a wide view of the Mississippi River. The film, for the Lifetime network, is about twin sisters who have endured a traumatic situation. One becomes a famous writer, and the other is driven mad. The Vicksburg Post reports the movie features several Vicksburg landmarks and some local faces. Vicksburg Police Chief Penny Jones plays herself in one scene. “The film wasn’t originally set in Vicksburg, but we came here and didn’t want to try to make it look like it was set somewhere else,” producer Liana Rae Perez said. Filming locations include the B.B. Club, Vicksburg’s riverfront murals and downtown area, and the antebellum home Anchuca. The film is directed and produced by Atlanta native Dylan Vox.

Missouri

Clayton: St. Louis County Police Chief Mary Barton, who has been criticized for her handling of racial discrimination complaints, announced Friday that she will retire. Barton, who was appointed chief in April 2020, said she would step down after a leave of absence that was scheduled to begin Sunday. The leave will allow her to continue to be paid while she uses accrued vacation time, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The Board of Police Commissioners and the St. Louis County Council have criticized Barton over her performance, particularly her response to racial discrimination within the department. The Ethical Society of Police, which works for racial and gender equity in St. Louis and St. Louis County, also criticized Barton, who is white. In response to the criticism, Barton said she was doing her best to make positive changes. “I have done my job in a professional manner, and I have moved this police department forward,” she said in April. “Myself and the Board of Police Commissioners are committed to moving this police department forward.”

Montana

Kalispell: Authorities ordered evacuations along the shore of a northwestern Montana lake Sunday as winds pushed a wildfire toward the area. The Finley Point/Yellow Bay Fire Department said in a social media post that flames had crossed Montana Highway 35 and were pushing toward Flathead Lake on Sunday morning. The evacuation order included Finley Point the Skidoo Lane area and houses located along a 6-mile stretch of Highway 35 north of Polson. The fire detected Saturday morning 8 miles east of Polson is believed to be human-caused, the Flathead Beacon reports.

Nebraska

Bellevue: Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha has announced it is reinstating a mask mandate, requiring all employees, contractors and visitors to wear face masks indoors. The requirement applies to everyone, even those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. The military base outside Bellevue said in a social media post that the new requirement came from the defense secretary’s office and was triggered by rising coronavirus cases in Sarpy County. The requirement went into full effect Friday. Additionally, the post said, those who are not vaccinated must maintain a distance of 6 feet from others, as outlined in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Nevada

Although steep, the Tunnel Creek Trail from Hidden Beach Trailhead rewards with stunning views of Lake Tahoe.
Although steep, the Tunnel Creek Trail from Hidden Beach Trailhead rewards with stunning views of Lake Tahoe.

Incline Village: Transportation officials at Lake Tahoe say they are experimenting with a new effort to try to change the behavior of visitors who fill up an overcrowded parking area for one of the lake’s most popular beaches by hitting them in their wallets. The parking lot was built when roadside parking in the area was prohibited for safety concerns on the edge of the lake south of Incline Village. It’s at the start of the newly constructed trail that leads to Hidden Beach. Under the plan, parking fees cost as much as $6 or $7 an hour depending on the day and time the visitor arrives. In addition, visitors can’t use cash to park there – the machines only accept credit cards. Tahoe Transportation District Manager Carl Hasty told the Nevada Appeal the fees are an experiment to see if visitor patterns can be changed so that not everyone arrives at peak beach times from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. He said it’s a “pilot effort to incentivize people to come when it isn’t the peak time.” The problem, he said, is that Hidden Beach is so popular that there just isn’t room for everyone who wants to visit, especially during the summer from May through early September. He said the parking fees are lower during spring and fall. They are also lower on weekdays than they are Friday through Sunday but higher on holidays.

