Montgomery: The state plans to be the third to carry out an execution during the COVID-19 pandemic and the only prison system to reduce the number of news media witnesses to a single reporter. The Alabama Department of Corrections said because of COVID-19 precautions, only one reporter, a representative of the Associated Press, will be allowed to witness Thursday’s lethal injection of Willie B. Smith. The state in the past allowed five media witnesses, although the number of outlets sending reporters is sometimes less than that. Only the federal government, Texas and Missouri have carried out executions since the pandemic began last year. None reduced the number of media witnesses to a single reporter. There have been 19 executions carried out since April 2020, according to a database maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center. All of them were attended by multiple reporters, with the exception of one lethal injection in Texas, where the prison system neglected to notify reporters it was time to carry out the punishment. Paige Windsor, the executive editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, said the news organization disagreed “that the press restrictions were necessary for COVID mitigation, especially once a vaccine was available.”
Juneau: A state lawmaker was cited for driving with an open can of beer in his vehicle that another lawmaker said was actually his. Republican Sen. Josh Revak plans to challenge the $220 ticket, which was issued in August, the Anchorage Daily News reports. Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, said the beer was his. Revak, R-Republican, said he used alcohol heavily after returning injured from the Iraq War but hasn’t had alcohol in seven years. He has helped others in recovery programs and said he is proud of his sobriety. A citation “could cause harm to me because I’m in programs of recovery. I’ve been in recovery a long time trying to help other people. Having a violation like this might discredit me, and especially in my job, it certainly doesn’t help, so I felt like it was kind of an injustice,” Revak said. Kawasaki was riding with Revak from Anchorage to a fishing event on the Kenai Peninsula on Aug. 18. Kawasaki the night before had stayed at the home of another legislator and in the morning left with a partially full can of beer. “I didn’t want to waste it, didn’t want to dump it,” Kawasaki said. Both said Revak didn’t realize it was a beer rather than another beverage. Revak is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 27. But the trooper who wrote the citation was recently arrested on child sexual abuse charges.
Chandler: The Gila River Indian Community’s gambling operation has begun construction of its fourth casino in metro Phoenix. Gila River Hotels & Casinos on Monday held a groundbreaking ceremony for the planned Santan Mountain casino, which will be located in the Chandler area near Gilbert Road and Hunt Highway. The 160-acre, $150 million project will feature more than 850 slots and table games, a BetMGM Sportsbook and multiple dining options for guests. New games will include mini baccarat, craps and roulette. Two of the tribe’s current casinos also are located in the Chandler area. The other is on the metro area’s southwestern rim. The tribe announced the new casino project last summer after signing a revised gambling compact with the state. Gambling expansion legislation approved by state lawmakers at Gov. Doug Ducey’s behest included provisions allowing tribes to increase their gambling offerings, both in number of casinos and types of gambling games. Arizona currently has 24 tribal casinos statewide, including seven in metro Phoenix. The legislation will allow up to 11 more statewide, include four in metro Phoenix and one in the Tucson area.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday backed off plans to call the Legislature back to the Capitol next week to take up income tax cuts as he continued negotiating with lawmakers on how much to reduce. The Republican governor delayed the special session he expected to call for the tax cut proposal, which he said would cost the state $321 million a year once fully implemented in 2023. Hutchinson did not say when he planned to convene the majority-Republican Legislature, though he said hoped to do so before Thanksgiving. “We need more time,” he told reporters. Hutchinson’s proposal calls for reducing the state’s top income tax rate from 5.9% to 5.3% by 2023. It also calls for increasing a tax credit for those making less than $22,900 and for combining the low- and middle-income tax tables. But Hutchinson has faced calls from some fellow Republicans to go further with his tax cut plans and to also include reductions in the corporate income tax rate. Legislative leaders said delaying the special session will give lawmakers the governor more time to work out a deal. Hutchinson ran on a promise to cut income taxes and is pushing for the reduction as the state’s revenue has beat expectations despite the COVID-19 pandemic. But Democrats caution about going too far with reductions.
San Francisco: The city will give out cash awards of up to $100,000 for information about the ringleaders of high-level auto burglaries, in yet another push to battle crime in a city marked by attention-grabbing vehicle smash-and-grabs, home break-ins and retail theft. The cash rewards would come from private donors in the tourism and hospitality industry, Mayor London Breed said at a Tuesday news conference where she was joined by San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott. The fund has about $225,000 so far and will pay for information leading to the arrest and conviction of “high-level leaders of organized auto burglary fencing operations,” according to a statement from Breed’s office. Authorities have said they believe fewer than a dozen auto burglary crews are responsible for most of the smash-and-grabs in the San Francisco Bay Area. But news reports and viral video of break-ins have reinforced the perception of San Francisco as lawless and lenient. Last month, Breed and Scott announced the city would dedicate more police to combat retail shoplifting and make reporting of shoplifting cases easier. Breed’s office said auto burglaries reported to police have declined since 2017, when the city recorded about 31,400. More than 15,000 auto burglaries have been reported this year, but 2021 is on track to fall below the nearly 26,000 in 2019.
Denver: A state judge was removed from his leadership position after being charged with felony menacing Saturday. Judge Mark Thompson, chief judge for the 5th Judicial District, is accused of using a real or simulated weapon in the alleged July 25 menacing incident, which was investigated by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, according to limited online court records. The case was listed as suppressed from public view, and documents detailing the allegations against Thompson were not available. In a court filing, prosecutors requested the secrecy because Thompson is a public official and “prominent member” of the community, The Denver Post reports. “The release at this time of any of the documents of record in this matter could result in disclosure of information that could result in destruction, or secreting evidence and tampering with identified and unidentified witnesses, which could jeopardize the ongoing investigation and/or interfere with the rights of the defendant, including irreversible harm to reputation, and the defendant’s and the People’s right to a fair trial,” the prosecutors wrote. Judge Paul Dunkelman granted the request in a one-line order Saturday. Thompson is on planned paid time off and will resume his duties as a judge when he returns, judicial branch spokesperson Rob McCallum said.
