Montgomery: The state Senate on Tuesday delayed a vote on increased protections for Confederate monuments after an African American lawmaker threatened a filibuster and said the memorials celebrate a time when African Americans were enslaved and lynched. Senators began debate on a bill that would increase the penalties for violating the 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act from a flat $25,000 to $5,000 per day. State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, an African American legislator from Birmingham, brought a thick rope on to the floor of the Alabama Senate, as he said the monuments commemorate a time of racial terror, including lynching. “This is 2020. When are we as a state going to get past this stuff? Please, tell me,” Smitherman said. “I tell (people) Alabama has changed, and then we do this kind of stuff.”
Anchorage: Officials with the world’s most famous sled dog race announced Thursday that they have postponed post-race events in Nome in response to the new coronavirus. The Iditarod has postponed both the awards banquet set for March 22 and the meet-the-mushers event set for March 21, both in Nome, where the winner is expected some time next week. Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman said the race will continue, but officials are also encouraging people to employ appropriate social distancing and telling anyone who’s feeling ill or over 60 years old not to attend the event afterward. Meanwhile, the leader is taking a day’s rest at the halfway point of the race. Brent Sass, a native of Minnesota living near the Alaska community of Eureka, was the first musher to the checkpoint in Cripple, the Iditarod’s halfway point.
Tucson: A Pima County sheriff’s deputy seen on video tackling a teenage quadruple amputee at a group home last year will not face charges, prosecutors said. The Pima County Attorney’s Office could not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Deputy Manuel Van Santen’s use of force on a 15-year-old boy was unnecessary, Nicol Green, the office’s chief trial counsel, said in a letter Tuesday. Deputies went to the group home in September after a worker called 911 to report the teen had knocked over a trash can and made verbal threats. Another teen used his cellphone to film part of Van Santen’s interaction with the boy, who has no arms or legs. In the footage, the deputy tussles on the kitchen floor with the boy, who is screaming and cursing. The deputy then uses his body to pin the teen on his side. After about two minutes, the officer gets up and talks to the teen, telling him to “shut the hell up.” The boy is then arrested on disorderly conduct charges. The boy did not suffer any physical injuries, according to his attorney, Samuel Jurgena.
Little Rock: A former state House speaker has been elected chairman of the state Highway Commission following the death of the panel’s previous leader. The commission on Monday elected Robert Moore as chairman, replacing previous Chairman Tom Schueck, who died last week at the age of 78. Moore was appointed to the commission by then-Gov. Mike Beebe in 2013 and had been serving as the commission’s vice chairman. His term on the commission expires in January 2023. Moore served three terms in the Arkansas House and was speaker during the 2011 legislative session. Commissioner Dalton A. Farmer Jr. was elected the commission’s vice chairman. He was appointed to the panel by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in January 2015, and his term expires January 2025.
Sacramento: Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued sweeping, statewide “guidance” in response to the coronavirus pandemic, asking Californians to postpone all nonessential gatherings through the end of March, including even small social gatherings in places where people can’t remain at least 6 feet apart. The California Department of Public Health advisory issued shortly before midnight Wednesday also says gatherings of 250 people or more should be postponed or canceled, and gatherings of people at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should be limited to no more than 10 people. “Not holding that concert or community event can have cascading effects – saving dozens of lives and preserving critical health care resources that your family may need a month from now,” Newsom said in a statement.
Aurora: Campaigners for a new state license plate option hope to honor victims of a theater shooting. The campaign by nonprofit organization Aurora Rise needs 3,000 signatures to start the process of obtaining state approval for the license plate, The Aurora Sentinel reports. The organization was established following the July 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora. James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded numerous others inside the theater. The license plate would raise funds to benefit the state’s Victim Compensation Fund. The fund receives money from fines collected as a result of felony, misdemeanor and some traffic offenses. Taxpayer dollars do not supplement the fund. A draft design of the license plate shows a blue ribbon signifying victim’s rights and the phrase “We Rise.” The draft also features 13 stars in the sky, which the organization said represent the 12 people and one unborn child who were victims.
