Tuscaloosa: Litter crews gathered more than 113 tons of roadside litter in the Tuscaloosa area alone in 2019, officials say. If the litter were measured in plastic bottles, it would stretch from Tuscaloosa to Dallas “with a few miles to spare,” says John McWilliams, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation’s West Central Region. The state’s costs to clean up roadside litter have reached $200,000 in Tuscaloosa County and $6.8 million statewide. State officials have highlighted problems with roadside litter in the past and launched a statewide litter awareness campaign in 2018, naming it “Trash Costs Cash.” It included public service messages on social media sites, television and radio.
Anchorage: A rural state senator has called on Gov. Mike Dunleavy to seek a delay in the implementation of Real ID driver’s licenses. Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, on Thursday said Dunleavy should use his influence with President Donald Trump to delay the Real ID requirement, scheduled to take effect Oct. 1. Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 to increase driver’s license security standards. Starting Oct. 1, Alaskans must have a Real ID or another form of federal identification, such as a passport, to pass through security at airports and other federally secured areas. Alaskans without the REAL ID driver’s license could be barred from travel. Olson noted in a press release that the state Department of Administration is seeking $60,000 in donations from Alaskans for an outreach program that could help those without Division of Motor Vehicle offices in their communities obtain REAL ID driver’s licenses.
Phoenix: The state is facing a critical shortage of blood after donations fell during the holidays, the state’s primary blood supplier said Friday as it issued an urgent call for donors. Arizona has less than a day’s supply of the universal blood type, O-negative, and less than a two-day supply of O-positive, which can be used on anyone with a positive blood type, according to Vitalant, the organization formerly known as United Blood Services. The group provides blood for 62 Arizona hospitals. There are shortages of other blood types as well. Blood supplies always fall during the holidays, the slowest period for donations, but this year’s shortage is more severe than typical, says Sue Thew, a spokeswoman for Vitalant. “It’s bad enough to think about people being in the hospital this time of year,” Thew says. “They shouldn’t have to worry about having an ample blood supply.”
Little Rock: The state’s finance office says higher-than-expected sales and corporate income tax collections in December helped keep the state’s revenue above forecast for the current fiscal year. The Department of Finance and Administration reports the state’s net available general revenue in December totaled $547.6 million, which was $6 million above December 2018 and $5.6 million above forecast. The state’s net available revenue so far for the fiscal year that began July 1 totals $2.9 billion, $93.1 million above forecast. Arkansas’ sales tax collections in December totaled $225 million, which was $9.4 million above the same month the previous year and $1.3 million above forecast. The state’s corporate income tax collections totaled $74.1 million, $13.5 million lower than the same month the previous year but $7 million above forecast.
Los Angeles: A skeleton found by hikers this fall near the state’s second-highest peak, Mount Williamson, was identified Friday as a Japanese American artist who had left the Manzanar internment camp to paint in the mountains in the waning days of World War II. The Inyo County sheriff used DNA to identify the remains of Giichi Matsumura, who succumbed to the elements during a freak summer snowstorm while on a hiking trip with other members of the camp. Matsumura had apparently stopped to paint a watercolor while the other men continued toward a lake to fish. His body wasn’t found for another month, and the tragedy was overshadowed in the immediate days after his Aug. 2, 1945, disappearance when the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb, hastening Japan’s surrender in the war. Matsumura was one of more than 1,800 detainees who died in the 10 prison camps in the West, though it’s one of the more unusual deaths.
Grand Junction: Demonstrators have welcomed the new Bureau of Land Management headquarters in opposition of the acting department director as his appointment was extended. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order Thursday extending the appointment of acting department director William Perry Pendley until April despite criticism, the Daily Sentinel reports. Pendley has drawn criticism for positions he held prior to joining the department including his support of selling public lands, officials said. Dozens of people showed up to the headquarters location in Grand Junction to wave signs and voice their concerns, officials said. The department is responsible for managing public lands, but Pendley is an “anti-public-lands advocate at the helm of an agency that belongs to us,” rally organizer Cody Perry said.