Hartford: A state legislator who works as an aide to the West Haven City Council was arrested Tuesday by the FBI amid scrutiny of the city’s spending of federal pandemic relief money, officials said. The arrest of Rep. Michael DiMassa, a Democrat, was confirmed by Tom Carson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut. DiMassa’s arrest affidavit was sealed. Last week, Mayor Nancy Rossi posted a video on the city’s YouTube page saying she had come across several large expenditures that might be fraudulent and had requested a forensic investigation of the city’s spending of federal pandemic relief funds. West Haven’s share of the $2.2 trillion in funding from the CARES Act has been more than $1.15 million so far, according to the state Office of Policy and Management. Rossi, who is also a certified public accountant, last week acknowledged using some relief funding to pay City Hall employees overtime for working on pandemic-related tasks but said that is a proper use of the money. A message was left seeking comment with the mayor. Upon the news of DiMassa’s arrest, Speaker of the House Matt Ritter and House Majority Leader Jason Rojas announced they were immediately removing DiMassa from all committee and leadership assignments.
Wilmington: Prosecutors want a judge to make state Auditor Kathy McGuiness accept a public defender or pay for her own defense against criminal corruption charges, according to a Monday filing in New Castle County Superior Court. The filing is a response to McGuiness’ Friday request that a judge allow her private attorney, McCarter & English partner Steve Wood, to represent her at rate of $550 an hour paid for by the public. It sets up in a conflict in which Superior Court President Judge Jan Jurden will need to decide whether to allow Wood to continue to represent McGuiness at private law firm rates paid by the state or whether McGuiness must accept representation from the public defender’s office if she does not want to pay a private attorney. Having pleaded not guilty, McGuiness is in the early stages of defending herself against two felony and multiple public corruption misdemeanors charged by prosecutors in the Delaware Department of Justice – a locally unprecedented indictment of a sitting, statewide-elected official that accuses McGuiness of rigging state contracts to avoid scrutiny and hiring her daughter in a do-nothing job. A Democrat, former Rehoboth Beach commissioner and pharmacist, McGuiness is paid $112,000 a year as auditor and, as a private citizen, likely would not qualify for representation paid for by the public. But Delaware law allows public officials sued or criminally indicted on charges related to their state work to be represented in court by a state-provided attorney.
District of Columbia
Washington: The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and manufacturer Kawasaki have known for years about problems with the wheel assemblies in the transit system’s newest $2 million rail cars, WUSA-TV reports. One of those 7000 series rail cars came off the track Oct. 12, and while no one was killed or critically injured, the National Transportation Safety Board said the incident in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, could have been “catastrophic.” “We are fortunate that no fatalities or serious injuries occurred as a result of any of these derailments, but the potential for fatalities and serious injuries, was significant,” NTSB Board Chairman Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference Monday morning at the safety agency’s Washington headquarters. “This could have resulted in a catastrophic event.” The D.C. Metrorail Safety Commission ordered Metro to pull nearly 60% of its rail fleet from service Monday after its safety oversight board found a recurring problem with the axles on the Metro’s newest railcars, the agency said. WMATA said the remaining 40 Metro trains would run every 30 minutes. In a release Monday, WMATA said reduced service is expected to last through at least Sunday. Passengers reported waits of as long as an hour during Monday morning’s rush.
Tallahassee: Manatees have starved to death by the hundreds along Florida’s eastern coast because algae blooms and contaminants are killing the seagrass the beloved sea mammals eat, a wildlife official told a state House committee Tuesday. Seagrass has been decimated in the 156-mile-long Indian River Lagoon and neighboring areas. The aquatic plant thrives in clear, sandy water, but murkier water because of the algae and pollutants has made it harder for seagrass to survive, said Melissa Tucker, director of the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “Our statewide death count from all sources has been higher than it’s ever been reported before,” Tucker told the House State Affairs Committee. “This is a starvation issue. There’s not enough seagrasses that are available to the manatees.” Officials noticed a sharp rise in manatee deaths from December through May, when the sea cows congregate in warm waters. During that period, 677 manatees died, when typically only 156 die, Tucker said. While manatee mortality leveled out after May, when the mammals extend their range in summer and fall, the state has already recorded 968 manatee deaths in 2021, with more than two months left in the year. The previous annual high was 830 deaths in 2013, Tucker said.
Covington: One worker was killed and two seriously injured when part of a bridge collapsed into a river during early demolition work, officials said. The three workers fell into the river Tuesday evening from the Access Road bridge on Interstate 20 in Newton County, east of Atlanta, news outlets report. About 21/2 hours after the accident, the Newton County Sheriff’s Office reported that one worker had died. The subcontractors were sawing when the accident occurred, the Georgia Department of Transportation said. A 500-ton crane began removing a truck, excavator and other equipment from the Yellow River accident site Wednesday morning, the Transportation Department said on Facebook. Work started Monday, and authorities had said they expected it to take nine months.
Honolulu: Police officers and officials with the state’s public school system discriminated against a disabled Black child by handcuffing, arresting and interrogating the 10-year-old girl for a “run-of-the-mill” dispute between children, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii said. The ACLU sent a letter Monday to the Honolulu Police Department, the state Department of Education and the state attorney general’s office demanding the statewide school district make policy changes, including forbidding staff from calling police on a student unless the student presents an imminent threat of significant harm to someone. Honowai Elementary officials called police to the Waipahu school in 2020 because the girl allegedly drew an offensive sketch of a student who was bullying her, according to the ACLU letter. The parent of another child wanted to press charges. The girl’s mother went to the school and was falsely imprisoned when school staff and police prevented her leaving two rooms to which she was confined, the letter said. The mother “expressed some concern about being African American in an encounter with the police” and was worried about her daughter’s safety “in light of the police presence given the high rate of police violence against Black people, and the discriminatory disciplining of Black girls in schools,” the letter said.
