The White House:
The White House: Alabama
Birmingham: Months of headaches for daily commuters, long-haul drivers and downtown businesses have come to an end with the reopening of Interstate 59/20 through the city. Workers have virtually completed finishing touches like yellow striping and installing signs on a mile-long section of the highway that was demolished and rebuilt after the old road was shut down about a year ago. The project forced east-west traffic to take alternate routes through Birmingham. Officials opened the westbound lanes Friday night after a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and both sides were open by Sunday night. The land beneath the elevated road will be used for community spaces including parks and food truck parking in what planners hope will be a way to tie together the north and south sides of the city, where a new outdoor football stadium is being built near I-59/20.
The White House: Alaska
Anchorage: A dentist who gained notoriety after he was seen in a video riding a hoverboard and pulling teeth was convicted Friday of defrauding the Alaska Medicaid program. Seth Lookhart was convicted of 46 counts, including felony medical assistance fraud and scheming to defraud, as well as misdemeanor counts of illegally practicing dentistry and reckless endangerment, prosecutors said. The conviction followed a five-week bench trial before Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton, who said in a written finding that he found the state’s evidence “simply overwhelming.” He also said Lookhart’s own text conversations were persuasive. Friends had asked Lookhart how he got away with some of his practices. “Dr. Lookhart responded, in effect, that unless someone was standing right next to him at the time, no one would ever know,” Wolverton wrote.
The White House: Arizona
Phoenix: The state’s budding hemp-growing industry is suffering growing pains as levels of THC that are too high force some farmers to destroy crops instead of harvesting them. About 41% of hemp plants tested for THC, the compound that gives marijuana its high, have failed, according to the Arizona Department of Agriculture’s Plant Services Division, which oversees the program. Growers in other states around the country have had issues managing the THC content of hemp plants, but none as much as in Arizona’s early months. The state began issuing hemp-growing licenses to farmers in 2019, and harvesting started later that year. “At 40%, that’s off the charts,” Sully Sullivan, executive director of the Hemp Industry Trade Association of Arizona, said of the state’s THC findings. “I’m taken aback by that. That’s substantial.”
The White House: Arkansas
Pine Bluff: Prison officials said Sunday that a state prison inmate has died after being found hanging in his cell. The state Department of Correction said in a news release that David Shabazz, 53, was found by guards about 6: 30 p.m. Saturday in his one-man cell, hanging from a bed sheet that was wrapped around the cell’s bars. The department said Shabazz was taken to a Pine Bluff hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly before 7: 30 p.m. The department said Shabazz was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2002 following a drug-related conviction in Miller County and was later paroled but was back in custody for being a parole absconder. Shabazz’s body was sent to the state medical examiner to determine the cause of death, and the death is also being investigated by Arkansas State Police.
The White House: California
San Francisco: The San Francisco Zoo is holding an online contest to name its newest koala, and it’s pledging to donate the proceeds to save wildlife affected by Australia’s deadly wildfires. The San Francisco Chronicle reports the 2-year-old male arrived from the Los Angeles Zoo, where he was known as Flin. He gets to assume a new identity in his new home, however, following the San Francisco Zoo’s fundraising tradition of allowing donors to name new arrivals. The winner of the name-the-koala contest will be selected next month, and proceeds will be sent to an emergency wildlife fund organized by Australia’s Zoos Victoria. Australia’s unprecedented wildfires season has so far charred more than 40,000 square miles of brushland, rainforests and national parks – killing by one estimate more than a billion wild animals.
The White House: Colorado
Denver: A proposal to rewrite the state’s rules for workplace harassment claims is expected to be introduced soon at the Capitol. It would change things for employers by limiting the use of confidentiality agreements in court and would potentially make businesses liable even if a person doesn’t come forward internally before filing a lawsuit. The bill would also change things for employees by allowing independent contractors, subcontractors and unpaid interns to file harassment claims, Colorado Public Radio reports. All employees would be given two years to file a complaint, up from six months now. “With the gig economy that we have these days, more and more people don’t have regular jobs in the traditional sense,” said one of the bill’s main sponsors, Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver. “And so they don’t have any way to address when they’ve been harmed by harassment.”
