News from around our 50 states
Montgomery: The fees imposed by Alabama Power on the company’s customers who generate their own electricity with rooftop or on-site solar panels are now the subject of a federal lawsuit against the state’s regulators. Environmental groups argue that punishing fees are purposely discouraging the adoption of solar power in the sun-rich state. Alabama Power maintains that the fees are needed to maintain the infrastructure that provides backup power to customers when their solar panels don’t provide enough energy. The Southern Environmental Law Center and Ragsdale LLC filed the lawsuit Monday against the Alabama Public Service Commission on behalf four Alabama Power customers who installed solar panels on their properties and the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, or GASP. “We’re asking the court to require the Commission to follow the law so that Alabama Power will stop unfairly taxing private solar investments,” Keith Johnston, director of SELC’s Alabama office, said in a statement. “Alabama is being left behind by other Southern states when it comes to solar generation, and the jobs, bill savings and other benefits that come with it,” SELC’s statement said. “These charges are a significant roadblock to our state’s success.”
Juneau: A lawsuit challenging a voter-approved initiative that would end party primaries and institute ranked-choice voting for general elections in Alaska is alleging constitutional violations, but the accusations are actually policy objections, an attorney for the state argued Monday. Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton Walsh said the initiative setting out the new system does not violate constitutional rights. Political parties previously have used primaries to advance a nominee to the general election. Under the new system, the top four voter-getters in each race would advance to the general election, regardless of party. Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller did not immediately rule Monday after hearing arguments from Paton Walsh, attorneys for the plaintiffs and the group behind the initiative. Changes under the initiative that voters narrowly approved in November are set to take effect for next year’s elections, which will decide races for offices including U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor and lieutenant governor. The lawsuit was filed late last year by residents affiliated with the Libertarian Party and the Alaskan Independence Party. Anchorage attorney Kenneth P. Jacobus said Monday that he expected the case would go to the Alaska Supreme Court.
Phoenix: Members of the Legislature who live outside the metro Phoenix area will be getting a big increase in their daily expense pay under legislation Republican Gov. Doug Ducey allowed to become law Monday. It was the first time in seven years a bill became law without his signature. Ducey’s decision came two years after he vetoed similar legislation that would have boosted the expense pay of all 90 lawmakers. He said such an increase shouldn’t benefit Phoenix-area legislators who don’t have to maintain a second home, nor should it take effect without an election in between. The governor’s spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, said the new law isn’t perfect but is far more limited than the 2019 version. Lawmakers earn $24,000 a year. Those who live in Maricopa County get $35 a day in expense pay for the first 120 days of the session or while doing actual legislative work outside of session. Lawmakers from other parts of the state get $60 a day. The expense pay drops significantly after 120 days. Under the bill Ducey allowed to become law without his signature Monday, rural lawmakers will get the federal winter per diem rate for Phoenix during session, which is $207 a day – $151 a day for lodging and $56 for meals. Proponents of the legislation called it long overdue, noting that there had not been a change in the rate since 1984.
Little Rock: The state’s coronavirus hospitalizations increased by 68 over the weekend, the Department of Health said Monday as Arkansas remained tops in the country in new cases. The department said the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations now total 565. The state’s virus cases increased by 2,013 to 357,473 total since the pandemic began. The department recently stopped reporting daily COVID-19 numbers on weekends, releasing the figures on Mondays instead. Arkansas has seen a resurgence in the coronavirus in recent weeks, fueled by the delta variant of the virus and the state’s low vaccination rate. The state’s COVID-19 deaths increased by seven over the past three days. The state leads the country in new cases per capita over the past two weeks, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers. Only 35% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sacramento: Gov. Gavin Newsom can’t put his Democratic Party affiliation on the ballot voters see when they decide whether to remove him, a judge ruled Monday. Newsom’s campaign missed a deadline to submit his affiliation to California Secretary of State Shirley Weber for the Sept. 14 recall election. Newsom’s campaign said it was inadvertent and asked Weber, who was appointed by Newsom, to allow the affiliation to appear. She said the issue needed to go to a judge, so Newsom filed a lawsuit. His Republican opponents criticized the move as an attempt to change rules everyone else must follow. Newsom’s elections attorney, Thomas Willis, and an attorney for Weber both argued during an hourlong hearing Friday that Newsom merely missed an arbitrary, harmless filing deadline and that it is in the voters’ interest to know his party preference. Adding that information now wouldn’t cause a procedural problem because elections officials still have enough time to ensure Newsom’s party preference appears on the ballot along with those seeking to replace him, Weber said in a court filing. An attorney representing recall supporters noted that Newsom himself had signed the law that recently changed recall rules to speed up the election.
Loveland: The Northern Colorado Wildlife Center has seen double the number of turtles treated at the facility after being injured by vehicles, chewed on by dogs or picked up by people this year compared to years past – and there remains plenty of summer left. “We have had a lot more turtle patients this year,” said Kate Boyd, the center’s licensed wildlife rehabilitator. “All have been human-caused. The good news is a lot of folks are reaching out to us to get help for these animals. In the past, we have had a lot of folks see an animal that is or might get injured but think it’s not a big deal because it’s just a reptile, snake or turtle.” Boyd isn’t sure what is causing the rise in turtle injuries. The center has treated nine this year and expects to treat at least that many more before things quiet down. She said the end of May through August is when turtles are most mobile. During that period, they are moving to make nests and lay eggs, young are hatching, and some are looking for new homes. She said another reason turtles move is when being displaced by development. “All these movements happening simultaneously makes it a busy time of the season for people and turtles,” Boyd said.