New Hampshire

Concord: Republican Gov. Chris Sununu on Friday vetoed a bill that would have moved up the date of state primary elections from September to the first Tuesday in August. New Hampshire is known for its first-in-the-nation presidential primary every four years, but its state primary, held the second Tuesday in September, is one of the nation’s latest. Sununu, in his veto message, said he agrees with Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who’s run New Hampshire’s elections for 45 years, that the bill “creates more problems than it solves.” Sununu said the date change would move the elections and the campaign season into the middle of the summer, a time when more people would be enjoying their vacations than participating in the electoral process. He also said that moving the date to the summer could make it harder for communities to recruit poll workers and election day volunteers. The governor said some advocates of the bill “point to the supposed challenge of election officials meeting the deadlines to send absentee ballots to members of the military or other overseas Granite Staters.” But Sununu said New Hampshire has never failed to meet those deadlines.

New Jersey

Trenton: New mothers will soon be able to get up to three free visits from nurses after giving birth under a new state program designed to support healthy development and reduce postpartum complications, including death. With Gov. Phil Murphy’s signing Thursday of the Statewide Newborn Home Nurse Visitation Program, New Jersey is now the second state in the country, after Oregon, to offer home nurse visits to infants and their parents. But Murphy said New Jersey’s program is the “strongest” and “most comprehensive.” “Today we take a huge step forward in making our state the safest in the nation to both have a child and raise a child,” Murphy said at a ceremony in Newark. New Jersey has a long way to go to achieve that goal. In a country with the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations, New Jersey has a “crisis” of dying mothers, as bill sponsors have said. The state ranked 45th in the nation in maternal mortality in 2018, with 38 deaths per 100,000 births, according to the United Health Foundation. The Murphy administration ranks it even worse, 47th in the U.S. Black women in particular are at high risk in New Jersey. According to Nurture NJ, they are seven times more likely than white women to die after childbirth, and Black babies are three times more likely to die within a year.

New Mexico

Santa Fe: The second-ranking legislator in the state House of Representatives resigned Friday amid criminal investigations into her ties to a private contractor for the Albuquerque school district where she also works. Democratic House leaders announced the resignation of Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton while the investigation continues into possible racketeering, money laundering, kickbacks and violations of a law governing the conduct of state lawmakers. Stapleton said in her resignation letter that she “unequivocally” denies the allegations against her but decided she must devote her time and energy to fully defending herself. “I have made the difficult decision that it is in the best interest of the state,” she wrote in the letter to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. Stapleton, who began serving in the Legislature in 1995, oversees career technical education for Albuquerque Public Schools, the largest school district in the state and the top employer in the city. She has been placed on paid administrative leave by the school district. No charges have been filed against her.

New York

Mineola: Lawmakers in a suburban county are set to vote Monday on a proposal that would allow police officers to sue protesters and collect financial damages – a move civil rights activists say is payback for demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd last year in Minneapolis. Newsday reports that the bill being considered by the Nassau County Legislature would make police officers and other first responders a protected class under the county’s Human Rights Law, which currently bars discrimination based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. No other professions are protected under the Human Rights Law. The bill would allow a lawyer for the Long Island county to sue protesters on behalf of officers and calls for fines of up to $25,000 for anyone who harasses, menaces or injures an officer. The fine amount would be doubled if the offending behavior happened “in the course of participating in a riot,” the bill says. Civil rights lawyer Frederick Brewington told reporters Friday that the bill violates free speech rights and, if passed, will have a chilling effect on protesters. The NAACP said it will bring members to Monday’s vote. “This is intended to evoke fear in the community,” Brewington said. “This is payback. It’s not right. It’s not acceptable, and it is against the law.”

North Carolina

Charlotte: Another historically Black university in North Carolina has announced it will pay off all outstanding balances for students as a response to pandemic-related debt. Johnson C. Smith University will cancel about $300,000 in debts, The Charlotte Observer reports. Last month, Livingstone College in Salisbury said it would forgive more than $2.8 million in debt for students who attended during the 2021 spring semester. N.C. Central University in Durham has cleared more than $10 million in student debt, using federal COVID-19 relief funds to help a fourth of the student population. Many of these programs are possible because of the federal CARES Act. The funds also provided all returning JCSU students with direct relief last fall: $2,500 for returning students and $2,000 for new students, according to the university. Also, Pfeiffer University, a private school in Misenheimer, announced Thursday that it would eliminate $425,000 in student debts.