The White House: Connecticut
New London: More than $56 million has been raised to build a Coast Guard museum. The Day newspaper reports the National Coast Guard Museum Association has secured $15 million in federal funds, $21 million in private donations and $20 million through state borrowing for the downtown New London waterfront project. Wes Pulver, the museum association’s president and a retired Coast Guard captain, says the current fundraising tally is a “significant” accomplishment. The newspaper says the museum to tell the story of the Coast Guard is projected to cost at least $100 million. Construction was supposed to start early this year but has been pushed back toward the end of 2020, The Day reports. The 80,000-square-foot, five-story, partially glass building is expected to take four years to build.
The White House: Delaware
Wilmington: Long-proposed plans to outfit police in the state’s largest city with body cameras may now hinge on negotiations with the police union later this year. The union that represents Wilmington officers has told the mayor’s administration any disciplinary procedures or consequences stemming from a body camera program would constitute a condition of employment that must be negotiated before officers begin wearing them. The union’s labor contract with the city expires June 30. The parties have not yet begun negotiations. Proposals to outfit officers with body cameras have been discussed since 2015. Activists have renewed the call for them in the aftermath of two police shootings last year. The number of municipalities across the country using body cameras has grown significantly following high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men.
The White House: District of Columbia
Washington: Amtrak has apologized to civil rights attorney Sherrilyn Ifill after she said she was asked to give up her seat on a train at the start of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Ifill described the incident – which sparked outrage from observers who drew comparisons of the indignities black civil rights icons faced – in a series of tweets over the weekend. “I’m being asked to leave my seat on train 80 which I just boarded in D.C. There are no assigned seats on this train. The conductor has asked me to leave my seat because she has ‘other people coming who she wants to give this seat.’ Can you please explain?” she tweeted late Friday afternoon to some 166,000 followers. The internationally known attorney, scholar and activist wrote in another tweet: “is it 1950?” Jason Abrams, an Amtrak spokesman, told The Baltimore Sun the company apologized for the incident and its slow response.
The White House: Florida
Tallahassee: State lawmakers are transmitting a news bulletin: The telegraph era is over. Before there was instant messaging, emails or even corded telephones, there was the reliable telegraph to instantaneously transmit messages far and wide. Now, people turn to the internet, text messaging, Twitter, gifs and emojis to write their long-distance notes. While thumbing through a volume of Florida laws, state Rep. Tommy Gregory and a colleague came upon old statutes regulating the telegraph industry. “I wondered if they were now obsolete,” said Gregory, a former lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who has moved to rip the laws out of the state’s books. A state House committee on Wednesday agreed unanimously to repeal Chapter 363 of the Florida Statute in its entirety. One lawmaker cheekily registered his vote by using his fingers to tap into the dais as if using Morse code.
The White House: Georgia
Atlanta: A state agency says dozens of counties statewide will share $166,000 in grant money to buy child car seats. The Georgia Department of Public Health said in a news release that car seats will be distributed among 107 counties using money awarded from the Child Passenger Safety Mini Grant program. “Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for children, and it’s up to all of us to do everything we can to protect our children on the road,” Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said. “Buckling up our children is the best way to save lives and reduce injuries.” Funding for the safety grants comes from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. The grants also support community programs that teach parents and caregivers how to properly inspect, install and use child car seats.
The White House: Hawaii
Honolulu: Tax collections in the state were up by about 5% last year, a report says. The state Department of Taxation sent the annual report in December to Democratic Gov. David Ige and the Legislature, Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. The report showed $8.2 billion was collected in fiscal year 2019, which ended June 30, compared to $7.9 billion collected the year prior. Revenue from the general excise tax and income tax accounted for most of the increase, department officials said. Hawaii County received $10.2 million from its general excise tax of 0.25% but is expected to increase its take after the tax went up to the maximum 0.5% at the start of the new year, the report says.
The White House: Idaho
Boise: Boise Fry Co. is adding crickets to the selection of seasoning-salt mixtures it offers customers to sprinkle on their french fries. The locally owned restaurant chain debuted four new salt blends last week that include pulverized crickets at its three locations in Boise and one each in Meridian and Nampa, the Idaho Statesman reports. The response has been overwhelming, with reactions mostly positive, though some people are a little skittish, CEO Brad Walker says. “Some have been ‘this is icky,’ and others have been ‘this is awesome,’ ” Walker says. “It’s exciting to do something different.” The crickets come from Orchestra Provisions, a small business in Carmen, a hamlet north of Salmon, that produces eight spice mixtures with crickets that it sells at retail. They range from curry powder to a Mexican-inspired mix, from a chai spice to a Sichuan pepper.