Glastonbury: An 18-year-old has been charged with computer crimes after police say he hacked into a database and put a quote from Adolf Hitler into a high school yearbook. The teen was a student at Glastonbury High School, where the quote appeared in May beneath the photo of an unsuspecting classmate, police said. It read: “It is a quite special secret pleasure how the people around us fail to realize what is really happening to them.” The quote was attributed in the yearbook to George Floyd, the Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year. Police said the same student also was responsible for another unauthorized yearbook entry, which referenced one of the Boston Marathon bombers and drug use. The teen, who was previously barred from attending his graduation ceremony, faces two counts of third-degree computer crime and is due in court Aug. 6. The quotes were discovered in May after distribution of the yearbooks began. The school recalled the books to remove the offending quotes. “We deeply regret not having caught the act of bigotry and vandalism before the yearbook was printed,” school administrators said in a statement at the time of the recall. “We are examining and will revise our yearbook procedures for collecting and reviewing future student submissions.”
Wilmington: Delaware’s COVID-19 state of emergency, implemented in March 2020 when the coronavirus reached the First State, ended Tuesday. The effect of the official end of the emergency order is minimal, as the bulk of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, including its mask mandate for vaccinated individuals and social distancing requirements, have been lifted for almost two months. But it signifies the coronavirus is no longer a public health emergency, Gov. John Carney said last month when announcing the emergency order’s end, adding that it’s still important for unvaccinated people to protect themselves and their families. The state of emergency granted Carney the power to shut down businesses in the initial scramble to contain the virus and implement other public health measures such as testing and contact tracing. Carney issued more than two dozen modifications to the emergency order. They changed rules on mask-wearing and restrictions as case counts in Delaware waxed and waned and as scientists learned more about how the virus spreads. Carney on Monday signed a public health emergency order to allow the Division of Public Health and Delaware Emergency Management Agency to continue its vaccination and testing programs.
District of Columbia
Washington: The so-called Little Lady Liberty has finally made her way to the nation’s capital, just in time for Bastille Day on Wednesday, WUSA-TV reports. France initially shipped the 9-foot-tall replica to New York City and placed it near the original sculpture. The Statue of Liberty stands more than 150 feet tall on Liberty Island, where it was reassembled in 1886 after being constructed across the Atlantic and gifted to the United States by its longtime ally. As of Tuesday, the more diminutive Liberty is on display at the French ambassador’s residence in Northwest D.C. And there is plenty of time for residents and visitors to see it: The statue, which is on loan from France, will stay on display in Washington for the next 10 years.
Stuart: More manatees have died already this year than in any other year in Florida’s recorded history, primarily from starvation due to the loss of seagrass beds, state officials said. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission reported that 841 manatee deaths were recorded between Jan. 1 and July 2, breaking the previous record of 830 that died in 2013 because of an outbreak of toxic red tide. More than half the deaths have occurred in the Indian River Lagoon and its surrounding areas in Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties. The overwhelming majority of deaths have been in Brevard, where 312 manatees have perished. Some biologists believe water pollution is killing the seagrass beds in the area. “Unprecedented manatee mortality due to starvation was documented on the Atlantic coast this past winter and spring,” Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute wrote as it announced the record Friday. “Most deaths occurred during the colder months when manatees migrated to and through the Indian River Lagoon, where the majority of seagrass has died off.” Boat strikes are also a major cause of manatee deaths, killing at least 63 this year. The manatee was once classified as endangered by the federal government but was reclassified as threatened in 2017. Environmentalists are asking for reconsideration.
Savannah: The staff of Green Truck Neighborhood Pub got the surprise of a lifetime Thursday when first lady Jill Biden walked in to pick up a few pecan pies, according to co-owner Whitney Shephard-Yates. After her visit to Beach High School to urge residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Biden made an unscheduled stop at the restaurant on the recommendation of U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Savannah native. Shephard-Yates, who has previously met Warnock through her day job as a transportation engineer, jokingly said she planned to give the senator a hard time for not giving the staff a heads-up that Biden was going to stop by the restaurant. “The staff was thrilled to meet both Rev. Warnock and Dr. Biden,” Shephard-Yates said. “I think you could tell by the looks on their faces how exciting it was for everyone involved.” The surprise visit was significant timing, as the staff of Green Truck had recently celebrated being fully vaccinated. Fortunately, no one on staff got sick during the pandemic, which Yates credited to their cautiousness. Having everyone immunized has been an incredible relief and experience given the stress of the past year, she said. “Being a small-business owner during the pandemic was incredibly challenging, personally and financially,” Shephard-Yates said. “We’re really thankful for this opportunity to rebuild and the small amount of attention that the senator and first lady’s visit is bringing to the cause.”
Honolulu: The state said people haven’t been completing the paperwork they need to continue receiving food stamps, raising concerns that thousands may be unintentionally cut off from public assistance. The concerns come after the federal government, citing the coronavirus pandemic, dropped the normal requirement that people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program do an eligibility review and a six-month review, in an effort to ensure that people did not experience a lapse in benefits during the public health emergency. It lifted the waiver this month. The state Department of Human Services sent 2,200 letters for the six-month review last month, but only 700 were returned, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. It sent 15,000 eligibility review letters, but only 7,000 were returned. “Typically, we receive about 80% back in normal years,” said Brian Donohoe, the department’s benefit, employment and support services administrator. He called the response rates “frighteningly low.” Those who do not turn in their paperwork on time will be notified that their SNAP benefits have been terminated. While the person’s Electronic Benefit Transfer card will still work, no new funds will be added. The person would have to reapply and would likely see a gap in receiving the service.