North Haven: A university laboratory began tests Friday on skeletal remains found beneath an 18th-century home in the hopes of identifying the three people believed to be soldiers killed during the Revolutionary War. In December, while homeowners were renovating their house in Ridgefield, the remains were discovered in a grave under the foundation. “These bones are so robust, they’re dense, they’re thick with muscle attachments, (and) they’re long,” says Nick Bellantoni, emeritus state archaeologist of the Connecticut Museum of Natural History. While much remains unknown, researchers believe the remains belonged to men and possibly date to the Battle of Ridgefield in April 1777. The way the men were buried in a haphazard grave also lends credibility to the idea that they were victims of the Battle of Ridgefield. If confirmed, Bellantoni says they would be the first remains from a Revolutionary War soldier recovered in Connecticut.
Wilmington: At her investiture to the state Supreme Court on Friday, Tamika Montgomery-Reeves’ remarks were full of gratitude. She thanked her family, mentors and colleagues for supporting her. She thanked the governor and lawmaking body for nominating and confirming her to the bench. And she thanked the crowd in the Howard High School auditorium for coming to watch the historic moment. “I do not feel the least bit entitled to be sitting in front of you,” she said. At 38, the former vice chancellor is not only the youngest person to sit on Delaware’s Supreme Court bench but also the first African American Supreme Court justice in the state’s history. Montgomery-Reeves’ choice to hold the event at Howard High was an intentional nod to Delaware’s civil rights history: At the end of the 19th century, the school was one of only two options for black students to receive a secondary education in Delaware.
District of Columbia
Washington: Anti-war protesters gathered outside the White House on Saturday to oppose any war against Iran or Iraq, WUSA-TV reports. Brian Becker, national director of the ANSWER Coalition, said the message from demonstrators was that they want peace, not war. “There’s no reason the United States needs to act as the policeman of the world,” Becker said, joined by what appeared to be several hundred other protesters who blocked streets as they made their way from the White House to the Trump International Hotel. Protesters held signs calling for the removal of troops from Iran and Iraq. Climate activist Jane Fonda was also at the demonstration. She said people should fight climate change and peace simultaneously. “The younger people here should know all the wars that have been fought since you were born were fought over oil,” Fonda said.
Lake Worth Beach: When someone heard chilling cries and the words “Let me out!” they dialed 911. Little did the good neighbor know the cries were that of a 40-year-old parrot named Rambo. After the call, four Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies pulled up and questioned a man who appeared to be repairing a car in his driveway. The Palm Beach Post reports that when the deputies explained their concerns, the man smiled, then told deputies he’d introduce them to the perpetrator. When he returned with the parrot, the deputies burst out laughing. The man told officers that he taught Rambo to scream “Let me out!” when he was a kid and Rambo lived in a cage. PBSO officials could not be reached for more details. The agency did tweet a link to a video Saturday, saying, “Our deputies in Lake Worth Beach came to the help of someone screaming for help. Hilarity ensued.”
Atlanta: City leaders are preparing for another attempt by lawmakers to put the world’s busiest airport under the state’s control. Some prominent politicians say establishing a strong and independent inspector general position could be key to staving off a state takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The inspector general position is seen by some as key to combating City Hall corruption – and helpful in keeping airport operations under local control. The City Council in November solidified its opposition to a state takeover of the airport. They say that’s a top goal when the Georgia General Assembly begins its session later this month. The council has also sponsored legislation to establish the inspector general position.
Wailuku: Authorities will start towing vehicles operated by people on Maui arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Maui County Council passed the DUI tow regulation and Mayor Michael Victorino signed it into law in December, The Maui News reports. Maui Police Department officials expect to implement the new law by the end of the month, authorities said. “We’re trying to change behavior to prevent drunk driving,” said Lt. William Hankins, commander of the police Traffic Section. The law allows police to tow vehicles operated by drivers who are arrested for driving under the influence, driving without a license, or driving after their license is suspended or revoked for impaired driving, authorities said. The registered owner of the vehicle would be responsible for paying the towing and storage fees.