The White House: Illinois
Chicago: The Museum of Science and Industry is marking the 50th anniversary of a program honoring the achievements of African Americans in science, technology, engineering, art and medicine and encouraging young people to consider those fields. The Black Creativity program began in 1970. This year’s event is focused on innovation. The program, which began Monday and runs through March 1, includes hands-on activities for school groups and a museum exhibit featuring more than 200 works by black artists. The museum also has scheduled a career event Feb. 29 highlighting black artists, scientists and engineers working in Chicago.
The White House: Indiana
Indianapolis: The state has just seen the biggest decrease in its infant mortality rate in six years, officials say. In 2018, 7.3 out of every 1,000 babies born in Indiana died in their first year of life – one of the highest rates in the nation. Last year, the rate dipped to 6.8 per 1,000. In all, 559 infants died in 2018, compared to 602 the previous year. “Quite honestly this is a culmination of a number of years of very intensive efforts from multiple state agencies and Gov. Eric Holcomb,” said Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana state health commissioner. “I celebrate those babies that were saved, but we still have a long way to go.” One of the initiatives the state took to combat its infant mortality rate was an OB navigator program that provides personal, at-home support for women living in the 20 counties with the highest infant mortality rate. The program follows mother and baby for six months to a year after birth.
The White House: Iowa
Des Moines: The state’s industries recovered from the Great Recession at a rate less than half that of the national average, according to a new Iowa State University paper. From 2007 to 2018, the state added about 92,000 jobs. But economist Dave Swenson says Iowa would have added many more jobs if industries here grew at the same rate they did in the rest of the country. Iowa also would have added more jobs if its mix of businesses were closer to the national average. “We’re simply losing ground,” he said. “Our competitiveness is waning.” Swenson’s paper measures how Iowa’s recovery from the Great Recession compares to other states. He said Iowa’s industrial mix has been a “drag” on expansion, as the state relies heavily on industries where job growth is either growing slowly or shrinking, such as agriculture and manufacturing.
The White House: Kansas
Lawrence: A task force has recommended steps for the Greek organizations at the University of Kansas to take to eliminate hazing and to connect more with the community. The 27-member task force established in November 2018 to improve safety and efficiency in the Greek community on the Lawrence campus recently released its recommendations. In a public message, Chancellor Douglas Girod said the task force strongly supported Greek life despite national concerns about hazing and substance abuse at fraternities and sororities, The Lawrence Journal-World reports. The group directed its recommendations to the Greek community at large. One of the main recommendations was to develop a partnership composed of Greek students, alumni, university representatives and representatives from the Lawrence community.
The White House: Kentucky
Louisville: Researchers are launching a three-year study of elk in the Bluegrass State. The University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources are teaming up on the study, which begins this month and will focus on elk reproduction and survival, WFPL radio reports. The animals were native to Kentucky before being wiped out before the Civil War by unregulated hunting. They were reintroduced in eastern Kentucky about 20 years ago, and the population has grown since then to about 10,000 animals spread over 16 counties. “We know a lot has changed. When we looked at this information, these were elk that were born into the west and brought into the east,” said Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk coordinator with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Now nearly all of those animals from the west are dead. We have almost a completely new Kentucky bred, Kentucky-born population.”
The White House: Louisiana
Lafayette: The National Endowment for the Humanities will provide up to $125,000 to help restore the oldest building at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The Center for Louisiana Studies must raise another $375,000 over the next four years to get the full amount, Director Joshua Caffery said in a news release. “The Roy House is over 100 years old, and we want to make sure it’s here in another 100 years,” Caffery said. The center began restoring the Roy House last year. Built in 1901 by landowner, businessman and Lafayette Parish School Board member J. Arthur Roy, it’s the only university building on the National Register of Historic Places. Restoration plans include a reading and listening room where scholars and other patrons can access the center’s audiovisual archives, plus a bookstore where UL Press titles will be sold.