Boise: Republican state senators plan to meet this week to discuss the possibility of a special session after three large health care providers announced policies requiring employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations, the top Senate Republican said Monday. Senate Pro Tempore Chuck Winder said GOP senators will meet online Friday morning amid growing calls for a special session on employers requiring the vaccines. Winder said he hopes to “find out where everyone is at and what their level of interest is in coming back” but said that “at this stage, I don’t really have a good feeling on it. I want to make sure we don’t take away from the contract rights of health care providers. There are always two sides to every story.” The House never fully adjourned earlier this year under a plan to allow Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke to simply call lawmakers back to the Statehouse without needing Republican Gov. Brad Little’s OK. Typically, only governors can call special sessions. Little’s spokeswoman, Marissa Morrison, said Little had received no formal requests for a special session. There is some disagreement among legal experts over whether the Legislature is still in session because the Senate officially adjourned, while the House only recessed. But lawmakers appear to be proceeding on the belief the Legislature is only recessed.
Springfield: New signs are popping up along highways across the state to let drivers of electric vehicles know where they can refuel. The signs are being posted on designated “alternative fuels corridors” and will direct drivers to stations that offer alternative fuels, with the first signs focused on electric charging stations. The Illinois Department of Transportation said future signs will direct drivers to sites for liquefied natural gas, compressed natural gas, hydrogen and propane fueling stations. The signage is part of a national effort to promote alternative fuels, as well as a push by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to increase the number of electric vehicles on Illinois roads. The Federal Highway Administration has designated 145,000 miles of interstate as alternative fuel corridors. In Illinois that includes stretches along Interstates 39, 55, 70, 74, 80, 90 and 94.
Indianapolis: The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday that the state must temporarily continue payment of federal unemployment benefits, affirming an earlier court order for Indiana to restart the extra $300 weekly payments to jobless-aid recipients. Chief Judge Cale Bradford denied a request from the state government to issue a stay on a Marion County judge’s order that Indiana resume participation in the federal government’s programs that supplement unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has pushed to drop the state from the federal programs before they’re scheduled to end Sept. 6, did not say Monday whether the state would next call on the Indiana Supreme Court to consider the preliminary injunction. “We acknowledge the court of appeals decision today,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “Notwithstanding, the Department of Workforce Development will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Labor on finalizing the pandemic unemployment insurance benefits to comply with the judge’s order.” Holcomb announced in May that Indiana would reinstate a requirement that those receiving jobless benefits would again have to show they are actively searching for work as of June 1 and that the state would leave the federal programs effective June 19.
Des Moines: State officials expect hundreds or possibly thousands more parents to teach their children to drive after a new law expanded the opportunity beyond home-schooling families. Advocates for more parental choice in education applauded the move as widening options for families and providing a potentially less expensive option for parents. But some critics of the new law are concerned that children will be less prepared as a result. “We have a lot of kids who come to us, and their parents do a great job. And there’s still a lot those kids don’t know,” said Ed Jennings, personnel manager for Street Smarts, a driver education company that trains thousands of Iowa students a year. “There’s a huge difference between driving a car and driving it safely.” The new Iowa law, which went into effect July 1, builds on the parent-taught option for home-schoolers that the Legislature established in 2013. That year, parents could serve as their home-schooled child’s driver education instructor rather than enrolling their child in a program at a school or a for-profit driver education company. Parents must still meet certain qualifications to teach their child, including holding a valid Iowa driver’s license and having a clear driving record for the previous two years.
Wichita: Wichita State University plans this fall to stop allowing Kansas residents 60 and older to audit its courses for free. The university sent a letter this month to people who’ve previously audited its classes to notify them of the fees, The Wichita Eagle reports. Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Shirley Lefever said the new fees will help cover instructional costs. The new fees range from $7.75 a credit hour for liberal arts courses to $68 a credit hour for business courses. Most courses are three credit hours. The move comes after the Kansas Board of Regents in June approved the university’s proposal to keep its tuition flat during the upcoming school year. Donna Perline is currently auditing a water fitness class and plans to audit another course on the Holocaust in film this August. She said she hopes the new charges don’t discourage seniors from auditing classes. The university still plans to offer free four-week classes specifically for people 60 and older if they enroll by Sept. 8.
Louisville: A pickup truck crashed into a building housing the city’s jail Tuesday, and the driver was detained, police said. The truck was painted with a popular rallying cry among demonstrators in Cuba, “Patria y vida,” which translates to “fatherland and life” in English. The truck rammed into the front of Louisville’s Metro Corrections building shortly after noon. The streets surrounding the jail were blocked off. The front side of the the jail, where administrative staff are located, was evacuated, said Steve Durham, assistant director of Louisville Metro Corrections. Inmates were informed of the crash. “Everybody is all right,” he said. “No one was hurt in this particular event. There is just some concern that inmates have, so we’re trying to answer those questions.” The bomb squad was deployed to the scene as a precaution, Louisville police spokesperson Elizabeth Ruoff said. In a tweet, Louisville Metro Police urged drivers to avoid the area around the building.
Arabi: A New Orleans-area film and TV studio plans to expand into a building that opened in 1923 as an assembly plant for Model T Fords. The Ranch Film Studios didn’t say what it paid for the 225,000-square-foot building in Arabi. But the company said it is looking for partners and plans to raise $35 million to complete the historic restoration and $35 million to create film stages and spaces for tech-, gaming- and film-related companies. Arabi is less than a 10-minute drive away from the studio in Chalmette, which CEO Jason Waggenspack and his partners created in 2014 from what was left of two big-box stores blighted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The 219,000-square-foot studio currently houses about 25% of all entertainment productions in Louisiana, according to the company. Productions filmed there have included “Terminator Genisys,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” the limited Showtime series “Your Honor,” the Disney+ series “Secrets of Sulphur Springs,” and the Netflix films “The Lovebirds” and “The Dirt,” a biopic about the band Motley Crue. The Ford building was designed by famed industrial architect Albert Kahn, who also designed Detroit’s Belle Isle Aquarium and Book Depository.