Boise: Officials on Tuesday rejected a plan to raise grazing fees on state-managed land, costing K-12 public schools more than $530,000 annually. The Idaho Land Board voted 2-2 to defeat the proposal, with Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra voting against the plan, citing concerns by ranchers who said drought was hurting their businesses. “I think, like in education, teachers are the experts, and I believe ranchers are the experts,” Ybarra said. The move to stick with the current grazing fee formula appears to call into question whether the state’s top statewide elected officials are meeting their constitutional mandate as Land Board members to maximize profit from state lands over the long term. The current grazing rate formula not only doesn’t raise fees but also cuts them. The formula has been in place since 1993, leading to concern that it’s outdated and that ranchers aren’t paying their fair share. Grazing rates on private land in the state have nearly doubled since then, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rates on state-owned land have lagged, dropping from about 50% of what private landowners charge to about 38%. The new grazing formula would have put it back to 50%, while the existing formula drops it to about 37%.
Chicago: Metra is restoring service on all train lines to pre-pandemic levels and won’t raise fares next year in hopes more and more riders will return to using the suburban Chicago commuter rail service. Metra approved a new, $900 million operating budget for 2022 on Wednesday. It assumes Metra will start 2022 with ridership at about 25% of pre-pandemic levels and will grow to about 35% by the end of the year. “After nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how and when things will return to normal,” said Metra CEO and Executive Director Jim Derwinski. He said the most responsible approach is to use cautious assumptions about the growth in ridership while simultaneously ramping up service so Metra is ready when passengers are. The budget projects Metra will bring in about $146 million from fares and other system-generated revenue. The agency also is using about $300 million in federal pandemic relief funding. Metra is introducing a new $6 day pass, which will give passengers unlimited travel among any three zones. It will be sold as part of a one-year pilot program and will replace the current $10 day pass, which provides unlimited travel across all zones.
Hammond: A Gary man is suing northwest Indiana police more than a year after he alleged that officers pepper-sprayed and knelt on him when they encountered him near a protest over George Floyd’s death. Randall Smith’s lawsuit, filed Sept. 21 in U.S. District Court in Hammond, names Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez and county police Officer Jay Cruz as defendants and seeks damages “for deprivation of his civil rights.” The federal lawsuit comes more than a year after Smith filed a tort claim notice in July 2020 seeking $700,000 in damages from the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and the county’s commissioners. That claim, a precursor to a possible lawsuit, said Smith was watching a protest May 31, 2020, near Southlake Mall in Merrillville that was spurred by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody when some officers “forced demonstrators” from a parking lot. Smith’s attorney, James Hortsman, said Smith did not participate in the protest. An officer then “aggressively approached” Smith and “got in his face telling him to leave,” the tort claim states. But as Smith turned to leave, the same officer “pushed him from behind, and several officers took him to the ground,” even though he wasn’t resisting, leaving him with a chipped tooth and other injuries, it alleges.
Des Moines: The state’s privatized Medicaid system has illegally denied services or care to program recipients, and both private insurance companies managing the system have violated terms of their contracts with the state, according to a state audit released Wednesday. Auditor Rob Sand released a report from his investigation that examined a six-year period from 2013 through 2019. He said his investigators found a massive increase in illegal denials of care by managed care organizations under the system. “What this means is that privatized Medicaid is less likely to treat Iowans in accordance with the law. It means that the Medicaid MCO’s that we have contracted with are not upholding their end of the bargain,” Sand said. The head of Iowa’s Medicaid program responded within minutes of the audit’s release, rejecting its conclusions and arguing Sand was making an “apples to oranges comparison” that mischaracterized the program. Former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in 2016 abruptly shifted Iowa’s Medicaid program from management by the Iowa Department of Human Services to private insurers. His successor, current GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, has continued to support privatization amid complaints that service has suffered, that payments to service providers have been delayed at times and that promised savings never materialized.
Topeka: Real estate values in the capital city have been appreciating “at their fastest pace ever,” a report says. Home prices in Topeka are anticipated to end this year having increased by 8.3% and rise by 4.5% next year, according to the 2022 Kansas Housing Markets Forecast Series published this month by the Wichita State University Center for Real Estate. Appreciation figures are even stronger statewide, with anticipated increases of 10.5% this year and 7.6% next year, the study said. “The supply of homes available for sale remains near historic lows,” Stan Longhofer, the center’s director, said in a news release. “Although bidding wars may not be as intense as they were earlier this year, it will continue to be a sellers’ market across most market segments.” Still, longtime Topeka Realtor Helen Crow questioned Tuesday whether the figures used to reach those conclusions may have been skewed by factors brought about by COVID-19. The pandemic has created a situation in which “the wealthier people are buying homes, and the people who are not as wealthy are not,” she said. A disproportionate number of upper-value homes have consequently been sold in the city since early last year, perhaps artificially inflating the median sales value of homes in this community, Crow said.
Louisville: A convicted drug dealer who was a target of the police raids that brought officers to Breonna Taylor’s home has been offered probation for a long list of drug crimes. Louisville police secured a slew of no-knock warrants on the night of March 13, 2020, aimed at breaking up a drug-dealing operation involving Jamarcus Glover. One of the five warrants sent police to the home of Taylor, Glover’s former girlfriend. Officers went to her home, broke down the door and opened fire after Taylor’s boyfriend fired a shot at them. The fatal shooting of the 26-year-old Black woman sparked months of national protests and prompted the city of Louisville to pay Taylor’s family $12 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit. Louisville prosecutors recently recommended probation for Glover, who was facing a litany of drug-related charges, WDRB-TV reports. He will also be allowed to move out of state. Sam Aguiar, an attorney who represented Taylor’s family in the wrongful death lawsuit, said the plea deal “validates” that Glover was not a drug kingpin requiring several late-night police raids. Last year, Glover was offered a plea deal by prosecutors that would have forced him to implicate Taylor in criminal activity. That offer listed Taylor as a co-defendant in illegal activities. Glover declined the offer.