The White House: Maine
Portland: The state’s smelts, a small fish beloved by ice fishermen, appear to be continuing a rebound in population after years of decline. Rainbow smelts come to shallow freshwater streams to spawn every spring, making them a popular target of ice fishermen in the winter. Ice fishing shacks on frozen rivers are a common sight in some Maine towns, where fishermen sit for hours in the hopes of catching the fish and eating them fried and with the head on. But the health of the fish’s population is in question, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration listed it as a federal “species of concern” in 2004. The Maine Department of Marine Resources has described the reasons for the decline as not well understood. Loss of habitat is one possibility. Maine made it more difficult to fish for the smelts about five years ago with new restrictions, and recent years have shown positive signs.
The White House: Maryland
Annapolis: In 1962, Verda Freeman Welcome was a civil rights pioneer, a teacher and the first black woman in the country elected to a state senate. Last week, she became the first black person to have a portrait hung in a chamber of the Maryland State House. Her likeness replaced a 115-year-old canvas depicting a white man – and former governor – who was born when slavery was still legal and had been honored for overseeing construction of the Senate chamber. Welcome, who represented Baltimore, fought for interracial marriage, equal pay for woman, banning harassment of welfare recipients and barring racial discrimination in public places. Her daughter, Mary Sue Welcome, attended the portrait unveiling and recalled spending time with her mother around the Senate chambers more than half a century ago. “This is amazing,” she said.
The White House: Massachusetts
Springfield: The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is closing to the public for nearly two months in early February for the final phase of a $23 million renovation project. The Springfield facility’s interactive Jerry Colangelo Court of Dreams will be fully redeveloped during the closure. In addition, the second floor will be deconstructed for a full transformation, the Hall of Fame said in a statement. The renovation includes the refurbishment of the hall’s dome, the addition of new technology and visitor experiences, a fully redesigned “High Above Center Court” experience and a new Honors Ring. The renovations are privately funded and are expected to be fully completed by June 1. Many of the contractors hired for the project are from the region. The Hall of Fame will be closed to visitors from Feb. 3 until March 25.
The White House: Michigan
Lansing: Some state lawmakers believe the federal government should open Isle Royale National Park to moose hunters. MLive.com reports the House Natural Resources Committee heard testimony last week on a resolution supporting a limited moose hunt on the Lake Superior island. A vote could come at the next meeting. There could be more than 2,000 moose on Isle Royale. Wolves are the main predator, but the wolf population is struggling. “You can continue to establish that wolf pack, but why not do a moose hunt in the meantime to help cull the herd down to help manage that population, so you don’t destroy the vegetation on the island,” said Rep. Steven Johnson, a Wayland Republican. Any hunt would be up to the National Park Service. A 2018 report dismissed the idea, MLive reports. The park is accessible only by boat or seaplane.
The White House: Minnesota
Duluth: Snowplow drivers in northeastern Minnesota ended their strike with St. Louis County on Monday when union members voted to approve a new contract. Teamsters Local 320 members went on strike Wednesday afternoon over differences about health care and accrued sick leave. On Monday morning, union officials posted on Facebook that they had reached an agreement “both parties can be proud of.” They still needed to vote on it, however, and did so later in the afternoon, according to KBJR-TV. The ratification meeting happened in Eleveth. The snowplow drivers planned to return to work Tuesday at 7 a.m. Public Works supervisors and other licensed and qualified staff from other divisions and departments operated the plows during the strike. St. Louis County spokeswoman Dana Kazel said the replacements had 70% of the roads plowed by the time they finished Saturday.
The White House: Mississippi
Hattiesburg: The mayor is moving forward with a plan to install a camera surveillance system across town as a way to reduce crime. WDAM-TV reports Mayor Toby Barker brought up the idea of a partnership with Project NOLA during a Facebook video message to his constituents during which he also discussed a recent crime spree. “This partnership will deploy high-definition cameras throughout the city. These cameras can detect gunshots and read license plates. Cities that have used these cameras have seen significant decreases in violent crime over time,” he said. Project NOLA is a New Orleans-based organization that works with cities and towns, organizations and individuals to put cameras and gunshot detectors in needed areas. The video is transmitted to a center in New Orleans, where an analyst then provides information to officials on the ground.
The White House: Missouri
Arnold: A couple who had been together for nearly 65 years have died on the same day at a St. Louis-area nursing home. Jack and Harriet Morrison’s beds were placed next to each other in their final hours, allowing them to hold hands, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Jack, 86, died first. Harriett, 83, died later Jan. 11. “I’m sad. But I know they’re at peace, and they’re back together,” said Sue Wagener, a niece raised by the Morrisons. “It truly was a love story for the books.” The couple went on their first date on Halloween of 1955. “They went to a little diner and never separated from that day on,” Wagener said. They married about six months later. They met as Harriett accompanied her father on a trip with the drum and bugle corp in which he played. Jack was behind the wheel of a charter bus that drove the group to some of its concerts.