Bucksport: The Passamaquoddy Tribe held an educational session near a replica of a Christopher Columbus ship that was visiting for Maine’s bicentennial and had drawn condemnation from tribes. A language keeper for the tribe, Dwayne Tomah, spoke to a gathering of people Monday evening at the Bucksport waterfront near where the ship was anchored, the Portland Press Herald reports. The replica of the Nao Santa Maria was scheduled to tour multiple ports in the state to mark the bicentennial. Organizers canceled those events when tribal leaders said the touring ship was disrespectful to the tribes and ignored the history of atrocities Columbus committed against Native Americans. The town of Bucksport posted on Facebook that the purpose of the educational session was to “have a constructive dialog and provide historical information.” Maine’s bicentennial was last year, but events were moved to this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of people have taken tours of the ship since it anchored in Bucksport on Friday, the newspaper reports. The ship will leave Wednesday when its docking permit expires.
Baltimore: A judge has blocked Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to end pandemic-related federal enhanced unemployment benefits early. Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday morning ordering the Hogan administration to keep paying the expanded benefits at least until two lawsuits brought by out-of-work Marylanders are resolved. The governor’s office said the state doesn’t plan to appeal, according to news outlets. Fletcher-Hill found that plaintiffs showed they would suffer “irreparable harm” if the preliminary injunction weren’t issued and noted that the plaintiff’s stories are reminders that while the impact of the pandemic has been universal, it has also been “cruelly uneven.” “As one who has enjoyed the privilege of continuous, secure employment, the Court is particularly struck by the plight of those who have had to struggle with irregular or no employment,” he wrote. The judge also ruled that the legal challenges would likely win at trial since Maryland law, strengthened by General Assembly Democrats this year, appears to require the state to accept all federal unemployment aid. Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state would discontinue benefits July 3 ahead of their expiration in September.
Boston: Actor Sacha Baron Cohen has sued a cannabis dispensary he says used an image of his character Borat on a billboard without his permission, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Boston. The billboard for Somerset-based Solar Therapeutics Inc. showed Baron Cohen posing as Borat with two thumbs up and the words “It’s nice!” – one of Borat’s catchphrases. “By use of the billboard, the defendants falsely have conveyed to the public that Mr. Baron Cohen has endorsed their products and is affiliated with their business,” according to the complaint filed Monday. “To the contrary, Mr. Baron Cohen never has used cannabis in his life. He never would participate in an advertising campaign for cannabis, for any amount of money.” The billboard along a Massachusetts interstate highway was taken down in April, three days after Baron Cohen’s attorneys sent a cease-and-desist order to the dispensary, according to the suit. “Mr. Baron Cohen is highly protective of his image and persona, and those of his characters. Mr. Baron Cohen is very careful with the manner in which he uses his persona and his characters to interact with his fans and the general public,” the complaint says.
Traverse City: Wolf pups have been spotted again on Isle Royale, a hopeful sign in the effort to rebuild the predator species’ population at the U.S. national park, scientists said Monday. It’s unknown how many gray wolves roam the island chain in northwestern Lake Superior. The coronavirus pandemic forced cancellation of the census that Michigan Technological University experts had conducted each winter for 63 years. Remote cameras detected four pups on the park’s eastern end in January, the researchers said in a new report. The sightings, along with additional clues such as previously observed scats and tracks, suggest that two litters were born in the area last year and perhaps another on the western side. Park officials said last fall that at least two pups likely were born in 2019. The population was 12 to 14 during the last Michigan Tech survey in winter 2020. The latest births would indicate it is higher now, but some older wolves may have died. “It most likely will be winter of next year before we have firm information,” said Sarah Hoy, a research assistant professor and animal ecologist, adding that the presence of young wolves is reason for optimism. “Things are definitely looking up.”
Minneapolis: A St. Paul woman who says she was shot in the face with a projectile while protesting peacefully outside a Minneapolis police precinct after the killing of George Floyd has filed a federal lawsuit. Ana Marie Gelhaye says the shooting caused permanent injury to her eye. The suit alleges that police violated her constitutional rights, including First Amendment protections. “Making matters worse, no MPD officer rendered aid to Gelhaye after she was shot,” according to the suit. “Instead, several bystanders (who happened to be nurses/medical workers) provided immediate first aid on the street and then at Moon Palace Books, a store in the area, before rushing Gelhaye to Abbott Northwestern Emergency Department.” Medical professionals say in court documents that Gelhaye suffered iris and retinal trauma and other permanent damage, incurring expensive medical bills. Documents say she also experienced psychological damage, the Star Tribune reports. The Minneapolis city attorney declined to comment on the suit.
Jackson: The Mississippi State Department of Health is now blocking comments on its Facebook posts that relate to COVID-19 because of a “rise of misinformation” about the coronavirus and vaccinations, a health official said. “The comments section of our Facebook page has increasingly come to be dominated by misinformation about COVID-19,” state health department spokesperson Liz Sharlot said in a statement. She said allowing the comments that “mislead the public about the safety, importance and effectiveness of vaccination” is “directly contrary” to the state’s public health mission, which includes encouraging members of the public to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which has been recently making a resurgence in the state. Only about 31% of Mississippians have been fully inoculated, a statistic that has left it at or near the bottom of all U.S. states. The Department of Health posts multiple times each day on its Facebook page about COVID-19. Posts include information on numbers of new coronavirus cases, details on pop-up vaccination clinics and transportation services to vaccination clinics for homebound residents. Federal regulators have said the vaccines are safe and offer strong protection against contracting the potentially life-threatening disease.