Baton Rouge: The state will introduce an alligator-themed float celebrating its music, food and culture at the 95th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who oversees state tourism efforts, announced the float plans Tuesday. “When it comes to parading, there is one thing Louisiana knows how to do and that’s throwing a party on wheels aboard the biggest float we can build,” Nungesser, a Republican, said in a statement. The Thanksgiving Day parade, scheduled for Nov. 25, airs live across the country from 9 a.m. to noon. Nungesser said the float will be used to promote Louisiana and encourage travelers to visit the state. The “Celebration Gator” float includes a multicolored replication of a French Quarter street view and will include people dressed in baby gator costumes and a team of stilt walkers. “The Macy’s Parade is thrilled to welcome this awe-inspiring and colorful float to our lineup,” Jordan Dabby, producer of the parade, said in the statement released by Nungesser’s office.
Falmouth: A police department is destroying a cache of weapons that’s going to be melted down to be transformed into peaceful products. Several dozen guns that were seized or turned in were rendered inoperable in the parking lot of the Falmouth Police Department on Saturday. They’ll be melted down and converted into a trademarked steel called Humanium Metal. “Every unwanted gun that we permanently remove from circulation is a win,” Falmouth Police Chief John Kilbride said in a statement. “That’s one less tragedy for a person, family and community.” The event marked the U.S. launch by a Swedish development partner that’s marketing Humanium Metal. The product is being used in a number of products including watches, jewelry and art. Over the next year, the Swedish organization IM aims to partner in at least five major cities with local law enforcement, gun-safety advocacy groups and others seeking to address gun-related violence.
Annapolis: Conservation efforts for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed have been bolstered by a $10 million grant. According to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the 49 individual grants will generate $12 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of more than $22 million. “The Chesapeake Bay is a natural treasure for Maryland, the country and the world,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “It’s also a fact the health of the economy and our overall public health depends on a healthy bay. The awards cover different areas and differ in size and scope, but all of them are essential to protecting our bay.” Van Hollen added that federal resources were key to multiplying the initial amount awarded to the various organizations. The grant is from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency and the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Boston: The city declared addiction and homelessness a public health emergency Tuesday – a move that will help it clear a sprawling homeless camp at the epicenter of the city’s opioid crisis. Officials said they will get those dependent on opioids into treatment and permanent shelter after removing about 150 tents at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, an area commonly known as Mass and Cass, said the city’s chief of health and human services, Marty Martinez. The area, home to numerous methadone clinics and social services, has long been a haven for crime and illegal drug sales and use, often in the open. The tents will not disappear overnight, acting Mayor Kim Janey said. “Folks are looking for a magic moment where, ‘poof,’ everything is gone,” she said. “That is not how addiction works. It requires ongoing outreach to individuals. It requires work between the city, the state, and other partners to make sure that there are alternatives.” Officials stressed that the city is not criminalizing homelessness, and no one will be forcibly removed. They said people who live in tents will be given advanced notice and offered treatment or a shelter bed.
Detroit: The operator of an oil pipeline said it temporarily shut down Line 5 on Tuesday after protesters warned the company that they planned to turn an emergency valve. Video posted on social media showed someone with a hard hat and a wrench inside a fenced area in Tuscola County, 90 miles north of Detroit. A man outside the fence sang and played an electric guitar. A sign warned against trespassing and said the property belonged to Enbridge Energy. “We respect the rights of others to express their views on the energy we all use, but today’s pipeline tampering incident involving Enbridge was not a lawful protest. It was a criminal activity that put people and the environment at risk,” said Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy. He said the pipeline’s flow was temporarily stopped from a control center “out of an abundance of caution to protect communities, first responders and the protesters.” Line 5 moves about 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids daily between Wisconsin and Ontario, traversing parts of northern Michigan and Wisconsin. A roughly 4-mile segment divides into two pipes that cross the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, say Line 5 is a threat to the Great Lakes.
St. Paul: The state will offer $200 gift cards and a shot at five $100,000 scholarships as incentives for students ages 12-17 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Tim Walz announced Monday. Young people who start and complete their vaccine series over the next six weeks will be eligible for the Visa gift cards. But all Minnesotans ages 12-17 who’ve completed their vaccine series anytime by mid-December are eligible for the scholarships, which will be good at any public or private nonprofit school in the state. The five drawings will be conducted weekly starting Nov. 15. “We’re launching this program to help reward teens for doing their part by getting fully vaccinated and keeping our schools, community, and state safe,” Walz said in a statement. Registration opens Nov. 9 on the state’s Kids Deserve a Shot website. The state is trying to drive up vaccination rates among adolescents, who are the state’s least-vaccinated eligible age group. Only 50% of Minnesotans ages 12-15 and less than 60% of those ages 16-17 are fully vaccinated. But the coronavirus is spreading fastest in Minnesota among young people. The federal government is preparing to authorize vaccines for children as young as 5.
Jackson: The capital city dumped more than 6 billion gallons of partly treated sewage into a river in 2020, seven years after signing a federal court agreement to clean up its act, court records show. The records also show sewer overflows in Jackson released more than 523,000 gallons of untreated waste into the environment last year, WLBT-TV reports. The city had made “only limited progress” toward some requirements in a 2013 agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and had not begun work toward other “crucial” goals, according to an August status report. Jackson has a deadline of late 2030 to meet terms of the consent decree, which was announced in November 2012 and became final in March 2013. Jackson is negotiating with the EPA to amend the order, with EPA and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to assess the city’s financial condition and evaluate its proposed changes, the station reports. The city, which agreed to spend about $400 million to comply with state and federal water laws, now will need nearly $960 million to do so, it said in the report. The untreated sewage in 2020 came from 376 overflows throughout the collection system. Eleven forbidden bypasses at a wastewater treatment plant discharged partly treated wastewater into the Pearl River.