Bonners Ferry: The tracks have reopened after a train derailment Wednesday stranded locomotives and caused fuel spills in a river in northern Idaho. BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas said the tracks reopened Saturday afternoon after three locomotives and six rail cars derailed in the remote area 10 miles east of Bonners Ferry on the main line. No one was injured. Melonas said crews were still trying to determine how to remove two locomotives still at the scene, including one on the banks and another in the water of the Kootenai River. Melonas said the derailment was caused by a rock slide. The only access to the area is by train or boat, he said. Forty trains use the track daily, including company freights and Amtrak passenger trains traveling between Seattle and Chicago, Melonas said.
Chicago: Efforts to remove invasive plant species at eight area forest preserves appear to be paying off, according to a volunteer restoration project. A project by the Centennial Volunteers has been targeting river-edge sites in Cook County. Group officials say native plants appear to be returning to the locations, which include Clayton Smith Woods near Niles and Miami Woods near Morton Grove, which saw its native plant coverage jump from 56% in 2016 to 68% in 2019. Invasive plants can affect native growth and block sunlight from reaching the ground, which can hurt soil conditions and habitat for wildlife, according to the group. The removed invasive species include buckthorn and honeysuckle. Funding for the project comes from a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The volunteer project was started in 2014 by several organizations including Friends of the Chicago River and the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
Seymour: Rocker John Mellencamp has donated $50,000 to his southern Indiana hometown for construction of a plaza near a mural that pays homage to the singer-songwriter and his 1980s hit “Small Town.” Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman announced Mellencamp’s gift last week at the end of a municipal board meeting before reading a letter from the singer-songwriter, who grew up in the city about 60 miles south of Indianapolis. Mellencamp wrote in the letter that the money is earmarked for creation of a plaza in a parking lot adjacent to the mural, which is painted on the side of This Old Guitar Music Store, the Seymour Tribune reports. The mural celebrating Mellencamp’s career was completed last fall by Indianapolis artist Pamela Bliss and features a 35-foot image of Mellencamp leaning on a guitar, plus a smaller image of him wearing a Seymour FFA jacket.
Des Moines: The names of car owners ticketed by automated speed cameras are not a public record, a divided Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday. The court was considering a lawsuit filed by a former Ottumwa police sergeant who was ticketed while driving a city-owned car in May 2016 by the city’s speed camera. Mark Milligan filed an open records request after he was given the ticket as the driver. Typically such citations go to the vehicle’s owner. He wanted to see the names of car owners caught on camera and ticketed and those caught speeding by the automated camera but not given a ticket. Many cities do not enforce the automated fines against public officials driving government vehicles. The city denied his request arguing that the names of people ticketed are confidential under the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act passed in 1994 and a similar state law designed to protect personal records maintained by state transportation officials.
Wichita: Gov. Laura Kelly says a troubled unit within a state hospital for the mentally ill is “not a therapeutic environment” and has promised changes. Kelly discussed the latest problems at Osawatomie State Hospital on Thursday after federal inspectors again threatened to pull Medicare funding, The Wichita Eagle reports. Kelly said the facility’s 60-bed Adair Acute Care unit is “way too small to have 60 people with some serious mental health issues in that one place.” She said the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which oversees state hospitals, is working on improvement plans to lower the number of patients in the unit and provide beds elsewhere. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services has filed a plan to correct the problems, promising to provide more individualized treatment for patients.
Louisville: The Louisville Zoo family has two new members. The new 1-year-old male and female two-toed sloths are “getting acclimated to their new surroundings” and will be available to meet the public starting this spring, according to the zoo’s website. The yet-to-be-named sloths will hang out in the South America zone by the Chilean flamingos, according to the Louisville Zoo. The new exhibit was possible thanks to funding from the Friends of the Louisville Zoo and other donors. The Linneaus’s two-toed sloths hail from South American forest canopy and can be found in Venezuela, French Guiana, Guyana, and the upper Amazon Basin of Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. The nocturnal, solitary sloths are known for their slow movements and tendency to hang upside down in trees.
New Orleans: A hotel that partially collapsed, killing three people, won’t be totally demolished until the end of the year, city officials said Friday. City officials told local media that the developers who own the building submitted updated demolition plans that significantly changed when the demolition process would get underway. Demolition is now expected to start in May instead of the end of February, pushing back the expected completion date to December. New Orleans Fire Superintendent Tim McConnell said the process is going to be more labor intensive than had been previously thought. The fire chief said city officials are not happy with the longer timeline, and the city is urging the company that owns the building to find a way to speed things along. The Hard Rock Hotel on the edge of the French Quarter was under construction when it partially collapsed Oct. 12.
Portland: A developer has announced plans to use a former monastery to house newly arrived asylum-seekers. Josh Soley says he’ll offer rentals in a boardinghouse-style project, which includes communal kitchens and bathrooms. He says there will be 40 units available. “Tons of my peers in the real estate industry are building high-end condos,” Soley said. “But there’s not a lot of people who really build on the lower end of the market, and I think there’s tremendous need for that.” Maine is home to thousands of African newcomers, many of them asylum-seekers, and an influx this past summer briefly overwhelmed local shelters. The city has not issued the permits needed for the building, and it is not clear when the units would become available, The Portland Press Herald reports.
Annapolis: Recent comments from the head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program about pollution limits designed to improve the health of the bay have sparked concern among environmental groups and some state officials. EPA’s bay program Director Dana Aunkst said at a conference last week in Annapolis that 2025 pollution goals set forth in 2010 for Chesapeake Bay states and the District of Columbia are “an aspiration” and not an enforceable deadline, according to The Capital. Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said in a statement that position “should put fear in the hearts of all who care about clean water.” He called it a sign that President Donald Trump’s administration is retreating from the bay cleanup effort.
Boston: Plans to install a plaque at the Statehouse to mark the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s address to lawmakers in the building in 1965 are moving forward. Masslive.com reports the state House of Representatives on Dec. 23 passed a resolve filed early last year by Democratic state Rep. Bud Williams, of Springfield, that would authorize the installation of a plaque in the House chamber. The address was delivered April 22, 1965, to a joint session of the Legislature during King’s two-day visit to Boston that included a march by thousands from Roxbury to the Boston Common the following day to protest segregation in schools and in other areas of life. After he was refused entrance to the William Boardman School in Roxbury, King said, “I am here to remove segregation from every area of life in Boston.” The measure has been referred to the Committee on Senate Rules.
Detroit: For the past few months, visitors at Detroit Metro Airport have had the chance to go through security and send off their loved ones or greet them at the gate. Now, the practice will continue into the new year and possibly beyond, the airport announced. The DTW Destination pass program, in which non-ticketed visitors can access the post-security side of the McNamara and North terminals, was introduced as a pilot phase in October and was scheduled to end Jan. 5. However, officials with the Wayne County Airport Authority have extended the initiative indefinitely, the agency said in a news release. Detroit Metro is one of the few airports in the country to have such a program, as the practice of allowing people to wait at the gate has been discouraged since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Walker: Organizers have canceled the International Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake, saying the economics and other restrictions on the celebration of the state’s ugliest fish no longer work. The organizers said Thursday that they could not reach an agreement on a number of terms with the Cass County officials. So they canceled what would have been the 41st annual event, which had been planned for Feb. 20-23. Past festivals have brought more than 12,000 people to the northern Minnesota town for four days of outdoor winter activities. Cass County Administrator Josh Stevenson said he wasn’t aware of the “impasse” cited by organizers. He wondered whether they might have been glossing over other issues, such as the unpredictability of the weather and the state’s plans to impose limits on how many eelpout anglers can catch.
Philadelphia: A site is being cleared for a new military monument eight months after a tornado destroyed a monument to the fallen soldiers of Neshoba County. Col. Ray Crocker, vice chairman of the Fallen Soldiers Monument Committee, told the Meridian Star that the prep work in Deweese Park included removing the old monument and tree stumps. Organizers are in the process of raising $100,000 for the new monument. “Half of that, which buys all the granite, will have to be raised by the end of February, so we can go ahead and place the order in time to dedicate the monument in May of 2020 on Memorial Day,” Crocker said. He said the monument’s new design will be low to the ground, making it sturdier in bad weather. The height is calculated to make the names visible from a wheelchair and for people who are standing.
St. Louis: Residents living in the city’s poor, segregated neighborhoods are at a greater risk of cancer from air contaminants, and proximity to congested traffic makes up a significant share of that vulnerability, according to a study from Washington University. Christine Ekenga, an assistant professor of public health at the university and the study’s lead author, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the pollutants that conferred the greatest dangers were traffic-related. “The closer a neighborhood was to a major interstate highway, the more elevated their risk was,” she added. “African American neighborhoods were more likely to be in these hotspot areas.” The findings support the university’s other recent research that details how St. Louis is plagued by inequalities. The city’s stark racial divide makes it one of the most segregated in the U.S. and contributes to differing outcomes across a wide range of environmental health concerns.
Missoula: The Red Cross of Montana seeks more drivers to transport donated blood, plasma and platelets. The organization has set a goal of recruiting 20 more drivers to keep donations moving from donor centers to a testing lab and hospitals. Donated blood has just 33 hours to make it from donor centers to the Red Cross’ only Montana testing lab in Great Falls, the Missoulian reports. “Platelets only stay viable for about five days, so there’s always a huge demand for them, whether it’s treating certain diseases or cancers. Red blood cells give you a little more time with three weeks, but there’s always a real need,” donor and volunteer driver Phil Carlos says. The Red Cross provides training and a vehicle for all potential drivers, who must possess a valid driver’s license, Red Cross spokesman Matt Ochsner says.
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York: An anonymous $3 million donation will help York College renovate the oldest surviving original structure on campus, Hulitt Hall. Constructed in 1903, the hall will be transformed into a focal point for visitors and a hub for student services, college officials said. Preliminary renovation plans call for construction of a new entryway and several interior features to make the building comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hulitt Hall has served as the college’s music conservatory and then as a dormitory until 1972. It’s been used mostly for offices and classrooms since then. It was named for John Hulitt, who donated $5,000 toward the $15,000 cost of construction.
Reno: Gov. Steve Sisolak and the state’s entire congressional delegation are trying to persuade the Air Force to make the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno the home for a new regional air squadron to respond to emergencies and disasters. Sisolak and Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen led a letter to Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett on Friday touting the Reno base as the best location for the planned expansion of the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. They say the base’s 152nd Airlift Wing is uniquely suited to house the squadron partly because of its proximity to the West Coast and the Airlift Wing’s experience in natural disaster and medical emergency response. Only four such units are currently located west of the continental divide. The officials say placing the 10th unit in Reno would help mitigate the disproportionate allocation of the units in the East.
Concord: A program that trains volunteers to promote wildlife conservation and forest stewardship in the state is ready for new participants. The New Hampshire Coverts Project, sponsored by UNH Cooperative Extension and New Hampshire Fish and Game, is accepting applications for its workshop to be held May 13-16. The 25 participants will spend four days learning about ecology, habitat management, land conservation and effective outreach. There is a $50 registration fee, but the program’s sponsors cover lodging, food and other expenses. Participants must commit to spend at least 40 hours in the following year volunteering and motivating others to become wildlife and forest stewards.
Sandy Hook: A species is making a comeback along the Jersey coastline. Seabeach amaranth, an Atlantic Coast native once thought extirpated from the state, has rebounded despite long odds, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe says. Seabeach amaranth, a threatened species, is just one of six federally endangered or threatened plants in New Jersey. It’s an annual plant with short bunches of spinach-like leaves trimmed in light red, supported by fleshy red stalks. Biologists from the state and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey counted 7,195 plants – a 600% increase – during the 2019 survey, conducted on beaches south of Sandy Hook. More than 1,500 of the plants were found at Ocean County’s Island Beach State Park, state officials said. Just 300 were found at the park in 2018.
Albuquerque: Animal advocacy groups have filed complaints with federal officials about the treatment of monkeys and other animals at a research facility in New Mexico. The Ohio-based group Stop Animal Exploitation Now outlined its claims against the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in a letter sent Thursday to the U.S. Agriculture Department. The group accuses the lab of a pattern of negligence and carelessness that resulted in the deaths of monkeys. The group is asking for U.S. regulators to investigate the lab and issue penalties for what it claims are violations of federal laws. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent its own letter to the National Institutes of Health on Friday asking that the lab’s public health service animal welfare assurance be withdrawn. Both groups pointed to a November inspection report that outlined inadequate veterinary care and improper animal handling.
Lockport: An upstate school district has begun using facial recognition technology to look for threats, over the objection of civil rights advocates who say it compromises student privacy. The Lockport Central School District said it activated the system Thursday after meeting conditions set by state education officials, including that no students be programmed into the system’s database. Superintendent Michelle Bradley said on the district’s website that the Aegis system is capable of alerting staff to guns as well as individuals who pose a potential threat, including level 2 or 3 sex offenders, suspended staff members, and people flagged by law enforcement or prohibited by court order. The district originally planned to include certain students but backed off amid privacy concerns raised by the New York State Education Department.
Charlotte: Ninety years after its opening, the city’s only historic hotel is in the midst of a more than $2 million facelift. Summit Hospitality Group, which owns the 10-story Dunhill Hotel in uptown, started the renovations last month in a project expected to cost between $2 million and $2.5 million. The changes include replacing the carpets, wallpaper, lighting and much of the furniture in the guest rooms, as well as updating some of the furniture in the meeting rooms. Some of the existing antique furniture will be incorporated into the new design, said Meredith Zingrass, project manager for renovations and development at Summit. The Raleigh-based hotel and restaurant management company expects the revamp to be complete in February. The hotel will stay open during the upgrades.
Fargo: An anonymous donor gave Fargo Public Schools more than $28,000 to pay the lunch debt of all students for the first semester of classes. Superintendent Rupak Gandhi told KFGO-AM that no student is denied a hot lunch, but the district must still keep track of expenses because the meals are federally subsidized. “We had an individual step up, and they were going to take care of all outstanding lunch debt that we have from the first half of this year, from the first semester,” Gandhi said. He said the district is working with community organizations to put on fundraisers to cover any future lunch debts. For the rest of this school year, several organizations have already agreed to cover any lunch debt, Gandhi said.
Akron: An unusual new collection is in the bag at the University of Akron. Roughly 12,000 bags – made of paper, plastic, metal and even glass – and bag-related pieces make up the Lee L. Forman Collection of Bags. The big batch of bags donated to UA includes shopping bags autographed by artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and at least one bag from every presidential election since 1948. There’s a cheeseburger bag signed by Elvis Presley and a 100-year-plus saddle bag made to sit on a horse. Sometimes Forman, who lived in McLean, Virginia, and died in 2009, had a loose definition of bag – the assemblage includes a 45 rpm record sleeve signed by all four Beatles. “Bags are an everyday item that some people don’t think about,” said Jodi Kearns, director of UA’s Institute for Human Science and Culture. “But they are such a significant part of our cultural lives.”
McAlester: Police are investigating the slaying of a prominent local advocate for transgender rights who was shot and killed on New Year’s Day while driving a cab. Dustin Parker, 25, was found dead early Wednesday in the driver’s seat of the cab he was driving in McAlester, said Preston Rodgers, a police sergeant in the city about 105 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. Police are searching for a suspect or anyone with information about the killing, he said. Rodgers said it was still early in the investigation, and police have not determined whether Parker’s gender identity had anything to do with why he was killed. Brian West, the owner of Rover Taxi and a longtime friend, said Parker had a wife and four children, ages 2 to 13. Parker was well-known in the LGBTQ community and helped found a local chapter of Oklahomans for Equality in McAlester. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, Parker is the first transgender person killed in the U.S. in 2020.
Salem: City officials have not fulfilled a promise to open 140 homeless shelter beds after a public camping ban was enacted more than two weeks ago. The city had not opened any new shelter beds as of Friday after initially promising progress by Jan. 1, KGW-TV reports. There are currently 330 shelter beds available each night, and city churches have the ability to open another 256 beds when the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below, city officials said. However, opening those additional beds depends on volunteer availability, officials said. City Council has authorized funding support to keep the existing network of shelter available in cold temperatures with the intent to add more beds to the program, but they were unable to meet the additional need, officials said. There are about 1,800 homeless people living in Salem, officials said.
Philadelphia: A man says he carried his mother down 10 flights of stairs to escape an overnight fire at a senior living facility. Officials say one person was treated at the scene after a fire broke out on the fourth floor of Brith Sholom House in the Wynnefield Heights section of the city early Saturday. Shawn Smith tells WPVI-TV that he lives at the facility as his mother’s caregiver. He says they started smelling smoke on their 10th floor hallway following the 1:40 a.m. fire. Smith says he put his mother on his shoulder and carried her all the way down to escape. Fire officials say they had the fire under control in about 20 minutes.
Providence: Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is hosting a ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the state ratifying the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. The Democrat has planned the event for 10 a.m. Monday at the Statehouse Library. In commemoration of women’s suffrage, Gorbea will announce programs and activities to be offered throughout the state this year to increase civic literacy and engagement, including new resources for educators and a new partnership with the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. “The anniversary of the 19th Amendment is a powerful opportunity to engage Rhode Islanders, especially our youth, in important conversations about the complex history of the women’s suffrage movement and how that history relates to their own civic engagement today,” Gorbea said in a statement.
Pickens: A virtual reality project is letting people experience a tough hike at a state park in a matter of minutes and without taking a step. Many people aren’t able to make the strenuous 3.6-mile trek that climbs 2,000 feet to the top of Table Rock Mountain because of mobility or health restrictions, State Park Service Director Paul McCormick told The Post and Courier. The 5-minute virtual reality experience, the first of its kind for the state’s parks, lets them take it in from a chair in the visitor center. They can see the waterfall at Carrick Creek, a shelter marking the halfway point, as well as the views from Governor’s Rock and the top of the mountain. McCormack said the reactions from the roughly 40 people who tried it after it was unveiled Wednesday were “overwhelmingly positive.”
Rapid City: The city set a record last year for the value of building permits, according to officials. The Rapid City Journal reports nearly $330 million in projects were approved by the city, the fourth straight year it has topped $300 million. Last year’s figure was bolstered by the permit for a new $111.5 million arena, scheduled to be completed in 2021. The city issued a total of 3,968 permits, the second-highest since 2014. City officials said 30 of the permits generated two-thirds of the overall valuation. Other top permits went for a new Fleet Farm Retail Store at more than $20 million, the Rapid City Economic Development for Ascent Innovation’s new facility at more than $9 million, and Rapid City Regional Hospital renovations at $7.5 million.
Chattanooga: The Tennessee Valley endured its second-highest rainfall total on record in 2019, second only to the rains endured in 2018, according to a federal utility. The Tennessee River Basin averaged almost 15.5 inches above normal last year, including its wettest February recorded, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports, citing the Tennessee Valley Authority. The river basin saw 66.47 inches of rain last year, compared to 67.02 inches in 2018, according to the utility’s River Forecast Center. Another wetter-than-normal weather is forecast for the next three months, a River Forecast Center official said. The Tennessee Valley Authority is the largest public utility in the U.S., spanning 10 million people across Tennessee and parts of six other southeastern states. The utility also uses 49 dams on the Tennessee River and its tributaries to avert flood damage.
Dallas: A man who became known as the “affluenza teen” for his unusual defense at a 2013 manslaughter trial was set to be released from jail after prosecutors raised questions Friday about a drug test that triggered an alleged probation violation. Ethan Couch, 22, avoided prison following his initial conviction for killing four people while driving drunk. He was instead sentenced to 10 years of probation after a trial in which a psychologist testified that Couch – 16 at the time of the crash – was affected by “affluenza,” or irresponsibility caused by family wealth. Couch was arrested Thursday after probation officers reported that a drug monitoring patch he wears returned a “weak positive” result for THC, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana, District Attorney Sharen Wilson said in a statement. But it is possible the patch was set off by legal CBD oil, and it will take further testing to be sure, she said.
Salt Lake City: Health officials plan to award pharmacy licenses to 10 companies to dispense medical marijuana at 14 sites across the state, a major development in the program’s approaching launch. The chosen sites announced Friday by the Department of Health are largely in metro Salt Lake City or elsewhere in northern Utah but also include two in southern Utah and one in rural eastern Utah. Along with multiple sites in Salt Lake City, other northern Utah sites include West Bountiful, Ogden, Logan, Park City, Provo, Linden, Springville, and a location that would be Box Elder County, Morgan County or Rich County. The southern sites are Cedar City and St. George, while the sole site in eastern Utah is Vernal. Eight sites may open as early as March, while others would open by July, the department said.
West Rutland: The fire department is getting a new Chief Skaza. Joseph Skaza, who has served as the chief of the West Rutland Fire Department for 28 years, announced his retirement. The department’s members unanimously selected First Assistant Chief Michael Skaza to become chief, succeeding his father. Joseph Skaza, who started with the department in 1972, said his father served for 30 years as a firefighter. Joseph Skaza oversaw the modernization of the department’s fleet and the construction of a new fire station. “At the end of a call, coming back to the station and knowing you helped somebody – that gave you a good feeling,” Joseph Skaza told the Rutland Herald. “I would encourage some of the young fellas to get involved. It’s so hard to find volunteers today.”
Richmond: Gov. Ralph Northam is promising sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice reforms that include decriminalizing marijuana, softening the penalties for people caught stealing smaller-dollar items, and reducing the number of Virginians whose driver’s licenses are suspended. Northam, a Democrat, said Friday that he wants Virginia to approach criminal justice with compassion, fairness and mercy. “Civilized societies must have laws and punishments for those who break them,” Northam said at OAR Richmond, a center that provides services to adults newly released from jail or prison. “But justice must be fair and equitable, and the punishment should fit the crime.” The package unveiled Friday is part of an ambitious agenda Democrats have promised to pass after winning legislative elections two months ago.
Seattle: A state lawmaker has announced plans to introduce legislation that would cap insulin costs at $100 a month. State Sen. Karen Keiser introduced the bill last month after a report showed patients have spent three times more on insulin increasing from $231 to $736 between 2002 and 2013, KING-TV reports. The measure mandates that health plans issued or renewed on or after Jan. 1, 2021 must cap insulin copayments, deductibles and other forms of cost sharing at $100 for each 30-day supply, officials said. Keiser also introduced multiple other bills in December that target increasing medication costs, including one creating a cost monitoring board and another creating a work group to look at allowing a single statewide insulin purchaser, officials said.
Wheeling: Registered Republican voters in the state have increased since Donald Trump won office but still lag Democrats entering a presidential election year, according to voter registration figures from the secretary of state’s office. Overall registration numbers in West Virginia have fallen as residents continue to leave the state and as elections officials have removed invalid registrations, The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register reports. There were 488,148 registered Democrats in the state at the end of December, a 14.5% drop since November 2016. Meanwhile, there was a 3.2% increase in registered Republicans to 411,872 since the election of Trump, according to secretary of state figures. There also were 278,851 registered voters without a party affiliation, a 4.4% jump from the 2016 election.
Milwaukee: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has elevated the state to a high flu category after a dramatic increase of cases at Children’s Hospital. Wisconsin had been in the low flu category, but the CDC made the change Thursday. Children’s Wisconsin Hospital said 829 pediatric flu cases were reported in December, which is an increase of nearly 9,000% from December 2018. WISN-TV reports the hospital had nine flu cases and four hospitalizations in December last year. This December, 46 of 829 flu cases have required hospitalizations. “It’s been quite busy in the emergency department,” Aurora West Allis Medical Center Dr. Michael Becker said.
Cheyenne: A portrait of former Gov. Dave Freudenthal has joined those of other past governors in the Capitol. Freudenthal and other current and former elected officials took part in an unveiling event Friday in the Capitol rotunda. The portrait now hangs in the recently restored building’s east wing, joining those of almost every other former governor who served at least one full term. The exception is Republican Gov. Matt Mead, who served two terms from 2011 to 2019 and whose portrait is still in the works, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports. A Democrat, Freudenthal served two terms from 2003 to 2011. Freudenthal and his family unveiled the portrait by Michele Rushworth, who has painted several governors.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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