Jefferson City: Gov. Mike Parson has signed into law the state’s first gasoline tax increase in decades. Longtime transportation funding advocate Parson signed the bill late Monday, spokesperson Kelli Jones said. He held ceremonial bill signings near Kansas City’s John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil Memorial Bridge and at other infrastructure projects in the state Tuesday. The law will gradually raise the state’s 17-cent-a-gallon gas tax to 29.5 cents over five years, with the option for buyers to get a refund if they keep track of their receipts. The first 2.5-cent increase is slated to take effect in October, which will bring the gas tax to 19.5 cents. The money will be used for Missouri’s roads and bridges. “Whether rural, suburban, or urban, all Missourians benefit from better roadways,” Parson said in a statement. Once fully implemented, the gas tax hike could generate more than $500 million annually for state, county and city roads. But it’s unclear how much of that money governments will get to keep after some people request refunds. Dan Mehan, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s president and CEO, said bolstering infrastructure with money from the gas tax will help the state capitalize on its location to become a “logistics hub for the Midwest and North America.”
Billings: Federal officials will give the public more time to comment on a contentious proposal to expand bison grazing on public lands in north-central Montana, officials said. The move comes after Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte criticized the Bureau of Land Management for holding just one virtual meeting on the proposal, which covers about 108 square miles south of Malta. Ranchers in the area have been resistant to plans by Bozeman-based conservation group American Prairie Reserve to assemble a 5,000-square-mile expanse of public and private lands that would hold at least 10,000 bison. John Mehlhoff, area director for the Bureau of Land Management, said the open comment period would be extended through Sept. 28 because of heightened interest in the proposal. The agency did not agree to Gianforte’s request for at least five in-person meetings in surrounding counties. It gave its preliminary approval of the proposal earlier this month and found the plan would not have a significant economic or environmental impact. Massive herds of bison once migrated through the area but were hunted to near-extinction in the 19th century. The American Prairie Reserve has been buying up ranchland in Montana since 2004. It owns 165 square miles and holds leases on about 500 square miles of state and federal land.
McCook: An 80-year-old woman was sentenced Monday to eight to 10 years in prison for the shooting death of her husband, who she said had abused her for years. Lavetta Langdon was sentenced after pleading no contest June 1 to manslaughter, KNOP reports. Police found the body of her 79-year-old husband, Larry Langdon, at their McCook home in August 2020. Court documents said Lavetta Langdon told investigators her husband had abused her for 30 years. An affidavit said she warned her husband she would kill him if he hit her again. She said on the day he died, her husband hit her in the face. She said considered killing him for 30 minutes, then shot him in the chest while he was sleeping, according to the affidavit. Langdon then called police.
Reno: Temperature records continue to tumble across all corners of the scorching state. Elko tied a record that stood for more than a century Monday when the 104 degrees Fahrenheit at Elko Airport equaled the old mark set in 1917. It was 104 in Tonopah, breaking the record of 102 set in 1990, and Reno tied the record of 104 set in 2005. Desert-Rock-Mercury north of Las Vegas set a new record Monday of 112, eclipsing the old mark of 111 set in 2003. The heat briefly gave way to thunderstorms late Monday and early Tuesday around Las Vegas, where the National Weather Service issued a flash-flood warning around Valley of Fire State Park and areas south toward Lake Mead. About 7,500 homes in North Las Vegas lost power due to damage from high winds.
Concord: Auditors concluded that miscounts in an election were primarily caused by the way ballots were folded, according to a report released Tuesday. The Legislature mandated the audit, backed by lawmakers from both parties, after a losing Democratic candidate in a legislative race in the town of Windham requested a recount. That effort showed Republican candidates getting hundreds more votes than were originally counted. The discrepancy drew the attention of former President Donald Trump and his supporters in their effort to find evidence of his wider claim of election fraud from 2020. Critics of the audit said before the report was finalized that they felt it had not gone far enough to find the source of the miscount. A team of auditors, however, “found no basis to believe that the miscounts found in Windham indicate a pattern of partisan bias or a failed election.” The town used a machine to fold the absentee ballots before sending them to voters. After they were returned, the ballots were fed into a counting machine. Because the folds on some ballots went through a Democrats name, either the ballot was not counted, or a vote was wrongly given to the Democrat. Auditors said the problem was most likely limited to Windham, a claim echoed by Secretary of State Bill Gardner.
Avalon: The mayor has ordered the closure of the boardwalk and beaches overnight due to large crowds and what he called “unsafe and disruptive behavior.” Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi’s executive order Friday continues the pandemic-related state of emergency restrictions blocking access to the beach from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. and closing the boardwalk between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., the Cape May County borough said. Pagliughi said the order, which will remain in effect until further notice, is aimed at enabling local police “to disperse large groups of individuals who are congregating in unmanageable numbers on public property, which often results in unsafe and disruptive behavior.” “Recently, the beach and boardwalk have experienced vandalism to public property and excessive litter and debris created by large groups of individuals who congregate at night,” the mayor said. The mayor blamed what he called an “unfortunate measure” on state initiatives calling on authorities to issue warnings to juveniles and avoid jailing them except for serious offenses. Avalon Police Chief Jeffrey Christopher said the state directives bar police from doing anything other than issuing warnings for ordinance and disorderly persons offenses “even when alcohol or cannabis use or possession is involved.”
Santa Fe: A regulatory agency hopes to avoid a possible shortage by raising the number of marijuana plants that licensed producers could maintain. The Cannabis Control Division of the state Regulation and Licensing Department last week raised the previously planned per-grower limit of 4,500 plants to 8,000, and producers also would be able to apply for incremental increases of 500 with a total cap of 10,000, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports. The change responds to concerns that the 4,500-plant limit would lead to a supply shortage, especially among patients in the state’s medical marijuana program. New Mexico’s legalization of possession and growth of small amounts of recreational marijuana took effect June 29, and the legal market for recreational marijuana is expected to launch in early 2022. The department has scheduled an Aug. 6 hearing on the program’s revised draft rules. The department has until Sept. 1 to finalize the rules for producers. Draft rules for manufacturing, testing and selling cannabis products have yet to be released.