Columbia: Help for roughly 100,000 teachers whose Social Security numbers were made vulnerable in a massive state data breach could cost Missouri as much as $50 million, the governor’s office confirmed Tuesday. The estimate includes the cost of credit monitoring and a call center to help affected teachers. Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s spokeswoman on Tuesday confirmed reports from state House budget officials that explained the $50 million price tag. The information was publicized by Democratic House lawmakers. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch broke the news about the security flaw last week. The newspaper said it discovered the vulnerability in a web application that allowed the public to search teacher certifications and credentials. Parson, who has deflected his administration’s responsibility for the breach and instead cast blame on the newspaper for identifying the issue and warning the education department about it, last week said the breach “may cost Missouri taxpayers as much as $50 million and divert workers and resources from other state agencies.” Parson declined to answer questions after slamming the Post-Dispatch in a livestreamed press conference last week.
Helena: Three public officials threatened hospital doctors after they refused to treat a COVID-19 patient with ivermectin, a drug to treat parasites that is not federally approved for use in battling the respiratory disease, officials of St. Peter’s Health said. “These officials have no medical training or experience, yet they were insisting our providers give treatment for COVID-19 that are not authorized, clinically approved or within the guidelines established by the FDA and the CDC,” hospital spokesperson Andrea Groom wrote in an email to the Montana State News Bureau on Monday. “In addition, they threatened to use their position of power to force our doctors and nurses to provide this care.” The hospital did not name the elected officials, but Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office confirmed that he participated in a conference call with hospital executives last week after having sent a Montana Highway Patrol trooper to the hospital to talk with the family of the patient. The event unfolded when a Helena woman in her 80s was hospitalized and wanted to be treated with ivermectin. It has been used in other countries, including India and Brazil, and some studies on its effectiveness are underway. Its manufacturer, Merck, has said there is no indication the drug is safe or effective against COVID-19.
Omaha: Union Pacific and its labor unions are suing each other to determine whether the railroad has the authority to require its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The unions argue the Omaha-based railroad should have negotiated with them before announcing it would require all employees to get the shots. The railroad contends in its own lawsuit that it believes it has the authority to require the vaccines under its existing contracts because it can set standards for when employees are fit for duty. Union Pacific announced this month that it would require all employees to be vaccinated by Dec. 8 to comply with an executive order President Joe Biden issued requiring all federal contractors to have their employees vaccinated. The railroad is also offering its union employees a $300 bonus if they get the shots. Nonunion employees at the railroad are being offered a half-day of vacation if they get vaccinated. On the same day the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division union filed its lawsuit against the railroad, Union Pacific filed its own lawsuit Friday against SMART-TD and two other unions that objected to the vaccination mandate to force the issue.
Las Vegas: Officials say enough money has been raised through donations to start work to rename the city’s main airport after former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. The Clark County Commission earlier this year approved the renaming of McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid International Airport but with the stipulation that no taxpayer money be used. Donations for the renaming have passed the $4.2 million threshold needed to carry out the first phase, which largely consists of signage outside the airport and approaching it, officials said Monday. However, no actual timetable was announced for the start of work, and officials will next meet with various government agencies to firm up plans. “It allows us to change the name officially,” Commissioner Tick Segerblom said. An additional $2.8 million is needed for two remaining phases for signage inside the airport and for other changes such as stationery, letterhead, business cards and concessionaire-related needs. Reid, a Democrat and the former Senate majority leader, retired from the Senate in 2016 after serving 30 years. The renaming was spurred by the late Sen. Patrick Pat McCarran’s anti-immigrant and antisemitic views.
Concord: A group of 25 health providers and advocacy organizations is asking legislative leaders to once again allow remote public access to the Legislature during the upcoming 2022 session. “As you often remind us, the State House is the people’s house, and public input and the right to know are critical components of New Hampshire’s legislative process,” the organizations wrote in a letter sent Monday to House Speaker Sherman Packard and Senate President Chuck Morse. “Yet, with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging throughout our state, individuals would have to put their own health, and that of their families, friends, neighbors, and communities, at risk in order to attend and testify in-person at legislative committee hearings, meetings, and sessions.” The groups said the last legislative session showed videoconferencing “effectively provides safe and secure access to legislative proceedings to citizens, health care providers and advocates all across New Hampshire.” Among the signers of the letter are the Disability Rights Center-N.H.; NAMI New Hampshire (the National Alliance on Mental Illness); New Futures; New Hampshire Legal Assistance; the New Hampshire Medical Society; and the New Hampshire Public Health Association.
Trenton: Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday ordered that all new state contracts include language requiring workers to get COVID-19 vaccines or undergo regular coronavirus testing. Murphy, a Democrat seeking reelection this year, said the order will be prospective and affect only new contracts, extensions or renewals. He said he couldn’t specify how many state contractors would be affected but estimated it would be in the “hundreds or thousands.” “We must ensure that everyone providing service to the people of New Jersey – whether they are direct or contracted employees – is being held to the same public health and safety standards,” he said. The order mirrors other executive orders Murphy has signed requiring shots or tests for state workers and school employees. The requirement comes just days after a deadline for school and state workers to be vaccinated or undergo coronavirus testing kicked in, but Murphy said he didn’t have details about how many chose which option.
Santa Fe: Local governments across the state are seeking to renew property taxes to pay for school buildings, computers and air ventilation systems even as school districts are slated to receive $900 million in federal pandemic aid. Ventilation upgrades are on virtually all lists after state authorities mandated upgraded systems better able to pull tiny virus particles out of the air. They often require new machinery. Due to recent changes in state law, all money raised by local school funding ballot initiatives will go to funding to local schools. Until this year, about 75% of operational funds in mill levies was deducted from state funds, meaning only 25% of local property taxes for schools actually went directly to that district. The legislation benefits districts such as Santa Fe where there’s a strong local tax base, as well as districts serving Gallup, in northwestern New Mexico, where federal funds offset the nontaxable federal and tribal land surrounding it. A few school districts with both low property values and no federal land will likely lose out in the long term under the new formula. But the losses won’t be felt any time soon because of federal pandemic relief.