Hartford: Gun rights supporters are suing state officials over part of a 2013 gun control law passed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, saying it unconstitutionally bans people from loading more than 10 rounds of ammunition into their firearms. The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court cites the Second Amendment right to bear arms and the ability of people to better defend themselves with more bullets in their guns. The defense league, the Second Amendment Foundation and two Connecticut gun owners filed the lawsuit against Public Safety Commissioner James Rovella, state police Col. Stavros Mellekas and Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr., none of whom were in their current jobs when the gun control law was passed. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that states can regulate firearms to protect public safety, said state Attorney General William Tong, whose office will defend state officials and the law.
Wilmington: The governor signed a bill into law Wednesday that limits how long pet owners can keep their dogs tied up outside and specifies the conditions in which they must be kept during severe weather events. The Senate bill signed by Gov. John Carney in Wilmington makes it illegal for dog owners to tether the animals or leave them unattended outside for more than two hours when nobody is home, or nine consecutive hours in a day when somebody is, The Delaware State News reports. The bill specifies that dogs can’t be left outside unattended at any time when the National Weather Service has issued a weather advisory or warning. The bill also mandates that between Nov. 1 and March 31, or when temperatures drop below 35 degrees, dogs must be housed in spaces that are raised off the ground, are wind- and waterproof, are capable of preserving heat and contain a flap over the entrance.
District of Columbia
Washington: Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency Wednesday as the number of identified coronavirus cases in the nation’s capital reached 10, and officials recommended gatherings of 1,000 or more people be postponed or canceled. The announcement signals a major escalation in the District of Columbia’s response to the spread of the virus. Bowser declared both a state of emergency and a public health emergency. The declarations give her the authority to order medical quarantines, request federal assistance and take steps to stem price gouging on critical supplies. The city has leased a building as a potential quarantine facility. Officials declined to disclose the location and said the facility, which will be able to a house about 50 people, is not being used yet. Organizers of the popular Cherry Blossom festival, which was scheduled to begin March 20 and traditionally attracts throngs of visitors to the nation’s capital, announced that several events would be postponed.
Tallahassee: The state is on the verge of ending firework sales that are done with a wink and a nod under a bill the Legislature passed Wednesday. One of Florida’s least enforced laws bans fireworks sales unless people are buying them to scare birds away from farms and fisheries. Customers sign a form saying that’s how they intend to use fireworks. Businesses from fireworks mega-stores to stands that pop up ahead of holidays don’t ask any further questions. The bill going to Gov. Ron DeSantis would make fireworks legal for use on the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Lawmakers have said the current law makes no sense and forces Floridians to lie to buy fireworks. The bill passed on an 82-34 vote.
Savannah: Business leaders postponed the city’s 196-year-old St. Patrick’s Day parade Wednesday amid concerns about the new coronavirus hours after Gov. Brian Kemp took the extraordinary step of asking state lawmakers to approve $100 million in additional funding to help the state combat the virus. Meanwhile, Georgia’s caseload of people with COVID-19 reached 31, with one death. Started by Irish immigrants to Georgia’s oldest city in 1824, the March 17 parade has ballooned into a massive street party that’s Savannah’s most profitable tourism draw. Savannah’s Tourism Leadership Council released a brief statement saying the annual celebration had been “postponed to a later date not yet determined.” The group added: “No businesses are asked to close.”
Honolulu: A bill in the state Senate would earmark $4 million to buy land in a Maui watershed for conservation. The Na Wai Eha watershed in the West Maui Mountains is being sold in pieces by the Wailuku Water Company, Hawaii Public Radio reports. The watershed provides about 70% of Maui’s drinking water. The proposal would require matching funds from Maui County, which has considered a purchase for years, but county officials have been unable to reach an agreement. The appraised value of the land was about $11 million two years ago. Democratic Rep. Troy Hashimoto, who represents the Na Wai Eha region, said more than 4,000 acres of watershed land have already been sold to private owners. “The future of our drinking water is within that watershed, so we need to protect that,” Hashimoto said.
Boise: A popular local music festival has been postponed until September amid growing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. Treefort Music Fest attracts crowds of more than 20,000 people each spring. This year more than 400 artists and bands were in the lineup for the weeklong festival originally scheduled to begin March 25. Treefort organizers made the announcement Wednesday. Idaho has not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, but nearby states have seen growing community spread. Other major music festivals across the country have made similar decisions. Treefort officials said all tickets purchased for the March event will be valid for September, and customers can request refunds by emailing the festival.
