Decatur: More than 800,000 gallons of untreated sewage spilled from the city’s utility plant and eventually reached the Tennessee River during two days of heavy rains, documents filed by Decatur Utilities show. Disclosures filed with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management reveal that about 8 million gallons of raw sewage have escaped the Decatur Utilities sanitary sewer system this year in 81 overflows, The Decatur Daily reports. The largest discharge happened last week when rain overwhelmed old pipes, and sewage began pouring from a manhole near the utility’s headquarters. It took the city-owned company more than 40 hours to stop the overflow. Decatur Utilities told the Environmental Department the heavy rains caused the problem, though the newspaper says similar companies in neighboring communities reported few to no sewer overflows during the same period.
Anchorage: An air carrier that suffered a cyberattack has experienced more disruption than initially projected, according to a company announcement. The RavnAir Group on Dec. 20 experienced what it called a “malicious” cyberattack on its information technology network, Anchorage television station KTVA reports. The company canceled some Alaska flights of Dash 8 aircraft and said passengers could expect more schedule changes. This week the company announced the disruption was worse than initially reported. Restoration of systems could take up to a month, the company said. Additional flight cancellations and delays are possible for the group’s three airlines, RavnAir Alaska, PenAir and RavnAir Connect, the company said. The company is working with the FBI, a cybersecurity company and others to restore systems.
Tucson: Three mountain lions found feeding on human remains near a popular Tucson hiking trail have been killed, authorities said Wednesday. They were not suspected of killing the person but were determined to be a danger to the public because they showed no fear of officers trying to remove the remains, the Arizona Game and Fish Department said in a statement. The area in the Coronado National Forest was closed for a day while officials attempted unsuccessfully to trap the mountain lions. The medical examiner will work to identify the name and cause of death for the person found Tuesday morning off the Pima Canyon Trail. The trail at the base of Mount Lemmon was reopened Wednesday, ahead of a planned Jan. 14 reopening, after authorities decided there was no danger to the public.
Little Rock: A judge on Thursday ordered the city to reinstate a police officer who was fired for fatally shooting a black motorist. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox reversed the Little Rock Civil Service Commission’s ruling upholding the termination of Officer Charles Starks over the fatal shooting of Bradley Blackshire. Starks fired at least 15 times through the windshield of a car Blackshire was driving in February. Starks and another officer were attempting a motor vehicle stop at the time. Police commanders fired Starks in May, saying he violated department policy. Fox upheld the commission’s ruling that Starks violated policy requiring officers to move out of an oncoming vehicle’s path if possible rather than fire. But the judge said a 30-day suspension and reduction in salary to an entry-level officer are more appropriate sanctions.
Corona: A Southern California quarantine zone has been expanded in an effort to stop the spread of a disease that threatens the state’s multibillion-dollar citrus industry. The addition of 107 square miles encompassing the cities of Corona and Norco and part of Chino followed the discovery of a dozen trees with citrus greening disease in Corona, The Press-Enterprise reports. The quarantine zone now covers 1,127 square miles in parts of Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange counties. The quarantine forbids movement of fruit, citrus plants or foliage, but the fruit can be consumed on properties where it was grown. Citrus greening disease is also known as Huanglongbing or HLB. It is spread by a tiny, aphid-like bug called the Asian citrus psyllid. Infected trees develop mottled leaves, produce deformed fruit and eventually die.
Denver: Two affiliated organizations with ties to hospitals and insurance companies have launched a six-figure public relations ad blitz against the creation of a “public” health insurance option in the state. The campaign began in December and comes ahead of the 2020 legislative session, which begins next week and is expected to feature an intense battle over how and whether to create the public option, the Colorado Sun reports. The so-called public option, as proposed by Gov. Jared Polis’ administration, would actually be run by private insurance companies that would offer plans with government oversight. The plans would be available at first only to people who buy coverage on their own, without help from an employer. But Polis administration officials have said they hope to expand the public option to small employers within a couple of years.