New York: The city’s Board of Health on Monday passed a resolution that names racism as a public health crisis, joining the growing list of state and local governments around the country that have done so in recent years. The resolution calls on the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to take steps including reviewing the city’s health code to look for structural racism and find ways to make changes as necessary. “To build a healthier New York City, we must confront racism as a public health crisis,” Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said in a statement. Since 2019, when Milwaukee County in Wisconsin was the first to call out racism as a public health issue, dozens of places around the country have followed suit. Supporters have said it’s an important step in addressing problems, while some have questioned whether the declarations will lead to real change.
Raleigh: A federal judge has ruled that the state’s flagship public university can continue to consider race as a factor in its undergraduate admissions, rebuffing a conservative group’s argument that affirmative action disadvantages white and Asian students. U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs ruled late Monday that the University of North Carolina has shown that it has a compelling reason to pursue a diverse student body and has demonstrated that measurable benefits come from that goal. “In sum, the Court concludes that UNC has met its burden in demonstrating that it has a genuine and compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits of diversity,” Biggs wrote. Students for Fair Admissions sued UNC in 2014, arguing that using race and ethnicity as a factor in college admissions violates the equal protection cause of the Constitution and federal civil rights law. The group contended that UNC had gone too far in using race as a factor in admissions and had thus “intentionally discriminated against certain of (its) members on the basis of their race, color, or ethnicity.” The group’s president, Edward Blum, said it would appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. His group already appealed a denial in a similar lawsuit against Harvard University. Blum said he hopes both cases get bundled together so that the U.S. Supreme Court rules simultaneously on private and public universities.
Bismarck: The state can continue to pursue reimbursement from the federal government for the millions of dollars spent policing protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline, a judge has ruled. U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Traynor on Tuesday denied the federal government’s motion to dismiss North Dakota’s attempt to recover more than $38 million from the monthslong pipeline protests five years ago. The federal government argued North Dakota’s emergency response expenses are not “money damages” for “injury or loss of property.” Traynor, who is based in Bismarck and was nominated for the judgeship by former President Donald Trump, ruled the state’s claim of damages is permissible. The state filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2019. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has long argued that the Corps allowed and sometimes encouraged protesters to illegally camp without a federal permit. The Corps has said protesters weren’t evicted due to free speech reasons. The $3.8 billion pipeline has been moving oil from the Dakotas through Iowa to Illinois since 2017. Thousands of opponents gathered in southern North Dakota in 2016 and early 2017, camping on federal land and often clashing with police. Hundreds were arrested over six months.
Columbus: Assaulting a referee would become a crime punishable by a fine and community service hours under pending legislation in the General Assembly. The bill would make an assault on referees before, during or after a sporting event, or in retaliation for their decisions, a first-degree misdemeanor with an automatic fine of $1,500 and 40 hours of community service. A second conviction could lead to a felony charge that could include prison time if the assault was committed with a weapon or caused serious harm. More than 2 in 3 sports officials quit during their first three years because of spectator abuse, said state Rep. Bill Roemer, R-Richfield, a longtime youth baseball coach. “Sports officials deserve to be safe from undue harm on the job, not just for their safety but for the integrity of sports at large,” Roemer told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The Ohio House passed the legislation in June by a wide margin. Lawmakers considered but failed to pass a similar bill in the last General Assembly.
Oklahoma City: A national advocacy group for women on Monday blasted the sentencing of a 21-year-old woman to prison for a manslaughter conviction after she suffered a miscarriage while using methamphetamine. Brittney Poolaw, of Lawton, Oklahoma, was sentenced to four years in prison this month after a jury convicted her of first-degree manslaughter. An autopsy of Poolaw’s fetus showed it tested positive for methamphetamine. But there was no evidence that her meth use caused the miscarriage, which the autopsy indicated could have been caused by factors including a congenital abnormality and placental abruption, a complication in which the placenta detaches from the womb, said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. According to the medical examiner’s report, the fetus was between 15 and 17 weeks old, which means it wouldn’t have been able to viably survive outside the womb yet. “This prosecution went forward against somebody who had a pregnancy loss before the fetus was considered viable,” Paltrow said. “In this case, you not only have a miscarriage rather than a stillbirth early in pregnancy, but the medical examiner’s report doesn’t even claim that methamphetamine was the cause.”
Portland: The state’s central administrative agency inadvertently released the COVID-19 vaccination status of more than 40,000 state employees to two media outlets. A spreadsheet sent to The Oregonian/OregonLive and the Salem Statesman Journal was supposed to contain the latest vaccination rates and vaccine exemption rates for each executive branch agency overseen by Gov. Kate Brown. Brown issued an executive order in August requiring all executive branch employees – along with individuals working in educational and health care settings – to be fully vaccinated against the disease caused by the coronavirus by Monday at midnight. Instead, Oregon Department of Administrative Services External Relations Director Adam Crawford emailed a file to the outlets Monday containing vaccination status by employee name. Crawford took the blame for the data release and asked that the personal information not be reported. “It’s a mistake on my part,” he said. Ben Morris, a spokesperson for SEIU 503, said the release violates an agreement the union signed with the state that required individuals’ vaccination information to be confidential. Morris said that “more concerning is that one of the main things that we heard from members who were vaccine hesitant is they were concerned about their privacy in this situation.”
Philadelphia: Prosecutors pursuing the case against a man accused of raping a woman on a commuter train last week don’t anticipate charging fellow passengers for not intervening, a spokesperson for the suburban Philadelphia district attorney said. “It’s still an open investigation, but there is no expectation at this time that we will charge passengers,” said Margie McAboy, spokeswoman for the Delaware County District Attorney’s office. Authorities continue to investigate the Oct. 13 attack, in which a woman was repeatedly touched and groped over the course of a 40-minute ride despite trying to push 35-year-old Fiston Ngoy away, according to an arrest affidavit that detailed the surveillance footage from the train. Investigators say Ngoy ripped the woman’s pants off and proceeded to rape her for somewhere between 6 and 8 minutes before officers boarded the train and detained him. Requests by the Associated Press for surveillance video from the attack on the Market-Frankford line have been denied, citing the ongoing criminal investigation. Police declined to say how many passengers may have witnessed the assault but have said it appeared some held their phones up in the direction of the assault, seemingly to film the attack. Police have declined to say whether investigators have found any photos or videos of the attack posted online.