North Dakota

Bismarck: The State Water Commission on Friday approved $5 million in new aid to help ranchers who are battling drought conditions this summer. As part of the aid, the commission approved two additional water supply assistance programs and allocated more money to an existing program, Gov. Doug Burgum and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a joint statement. “North Dakota producers continue to face unprecedented drought conditions that are devastating crops, decimating livestock herds and destroying billions of dollars in value on farms and ranches that have been built over generations,” said Burgum, who chairs the State Water Commission. “The relief approved today will help livestock producers manage this adversity and invest in infrastructure that builds resiliency against extreme drought conditions now and in the future.” The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map, released Thursday, shows more than half of North Dakota is in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories, the Bismarck Tribune reports. All of the state is in some form of drought. State officials say conditions driven by lack of precipitation and record heat are the worst in at least 30 years.

Ohio

Columbus: The difference in foster care payments between licensed caregivers and relatives stepping in to help “is neither ideal nor even satisfactory,” a judge said as he dismissed a lawsuit seeking to close that gap. Federal Judge Michael Barrett acknowledged that children cared for by relatives deserve more money but said advocates suing over the payment discrepancies didn’t have a claim under federal law. At issue are relatives who aren’t licensed caregivers but are approved to care for children taken from their parents. The arrangement is often referred to as kinship care. Child advocates argue the state must follow a 2017 federal appeals court decision ordering equality in payments to kinship caregivers, and in November they sued to force adherence to that ruling. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law late last year providing a partial fix. The plan authorizes a $10.20 per child per day payment for kinship caregivers for up to nine months. Advocates say that money falls far short of what licensed foster care parents receive, citing as an example the $1,500 to $9,667 monthly payments per foster child in Hamilton County, home to Cincinnati.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City: The Oklahoma Republican Party faced fierce criticism Friday for a Facebook post likening COVID-19 vaccine mandates to the persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany. The post on the party’s official Facebook page urged people to call the lieutenant governor and ask him to call a special session to prohibit employers from requiring their employees to get vaccinated. It featured a picture of a yellow Star of David with the word “unvaccinated” on it and said: “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Roberta Clark, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, called the post “highly inappropriate” and urged party officials to apologize. “To compare the actions taken by Nazi Germany to a public health discussion is ill-informed and inappropriate,” Clark said. “An apology is really appropriate, and it shows leadership and sensitivity to the harmful impact this has made.” John Bennett, the party’s new chairman, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message left at the party’s headquarters. The party’s vice chairman, Shane Jemison, said Friday that he wasn’t certain who created the post, but he called it “beyond abhorrent.”

Oregon

Members of the Nez Perce tribe ride to Am’saaxpa, or Place of Boulders, for a land-blessing ceremony Thursday in Joseph, Ore. The tribe purchased 148 acres of ancestral land in December 2020, over a century after being pushed out of the area.
Members of the Nez Perce tribe ride to Am’saaxpa, or Place of Boulders, for a land-blessing ceremony Thursday in Joseph, Ore. The tribe purchased 148 acres of ancestral land in December 2020, over a century after being pushed out of the area.

Joseph: More than 150 Nez Perce (Niimiipuu) people returned and blessed part of their homeland Thursday, a hundred years after the U.S. Army drove them from the Wallowa Valley in eastern Oregon. In direct violation of the 1855 Treaty of Walla Walla, the Nez Perce in 1877 were forced from their 7.5 million-acre homeland to a 750,000-acre reservation in Idaho. For years, the tribe has worked to keep a connection to the ancestral land from which it was driven. Last year, it successfully reclaimed part of that land. The Nez Perce tribe purchased a 148-acre property in Joseph – known as Am’saaxpa, or Place of Boulders – in December but could not formally perform a blessing ceremony until Thursday due to COVID-19 concerns. The property had been privately owned and operated as a ranch for more than a hundred years. It is located at the edge of the city’s rodeo grounds. Surrounded by the Wallowa Mountains, the property rights include the house near Airport Road built in 1884, barns, grassland, and Wallowa River frontage where the Nez Perce would camp and catch sockeye salmon. It also includes the ridge where Chief Joseph once held council.