Albany: The federal government’s count of the COVID-19 death toll in the state has 11,000 more victims than the tally publicized by the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which has stuck with a far more conservative approach to counting coronavirus deaths. The discrepancy in death counts continued to widen this year, according to an Associated Press review, even as the Democrat has come under fire over allegations that his office purposely obscured the number of deaths of nursing home residents to protect his reputation. New York state’s official death count, presented daily to the public, stood at roughly 43,000 this week. But the state has provided the federal government with data that shows roughly 54,000 people have died with COVID-19 as a cause or contributing factor listed on their death certificate. “It’s a little strange,” said Bob Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. “They’re providing us with the death certificate information, so they have it. I don’t know why they wouldn’t use those numbers.” The Cuomo administration’s count excludes people who likely died of the virus but never got a positive test to confirm the diagnosis. The gap has widened even as testing has become more widely available.
Durham: A bug zapper that had the wrong kind of light bulb caused vision problems for five people at a veterans medical facility, a spokesperson said. Yves-Marie Daley from the Durham VA Health Care System said the bulb emitted light that was too strong, affecting the vision of three employees, a resident and a contractor who had a meeting near the device, The News & Observer reports. The people affected are healing, and their vision is improving, according to Daley. She didn’t specify the date of the incident or the severity of the vision loss. Bug zappers attract insects with ultraviolet light and then electrocute them, but the light usually isn’t intense enough to harm people. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says more powerful UV lamps – like those used as disinfectants against the coronavirus – can cause eye injuries and skin reactions similar to burns. The center opened an internal investigation and is evaluating other bug zappers for similar problems.
Bismarck: The state’s trust fund for oil taxes is realizing hefty earnings due to a rebounding economy and better-than-expected stock investments, officials said Tuesday. Revenue from the Legacy Fund for the two-year budget cycle that ended last month was about $872 million, up from the $736 million that budget writers and the Legislature had forecast. “The stock market has rebounded from the initial COVID drop, and it has bounced back tremendously,” state Treasurer Thomas Beadle said. State Office of Management and Budget Director Joe Morrisette said nearly half of the extra revenue – $65 million – will be used to reimburse a constitutional fund that benefits schools but had been shortchanged in error for about a decade. Money from the Common Schools Trust Fund is distributed to North Dakota’s public schools. Voters in 2010 endorsed a constitutional amendment that requires setting aside 30% of state tax revenues on oil and natural gas production in the Legacy Fund, which is valued at about $8.8 billion. The most recent deposit into the fund was $45.5 million in June.
Columbus: The state’s elections chief on Monday referred for possible prosecution 117 apparent noncitizens who either registered to vote or cast a ballot last year – a tiny fraction of the state’s electorate and a significantly reduced number from two years ago despite record 2020 turnout. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose said that of those, 13 cast ballots, and 104 registered but did not vote. They were identified as part of a routine review and referred to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. “The bottom line is this: Citizenship matters. It’s an important status that we should all treasure,” LaRose said at a Statehouse news conference. “With that comes the ability to be a voter. We want all Ohioans who are eligible to be able to cast a ballot, but certainly that means only citizens are able to do so.” Ohio has more than 8 million registered voters and does not allow noncitizens to register or vote. LaRose made a similar referral of 277 individuals to Yost after the 2018 election, including 77 who cast a ballot. Only a handful were ever prosecuted, according to data from the Franklin County prosecutor’s office. Ohio produced an extraordinary level of access in last year’s presidential election, setting records with nearly 6 million votes cast and a 74% turnout that tops the average of the past 20 years.
Oklahoma City: Byron Berline, a renowned fiddler who played with superstars like Elton John and the Rolling Stones and owned a popular Oklahoma instrument shop, has died. He was 77. Bette Berline, Byron’s wife, said he was hospitalized after suffering a stroke, and on Saturday his “lungs gave up, and so did his heart.” Bette recalled her husband as a fun and loving father and husband, who until soon before his death looked and acted like a man 20 years younger. “He was more than a musician, an incredibly gifted musician,” she said. “He was a good, good man.” A three-time National Fiddle Champion, Berline grew up in Grant County along the Oklahoma-Kansas state line and worked with music greats like John, Vince Gill and Bob Dylan. The Stones recruited Berline for “Country Honk,” a country version of their “Honky Tonk Women,” based on Gram Parsons’ recommendation. Berline moved to Guthrie in 1995 and opened the Double Stop Fiddle Shop & Music Hall, which was destroyed by a fire in 2019. He later opened a new shop across the street.
Salem: After 16 months of being closed to the public as a COVID-19 safety measure, Oregon’s Capitol building reopened Monday. The building’s closure has been a point of tension between Democratic and Republican lawmakers, as Republicans argued throughout the pandemic that everyone should have access to the Capitol. “Last March, we consulted with infectious disease doctors and public health officials about what changes were needed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the Capitol,” House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney said in a joint statement Monday that announced the Capitol’s reopening now that more than 70% of the state’s adult residents have been partially or fully vaccinated. “In the end, we made the very difficult decision to limit Capitol entry to legislators, essential staff, and members of the press.” Republican legislators opposed closure of the Capitol, saying it is “the people’s building” and should be open to the public. In protest of the closure, some Senate Republicans routinely voted “no” on matters unrelated to COVID-19. In the House, Republicans refused to suspend rules that require bills be read in their entirety on final passage, slowing the pace of the session. Tensions boiled over in the community as well.