Hartford: The state’s Department of Consumer Protection is urging consumers to do their homework before signing a contract with a gym or health club. Commissioner Michelle Seagull says better health is often a New Year’s resolution, and there tends to be a spike in new gym and health club memberships in January. “But sometimes the excitement of working out wears off after a few months, and consumers are stuck in health club contracts that they just don’t use,” she says. “That’s why we’re encouraging consumers to do their homework and to be smart before making a commitment.” Connecticut law requires health clubs to have contracts in writing. The consumer protection department urges consumers to read them closely and know how much they will pay, when the bill will come in and what the cancellation policy will be. The department also recommends reading online reviews, talking to current customers and visiting the club in person.
Middletown: The 2020 Hummers Parade went off without a hitch Wednesday following last year’s controversy, though parade watchers said it was not as good as past years and had far fewer marchers. Accompanying this year’s parade was a group of more than 50 protesters holding signs decrying racism. Hundreds more lined the streets to watch the annual parade that drew national scrutiny last year for a float depicting kids in cages that many deemed offensive. The loosely organized parade is a spoof of the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia, and floats often satire top news stories of the past year. The parade was led by unofficial Grand Marshal Jack Schreppler, who held an original American flag with 13 stars. About a dozen and a half small groups and a few lone individuals paraded through downtown Middletown on New Year’s Day. The most popular topic depicted this year was the Delabear from earlier this winter.
District of Columbia
Washington: An apparently intoxicated man fell onto the tracks of a Metro station, causing some of the first delays of the new year, according to authorities. The man fell early Wednesday morning and was taken to a hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening, news outlets report. The fall is being investigated as an accident, according to a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority statement that says the man appeared to be “under the influence.” The man’s identity wasn’t immediately released.
Deland: Fifteen cars were shot at while driving along Interstate 4 and Interstate 95 in Central Florida, authorities said Thursday. No injuries were reported, and the damage from the Wednesday shootings appears to have been caused by a BB or pellet gun, according a statement by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. The vehicles hit in the shootings were near Deltona, DeLand and Daytona Beach, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office. Witness accounts of the suspect vehicle vary. An investigation was ongoing.
Brunswick: The state’s waters are closing to shrimp fishing Jan. 15, but whelk season opens the next day. The annual shrimp fishery closure aims to allow shrimp to reproduce in large enough amounts and grow to large enough size to hopefully provide for a good shrimp harvest in the coming year, The News reports. The shrimp fishery tends to reopen in late May or early June, depending on conditions at the time. Meanwhile, the state’s whelk season is to open at 7 a.m. Jan. 16 and run through 8:15 p.m. March 31. Regulatory requirements for whelk trawls include the use of minimum 4-inch stretch mesh trawl gear and a certified turtle excluder device. Fishermen also need a state commercial fishing license with a whelk endorsement.
Honolulu: Hawaiian Telcom painted over an unauthorized mural on one of its buildings by renowned marine artist Robert Wyland. The artist acknowledged he did not have permission to spray-paint the Maui building, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The life-size image stretching 65 feet depicted a female humpback whale. Wyland said he apologized and hoped Hawaiian Telcom would not paint over the mural he created during work over two days. “I apologize for not running it up the food chain,” he said Monday. “I’m so passionate. I swear to God I don’t think about those things. I kind of painted it and look for forgiveness later.” Hawaiian Telcom never received a direct apology from Wyland, the company said.
Carey: State land management officials have secured a conservation land use easement on the Cenarrusa Ranch ensuring the land in that area is not developed. The Bureau of Land Management and The Nature Conservancy in Idaho finalized the easement in the Pioneer Mountain foothills near Carey after years of discussion, The Times-News reports. The easement ensures protection of about 13 square miles of land including sage grouse habitat and migration corridors for wildlife, officials said. One of the longest pronghorn migrations in the west, a 160-mile journey crosses the ranch and includes grouse breeding grounds, land officials said. The easement is also expected to bring new recreation opportunities including more than 3 miles of access routes, officials said. “It’s the kind of place that makes Idaho Idaho,” Nature Conservancy Conservation Manager Tess O’Sullivan said.
Chicago: The city seems to have closed out 2019 with a drop in the number of homicides for the third consecutive year, police say. Preliminary numbers Tuesday showed there had been 490 homicides in 2019, making it the first time the yearly number has dipped below 500 since 2015, when it was 491. The number of homicides in 2019 dropped 13% compared to 2018, when there were 565 homicides, according to police statistics. The declines happened across the city, including in historically high-crime areas. Police have credited the city’s dip in crime to the use of technology used to predict where shootings might occur, while experts also credited anti-violence programs that offer jobs and gang conflict mediation.