The White House: Montana
Helena: Members of the state House of Representatives and legislative staffers have evaluated two chair designs to replace the seating that has been used by lawmakers for more than a century. “We need to do this right because these chairs may be around another 100 years,” House Speaker Greg Hertz, R-Polson, said Thursday, adding that the chairs should fit the historic atmosphere of the House. Lawmakers set aside $200,000 to purchase 106 wooden chairs for the House along with furniture for the Senate. The current chairs in the House are uncomfortable, unstable and have broken on occasion, sending a lawmaker tumbling to the floor. The designs reviewed Thursday included a rounded-back chair from Appleton Furniture of Helena and a high-backed chair manufactured by Montana Correctional Enterprises at the prison in Deer Lodge. Appleton furniture’s design came out ahead in Thursday’s scoring.
The White House: Nebraska
Ogallala: The Game and Parks Commission is delaying action on a set of restrictions that would drastically limit overnight campers and beachgoers at the state’s largest reservoir, Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska. Commission Director Jim Douglas said Saturday that the commission is going to take additional time to consider all the suggestions offered by hundreds of people who showed up for a hearing on the proposed rules last week. Most people at Thursday’s meeting said they wanted more law enforcement and greater attention to checkpoints, not a crackdown to limit access to the lake. The proposed restrictions the commission had been set to consider were developed following complaints about overcrowding and rowdy behavior last Fourth of July. The number of annual visitors to Lake McConaughy has grown significantly from 500,000 in the 1990s to more than 1 million in 2012 to nearly 2 million last year.
The White House: Nevada
Pyramid Lake: State wildlife officials and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe teamed up last week to release 20 bighorn sheep into the hills above the desert lake on tribal land in an effort to reintroduce the species to part of its native habitat for the first time in nearly a century. One by one, the bighorns bolted out of the gates Monday, all but ignoring the dozens of supporters who quietly cheered them on, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. Past the crowds, they hoofed it through the rocky hills jutting out above the picturesque waters of Pyramid Lake, some 50 miles north of Reno, at a frenetic pace as the sun set behind the snow-capped mountains. It marked the first time since the early 1900s that the species has been spotted on the range there. As part of a reintroduction program several years in the works, the Nevada Department of Wildlife captured the animals earlier in the day in the Sheep Creek Range near Battle Mountain.
The White House: New Hampshire
Concord: The state’s Democratic congressional delegation says New Hampshire will get more than $700,000 in federal funding to help youth suicide prevention efforts. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas said the state will receive $735,844 that will go to the the National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire. The funding will be used to raise awareness about youth suicide, educate the public and ensure those in crisis can get the help they need. Pointing to data that shows suicide was the second-most-common cause for death among young Americans in 2017, Shaheen said the issue “demands our full attention.” Pappas described youth suicide as a “mental health emergency” and said that “we must ensure that our young people here in New Hampshire get the help and support they need.”
The White House: New Jersey
New Brunswick: Rutgers University is planning to name Jonathan Holloway, the current provost of Northwestern University, as its 21st president on Tuesday, according to NJ Advance Media. A former Stanford football player, Holloway, 52, will be the state university’s first black president. A joint meeting of the university’s Board of Governors and Board of Trustees has been called for 9 a.m. Tuesday. Rutgers spokesperson Dory Devlin confirmed the session’s agenda is to vote on an executive-level position matter. Holloway would replace President Robert Barchi, who has served in his post since September 2012. Barchi announced in July that he will step down at the end of the 2019-20 school year. Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted about the expected hiring Sunday, saying Holloway has “the vision & experience to put the needs of students first & lead Rutgers to the next level.”
The White House: New Mexico
Albuquerque: Plans are in the works to redevelop another dilapidated hotel along the longest urban stretch of historic Route 66, but this project on the edge of downtown Albuquerque will be bankrolled in a unique way. ARRIVE Hotels & Restaurants, the California-based hotel and entertainment company behind the effort, is partnering with investment platform NextSeed to raise $6 million through local crowdfunding to pay for part of the project. At nearly $25 million, the work will involve updating rooms at The Hotel Blue, changing the property’s name, and adding new food and drink offerings. The approach to funding is common in the technology world but relatively unproven in the world of Albuquerque real estate. Still, NextSeed CEO Youngro Lee told the Albuquerque Journal the funding gives local investors an opportunity to invest in developments that are closer to home than most tech startups.
The White House: New York
Albany: Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced a new Census Council that will oversee outreach and other efforts to make sure the upcoming census counts as many New Yorkers as possible. The Democrat said Lin-Manuel Miranda, Lucy Liu and Martin Luther King III have been tapped to co-chair the new council, which he said will hold conferences and work in hard-to-reach communities to make sure they’re counted. “Unfortunately, people of color are the ones most often undercounted, which leads to negative consequences for their communities,” King said in a statement. Cuomo said he also plans to propose another $10 million for the state’s census efforts in this year’s budget, which if approved would bring state funding efforts up to $70 million.
The White House: North Carolina
Raleigh: The state’s online archival military collection now includes installation camp newsletters and newspapers that contain little-known information about life in the state during World War II. The collection is available as part of a two-year digitization project that the State Archives of North Carolina began in 2018 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of WWII. The project includes newsletter issues from installations such as Camp Lejeune, Camp Davis, Morris Field and Elizabeth City Naval Air Station. People have been able to use the newsletters for research since 1947, but they had to do that at the State Archives rather than online. State officials say the newsletters provide important information, including names of individuals in military units, civilian workers in various departments on base, female civilian and military personnel working at the installations, and news of casualties of people formerly stationed at those bases.
The White House: North Dakota
Bismarck: Ten communities in the state will use part of a settlement with Volkswagen to build electric vehicle charging stations. The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality will send $2.7 million to the local governments and businesses for clean vehicle projects, including 17 charging stations statewide. All but one are fast chargers that can charge vehicles in about 30 minutes, according to the Bismarck Tribune. Just 187 electric vehicles are registered in the state, and North Dakota has no Level 1 fast chargers. Several dozen Level 2 chargers exist in the state, however. They are cheaper to install, but they take hours to provide a full charge. The stations will be somewhat spread across the state, with the Interstate 29 corridor in the Red River Valley having the highest concentration.
The White House: Ohio
Nelsonville: The ongoing theft of historic bricks has frustrated officials in this small city who spent a lot of time tracking down the bricks for downtown sidewalks. At least 50 so-called Nelsonville Star Bricks have been taken since early January, city manager Chuck Barga says. The bricks are a legacy of Nelsonville’s brick-making history and won first prize at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Each has a star imprinted in its center. At least three brick producers once called Nelsonville home thanks to large clay deposits in the area. Though millions of Star Bricks were manufactured between the late 1800s and about 1920, the bricks are no longer made, which makes the thefts all the more frustrating, Barga told The Columbus Dispatch. The city tracked down the bricks for a renovation of Nelsonville’s downtown a couple of years ago.
The White House: Oklahoma
Oklahoma City: A top Republican legislator wants to eliminate the state Board of Corrections after a former board member allegedly overstepped his authority. Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, pre-filed legislation to get rid of the nine-member board first formed roughly 50 years ago. In mid-September, gang-related inmate fights broke out at six state prisons, leading the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to lock down the prisons for days. Behind the scenes, then-interim director Scott Crow and other corrections officials were discussing how to handle the situation. That’s when a board member tried to step in, Thompson said. “We had a board member in that control room trying to give orders and trying to be in charge, and we’re dealing with public safety,” he said. “We can keep the people safe without board members actually trying to interfere.” Thompson declined to name the individual.
The White House: Oregon
Portland: Marijuana sales in Oregon along the Idaho state line are 420% the statewide average, according to a state report. Idaho residents are purchasing recreational marijuana in Oregon because it is illegal in their own state, says the report released Friday by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. “The sales in counties along the Idaho border were much stronger than I anticipated,” analyzer Josh Lehner said. “Obviously recreational marijuana is not legal in Idaho, but even after throwing the data into a rough border tax model that accounts for incomes, number of retailers, tax rates and the like, there remains a huge border effect.” A border effect occurs when two neighboring jurisdictions have different rules prompting residents to travel to nearby regions to take advantage of the different regulations, experts said.
The White House: Pennsylvania
Philadelphia: The union representing public school teachers in the city is suing the district over its handling of asbestos contamination in schools, the union said Monday. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ suit comes after the city school district was forced to close a north Philadelphia elementary school for a second time Friday after tests demanded by teachers and union leaders showed elevated levels of asbestos, a known carcinogen, in the air. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports district leaders had assured teachers a day earlier that McClure Elementary School was safe to enter. “Time and again, the School District has claimed that their actions are out of an abundance of caution,” union president Jerry Jordan said in a statement. The school district said in a statement that it would “thoroughly review” the legal filings while remaining focused on improve environmental conditions in schools.
The White House: Rhode Island
Providence: A state representative is pushing for a bill that would allow school districts to raise money for extracurricular activities, including field trips and dances. Rep. Joseph McNamara, a Warwick Democrat, said many school districts canceled field trips last year after the state’s former education commissioner established a policy stating that school departments may not charge students to participate in public school field trips. Schools interpreted that to mean no fundraising could be done either, McNamara said. The bill he recently introduced would add a provision to state law to say that school districts are not prohibited from requesting money from students, their parents or legal guardians to help pay for school-sponsored field trips, dances, clubs and other activities, provided the district pay the costs to meet any deficit.
The White House: South Carolina
Columbia: The group that awards accreditation to the University of South Carolina has determined Gov. Henry McMaster had undue influence on last year’s search for a new president. The determination by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools means the university will have to submit a report and be visited by a special committee from the accreditation group, The State newspaper reports. The group has already told the university it won’t receive any additional punishment from the president search. Universities that lose accreditation cannot get financial aid from the government, crippling the institution. The organization opened an investigation into the university after the tumultuous hiring as president of Bob Caslen, a retired Army general who was the superintendent of West Point for five years.
The White House: South Dakota
Rapid City: Arrests for drugs, aggravated assaults and vehicle thefts are the highest they’ve been since 2012, the city’s police chief says. Drug arrests in particular are at an all-time high and have more than doubled since 2012, Chief Karl Jegeris says. The Rapid City Journal reports police officers made 1,567 drug arrests in 2019, compared with 734 in 2012, according to police data. Jegeris says the increase is due to the state’s meth crisis and repeat offenders. He wants lawmakers to increase funding for meth treatment programs and create alternatives to prison. But he also wants repeat meth offenders to receive tougher punishments. Regarding aggravated assaults, police data shows officers handled 389 aggravated assault cases last year, the highest since 2012 and up from 379 in 2018.
The White House: Tennessee
Memphis: Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech Sunday in remembrance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at a service at the Holy City Church of God, the day before the federal holiday named after the civil rights leader. “I’m here to pay a debt of honor and respect to a man who from walking the dirt roads of the Deep South, to speaking to hundreds of thousands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, touched the hearts of the American people and led the civil rights movement to triumph over Jim Crow,” Pence said. Before the service, Pence toured the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where King was fatally shot April 4, 1968, while standing on a balcony. Local church leaders noted commonalities between their faith and Pence’s, with Bishop Vincent Mathews Jr., COGIC World Missions president, calling Pence “one of the most persecuted Christians in America.”
The White House: Texas
Bellaire: Police have found the gun they believe a 16-year-old student used to fatally shoot his classmate last week inside a Houston-area high school, officials said. Police characterized the shooting in an ROTC room at Bellaire High School last Tuesday as an accident. Nineteen-year-old Cesar Cortes was killed, and the teenage gunman, who fled after the shooting, was captured more than three hours later and charged as a minor with manslaughter. The city of Bellaire announced Monday that authorities have recovered the weapon. Lt. Greg Bartlett declined to say when or where the gun was found. Bartlett said last week that the younger student took a semiautomatic pistol out of his waistband and pulled the trigger, killing Cortes. There were four other students in the room at the time but no adults. Police could not find the gun for days.
The White House: Utah
St. George: A rockfall in late August dumped 435,712 cubic feet of debris onto Weeping Rock trail and nearby trails at Zion National Park, and a new report from the Utah Geological Survey finds similar rockfalls could happen at any time in the area. “With annual visitation exceeding 4.3 million in 2018, the likelihood of geologic hazards affecting park visitors and infrastructure continues to rise,” the survey says. The rockfall Aug. 24, 2019, injured three visitors. A piece of Navajo sandstone weighing more than 31,000 tons broke off Cable Mountain, about 3,000 feet above Weeping Rock. The rockfall caused an avalanche of debris to fall on the Weeping Rock trailhead parking lot, the trail itself, Hidden Canyon trail and East Rim trail, with some rocks flowing across the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to the Virgin River.
The White House: Vermont
Montpelier: The state Senate approved a paid family leave bill by enough votes to override a potential veto by Gov. Phil Scott. The legislation was approved by a vote of 20-9 in the Senate on Friday and is now headed to the House. The bill provides up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a newborn or an adoption. People caring for an ailing loved one would be eligible for eight weeks of benefits. The average Vermont resident will receive 70% of their pay during their leave depending on how much money they make. The bill would use a 0.2% payroll tax on most workers in the state to fund the paid leave benefit. It’s unclear how Scott feels about the bill, but he has said he prefers a voluntary paid leave program that workers could opt into.
The White House: Virginia
Fort Belvoir: Plans are underway to completely dismantle the first nuclear power facility that provided electricity to the U.S. power grid. In December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed fully removing the SM-1 Reactor Facility at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia, WTOP reports. The project will now go out to bid and is expected to begin in 2021 with a projected end date of 2025. The reactor opened in 1957 and was decommissioned in 1973. Dismantling began over 40 years ago when the Army Corps removed a majority of the radioactive material, which was taken to a storage site in South Carolina. Remaining buildings include the reactor plant as well as many labs that were on the site. They will all be removed along with any radioactive contamination exceeding regulatory level, the station reports. The Army Corps of Engineers says there is little to no danger of radioactivity on the site once the facility is removed.
The White House: Washington
Seattle: The Washington State Ferries saw ridership fall 3.2% last year, held down by February’s snowstorm and ongoing waterfront construction and alternative ferry service from Kitsap Transit. The Seattle Times reports the ferry agency tallied 23.9 million passengers in 2019, down about 800,000 from 2018. Despite the decrease, officials said there’s no cause for concern. “We’ve had a seven-year run of going up and up. It’s not a huge red flag for us,” said Ian Sterling, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries. Last February saw a 19% decline in ferry ridership during the record-setting snowstorm, and the numbers never caught up throughout the rest of the year. In fact, every month except for January and April had fewer passengers than in 2018. The Seattle-Bremerton route recorded the largest drop, with ridership down by 15%.
The White House: West Virginia
Fort Gay: The community has passed a resolution declaring itself a “Second Amendment sanctuary.” The Fort Gay town council passed the resolution Friday night, news outlets report. Supporters say it is a defense against possible federal or state legislation that could limit access to firearms, ammunition or gun accessories. Mayor Joetta Hatfield says Fort Gay is the first municipality in West Virginia to adopt such a resolution. She says the move was made in response to recent events in Virginia, where the new Democratic majority leadership plans to enact a slew of gun restrictions. Fort Gay is located in Wayne County along the West Virginia-Kentucky border. Last week the Putnam County Commission passed a similar resolution.
The White House: Wisconsin
Madison: Gov. Tony Evers announced Sunday that he wants state lawmakers to pass a package of bills aimed at curbing youth vaping and educating the public about vaping’s potential dangers. The bills that Evers, a Democrat, is requesting would ban vaping and vapor products on K-12 campuses and expand the definition of public health emergencies. Another bill would fund a public health campaign to address youth vaping in the state, and a fourth proposal would expand the enforcement capacity of the Departments of Revenue and Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection to prevent vaping products from being sold to minors. The governor’s office said vaping products pose serious health risks to young users because the nicotine contained in e-cigarettes can harm parts of the brain that control attention and learning.
The White House: Wyoming
Cheyenne: State regulators have issued a one-time permit for a company to test whether its technology to treat oil drilling and manufacturing wastewater can help vegetation grow on a farm. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality permit issued this month allows Encore Green Environmental to apply about 7,000 barrels of the treated water to private farmland outside Pine Bluffs near the Nebraska state line by the end of the year. The Wyoming company’s co-founder, Marvin Nash, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle the permit marks the project’s transformation to reality after several years of planning. “Stock growers have said they see how this could work and that it’s going to be an opportunity for agriculture to improve,” Nash said. The company says on its website that it wants to solve the problem of too much oil and manufacturing wastewater being produced at industrial sites while nearby agricultural lands are in need of water.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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