Chicago: Lawyers for a short-order cook shot by police trying to arrest him for using a subway train’s gangway doors filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging officers used excessive force in violation of policies laid out in court-monitored police reforms. Neither officer seeking to detain 33-year-old Ariel Roman – whose Feb. 28 shooting in a busy subway station was captured in bystander video widely viewed online – was properly trained before their deployment as part of a city bid to reduce violent crime on Chicago Transit Authority lines, according to the filing in U.S. District Court. The 12-page suit says the city hired the officer who shot Roman knowing she had been arrested in 2015 for assaulting a fast-food restaurant worker. And it says her partner should have intervened to stop her but instead could be heard telling her, “Shoot him!”
Indianapolis: State agencies are not allowed to use an “X” gender designation on identification documents for residents who don’t identify as male or female, the state attorney general said. Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. said in an official opinion this week that agencies must have strict direction from the Legislature to adopt the nonbinary identifier, The Times of Northwest Indiana reports. Republican Sen. Jim Tomes requested Hill’s opinion. State law requires applications for driver’s licenses or state IDs to include information about the person’s gender. Hill, a Republican, said the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and State Department of Health exceeded their authority when they briefly allowed nonbinary individuals to apply for a driver’s license, state identification card or birth certificate with an “X” marker. An attorney general’s opinion is not legally binding.
Muscatine: A diverse group of local citizens wants to save a nearly 115-year-old pump house and use it to help restore the population of Mississippi River mussels that was decimated during the last century to manufacture pearl buttons. The group, called the Mussels of Muscatine, hopes to build an eco-tourism attraction that’s grounded in mussel research and propagation – reversing the legacy of overharvesting the mollusks, now highly valued for their water-cleansing abilities. “We could turn this around and learn from history. It could be a springboard for clean-water initiatives,” said Terry Eagle, director of the National Pearl Button Museum at the History & Industry Center in Muscatine, once the center of the mussel trade. Fishermen harvested mussels from the Mississippi River for decades, beginning in the late 1800s. Muscatine companies were producing 1.5 billion pearl buttons a year from mussel shells by 1905, accounting for nearly 40% of the world’s button production.
Topeka: Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday named an attorney who said he’s similar in temperament to former Chief Justice Lawton Nuss to replace Nuss as a Kansas Supreme Court justice. K.J. Wall, of Lawrence, also formerly worked for the state’s highest court overseeing special projects and research for justices in death penalty cases. He was most recently a partner in a law firm that represents rural Kansas hospitals. Kelly cited what she described as his wide-ranging background in picking Wall over a Kansas Court of Appeals judge and a veteran prosecutor who now works for Attorney General Derek Schmidt. Wall, 49, grew up in Scott City in western Kansas, where his father operated a hardware store, and was a national champion debater at Kansas State University. He will join a seven-member court that for years has faced strong criticism from conservative Republican legislators over rulings on school funding, the death penalty and abortion.
Frankfort: The state’s auditor called for greater transparency on use of state aircraft by elected officials as he reported that most flights taken by the former governor lacked documentation on their purpose. Most of those flights were on aircraft operated by Kentucky State Police, and under state law the purpose of those flights doesn’t have to be documented, state Auditor Mike Harmon said Thursday. Harmon’s report stems from a review of the use of state aircraft by former Gov. Matt Bevin and former Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton between January 2016 and September 2019. The Republicans left office in December. Only 16 of 309 flights billed to the governor’s office during that time had their purpose documented, Harmon said. Bevin’s use of the state aircraft came under media scrutiny during last year’s campaign, when he was unseated by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
New Orleans: Land bought for a Taiwan company’s planned $9.4 billion plastics complex may hold as many as seven slave cemeteries – five more than previously thought, local activists said Wednesday. A 146-page report from Coastal Environments Inc. says the 2,500-acre site holds five previously unknown areas that archaeologists concluded may hold the graves of slaves, in addition to two mapped in the late 1800s. A community group called Rise St. James sent a letter about the report Wednesday to St. James Parish Council members in hopes of convincing them to revoke permits for the Formosa Plastics Group member called FG LA LLC, said founder Sharon Lavigne. She and five members of her group were later able to visit one of the sites marked on the old map, but it took about an hour and intervention by sheriff’s deputies before a guard let them through the gate, she said.
Augusta: Children will have swifter access to dental care under a proposal approved by the Legislature. The Maine Senate on Tuesday enacted the proposal from Democratic Sen. Heather Sanborn that would prohibit insurance plans from implementing waiting periods before they will cover tooth decay treatment in children. Sanborn said one insurer, Northeast Delta Dental, has announced it would eliminate the waiting periods for children covered in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont beginning Jan. 1, 2021. Maine’s bill would be the first in the country to prohibit such waiting periods for children, Maine Democrats said. The bill has been sent to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who can sign it, veto it or let it become law without signature.
Baltimore: A worker operating a trash loading machine rescued a severely injured dog after the animal fell 30 feet into a garbage incinerator. The front-end loader operator noticed something moving among the piles of debris, stopped his machine and jumped into the trash to save what turned out to be a critically injured dog, Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter said in a statement Wednesday. The dog was taken to the shelter, where veterinarians found he was covered in trash, unable to walk, and suffering from multiple cuts and puncture wounds, according to Animal Rescue. The center named him Donut, and he has since been recovering, Bailey Deacon, a spokeswoman for the shelter, told The Baltimore Sun. Donut remains under emergency care and could require surgery on both of his legs, animal rescue said.
Boston: Workers at the largest power plant in the state who went on strike last weekend are back on the job after reaching a tentative deal Wednesday with the plant’s owner, their union said. Dozens of employees at Mystic Generating Station in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood started a strike Saturday over what they called concerns about safety and working conditions. The 2,001-megawatt, oil- and natural gas-fired plant’s owner, Exelon Generation, has repeatedly cut corners and deferred important maintenance upgrades, according to the Utility Workers Union of America Local 369. The agreement led to new protections and improved working conditions, union President Craig Pinkham said in a statement. Workers are expected to ratify the new agreement, the union said. Exelon confirmed the agreement but said the dispute was not about safety.
Lansing: The state Senate on Thursday approved $312 million in spending to provide financial assistance for adults age 25 and older to attend community college and partially revive the state’s tourism campaign. The supplemental bills won bipartisan approval from the Senate two days after clearing the House. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will sign the legislation after the House concurs with minor changes. Some of the money will partly restore funding the Democrat vetoed last fall amid a budget impasse with the Republican-led Legislature over fixing roads. Lawmakers waited to pass $9 million in additional education funding, to give themselves flexibility to use the bill as a way to quickly add more money to fight the coronavirus, for which they earmarked $25 million.
St. Paul: Gov. Tim Walz proposed Thursday to bank $1.2 billion of the state’s projected $1.5 billion budget surplus because of the uncertainties about how the new coronavirus will affect the economy. Citing “a rapidly unfolding need,” Walz said at a news conference that his one-page proposal ensures that Minnesota will be in as strong a fiscal position as any state in the country while providing enough flexibility to respond to the pandemic. The “triage” work that went into the plan means “many worthy causes” are left unfunded, he said. “There are priorities that are absolutely critical to me that aren’t in here – things that I have spent my whole career trying to advocate for, but now is not the time to do that,” he said. The Democratic governor’s proposed supplemental budget would add only $256 million in new spending on programs to the $48 billion two-year budget that the Legislature approved last year.
Jackson: State officials have scrambled to edit a public service announcement about the 2020 U.S. census that led viewers to an incorrect website. The Census Bureau notified Mississippi officials Monday with their concerns that the ad could confuse people on what they should expect in the mail. In the 30-second spot, actor Morgan Freeman holds a postcard with a QR code. “It’s one of the most important things you’ll ever find in your mailbox,” he says, before urging residents to fill out their census forms so Mississippi can unlock federal funds that are dispersed based on census results. Starting this week, the Census Bureau is mailing out initial notices inviting people to participate in the census. The notices aren’t postcards, though; they are blue, letter-length papers that don’t feature QR codes, images that can be scanned with a smartphone to take someone to a website. Mississippi officials say the mistake was an honest one, and the ad has been edited to make the QR code unreadable. Freeman, an Academy Award-winning actor, has owned businesses and lived in the Mississippi Delta.
St. Louis: A police officer who pleaded guilty to accidentally killing a female colleague while playing a variation of Russian roulette said the woman knew the risk she was taking. Nathaniel Hendren made the response Wednesday in a wrongful death lawsuit that was filed on behalf of the mother of Katlyn Alix, 24, who also was a St. Louis officer, KSDK reports. Hendren is serving a seven-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for killing Alix at his home in January 2019 while he was supposed to be on duty elsewhere. Also named in the lawsuit is Hendren’s partner on the force, who also was at the home while on duty. Alix was off-duty at the time. In the response, Hendren admitted to acting recklessly on the night of Alix’s death. But his attorney, Talmage Newton, said Alix assumed risk by voluntarily participating in the game. Hendren also said he and Alix were involved in a romantic relationship.
Helena: The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Montana and the Native American Rights Fund are challenging a state law that they say severely restricts Native Americans’ ability to vote. The groups filed a lawsuit in District Court in Billings on Thursday arguing a voter-approved referendum that restricts who can collect ballots, as well as how many they can return to county election offices, disproportionately burdens Native Americans who live in rural areas without home mail service. The Ballot Interference Prevention Act “ignores the everyday realities that face Native American communities,” said Jacqueline De Leon of the Native American Rights Fund. “It is not reasonable to expect voters to drive an hour to drop off their ballot, so collecting ballots in reservation communities just makes sense.”
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Lincoln: The state moved a step closer Wednesday to creating a new commission focused on African American affairs, similar to existing groups that represent Latino Americans and Native Americans. The measure won first-round approval in the Legislature on a 32-0 vote. The new, 14-member commission would meet quarterly and be allowed to hire an executive director. Commission members would receive $50 a day while performing commission duties, plus expense reimbursement. The bill by Sen. Justin Wayne, of Omaha, would also require the commission to work with the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and the Commission on Latino Americans to conduct a study on disparities in government contracting every two years, starting in 2022. Two additional votes are required before the bill goes to the governor.
Las Vegas: Two men have been indicted on charges of vandalizing an archaeological site after U.S. prosecutors say the pair spray-painted rock formations in a national monument that features petroglyphs – and were caught soon after while still covered in blue paint. Daniel Plata and Jonathan Pavon, both 25 and from Elko, are charged with conspiracy, destruction of government property, and unauthorized damage or alteration or defacement of archaeological resources, U.S. Attorney Nicholas Trutanich’s office said. Prosecutors say the men “went on a vandalism spree” while on their way to a wedding in September 2019, where they stopped at three different locations on a remote Nevada road and filmed themselves using spray paint to vandalize buildings with their nicknames “Velor” and “Cluer.” The men then drove into the White River Narrows Archaeological District within Basin and Range National Monument. The winding canyon is home to one of the largest concentrations of prehistoric rock art in eastern Nevada, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Auburn: A 77-acre property on Lake Massabesic has been conserved through efforts of the Manchester Water Works and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. The property provides a forested buffer to the lake. The wooded property and nearly 5 acres of wetlands serve to trap nutrients and sediment running off Route 28 from draining into the lake. Much of it supports Appalachian oak-pine forest and hemlock-beech-oak-pine forest. Lake Massabesic is the surface water drinking source for over 165,000 residents in Manchester and surrounding communities. “Providing clean, high-quality drinking water is a primary goal for the city,” Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig said in a statement. “By preserving our natural resources and guaranteeing this land will not be developed, Manchester Water Works and the Forest Society are ensuring our water quality will remain pristine for future generations.”
River Vale: A convenience store owner reacting to the coronavirus outbreak created and sold a spray sanitizer that left four children with burns, state and county law enforcement officials said. Authorities on Tuesday issued a summons charging Manisha Bharade, 47, of Wood-Ridge, with endangering the welfare of children and deceptive business practices. State consumer officials also opened an investigation into the sale and promotion of health and sanitation products at her 7-Eleven store in River Vale. Bharade mixed commercially available foaming sanitizer, which wasn’t meant for resale, with water and packaged the bottles in her store, authorities said. “An apparent chemical reaction from the mixture caused the burns” to the three 10-year-olds and an 11-year-old, authorities said.
Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico has announced it will offer free tuition for first-time students whose families make $50,000 or less. The Lobo First-Year Promise scholarship program was announced Thursday and is available to the Albuquerque campus’ incoming freshmen class. University officials estimate up to 1,500 students are eligible for the program, which could cost the university more than $9 million, based on current tuition and fees, officials said. The scholarship will cover tuition and fees not covered by other scholarships, grants and financial aid, university officials said. The university capped qualifying household income at $50,000, about the state median income. The free tuition is aimed at “students who may not have thought a university education was possible next year,” said Dan Garcia, university vice president of enrollment management.
New York: Gatherings with more than 500 people will temporarily be banned in the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday when announcing one of several “dramatic actions” to contain the coronavirus. He said the ban would start for most places at 5 p.m. Friday, though it does not apply to schools, hospitals, nursing homes and mass transit. The ban for Broadway theaters began at 5 p.m. Thursday and is in effect through April 12, according to a statement from The Broadway League, an organization of theater owners and producers. The ban comes as some of New York City’s most esteemed cultural institutions announced Thursday that they are temporarily shutting down because of the coronavirus, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall.
Asheville: Some 20 years after a proposed NASCAR track on Chestnut Mountain in Haywood County ran out of gas, the forested, mountainous land outside Canton is now looking to attract the more environmentally friendly sports of hiking and mountain biking. And it’s expecting just as much interest, visitors and economic impact as fast cars. A grant of $150,000 to protect 448 acres and 9 miles of stream, about 20 minutes west of Asheville, was one of four major land protection grants announced Wednesday by Attorney General Josh Stein, speaking at the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy offices in North Asheville. The four Environmental Enhancement Grants total nearly $500,000 for projects in Western North Carolina to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, trout streams and rare mountain bogs and to create public parks for more outdoor recreation opportunities closer to town centers.
Bismarck: State health officials are focusing their efforts on protecting elderly residents and those with chronic conditions after a man in his 60s became the first person in the state to test positive for the coronavirus, Gov. Doug Burgum said Thursday. Health officials said the Ward County man traveled to the East Coast and had contact with a person who also tested positive for the disease. He has isolated himself at home, and his symptoms appear to be mild. Officials are working to identify people who may have been in close contact with him. Burgum said he wants people to make decisions “on facts, not fear,” and urged residents to take two main precautions: wash their hands with “good old soap and water,” and stay home when they’re sick. “We even like the phrase ‘North Dakota tough,’ ” Burgum said. “Right now ‘North Dakota tough’ means making the right decisions about protecting yourselves, your family, your friends and your co-workers. There has been a culture in our state that if you’re ill, you’re the strong one if you still get up and go to work.”
Columbus: Local officials representing nearly 85% of the state’s residents have agreed to a plan to share any money brought in from settlements with companies over the toll of opioids. Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost, both Republicans, announced acceptance of the plan on Wednesday. They said that the communities who have agreed to the plan cover 9.8 million of the state’s 11.7 million residents. While some local and county governments did not vote, none voted against the plan, the officials said. Part of the plan is that Ohio and its local subdivisions would negotiate for settlements jointly. No other state has announced a similar plan. Drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies are facing about 3,000 lawsuits in the U.S. over the toll of opioids. Combined, prescription painkillers and illicit versions such as heroin and fentanyl have been linked to more than 430,000 deaths in the country since 2000.
Oklahoma City: The state Senate voted Wednesday to increase penalties for drug possession near schools, drawing criticism from proponents of a state question in 2016 that made such crimes misdemeanors. The Senate voted 35-12 for legislation to make it a felony to possess methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine or fentanyl within 1,000 feet of an elementary or secondary school. The bill would not apply to people under 18, those enrolled as a student at a school or people found in possession during routine traffic stops. The bill’s passage upset proponents of State Question 780, a citizen-led initiative in 2016 that reduced the penalties for drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Oklahoma voters approved the state question with more than 58% of the vote after the state’s incarceration rate had become one of the nation’s highest. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.
Detroit: The process for visiting Marion Lake, a beloved alpine pool in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, has always fairly simple, but beginning this summer, that experience will change in a big way. From May 22 to Sept. 25, recreationists will need a special permit purchased in advance, from a limited number available, to camp or even day-hike to Marion Lake and a host of other familiar backcountry spots in three wilderness areas between Salem and Bend. The limited-entry permit system, finalized this month by the U.S. Forest Service, is intended to limit increasing crowds from trashing the Mount Jefferson, Three Sisters and Mount Washington wilderness areas. But it will also make planning a trip to anywhere in 450,000 acres of Oregon’s most iconic backcountry more challenging. As the first block of permits go on sale April 7, Forest Service officials are preparing for a summer in uncharted waters.
Palmyra: Family members of several people buried at Gravel Hill Cemetery were blindsided last week after cemetery staff removed items that had been placed at their loved ones’ gravesites for years. Gravel Hill cleans away items from gravesites twice a year, removing dead flowers, wreaths and other “non-permanent” items. This year, however, mementos that had been at a grave for more than 10 years were removed, and in one case, statues that were glued to a headstone were removed. Betsy Shelly, whose son, Michael, was buried at Gravel Hill in 2005, said the family glued a tiny statue of a dog that had belonged to her son to his headstone. A similar statue that had become unglued and an angel figurine were also placed next to the headstone. When her husband went to visit Michael’s grave late last week, they were all gone. A cemetery official said miscommunication – combined with an effort to be more thorough in this spring’s cleaning – led to the situation.
Providence: The state-appointed superintendent of the city’s school system released a list of priorities Wednesday that he intends to tackle in an attempt to turn the struggling district around. The plan unveiled by Superintendent Harrison Peters, who started Feb. 20, is not the final state turnaround plan that is expected to be released next month but the initial steps. The 10-page plan includes reviews of every school in the district; a review of the district transportation policy; the establishment of a task force to “significantly reduce” employee vacancies; a recruitment campaign to attract “diverse and effective” teachers; and a plan to gather and track the social-emotional health and growth data of students. The state took control of the city’s school system Nov. 1 in response to a scathing report by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy last June that called the system among the nation’s worst.
Columbia: Amid a flurry of cancellations of college classes, athletic events and St. Patrick’s Day parades in the state over the coronavirus outbreak, one institution plans to keep going – the state Senate. Senate President Harvey Peeler gaveled out the chamber for the week Thursday and told senators to be back at 2 p.m. Tuesday. “I’m no human health expert. But I’m a human nature expert,” the Republican from Gaffney said. “We tell people to ‘stay calm, don’t worry, things are going to be fine’ and then start closing things, there’s a mixed message.” The South Carolina House is not meeting next week, but that was a planned break after the chamber finished its work on the state budget. Gov. Henry McMaster has asked the General Assembly to release $45 million to state health officials as soon as possible to fight the virus.
Pierre: A state lawmaker was being tested for COVID-19 on Thursday as the Legislature met for one of its final days of the session. Rep. Spencer Gosch, a Glenham Republican, was feeling ill and decided to get tested Thursday morning, House Speaker Steve Haugaard said. Gosch is avoiding contact with other people as a precaution. Gosch said he had a cough that matched the symptoms of COVID-19 but was also being tested for other possible illnesses. The Legislature didn’t immediately alter its schedule or routines. Lawmakers were trying to complete a budget by Thursday, which was the final work day aside from a day at the end of the month reserved for wrapping up business and responding to vetoes.
Nashville: Gov. Bill Lee would no longer be required by law to sign a proclamation that names a day each year after a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader, according to legislation passed by the state House on Thursday. The unopposed vote in the Republican-led Legislature moves action to the Senate on the bill that targets Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Republican governor pushed the legislation, which initially sought to remove Nathan Bedford Forrest Day as a day of special observance. House lawmakers amended the bill to keep the day in state law but remove the requirement that the governor sign off on proclamations for special days of observance. Lawmakers did not mention Forrest during brief floor discussion Thursday.
Houston: The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors, has been canceled about halfway through its run as a precaution against the new coronavirus, city and county officials said Wednesday. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said they would be issuing emergency health declarations to slow the spread of COVID-19. Rodeo organizers said the event grounds were closing Wednesday afternoon, and they were working on a ticket refund process. “This is a decision that does not come easily, but the health and safety of people in our region is paramount,” Turner said. Officials said they made the decision after news Tuesday of a positive case in nearby Montgomery County that indicated community spread was happening, when a person contracts an illness from an unknown source.
Salt Lake City: Changes to a voter-approved law aimed at curbing gerrymandering passed the Legislature on Wednesday. The plan now before Gov. Gary Herbert comes after supporters of the 2018 initiative agreed to a compromise to revise the measure. It creates an independent redistricting commission in hopes of reducing gerrymandering, a process of manipulating voting districts unfairly to gain an advantage. The bill drops requirements that the GOP-dominated Legislature take an up-or-down vote on redistricting maps developed by the bipartisan commission and provide a formal explanation if it chooses not to adopt them. Lawmakers have contended that would infringe on their constitutional powers. The new legislation would also repeal a requirement to use a statistical “partisan symmetry” test to ensure districts do not unduly favor any political party. Critics called that unclear and subjective.
Montpelier: Mayors from the Green Mountain State have made the case for changes to policy on a series of key issues plaguing the state, including affordable housing, climate change and substance abuse. Members of the Vermont Mayors Coalition were present Tuesday at a conference at the State House, the Times Argus reports. The coalition was formed in 2013 and includes mayors from eight of the state’s cities. Six mayors must concur on any recommendation for the VMC to take a position. The group asked lawmakers to increase weatherization programs to tackle climate change as well as advocate for a 2% local options tax for commercial cannabis that would fund after-school and community programs for youth to reduce substance abuse.
Richmond: A police captain, a former first lady of Virginia and a nun are among the women who will be honored during a luncheon to mark Women’s History Month. “Strong Voices: Celebrating the Power and Stories of Richmond Women” will be hosted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Monday. The event is being held to honor women whose vision and commitment have served Richmond and Virginia. The Times-Dispatch reports that participants will share personal reflections on how they persevered, how they were inspired and how they are extending the path for the next generations of women. The list of speakers includes Faith Flippo, a Richmond police captain; Sister Vicky Segura, a physician and pioneer in local hospice medicine; Adele Johnson, executive director of the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia; and Anne Holton, a lawyer and former state secretary of education who served as first lady from 2006 to 2010 during U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s term as governor. The luncheon will be held at the Omni Richmond Hotel.
Seattle: The city may soon get the green light to install automated traffic cameras to ticket drivers who block crosswalks and use bus-only lanes. The Legislature approved a bill this week to allow the cameras for limited new uses, The Seattle Times reports. Blocking crosswalks and bus lanes is already illegal, but Seattle police say enforcing those rules is difficult during commuting hours because there’s often nowhere for cars to pull over. “Downtown Seattle is the most congested place in our state,” said Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, who sponsored the bill. “If we are going to protect safety, both of drivers and pedestrians, as well as the mobility of people relying on transit … we need the ability to enforce our existing traffic safety laws.” The bill would allow a pilot program for the cameras to operate through mid-2023.
Charleston: Anyone interested in applying to become a West Virginia Natural Resources police officer can take a physical agility test and written exam next month. Applicants can take the physical test at 9 a.m. April 3 or 4 at the South Charleston Community Center. The written exam will be given after the physical test, at approximately 12:30 p.m. each day. That test will be administered at division headquarters in South Charleston, the agency said in a news release. Interviews for successful applicants will be held April 14 to 16. Applicants must have graduated from an accredited four-year college or university, with preference given to majors in natural sciences, law enforcement, criminology or criminal justice. Previous employment as a West Virginia-certified law enforcement officer may be substituted under certain circumstances.
Madison: Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency, the state Capitol closed to formal tours and the state high school athletics association moved to drastically limit attendance at remaining winter tournaments Thursday as officials scrambled to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus in Wisconsin. Evers’ declaration frees up resources and allows the Department of Health Services to buy, store and distribute medications regardless of health coverage. It also releases state funds to support local health departments with costs stemming from isolations and quarantines, authorizes the use of the Wisconsin National Guard and prohibits price gouging. DHS Secretary Andrea Palm said during a news conference that the agency is recommending the cancellation of all events with more than 250 people. Evers said people should stop shaking hands to prevent the spread of the virus. “ ‘Wisconsin nice’ is going to have to have a different look to it in the future,” he said.
Cheyenne: State regulators will begin planning in the weeks ahead to consider rate changes proposed by the state’s largest electric utility. Rocky Mountain Power seeks to cut rates for industrial customers by 0.8%. The PacifiCorp subsidiary also proposes to raise residential rates by about $3.69 per month for the average customer. The Wyoming Public Service Commission will likely set a schedule in the next few weeks for considering the changes, Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Spencer Hall said Wednesday. The rates could take effect by next January. The changes would cover projects including wind turbine replacement at the Foote Creek I wind project near Arlington. Rocky Mountain Power has been investing in projects for five years without raising rates. Those rates are 10% below the Wyoming average and 34% below the national average, according to the company, which has about 146,000 customers in Wyoming.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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