Warwick: The median price of a single-family home in the state continued to rise in the third quarter, even though the number of sales slowed down, the Rhode Island Association of Realtors said Wednesday. The median price of single-family homes sold in the quarter that ended Sept. 30 was a record-high $385,000, a 15% increase over the third quarter of 2020. However, the number of closed sales was down 8.4% year-over-year, according to association data. “The single-family home market has been incredibly competitive and the properties that are available for sale are put under contract so quickly, that it appears some prospective buyers took a break,” association President Leann D’Ettore said in a statement. “Also, the spread of the delta variant affected the market last quarter, keeping some buyers at home and making some prospective sellers think twice about listing their home.” Sales of multifamily homes, on the other hand, showed no signs of slowing. The median price soared 21% to $375,000 in the quarter compared to the same quarter in 2020, while closings increased 43%. The condominium sector had modest gains in both median price and closed sales. Out-of-state buyers accounted for nearly a quarter of all residential sales during the quarter.
Columbia: A prominent civil rights attorney on Tuesday demanded that a prosecutor revisit a case and criminally charge the two jail employees who stunned a mentally ill Black man 10 times and kneeled on his back until he stopped breathing. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson announced in July that the Charleston County jail deputies who were seen on surveillance video restraining Jamal Sutherland wouldn’t face charges. Wilson called the deputies’ actions “damning” but said she couldn’t prove the guards intended to kill Sutherland, who at the time was refusing to go to his bond hearing. Attorney Ben Crump joined Sutherland’s relatives outside Wilson’s office to call on the solicitor to reconsider her decision, arguing she had gathered enough evidence throughout her monthslong investigation to charge the former deputies with involuntary manslaughter. “We all know what the truth is – that they unjustly killed a young Black man who was having a mental health crisis,” Crump said. “He had committed no crime. It wasn’t like he was a hardened criminal. This was a child who needed a helping hand.” Sutherland, 31, had been booked into the jail the day before his death on a misdemeanor charge. Officers arrested him while investigating a fight at the mental health and substance abuse center where he was receiving treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. His death drew national attention after county officials released video of the incident months later.
Sioux Falls: Lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults while repealing much of the state’s new medical marijuana law. The Adult-Use Marijuana Study Subcommittee, which has been studying the issue since June, voted to recommend a bill that would allow people over 21 to purchase up to 1 ounce of cannabis for recreational use. It would repeal most aspects of the medical marijuana law that voters passed last year but still contain provisions for people under 21 to use marijuana for medical purposes. The bill would still need to be cleared by a pair of legislative committees, the full Legislature next year and the governor to become law. But lawmakers’ willingness to advance the issue showed a growing acknowledgment in the Republican-controlled Statehouse that recreational marijuana legalization has popular support. “Do we want to step forward and regulate it and put forward a good plan?” Republican Rep. Tim Goodwin asked the committee. “Or do we want to go against the will of the people who voted in the last election?” The bill would ban public pot consumption and eliminate criminal charges for possessing any amount up to 4 ounces.
Nashville: Lawmakers on Wednesday committed to spending nearly $900 million on state incentives, infrastructure upgrades and more as part of a sweeping plan with Ford Motor Co. to build an electric vehicle and battery plant near Memphis. It took the Republican-led General Assembly just three days to sign off on the economic package after Gov. Bill Lee called them back to the Capitol for a special legislative session that was supposed to focus solely on the Ford deal. Despite the governor’s directive, some Republicans attempted to jam a number of measures that would undermine protective measures against the COVID-19 outbreak. Those attempts were ultimately unsuccessful after Senate leaders announced the bills would not receive a hearing. The push won’t be dead for long, though, because Republicans mustered enough support to bring the Legislature back in Nashville next week to consider a slew of changes in opposition to COVID-19 requirements. About 10 lawmakers voted against or abstained from voting on the Ford bills. The massive investment in the western Tennessee site sparked praise among Democratic lawmakers, who noted the area containing the state’s largest Black population had been long ignored by Tennessee’s leaders.
Austin: The state is poised to become the latest and most populous to tighten restrictions on transgender athletes in public high school sports. State lawmakers on Sunday approved a measure that requires transgender athletes to play on teams that align with the gender listed on their original birth certificate, not their current gender identity. The bill pushed by the Legislature’s Republican majority now goes to GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign it into law. Texas would join at least five other states that have passed similar measures in recent months, and the bill may yet face legal challenges. Activists for transgender athletes and LGBTQ issues have called the bill mean-spirited and discriminatory. “This cruel and grotesque ban puts a target on the backs of transgender children and adults, erases intersex people, and sends a clear message that transgender and intersex people aren’t welcome or safe in Texas,” said Ricardo Martinez, chief executive officer of Equality Texas. But supporters of the bill said it is needed to protect girls from athletes who might be bigger, faster and stronger. “We have the opportunity today to stand up for our daughters, our granddaughters and all our Texas girls,” Republican state Rep. Valoree Swanson said before the bill passed in the state House last week.
Salt Lake City: The opening of affordable apartments in a six-story building made out of recycled shipping containers will be delayed because of a shortage of materials. Eco Box Fabricators owner Rod Newman said a delay in getting roofing materials and an elevator have pushed back the opening to the end of the year. The project called Box 500 had been scheduled to open over the summer in Salt Lake City with affordable rents. The coronavirus pandemic has caused global supply change problems, and the shipping container apartments are not the only housing development facing delays in Salt Lake City. “In the (housing) market, we’re seeing shortages across the board,” Orion Goff, deputy director of the Department of Community and Neighborhoods, told The Salt Lake Tribune. The shipping container building, when completed, will have 48 studio apartments, 18 one-bedroom units and 17 two-bedroom apartments. Studios are 320 square feet, while one- and two-bedrooms are about 640 square feet. Amanda Best, a specialist with the city’s housing development program, said rents will range from $829 to $1,204 a month based on income.
Montpelier: Gov. Phil Scott on Monday extended emergency motel housing for some of the homeless population through the end of the year and urged the Legislature to fully fund his $249 million housing recovery plan that he said includes historic funding for permanent housing for the homeless. In July, the state extended the hotel voucher program for families with children, the disabled, pregnant women and other vulnerable people, and it gave $2,500 checks to those no longer eligible. Scott later moved to keep the program running for those people another 30 days, until Oct. 21. “Those in GA Emergency Housing currently are some of the most vulnerable, including Vermonters with disabilities, families with children, and households who have faced chronic housing instability,” Scott, a Republican, said in a statement. “Demand for emergency housing and shelter is a symptom of Vermont’s current housing crisis. Ultimately, permanent housing solutions, not simply emergency housing and shelters, are needed.” As of last week, the Department of Children and Families was serving 950 families, representing 1,100 adults and 402 children, the administration said. Before the pandemic, the program provided emergency housing to about 2,500 Vermonters a year, officials said.
Richmond: The leading candidates for governor have gone quiet on commitments both previously made to disclose at least some information from recent tax returns before the Nov. 2 election. Neither the campaign of Democrat Terry McAuliffe nor that of Republican Glenn Youngkin has responded to recent inquiries from the Associated Press about plans to share the information with voters. While it is not required for Virginia gubernatorial candidates to disclose their returns, there is some limited precedent for doing so. The complete documents could give a more nuanced look at a candidate’s income, deductions and philanthropy than the state’s mandatory disclosures do. In July, in response to questions from the AP, Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said the former private equity executive and first-time candidate would release information from recent years’ tax returns before November. Christina Freundlich, a spokeswoman for McAuliffe, said the former governor would share a summary of recent years’ returns before the election. Also on the ballot for governor next month is third-party candidate Princess Blanding, an activist and educator who did not respond to the AP’s initial inquiry about whether she intended to release any tax return information.
Olympia: Lawmakers and legislative employees in the state House must prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to access House facilities through early January, under a rule adopted by a House committee late last month. The policy took effect Monday, the same day a statewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline passed for many state workers and others to provide proof of vaccination – or an accommodated exemption – in order to keep their jobs. More than 1,800 state workers were fired, resigned or retired due to the mandate. Legislative staff and lawmakers are not covered by Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccination requirement, so policy for the House and Senate facilities is left up to leaders within each chamber. In the House, the Executive Rules Committee – which handles chamber policies – is composed of four Democrats and three Republicans. Bernard Dean, the chief clerk of the House, said that the change in facility access is only for the 2021 legislative interim and that no decisions have yet been made on whether to extend the policy to the legislative session that begins Jan. 10. Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson said the chamber has not adopted a similar interim policy, but decisions on building access and what format the session will take in January are expected soon.
Charleston: Officials are moving forward with initiatives in response to an ongoing HIV outbreak in Kanawha County. The new initiatives shared Tuesday at a meeting of the county’s HIV Task Force include training sessions for stakeholders and doctors and hiring more disease intervention specialists, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports. The initiatives are in response to an August report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Kanawha County’s HIV crisis. The findings recommended that people who inject drugs in West Virginia’s largest county should have expanded access to sterile syringes, testing and treatment. The recommendations came in response to one of the nation’s highest spikes of HIV cases. An increase in sterile syringe access for people who inject drugs wasn’t among items discussed Tuesday. “The state is currently trying to prioritize our efforts in response to the CDC recommendations and is fully supportive in working with community partners and local health departments to support current programs that would be in alignment with our current law,” state epidemiologist Shannon McBee said. State lawmakers added new requirements this spring for syringe service programs, leading many organizations to stop offering them.
Madison: Creating a state hunting season for sandhill cranes drew support at a legislative hearing, with backers of the Republican proposal saying it could be properly managed and help farmers who say the birds are overpopulated and hurting their crops. The bill is one of 13 hunting-related measures introduced by Republicans and supported by the pro-hunting group Hunter Nation that are working their way through the Legislature. Conservation groups complained at a Senate committee hearing Tuesday that they weren’t consulted on the package. Republicans say the goal of the bills, including the sandhill crane proposal, is to make hunting, fishing and trapping more accessible. The bills include stocking more pheasants and brook trout, simplifying turkey hunting seasons, and reducing Department of Natural Resources regulations for hunting, trapping and fishing. Another measure in the package would allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit, but that was not up for a public hearing Tuesday. Hunting sandhill cranes was last proposed in 2011, but the measure never made it out of committee. Rich Beilfuss, president and CEO of the International Crane Foundation, highlighted how the U.S. almost hunted the birds to extinction in the 1800s, requiring them to be protected since the early 1900s. “Hunting is not a solution for crop damage,” he said. “But there are solutions. ... we’re trying to find non-lethal solutions.”
Moose: Rangers in Grand Teton National Park have resumed using body-worn video cameras after a three-year hiatus. Grand Teton rangers stopped using the cameras in 2018 amid problems with aging equipment and being able to store data, park officials said in a statement. Only commissioned law enforcement rangers will use body-worn cameras and only while gathering information during enforcement of laws. Cameras won’t be turned on during other conversations with park visitors, such as when rangers are sharing information, park officials said. In nearby Yellowstone National Park, 90% of commissioned law enforcement rangers, including all field staff, already wear body cameras, according to Yellowstone officials. Yellowstone law enforcement ranger supervisors will be issued cameras in coming weeks.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Starving manatees, referee protections: News from around our 50 states