Harrisburg: The centerpiece of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to fight climate change took another step Tuesday toward the final regulatory threshold to impose a price on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants in the state. The Environmental Quality Board, composed primarily of Wolf appointees, approved the plan 15-4 to send it on to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which could take it up this fall. Wolf, a Democrat, wants to the plan to take effect next year as part of a multi-state consortium, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, that sets a price and declining limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. If Wolf is successful, Pennsylvania would become the first major fossil fuel state to adopt a carbon pricing policy. Heavily populated, fossil fuel-rich Pennsylvania has long been one of the nation’s biggest polluters and power producers. Opponents include coal- and natural gas-related interests, various business groups, and labor unions whose workers maintain power plants, build gas pipelines and mine coal. Wolf’s plan has drawn backing from environmental advocacy organizations and companies with solar, wind and nuclear power interests. Imposing a price on carbon emissions is projected to reduce air pollution and raise tens of millions of dollars annually for the state.
Providence: The city on Tuesday joined a small but growing number of counterparts across the U.S. pledging to provide a guaranteed monthly income to a certain number of low-income residents. Under the Providence Guaranteed Income pilot program announced by Mayor Jorge Elorza and others, 110 city families living at or under 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible to apply for the opportunity to receive $500 a month for 12 months. The unconditional cash payments are intended to supplement, rather than replace, existing social safety net programs and can be used as the recipient sees fit, such as for unpredictable expenses, officials said. The $1.1 million to fund the program is coming from private and philanthropic sources, and no tax dollars will be used, Elorza said. “The global pandemic has highlighted the inequities of our social safety net and exacerbated the disparities of health and wealth that exist for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color,” Elorza said in a statement. “The best way to protect the longterm health and wellbeing of our communities is by providing direct financial assistance to our residents.” Similar programs in other cities have proven successful in improving the quality of life, health and education, said state Sen. Tiara Mack, D-Providence.
Columbia: The state now has the lowest rate of released inmates returning to prison within three years in the country thanks to an in-depth and expanding program of job and life skills, the state prison director said. Less than 22% of South Carolina inmates released in 2017 found themselves back in prison within three years, South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said at a Tuesday ceremony at one of the state’s reentry programs. That rate was 33% just before Stirling took over the prison system in 2013. The director said he went to a nearby Greyhound bus stop right after he was hired and was discouraged by what he observed. “I saw people leaving in prison uniforms – all we did was take the stripe off. They were just given a bag, a little bit of money and said ‘good luck,’ ” Stirling said. During the next eight years, Stirling made one of his chief goals giving inmates as much support as his agency can to make sure they can make it their last term behind bars. Inmates can learn a wide range of job skills from plumbing to carpentry and cooking to running a backhoe.
Pierre: Family members of the man struck and killed by the state attorney general’s car are denying recent claims that Joseph Boever was suicidal. “I knew my cousin quite well, and he never mentioned suicide as any type of option to me,” said Victor Nemec, Boever’s cousin. On Friday, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s defense attorney filed a motion to require the health care providers of Boever to release his psychiatric and psychological records and “information concerning his suicidal ideation,” according to the filing made with the Sixth Circuit Magistrate Court. The six-page document alleges a pattern of alcoholism and prescription drug use by Boever, who Ravnsborg struck the night of Sept. 12, 2020, while walking along South Dakota Highway 14 on the west outskirts of Highmore. That factored into a “broadening depressive streak” that led at least one family member to believe Boever died by suicide, the court documents said. But the victim’s cousin dismissed the allegation Monday afternoon. “If Ravnsborg is trying to claim that (it was suicide), that’s him and his defense grasping at straws,” Nemec said. All the physical evidence from the crash site and the report issued “prove” Ravnsborg was driving on the shoulder of the road at the time, Nemec said.
Nashville: The Tennessee Department of Health will halt all adolescent vaccine outreach – not just for COVID-19 but for all diseases – amid pressure from Republican lawmakers, according to an internal report and agency emails. If the health department must issue any information about vaccines, staff are instructed to strip the agency logo off the documents. The agency will also stop all COVID-19 vaccine events on school property, despite holding at least one such event this month. The decisions to end vaccine outreach and school events come directly from Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, the internal report says. Additionally, the health department will take steps to ensure it no longer sends postcards or other notices reminding teenagers to get their second dose of COVID-19 vaccines. Postcards will still be sent to adults, but teens will be excluded from the mailing list so the postcards are not “potentially interpreted as solicitation to minors,” the report says. These changes to Tennessee’s vaccination strategy, detailed in a COVID-19 report distributed to health department staff Friday and reiterated in a mass email Monday, will take effect just as the coronavirus pandemic shows new signs of spread in Tennessee. The average number of new cases per day has more than doubled in the past two weeks.
Austin: Abortion providers filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to block a new state law that would ban most abortions in Texas. Senate Bill 8, set to take effect Sept. 1, would prohibit abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant. Between 85% and 90% of abortions take place after the sixth week, the lawsuit said. “If permitted to take effect, SB 8 will create absolute chaos in Texas and irreparably harm Texans in need of abortion services,” the lawsuit argued. The suit also took aim at the “unprecedented” method used to enforce the law – civil lawsuits filed by “any person” against somebody who provides an illegal abortion or “aids and abets” an abortion after the six-week limit. “SB 8 places a bounty on people who provide or aid abortions, inviting random strangers to sue them,” the lawsuit said, adding that the law would encourage “vigilante” enforcement, particularly by abortion opponents who could file a nearly endless stream of harassing lawsuits that could bankrupt providers. When Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 8 into law May 19, abortion opponents hailed the measure as the nation’s most restrictive, serving as an example for other Republican-run states interested in testing the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.