Indianapolis: The city is a bombed-out disaster area in an upcoming G.I. Joe comic book. Being depicted as a war zone is less than flattering, but writer Paul Allor isn’t picking on the city. He lives here, and the story presents Indianapolis as putting up a fight against the bad guys of Cobra – long-running nemesis of the G.I. Joe team. Unfortunately, Cobra rules the world in Allor’s story. The organization has no problem making a cautionary example of Indianapolis. “Cobra essentially wipes the city off the map,” Allor said. What’s left? Downtown’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument, at least, is seen on the cover of “G.I. Joe” No. 5, scheduled to arrive in stores Jan. 8. And a survivalist biker gang, the Dreadnoks, is hanging out at the Indianapolis Art Center. Broad Ripple resident Allor also incorporates a reference to Guilford Avenue’s multicolored “rainbow” bridge.
Fruitland: A service club intends to build a memorial for veterans in this Muscatine County community. The Fruitland Community Lions Club wants to place it near Fruitland Community Center instead of at a cemetery. A club committee decided the location near the center would allow more people to see it and would deter vandals, the Muscatine Journal reports. The committee worked with Louisa-Muscatine High School art students to devise a manageable and affordable design. It will have black granite walls with seating, a flag and lighting. Each veteran will have two lines on the wall, enough room to list names and service information, for $100. The memorial can fit 400 names. “We don’t want to leave someone off just because there’s no room. We’ll find room – we’ll buy more granite if we have to,” says Janina Hawley, the committee chairwoman.
Wichita: The state has been able to reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions for a 10th straight year largely due to the rapid adoption of wind energy and a slow move away from coal-powered electricity. About 36% of all electricity produced in Kansas is from wind, the highest percentage of any U.S. state, the Kansas News Service reports. In 2019 alone, Kansas saw four new wind farms, adding enough capacity to power 190,000 homes for a year. In 2017, about half of Kansas’ total carbon-dioxide emissions came from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, to create electricity. Plant upgrades and federal environmental regulations since have forced coal plants to clean up what was coming out of their smoke stacks. Carbon-dioxide emissions contribute to global warming.
Ashland: The city is hosting a dedication ceremony for several new statues, including two of Roman deities. Ashland’s Friday festivities will include a lighting ceremony, catered food, live music and a presentation by the artist, Gines Serran-Pagan, The Independent reports. The bronzed clay and fiberglass statues of Venus, Vulcan and the concept of Genesis were commissioned by an anonymous donor who hoped to memorialize three distinct parts of their hometown, according to the newspaper. “I am so grateful that Serran-Pagan’s magnificent statues will be part of Ashland’s riverfront landscape,” city manager Mike Graese said. “The generosity of the donor is, in my opinion, reflective of Ashland’s giving spirit. Mayor Steve Gilmore said he’s confident the statues will draw tourists from all over.
Baton Rouge: Authorities announced Thursday that a man has been arrested in connection with the deaths of three homeless people. Jeremy Anderson, 29, was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul told news outlets at a press conference. Paul said evidence found inside Anderson’s home helped link him to the murders. The first two killings happened Dec. 13 when Christina Fowler, 53, and Gregory Corcoran, 40, were found fatally shot underneath an overpass, huddled in blankets beside an empty shopping cart. On Dec. 27, investigators discovered 50-year-old Tony Williams shot to death on the porch of a vacant home about two blocks away from where Fowler and Corcoran were found. Paul said Anderson lives two blocks away from where both shootings occurred.
Freeport: Coastal Maine has a lot of seaweed and a fair number of cows. A group of scientists and farmers think that pairing the two could help unlock a way to cope with a warming world. The researchers – from a marine science lab, an agriculture center and universities in northern New England – are working on a plan to feed seaweed to cows to gauge whether that can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. About a quarter of the methane in the country comes from cattle, which produce the gas when they belch or flatulate. The concept of feeding seaweed to cows has gained traction in recent years because of some studies that have shown its potential to cut back on methane. One of the big questions is which kinds of seaweed offer the highest benefit to farmers looking to cut methane, says Nichole Price, a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine, and the project’s leader.
Annapolis: The governor has indicated he’ll continue to allow refugees into the state. The Capital Gazette reports Gov. Larry Hogan’s office released a letter Wednesday that was sent to the Trump administration. The letter said the state would continue to accept properly vetted refugees. The White House had set a Jan. 21 deadline for states and cities to decide whether they would continue to allow refugees to settle within their jurisdictions. “We are willing to accept refugees who the federal government has determined are properly and legally seeking refugee status and have been adequately vetted,” Hogan wrote in his letter. “This, as you know, is different from any kind of ‘sanctuary status’ for those in the United States unlawfully.” Maryland has accepted nearly 10,000 refugees under Hogan’s leadership since 2016. But the Republican was among 31 governors who wanted to refuse Syrian refugees in 2015 out of fear of terrorism.
Boston: The state is extending its electric vehicle rebate program. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced the rebates were being extended Wednesday to last through at least Dec. 31, 2021, and the administration will make at least $27 million available per year in 2020 and 2021. The program was phased out from Sept. 30 through Tuesday because a rapid growth in applications caused a lack of funding, Baker and Polito said, but the funding plan they proposed for an extension was largely adopted in a recent supplemental budget. Since 2014, the state has allocated more than $31 million for the effort, to incentivize the purchase of more than 15,000 electric vehicles and reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 39,000 metric tons annually, Baker and Polito said.
Delta Township: The community has solved an olfactory mystery that could be dubbed “The Case of the Rancid Radishes.” Residents called officials in Delta Township last month, concerned about a smell they thought might be natural gas or sewer leaks. Township Manager Brian Reed and his staff got to the, well, root of the problem: rotting radishes in nearby farm fields. To be more precise, it was the unseemly smell of decomposing daikon radishes, a Japanese root vegetable. They had been planted in fields in the township and surrounding areas as a cover crop after a wet spring. The radish variety is among those recommended by natural resources officials to plant during such periods – not to harvest but to decompose in a bid to nourish the soil, aerate it and prevent erosion. Decompose they did, and when temperatures rose in December the scent permeated the air. The stench should subside with consistently colder weather.
Minneapolis: State Attorney General Keith Ellison on Thursday called for the Minnesota Board of Public Defense to examine the process that led to the suspension of Hennepin County’s chief public defender, saying he believes Mary Moriarty was targeted for speaking out against racial bias in the criminal justice system. Separately, law clerks and lawyers in Moriarty’s office wrote to the board in her defense, praising her leadership and commitment to clients and calling for her reinstatement. And dozens of public defenders and public interest attorneys outside Minnesota signed onto a letter objecting to her suspension. Moriarty, appointed in 2014, was put on paid leave last week. She said officials expressed concerns about her management style, what they called inflexibility with other criminal justice officials and confrontations on the issue of racial inequality. They also questioned a series of tweets about historic lynchings in the Deep South, she said.
Hattiesburg: The Hattiesburg Cultural Center hosted a jazz brunch Wednesday in honor of Jeanette Smith, a prominent leader in the city’s civil rights movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s, WDAM-TV reports. She was 78 years old when she died in Atlanta in 2018. Her late husband, Dr. C.E. Smith, also was instrumental in Hattiesburg’s civil rights movement. Both of them served as the president of the Forrest County NAACP, which they joined in 1959. The center plans on hosting the brunch again next year to honor those who have made a difference for the civil rights organization, according to the station.
Jefferson City: The state’s levees need to be strengthened and repaired, especially in rural areas hit hard by prolonged flooding in 2019, according to an advisory group appointed by Gov. Mike Parson. St. Louis Public Radio reports the Flood Recovery Advisory Working Group on Tuesday released its report on ways to address flooding in the state and improve flood recovery. Parson signed an executive order in July creating the 24-member advisory group. Record flooding early last year and in the summer overtopped and breached dozens of levees along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Some parts of western Missouri experienced flooding for up to seven months. Rebuilding in flood-prone areas has led to repeated damage, said Dru Buntin, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Helena: Wildlife officials have opened the permit lottery for non-motorized watercraft on the Smith River in central Montana. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks annually awards floating permits to groups of up to 15 people to access a 59-mile section of the Smith River east of Helena. Applications must be submitted by Feb. 13 with a $10 non-refundable fee. The permit drawing is scheduled for March 2, officials said. The state regulates the river to combat overcrowding and allow users to take quality, multiday floats, park officials said. About 10,070 people applied for private floating permits last year, and about 1,300 were awarded, officials said. People can also buy a chance to win a super permit for $5 until March 12, officials said. That permit allows floaters to pick any day they want to take the river trip, park officials said. The entire float trip usually takes about four days and begins near White Sulphur Springs, officials said.
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Brownville: Federal inspectors plan to review how well a nuclear power plant handled a water service safety problem blamed on a silt buildup from the Missouri River, which overwhelmed or broke through levees last spring. The Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville was operating on full power Dec. 6 when employees detected that water wasn’t flowing through a pipe connected to one of the plant’s two safety generators, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a news release Thursday. The generators weren’t running because they are designed to kick in and provide power for the plant’s cooling systems only when all five lines that power the plant are knocked out. If needed, the other generator was available, the NRC said. The plant generated power throughout the problem.
Carson City: The state Supreme Court has ruled that workers’ compensation rates for injured inmates are set at inmate pay rates instead of the minimum wage. Inmate Darrell White was assigned to the Forestry Division when he suffered a finger injury that left him temporarily disabled for 144 days in 2016, the Nevada Appeal reports. White filed for workers’ compensation disability benefits at the minimum wage set in the state Constitution after his release, but an appeals officer ruled that state law sets the amount of compensation at the average monthly wage the prisoner actually received when the injury occurred, officials said. White argued his compensation should be set at the constitutionally guaranteed $7.25 an hour. Court officials argued compensation should be about 50 cents a day, or $22.93 each month, based on what he was actually being paid.
Dover: The City Hall clock tower, which officials say has lost its sheen and is sorely in need of a significant cosmetic overhaul, will be getting a full facelift ahead of the city’s 400th birthday celebration in 2023. City Manager Mike Joyal says the 80-foot tower needs a lot of work to get it in show-worthy condition for the city’s big birthday bash, the bulk of which will be celebrated during a 10-day schedule ahead of July 4, 2023. The historic bell atop the tower was rung July 4, 1976, to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial, according to city records. After that, Joyal says, as far as he has been able to determine, the last time the bell was rung was Sept. 11, 2001. The significance of the bell to Dover’s history makes it a must for ringing on the city’s 400th birthday, according to Mayor-elect Robert Carrier.
Howell: A man who set off fireworks near a movie theater as his friend made a marriage proposal created panic among moviegoers who mistook the fireworks for gunshots, leading to 911 calls and an evacuation, authorities said. Howell Township police responded to the Xscape Theater about 6 p.m. Wednesday and soon learned the theater manager had confronted a man who had lighted fireworks outside another business near the theater, authorities said. The remnants of the fireworks were located, and it was determined that no shots had been fired. A 23-year-old Lakewood man told police he had set off the fireworks as part of his friend’s marriage proposal at the other business. While noting there was no intent to cause panic at the theater, a post on the Howell police Facebook page stated that “obviously this was a very poor decision rather than an overt act.”
Santa Fe: A newly forged steel instrument that can pinpoint the path of stars and planets across the night sky using the naked eye is a throwback to the years just before the advent of telescopes, returning stargazers in the hills of northern New Mexico to the essentials of astronomy in the past. Installed at St. John’s College by graduates, the device is a remake of long-lost originals devised by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in the late 16th century to chart the location of stars and the orbits of planets. It consists of four interlocking rings – forged of precision steel and aligned with the north star and equator – combined with a sliding viewfinder that is moved by hand to measure angles between the any celestial object, the horizon and the equator. Lengthy, painstaking measurements from such an instrument in the late-1500s allowed Johannes Kepler to show that Mars revolved in an elliptical orbit around the sun.
Victor: The top Republican in the State Assembly was charged New Year’s Eve with driving while intoxicated in his state-issued vehicle, just a week after he wrote a newspaper column warning citizens against getting behind the wheel drunk. Brian M. Kolb, a Republican from Canandaigua who represents a district just outside Rochester, was arrested near his home after what he called a “lapse in judgement.” Authorities said they were called to a crash in Victor just before 10:30 p.m. after a vehicle ran into a ditch. Kolb was found to be the driver of the 2018 GMC Acadia that crashed in front of his home. An Ontario County sheriff’s deputy administered field sobriety tests, which Kolb failed, before taking him to jail. While there, authorities said a breath test indicated Kolb’s blood-alcohol content was over 0.08%, the legal limit for driving in New York.
Raleigh: The state says it has secured an agreement with Duke Energy to excavate nearly 80 million tons of coal ash at six facilities. The Department of Environmental Quality said in a Thursday press release that it will be the largest coal ash cleanup in the nation’s history. It also settles various legal disputes between Duke and parties that include environmental and community groups. For decades, coal ash has been stored in landfills or in ponds, often near waterways into which toxins can leach. Duke Energy will remove coal ash from the Allen, Belews Creek, Cliffside, Marshall, Mayo and Roxboro sites into on-site lined landfills. “This agreement is a historic cleanup of coal ash pollution in North Carolina,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Mandan: Authorities say an ice jam along the Missouri River near Mandan is causing water to rise, threatening property along the shoreline. Morton County officials say water in the Square Butte Creek area along Willow Road and Rosy Lane has risen approximately 18 inches since Tuesday. Commission Chairman Bruce Strinden toured the area Sunday afternoon. He says residents may want to move items from low areas. Authorities say they are working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hold back on increased releases at Garrison Dam until the ice jam issue has been resolved. The Corps had increased discharges from the dam earlier in the week and planned another increase Thursday.
Cleveland: A ban on single-use plastic bags took effect Wednesday in Cuyahoga County, though the ban won’t be enforced with fines until July 1. Despite the long roll-out, most Giant Eagle grocery stores in the county eliminated the bags beginning New Year’s Day, Fox 8-TV reports. The company will have reusable bags for purchase, and customers will receive fuel perks for every reusable bag used. A few suburbs opted out of the ban, and Cleveland also opted out until July 1 to give a working group time to study the impact of reducing plastic bags on businesses. Some state lawmakers and business groups say such local bans make it harder for grocers and other businesses to operate, and proposed bills would prohibit local governments from forbidding the use of plastic bags. But Gov. Mike DeWine opposes those efforts, saying it would be a mistake for state lawmakers to override local government decisions.
Sand Springs: A man stole a pickup truck with a sleeping passenger and a goat inside it and drove it all the way from Missouri to Oklahoma before releasing the terrified victim and animal and eventually being arrested, authorities say. According to an arrest report, two men in the truck parked outside an adult video store in Carthage, Missouri, early Wednesday morning. The driver went inside the store, and the passenger fell asleep. When the passenger awoke, a masked man was driving the truck and pointing a gun at his head, Tulsa TV station KOTV reports. The carjacking suspect, 40-year-old Brandon Kirby, drove from Missouri through Kansas. During the 130-mile ordeal, Kirby took methamphetamine, pistol-whipped the victim and continually threatened him, according to the arrest report. The Sand Springs Police Department said on Facebook: “OK 2020, it only took you 4.5 hours to get weird. Let’s slow down on the carjacking-goatnapping calls for the remainder of the year.”
Salem: The number of nonaffiliated voters in the state has increased by nearly 60,000 since the beginning of this year, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. As of last month, there were 951,908 nonaffiliated voters in Oregon – an increase of almost 7% since January 2019. The increase of nonaffiliated voters is largely due to the state’s “motor voter” law, passed in 2016, which automatically registers eligible Oregonians as nonaffiliated voters when they register with the Oregon DMV. “There are at least 300,000 new registrants since 2016 because of OMV (the Oregon Motor Voter Act),” says Paul Gronke, a political science professor at Reed College and political director of DHM Research. “And 80% or more of these did not respond to a postcard allowing them to affiliate.”
Harrisburg: The butter sculpture for this year’s Pennsylvania Farm Show was unveiled Thursday, featuring three of the state’s professional sports team mascots. This year’s sculpture, crafted from about 1,000 pounds of donated butter, shows Gritty, Swoop and Steely McBeam, mascots for the Philadelphia Flyers and Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Farm Show in Harrisburg, which calls itself the country’s largest indoor agricultural event, includes 12,000 competitive exhibits and draws about 500,000 attendees every year. It runs from Saturday through Jan. 11. Admission is free, but parking in Farm Show Complex lots is not. After the show ends, the butter sculpture will be taken to a farm in Juniata County to be converted into energy through a methane digester. New to the show this year are hard cider sales, an expanded rabbit competition and a waterfowl habitat with live ducks in the poultry area. There also will be a demonstration by people with bows riding horses.
Providence: The state’s residents must now have health insurance or face a penalty on their taxes. The taxation division released a list of tax changes taking effect Wednesday, including the new health insurance mandate. Residents who do not have minimum essential coverage in 2020 and do not qualify for an exemption will face a penalty next year when filing a state tax return for 2020. A federal appeals court ruling this month in New Orleans struck down the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that people have health insurance, leaving President Barack Obama’s signature health care law in legal limbo. Rhode Island’s General Assembly passed legislation that was signed by the governor to enact the requirement and penalty in the state, with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2020.
Charleston: The state’s Department of Natural Resources is calling for citizens to recycle used oyster shells and discarded Christmas trees through programs aimed at boosting estuary health and promoting growth of marine life. The state is continuing to expand its oyster recycling and restoration program, where South Carolinians and restaurants can drop off used oyster shells, especially after events such as oyster bakes and holiday parties, The Post and Courier reports. The recycled shells are reintroduced to local waters, where they provide a surface for new oysters to grow, natural resources officials say. Live oysters then filter water, protect against erosion, and attract fish and other sea creatures to their reefs. The state’s Coastal Conservation Association and Natural Resources Department collectively donated more than $100,000 in equipment to pick up and transport the shells, the newspaper reports.
Sioux Falls: South Dakota’s minimum wage is increasing slightly with the the start of the new year. The state’s minimum wage is now $9.30 per hour – an increase of 20 cents from 2019. Workers who receive tips are seeing their minimum wage rise to $4.65 per hour. The increases are part of a voter-approved measure in 2014 to raise the minimum wage, which was $7.25 an hour at the time, to $8.50 an hour. KELO-TV reports the minimum wage will continue to increase at the rate of the cost of living measured in the consumer price index. The state’s minimum wage was below $4 until 1992. The $7.25 minimum wage was set in 2010.
Memphis: Elvis Presley’s Graceland is planning an auction of artifacts to be held during the late entertainer’s 85th birthday celebration Jan. 8. All the items up for auction Wednesday come from third-party collectors but have been thoroughly researched and certified by Graceland Authenticated, according to a news release from Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. The mansion and all artifacts in the Graceland Archives continue to be owned by Lisa Marie Presley and are not for sale. The 288 artifacts include a golf cart, clothing, jewelry, autographs, concert memorabilia and Hollywood items. In addition, several Graceland experiences will be auctioned, with the proceeds benefiting the Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation. Items to be included in the auction were announced Monday along with registration information. The catalog is available at Graceland’s official online store.
Dallas: A judge on Thursday sided with a hospital that plans to remove an 11-month-old girl from life support after her mother disagreed with the decision by doctors who say that the infant is in pain and that her condition will never improve. Trinity Lewis had asked Judge Sandee Bryan Marion to issue an injunction in Tarrant County district court to ensure that Cook Children’s Medical Center doesn’t end her daughter Tinslee Lewis’ life-sustaining treatment. Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that opposes the “10-day rule” and has been advocating for Tinslee, said the girl’s mother will appeal the judge’s decision. Doctors at the Fort Worth hospital had planned to remove Tinslee from life support Nov. 10 after invoking Texas’ “10-day rule,” which can be employed when a family disagrees with doctors who say life-sustaining treatment should be stopped.
Salt Lake City: Operators of a copper mine have announced plans to extend operations by using an experimental method of extraction they say is safe despite concerns about potential groundwater contamination. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that officials with the Lisbon Valley Mine are seeking permits for an acid-based extraction method that involves pumping diluted sulfuric acid underground in San Juan County northeast of Monticello. The new process could extend the mine’s lifespan for at least another 25 years, officials said. Environmentalists have raised concerns about long-term water contamination for nearby residents reliant on groundwater for drinking and livestock. The Lisbon Valley Mining Company has managed the mine since 2008 when its former owner declared bankruptcy three years after opening, officials said.
St. Albans: The Vermont attorney general’s office sued the state’s largest dairy operation Thursday, alleging the farm built a 90,000-square-foot barn addition and a 10 million-gallon manure pit without the required permissions. Attorney General T.J. Donovan said the expansion of the Lumbra Farm in Berkshire between 2016 and 2017 qualified as a large farm operation under state regulations, but it was done without the required permits and planning input from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and state environmental officials. Donovan did not allege that the additions to the farm contributed to the water pollution woes that have plagued the state, but because the expansions were done without the needed permits, there was no way to determine if water qualify was affected. Vermont has been struggling for years to improve water quality in Lake Champlain. Agricultural pollution is considered one of the largest sources of that pollution.
Richmond: The state has executed nearly 1,400 people in its 412-year history – more than any other in the nation. But as a new Democratic majority prepares to begin the legislative session, some see an opportunity to end executions in Virginia. A bill to abolish the death penalty has been filed by Del. Lee Carter, a Democrat from Manassas, and several additional bills are expected. The push is backed by Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, along with some powerful voices: loved ones of murder victims. Thirteen family members sent a letter to the General Assembly in November asking lawmakers to abolish the death penalty. No death sentences have been imposed in the state since 2011, and only three people remain on Virginia’s death row. Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the state is second only to Texas in number of executions, at 113.
Yakima: The state’s snowpack is less than a year ago, and officials say it’s similar to the start of 2015, the state’s last big drought. The Capital Press reports the statewide snowpack is 47% of normal. It was 46% of normal at this time five years ago. “It’s very reminiscent of 2015, but this year we are way behind on mountain precipitation,” says Scott Pattee, state water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon. “It’s worrisome. It’s the third-slowest start in snow accumulation statewide since the 1990s, and we had one of the driest Novembers on record.” The biggest concern is that the five mountain reservoirs serving the Yakima Basin are significantly behind in recharging, and 130% to 135% of normal snowfall is now needed in the Upper Yakima to get it back to normal by April 1, Pattee says.
Charleston: Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday tapped the director of a General Motors dealership to lead the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles. Everett Frazier, who has worked in the auto industry for more than three decades, will start as DMV commissioner Monday, according to a news release from the Republican governor. “My goal is to treat everyone who comes through the door of the DMV as a guest,” Frazier said. “I am looking forward to being part of a team that will maximize the use of technology to make the DMV more efficient and customer-friendly.” Justice said Frazier’s experience in the auto business includes 25 years of managerial positions, most recently as the director of operations at the Thornhill GM Superstore in Logan County. Frazier has also resigned as a member on the state’s pharmacy board to assume the new DMV role.
Madison: A conservative law firm on Thursday asked a judge to find the Wisconsin Elections Commission in contempt and impose $12,000 a day in fines until it immediately purges more than 200,000 voters from the rolls, a move Democrats are fighting in the key battleground state. A judge last month ordered the purge of voters who may have moved and didn’t respond within 30 days to notification sent by the elections commission in October. The bipartisan commission has deadlocked twice on attempts by Republicans to do the purge immediately while an appeal to the court order is pending. Rick Esenberg, leader of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty that brought the lawsuit, said the commission must purge the voters now. The judge in December ruled that the commission was breaking state law by not removing voters who did not respond to the October mailing asking that they confirm their address.
Casper: The state’s population increased slightly in the second half of 2018 and first half of 2019 after three years of decline. Census figures released this week show Wyoming’s population grew by 1,158 between July 2018 and July 2019. The state’s total population of 578,880 remained below a peak of 586,000 in 2015. The Casper Star-Tribune reports the latest numbers were recorded before a coal company’s bankruptcy in 2019 furloughed hundreds of workers at two major coal mines for four months. Hard times in the coal, oil and natural gas industries caused many people to leave Wyoming starting in 2015. State economist Wenlin Liu says growth in the energy and construction industries accounted for Wyoming’s recent population increase. Liu says Wyoming’s that recovery now shows signs of slowing, with recent lower job growth and rising unemployment. Wyoming remains the least-populated state in the U.S.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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