Pennsylvania

Philadelphia: A new dashboard of real-time data on prison and parole populations shows the state has made strides to reduce racial inequity, but Black and Latino residents are still greatly overrepresented in prisons and on parole. The dashboard built by the group Recidiviz, a tech nonprofit that partners with governmental agencies to use data to reduce incarceration with a focus on racial inequities, was made public Friday and includes information on prison and parole populations as well as a tab to specifically look at racial disparities in the system. Pennsylvania officials hope the dashboard can be used to track the outcomes of current criminal justice practices and shape future policies. “Transparency creates a common language for all of us to talk about the criminal justice system, what’s working and what’s not, and to chart a path forward,” said Clementine Jacoby, the executive director of Recidiviz. It’s the second public dashboard the group has built in partnership with a state – North Dakota was the first – and they hope more states will agree to partner in the future. Jacoby said the dashboard tab that looks at racial disparities is important because it shows leadership at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is making equity a priority.

Rhode Island

Providence: Public schools in the state are now required to teach a comprehensive African American history and heritage curriculum under legislation signed into law Friday by Gov. Daniel McKee. “The inclusion of African heritage and history in Rhode Island curricula is long overdue,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “I hope that Rhode Island will lead the nation in the effort to educate our young people on a full scope of history, including teaching students about events that took place right where they live.” The curriculum was developed by Rhode Island historical and academic institutions. The ceremonial bill signing took place at the Old Brick School House in Providence, a building that dates to 1769 and in 1828 became a city-supported school for Black children. “Knowing this truth is essential to a united society and I am very happy that these lessons will finally be presented to our students, and adults as well, so that they may go forth into the world truly knowing the many parts of our society that work for everyone and that sadly, currently there are still too many remaining caught in a cycle of intolerance and injustice,” state Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, said in a statement.

South Carolina

Columbia: South Carolinians receiving federal food aid will continue to get extra emergency benefits through the end of the year, even though a pandemic-related state of emergency ended last month. State officials announced Friday that they were extending the deadline for the additional federal supplements, which were set to expire Aug. 1 after Gov. Henry McMaster brought the state’s COVID-19 state of emergency to an end in June. The Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program serves 610,000 people in about 295,000 households in South Carolina. On average, each household has received an additional $177 per month in emergency supplements throughout the pandemic. McMaster has authorized the state’s Department of Social Services to ensure residents continue receiving the extra benefits until Dec. 31 or the end of a federal public health emergency order, whichever comes first. “Our moral and ethical duty during the COVID-19 pandemic is to protect the lives of the most vulnerable South Carolinians – our elderly, young and at-risk population,” wrote Gov. Henry McMaster in a letter to the state’s Department of Social Services. The social services agency received approval Thursday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue providing the emergency benefits.

South Dakota

Motorcycles line Main Street in Sturgis, S.D., in August 2019, during the 79th edition of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Motorcycles line Main Street in Sturgis, S.D., in August 2019, during the 79th edition of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Sturgis: Law enforcement agencies are preparing for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and are on alert for increased outlaw gang activity. The weeklong event that begins Friday is in its 81st year, and some believe that may mean a larger Hells Angels presence than usual. The number “81” is metonym and shorthand for Hells Angels, with H being the 8th letter of the alphabet and A the first. Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin told KOTA-TV law enforcement is aware of the significance. “I would suspect that we’re going to have at least the normal number of Hells Angels around here,” Merwin said. “We might have a few more than normal. My suspicion is they might have some activities here because of the 81st.” Merwin said that although the biker crowd is largely respectful to law enforcement, officers are preparing for any confrontation that may occur. “I think one thing kind of leads to another, and trouble finds them,” Merwin said. “But I don’t suspect that they come here openly looking for it. They just don’t back down from it either.”

Tennessee

Drone snapshot of the I-40 Hernando De Soto Bridge looking toward Arkansas
Drone snapshot of the I-40 Hernando De Soto Bridge looking toward Arkansas

Memphis: Authorities on Saturday night reopened the Interstate 40 bridge linking Arkansas and Tennessee that had been closed ever since a crack was discovered in the span in May. The Hernando DeSoto Bridge, a key artery for U.S. commerce, reopened to the public for eastbound traffic, according to video shared by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The eastbound lanes had previously been scheduled to open Monday, but officials recently moved up those plans. The state transportation department has said it plans to reopen the bridge’s westbound lanes next Friday, though it said that could also get moved up. The I-40 bridge over the Mississippi River was shut down May 11 after inspectors found a crack in one of two 900-foot horizontal steel beams critical for the bridge’s structural integrity, forcing thousands of trucks and cars to detour to the nearby Interstate 55 bridge during the I-40 bridge’s repairs. Beverly Robertson, CEO and President of the Greater Memphis Chamber, celebrated the news of the reopening. “The trucking industry has lost a lot with us being the third-busiest trucking corridor in the country. So many goods and services come here and then go out from there,” Robertson told WREG-TV.

Texas

Austin: Country music legend Willie Nelson led more than a thousand spectators in singing “vote them out” Saturday from the steps of the Texas Capitol during a rally wrapping up a four-day march in support of Democratic state legislators who bolted for Washington two weeks ago to block GOP-backed voting restrictions. Families with lawn chairs spread out across the sprawling Capitol greens in Austin. Clergy, politicians, constituents and musicians all spoke out about the proposals to impose voter ID requirements, limit ballot drop boxes and mail voting, and strip local officials of their election authority. The special session that the exodus by Texas Democrats halted is set to expire this week, but Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has pledged to schedule a new one as soon as the lawmakers return to the state. “If you don’t like who’s in there, vote them out,” Nelson sang, inviting he crowd to join him in singing lyrics he’d previously written about taking a stand at the ballot box. “I felt like I needed to be here. It is a history-making event that is so necessary right now,” said Brenda Hanson, 75, of Austin. “I am a descendant of slavery, and I am not interested in moving back; I want to see this country go forward.” Hanson said she is disabled but otherwise would have participated in the nearly 30-mile walk.

Utah

Springdale: Five shuttle bus drivers at Zion National Park have quit over verbal abuse they’ve experienced from visitors angry about mask requirements on board, the park superintendent said. The iconic red-rock park in southern Utah is the third most visited in the nation, and visitation is only increasing. The shuttle buses are the only vehicles allowed on the road through the main canyon during the busy season. While mask mandates have been lifted in the rest of the state, face coverings are still required on the federally run shuttle buses. Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh told the Springdale town council July 14 that the contractor running the buses has seen five recent resignations. “It seems unnecessary for that issue to develop,” he said. Rangers are also hearing visitor “frustrations” over masks, said Zion spokesperson Amanda Rowland. The park is working with the gateway town of Springdale to provide messaging on the mask mandate, she said.

Vermont

This photo, posted to Facebook by the Bennington Police Department, shows the damage done by vandals to the "Big Chair" roadside attraction.
This photo, posted to Facebook by the Bennington Police Department, shows the damage done by vandals to the "Big Chair" roadside attraction.

Bennington: A giant ladderback chair that stands 19 feet tall may be big, but it wasn’t tough enough for some vandals. Damage to the massive “Big Chair” made from 3,000 pounds of cedar and white pine was captured early Thursday by surveillance video outside a credit union where the chair sits. The video shows two male and two female suspects climbing and jumping on the chair. The original chair was built in the late 1940s and became a popular roadside attraction. Over the decades it has been rebuilt several times. The security video captured the moment the joints gave way, apparently injuring one of the vandals, who was seen being helped away. The Bennington Banner reports the weight of the people who climbed on the chair caused the sockets that held the cross pieces to split wide open. Now the chair’s wooden joints are in splinters, and the rope seat is no longer in place. “We have people on a daily basis come and take pictures with the chair. They drive here specifically to see it,” said Linda M. Bow, the chief business officer for the Tri State Area Federal Credit Union’s Bennington branch. “It’s going to be hard to replace,” Bow said. “It wasn’t meant for climbing.”

Virginia

Lynchburg: A judge has upheld most of a lawsuit Liberty University filed against its former leader Jerry Falwell Jr. after an acrimonious parting last year. The lawsuit survived its first round of legal challenges Friday as Falwell’s attorneys argued motions seeking its dismissal before Lynchburg Circuit Judge Fred Watson, The News & Advance reports. Falwell’s departure from the evangelical school founded by his father came after Giancarlo Granda, a younger business partner of the Falwell family, said that he had a years­long sexual relationship with Falwell’s wife, Becki Falwell, and that Jerry Falwell participated in some of the liaisons as a voyeur. Falwell denied the report and has alleged Granda extorted the family, which Granda denied. Liberty claims Falwell crafted a “well-resourced exit strategy” from his role as president and chancellor at the school in the form of a lucrative 2019 employment agreement while withholding damaging information about the personal scandal that exploded into public view the following year. The agreement included a raise, which Falwell has said amounted to $250,000, and a $2.5 million severance package. The lawsuit demanding at least $10 million alleged Falwell breached fiduciary duties to the school and entered into a business conspiracy against it.

Washington

Seattle: New findings from an Oakland-based nonprofit that spent recent months analyzing Seattle’s 911 calls say up to half the calls city police receive can be responded to without armed, sworn officers. The Seattle Times reports police, while generally supportive of the findings, say they have questions about how realistic that number is. The report, published this week, is a result of part of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plan, launched last year, to reimagine policing in Seattle. The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform found at some point in the future, an “alternative, non-sworn response” could be appropriate for up to 49% of Seattle Police Department calls, or about 685,000 dispatch responses between 2017 and 2019. The institute also found about 80% of Seattle Police Department calls are noncriminal responses, though it noted that some calls not coded as a criminal incident might still involve some criminal behavior. As for shorter-term changes, the report noted about 12% of calls, including “person down” and low-priority welfare checks, “can and should be explored for alternative responses” in the near future.

West Virginia

Charleston: An airport serving the city will soon have a new name: West Virginia International Yeager Airport. The airport board approved the name change Wednesday, effective Jan. 1. The Charleston airport said the change to include “international” in the name is permitted with a U.S. Customs building at the airport that will be completed in December. Yeager is one of 31 commercial airports without a city, state or region in the name, the airport said in an email. There are only five states without an international airport, the email said. It is hoped the name change will help market the state to business and leisure travelers and attract future air service, the airport said.

Wisconsin

Madison: The number of new daily coronavirus cases reported in the state has surpassed 1,000 for the first time in months, fueled by the spread of the more contagious delta variant, health officials said Friday. The Wisconsin Department of Health reported 1,058 new cases of COVID-19 in the state Friday – the highest since April 8. The number of cases that stem from the delta variant has doubled. The seven-day average of daily cases in Wisconsin has increased for the 24th straight day. Wisconsin Department of Health Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said vaccination against COVID-19 is key to stopping the virus’s spread. “The proportion of sequenced tests that are the delta variant is high in our state, and high throughout our country. We know the spread is related to that variant. And when we look at the data, it is important to remember that increased spread also increases the danger of new variants developing,” she said. More than 49% of Wisconsin residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and nearly 52% had received at least one dose as of Friday, the Wisconsin State Journal reports. From mid-July to Tuesday, statewide hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have increased 51%. Health officials say that number is expected to grow.

Wyoming

Gillette: A public ceremony to commemorate the life of former U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi will be held Friday at the Gillette College Pronghorn Center, the Gillette Memorial Chapel announced. Enzi, a Wyoming Republican known as a consensus-builder in an increasingly polarized Washington, died last week after he broke his neck in a bicycle accident near his home in Gillette. He was 77. He served 24 years in the U.S. Senate, 10 years in the Wyoming Legislature and eight years as Gillette’s mayor. The ceremony is set to begin at 1 p.m. and will be officiated by Pastor Donavon Voigt of First Baptist Church. Instead of flowers, the funeral home suggests making donations to Project Mercy, an organization combatting poverty in Ethiopia; the Mike and Diana Enzi Scholarship Fund at the University of Wyoming; and the Wyoming Community Foundation Mike & Diana Enzi Charitable Fund.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Raven Story stamp, Willie Nelson: News from around our 50 states

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