Salt Lake City: Health officials announced Monday that the governor’s previous assertion that the state had reached its goal of vaccinating 70% of adults by the Fourth of July was false because of a data error. Republican Gov. Spencer Cox issued an apology to residents for the mistake Monday, about a week after he publicly celebrated Utah surpassing its goal of 70% of all adults getting at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The governor said the mistake was a result of “simple human error.” “We screwed up. And I sincerely apologize,” Cox wrote in an open letter. State health department statistics showed that 65.2% of adults had received one dose of the vaccine after the holiday weekend, but Cox wrote on Twitter that that did not include nearly 115,000 doses that had been given out by federal agencies, incorrectly bumping the percentage to 70.2%. Health officials said Monday that the department miscounted how the federally administered doses were categorized, which led to some single doses being counted multiple times. As of Monday, 67% of Utah adults had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. “While federal data sharing has been extremely difficult, this one is on us,” Cox said. “Our data team is devastated and embarrassed. And so am I.”
Burlington: The city has launched a new workforce training program for future caregivers and nursing assistants to help fill a growing demand for those professions. Mayor Miro Weinberger said the pandemic showed the need for more caregivers and licensed nursing assistants, creating opportunities for many low-wage or unemployed workers looking for new skills. The “Moving On, Moving Up” workforce training initiative will offer 10 weeks of free, specialized training to 35 students. The program is a partnership among the city, the University of Vermont Medical Center, Cathedral Square and Ethan Allen Residence. “The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the essential nature of caregiving and health care services crystal clear,” Weinberger said last week when he announced the new program.
Richmond: Business news network CNBC named Virginia this year’s “Top State for Business” on Tuesday, welcome news for Democrats who control state government and are defending their record during a critical election year. With previous wins in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2019, Virginia surpassed Texas for most years at the top of the ranking since CNBC debuted it in 2007, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said in a news release. CNBC did not publish the rankings in 2020 because of the pandemic. “I could not be prouder of what this says about the inclusive, commonsense policies that we have put in place and how they encourage business investment,” Northam said, speaking at a news conference at the Port of Virginia with other Democratic elected officials. The network’s methodology scores the states in ten categories including infrastructure, workforce and education, “weighted based on how frequently the states cite them in their economic development marketing pitches.” In a new category called “Life, Health and Inclusion,” Virginia earned points for voting rights and anti-discrimination laws, areas that have seen sweeping change since Democrats took full control of state government in 2019.
Edmonds: New renovations will allow threatened salmon species to return to Lunds Gulch at Meadowdale Beach Park. After a decade of planning, construction has begun on renovations at the waterfront park to create a 1.3-acre pocket estuary that will bring back Chinook, chum and coho salmon, as well as cutthroat trout, the Everett Herald reports. The centerpiece of the renovations is a five-span railroad bridge that will create a 90-foot opening for the creek to flow through. It will replace a 6-foot culvert – a hobbit-sized tunnel to the beach for visitors who make the trek down the ravine trail. Though the acreage is small, the project was a complicated and expensive affair involving a collection of state and federal grants. It also required a unique partnership with BNSF Railway, representing new possibilities in how to approach important habitats that butt up against railroads. All told, the bill will likely exceed $15 million. Less than half of that is funded by grants, with the rest coming from Snohomish County. Strider Construction of Bellingham won the bid for the work. The county estimates construction will be done by next spring. In the meantime, the beach is closed to the public.
Charleston: The West Virginia Department of Education has a new program to encourage students, teachers and staff to get their COVID-19 vaccinations. The “I Got Vaxxed Competition” will award $5,000 each to a high school, a middle school and an elementary school for having the highest percentage of eligible people vaccinated, the department said in a news release Monday. The winners will be announced the week of Oct. 3. School participation is voluntary. “We know that students and staff lost so much more than instructional days during the pandemic, and this is just a way to try and restore some normalcy and recognize the importance of vaccinations,” state Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch said. “Children need the benefits of a consistent school year to regain some of those lost experiences, which, in turn, support their social-emotional needs.” Students ages 12 and older and all teachers and staff are eligible for the vaccines.
Madison: A survey conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison has found 92.5% of incoming dorm residents will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the start of classes this fall. Nearly 90% of UW-Madison’s dorm residents filled out the survey, providing a promising glimpse into how vaccination rates will look despite the University of Wisconsin System’s decision to strongly encourage, but not require, the shots. Another 3.2% of dorm residents said in the survey that they plan to get vaccinated once they arrive on campus. The university is still providing free, on-campus vaccination. “We’re pleased to see so many students choosing vaccination, which is the most effective way to prevent COVID-19,” said Jeff Novak, director of university housing. “Having a highly vaccinated community helps protect everyone, including those who cannot be vaccinated.” Dorm residents who chose not to get vaccinated will need to keep getting regularly tested for the coronavirus, first at move-in and then weekly for the rest of the semester. Testing is free for all UW-Madison students and employees. UW universities statewide have been leveraging the chance for students to get out of regular testing as one of several enticements to get as many students vaccinated as possible without a mandate.
Casper: A sheriff’s deputy helped rescue two women who were hanging onto tree branches after the inflatable raft they were in popped and sank in the North Platte River over the weekend. Five people were floating down the river Saturday when the raft was punctured, the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office said. None of them were wearing life vests. One person swam to shore, and two others made their way to an island. The other two grabbed tree branches near the island but could not pull themselves out of the water due to the swift current, steep bank and exhaustion, officials said. Deputy Dexter Bryant arrived first, followed by Sgt. Mark Bahr, who was downstream with a throw rope in case one of the women let go. One said she was running out of energy and would not be able to hold on much longer, the sheriff’s office said. Rather than waiting for a rescue boat, Bryant took off his vest, gun belt and boots and put on a life vest and swam out to the island, where he was able to pull the women out of the water. Fire personnel helped get everyone back on shore.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports