Montgomery: For many children, coming back after the Christmas break with a new pair means a lot. “Shoes with the kids means everything. It naturally builds self-esteem,” says Mac “Dukie” Hopkins, an artist manager and event promoter. That’s why he’s hosting his fourth Christmas shoe drive, hoping to give at least 100 new pairs of shoes to children in need through the Brantwood Children’s Home. A fixture in Montgomery’s rap scene since the early 2000s, Hopkins has used those connections in years past to bring in donations. In 2015, the event’s first year, he called on local artists to compete against local producers in a basketball game. Those who came to watch brought shoes as their ticket payment. That first year brought in nearly 100 pairs, and Hopkins says it’s grown each year since. This year’s drive runs through Dec. 20.


Napakiak: This town is quickly losing land to the Kuskokwim River because of erosion that’s forcing everyone to move farther inland – this year alone, it’s lost more than 100 feet of shoreline. But for one day this month, the Alaska National Guard gave folks a reason to smile, thanks to its “Operation Santa Claus” program. Now in its 63rd year, Operation Santa Claus has become a rarity among National Guard units. Defense officials have shut down the program everywhere but Alaska, where the mission survives because the state is so large and some communities so remote. The program started in 1956 when the residents of St. Mary’s, Alaska, had no money to buy children Christmas presents after flooding severely impacted hunting and fishing. Since then, Guard members try to visit at least two rural communities a year, delivering Christmas gifts and other needed supplies.


Phoenix: A state commission unanimously approved a partnership Tuesday between the University of Arizona and Tucson Electric Power to run the campus primarily on renewable energy. The five members of the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates public utilities, voted for the project at a public meeting in Phoenix. The proposal would make the school the largest research university nationwide with an initiative to offset greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UA. Tucson Electric Power will provide clean energy to the school for the next 20 years via a wind farm in New Mexico and a solar-power storage system just outside Tucson. Construction on the facilities has not begun, but both are expected to be operational sometime next year.


Conway: A police officer who is on military leave inadvertently shot an 18-year-old man when his gun accidentally discharged, authorities said. The officer was preparing to clean a gun when it discharged Friday, striking the teenager, Conway Police Department spokeswoman LaTresha Woodruff said. Authorities said the teen’s injuries aren’t life-threatening. The officer’s name has not been released. Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler told the Log Cabin Democrat that the 18-year-old was struck once by gunfire. An investigative file will be forwarded to prosecutors to determine whether any charges will be filed, Sadler said.


San Diego: A white rhino born last month at San Diego Zoo Safari Park has been named Future for what the calf represents to rhino conservation worldwide, officials say. The baby is bonding with her mother and frolicking in a maternity yard left wet by recent storms. “Future’s new favorite thing is mud,” zookeeper Marco Zeno says. “She sees a puddle, and she wants to roll in it!” Future is the 100th southern white rhino to be born at the park and the second conceived through artificial insemination. The first, Edward, was born to a different mother in July. The zoo births using frozen sperm are part of efforts to develop knowledge needed to save a subspecies called the northern white rhino, officials say. Only two remain, and both are female. Several other rhino species also are being pushed toward extinction. Future was born Nov. 21 to an 11-year-old mother named Amani.


Colorado Springs: The city is anticipating the arrival of the new U.S. Space Force under a defense policy bill making its way through Congress. The Gazette reports the bill also earmarks $322 million for construction at military bases in the city. The Space Force will take over from the existing Air Force Space Command as the newest armed forces branch charged with defending satellites and conducting other military initiatives in space. The Space Force is a longtime priority of President Donald Trump. Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs told the Gazette that the National Defense Authorization Act will make the city “the center of military space.” The Space Force, the first new U.S. military branch since the Air Force was created in 1947, will consist of troops attached to Air Force Space Command. The command, in turn, supervises space-related operations of all service branches.


Hartford: Gov. Ned Lamont and Democratic legislative leaders are planning to vote early next month on a proposal to upgrade the state’s infrastructure. The Democratic governor and the lawmakers announced Tuesday that they have agreed to convene a special session of the General Assembly to vote on the transportation plan and a major state bonding bill. There had been expectations of a possible vote next week on the transportation proposal, which will likely include a dozen bridge tolls for just trucks. Lawmakers are still expected to return to the state Capitol next week. Both the House and Senate have been advised there will be another special session Dec. 18. The General Assembly is expected to vote on a settlement Lamont’s administration recently reached with the Connecticut Hospital Association over a state tax and legislation that would settle a dispute over how certain restaurant workers are paid.


New Castle: The director of a state agency that oversees food stamp benefits and determines Medicaid eligibility has been placed on administrative leave with pay, an official says. Delaware Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Karen Smith confirmed the information about Ray Fitzgerald, director of the Division of Social Services, but did not give a reason for the placement, citing the department’s policy not to discuss personnel matters. Fitzgerald has been with the state Department of Health and Social Services since 2006, according to his LinkedIn profile. He became director of the social services division in 2015. Fitzgerald could not be immediately reached for comment about being placed on leave.

District of Columbia

Washington: A man attacked two guards at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Tuesday morning, authorities said. A domestic dispute was apparently behind the attack at what’s believed to be the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, assistant police Chief Jeffery Carroll told news outlets. Police said Dorsey Lee Mack III, 48, first struck a female guard with a car, pinning her against another vehicle, before crashing into her again. A male guard then tried to intervene and was chased by the man through the Basilica and into the church’s crypt, where the guard was stabbed several times, church rector Monsignor Walter Rossi told The Washington Post. He said there appears to be no other relation to the shrine other than that the guards worked there. The man fled to an area home, where he barricaded himself inside for about two hours.


Orlando: The University of Central Florida on Tuesday said it was partnering with the Florida state parks system to open a research facility in a first-of-its-kind agreement. UCF officials said they plan to take over a former restaurant building in Econfina River State Park in rural Taylor County and convert it into a research facility. The site will be about an hour’s drive southeast of Tallahassee. UCF’s National Center for Integrated Coastal Research will lead the new center. The partnership with the Florida Park Service will allow anthropology students to dig up precolonial sites. Civil engineering students will be able to study storm surge, and biology students can examine the park’s habitats, UCF officials said.


Atlanta: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and its parent corporation aren’t happy with how one of their late reporters is portrayed in the upcoming film “Richard Jewell,” which depicts Kathy Scruggs as using sex to get information from sources. A law firm sent a letter Monday on behalf of the companies to film leadership, including director Clint Eastwood, screenwriter Bill Ray, Warner Bros. and others, the newspaper reports. It requests that they issue a public statement acknowledging characters and events were dramatized. They also want the disclaimer prominently featured in the film, which hits theaters Friday. The film tells the story of the late Richard Jewell, a security guard who saved countless people from the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympics. The newspaper and Scruggs were the first to report that the FBI considered Jewell a suspect, it says. Jewell was cleared months later.


Wailuku: Visitor entrance fees at Haleakala National Park on Maui will increase on New Year’s Day, the National Park Service says. Park officials say the rate increase will begin Jan. 1, The Maui News reports. A $5 increase will raise the entrance fee to $30 per vehicle and $25 per motorcycle, officials say. There will also be a $3 increase for bicycle riders and pedestrians to $15 per person. The cost of a Tri-Park Pass will increase from $50 to $55. The annual pass allows visitors unlimited entry to the state’s fee-collecting parks including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Haleakala National Park and Puuhonua o Hanaunau National Historical Park. Haleakala receives more than a million visitors each year, and its fees are increasing along with those at other U.S. national parks to conduct infrastructure improvements, the park service says.


Boise: Prison officials have changed their administrative rules to ensure secrecy surrounding the source of the state’s lethal injection drugs. Like previous versions, the rule updated earlier this year forbids the Idaho Department of Correction from disclosing “under any circumstance” information that department director Josh Tewalt determines could jeopardize the department’s ability to carry out an execution. But this version also specifically forbids the release of information that could potentially identify both past and future suppliers of lethal injection drugs. The rule doesn’t include allowances for court orders. That could complicate an appeal in a lawsuit against the department from a University of Idaho professor who is seeking access to lethal injection records. A state judge has ordered the state to turn over the documents, but prison officials have appealed, and the state Supreme Court is expected to hear the case next year.


Chicago: The city’s interim police superintendent is discontinuing a so-called merit promotion system that rank-and-file cops have long complained rewards officers for who they know and not what skills they have to do the job. In a letter to the 13,400-member department obtained by the Chicago Tribune, Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck said Tuesday that he’s heard many officers have been “dissatisfied and discouraged” by the process that allows promotions to the ranks of detective, sergeant and lieutenant regardless of exam scores. Beck wrote that he made the decision after consulting with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham. Beck said he will recommend to whomever Lightfoot selects as the next permanent superintendent in 2020 that the merit promotion system be discontinued and that promotional exams be given every two years.


Indianapolis: Up to 20 low- and middle-income homes in the city could be running on solar power free of charge by the end of next year with the help of a new city initiative, the first of its kind in the Midwest. Just months after Indianapolis and Hamilton County formed solar power co-ops to make solar energy more available to homeowners, the city of Indianapolis announced another co-op plan – this one aimed specifically at providing solar power to financially burdened residents. Like the co-ops announced this year, the plan is the result of a partnership with Solar United Neighbors, a national nonprofit that establishes similar co-ops and promotes solar power. Installing solar panels for a home can $5,000 to $20,000, depending on the home, pushing it out of reach of most low- and middle-income homeowners who already spend a higher proportion of their income on energy.


Des Moines: A state-run family planning program that excludes Planned Parenthood from accessing funds has seen a nearly 75% drop in the number of people using its services since 2017, according to a new agency report. The 11-page report shows 5,857 people utilized services through the program in the calendar year 2017. The number using services under the program as of December 2018 was 1,502. The program is supposed to help poor and moderate-income Iowans obtain reproductive services like contraception and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The state-run family planning program was launched in July 2017, so the data from that year includes services provided under a federally funded program that allowed Planned Parenthood to seek reimbursement for providing services.


Lawrence: The state Department of Agriculture is offering stressed farmers a place to find support and resources. A new website,, comes at a time when the number of farmer suicides is rising across the nation. The website is a collaboration among the state and several other agriculture partners. Kansas Ag Stress Resources includes a “Family Support” tab that provides resources to different family members. The main page lists the Kansas Suicide Prevention Line and the Crisis Text Line. Agriculture Secretary Mike Beam said in a news release that the website is intended to support those involved in Kansas agriculture through times of emotional of financial stress. Gov. Laura Kelly said the increase in suicide rates for farmer and ranchers is alarming, and the state wants to provide them and their loved ones with support and alternatives to suicide.


Louisville: A national group that focuses on issues common to Muslims and Jews in the U.S. has launched a chapter in Louisville. The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council held an event at the Muhammed Ali Center over the weekend in Louisville to launch its new chapter. The group says its national board is composed of 45 civil, religious and business leaders who “advocate for domestic policy issues of common concern.” Among the issues is combating discrimination against religious minorities. Lonnie Ali, widow of Muhammad Ali, says she is looking forward to being an active member of the Louisville-based council. “This is the work my husband would want me to do,” she said. The group has regional chapters in 10 other cities.


Baton Rouge: As the state broadens its efforts to combat hepatitis C in hopes of largely eliminating the deadly viral infection, the health department announced Tuesday that 10 Walmart locations around the state will offer free screenings for the infectious, liver-damaging disease. Walmart will offer the no-cost hepatitis C screenings every Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. until Feb. 1 at the pharmacies in stores in Vivian, Ville Platte, New Iberia, Raceland, Oak Grove, Amite, Monroe, Denham Springs, Opelousas and Morgan City. “We are trying to make it as easy as possible for people to get screened for this virus and then get treated,” Health Secretary Rebekah Gee says. The screenings involve a finger-stick test. If the testing detects the presence of hepatitis C virus antibodies, patients will be referred to their primary care doctors or a local health care provider.


Jonesport: Fishing regulators are implementing emergency closures in the state’s scallop harvesting industry for the first time this season. Maine scallop fishing takes place every winter, and the state uses emergency closures to protect the valuable shellfish against overfishing. The Maine Department of Marine Resources says it has closed Moosabec Reach, an area off Jonesport in Down East Maine. The closure went into effect Sunday. Scallops are among the most profitable marine resources in Maine. However, the fishery dipped in both volume and value last year. Fishermen harvested a little more than 560,000 pounds of scallop meat in 2018 after collecting more than 800,000 pounds in 2017. The price per pound to fishermen also fell $1.20, to $10.54.


Upper Marlboro: Racist memes poisoned the mind of a white man who fatally stabbed a black college student at a bus stop on the University of Maryland’s campus after a night of drinking, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday. Sean Urbanski doesn’t deny he stabbed Richard Collins III that night in May 2017, but one of his lawyers says there is no evidence race was a motive for the killing. “They have used race to divide this community,” defense attorney William Brennan said of prosecutors during the trial’s opening statements. Urbanski, now 24, is charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime. Urbanski had saved at least six photographs of racist memes on his cellphone and liked a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation,” according to prosecutors. “These images were in his phone, in his mind every day. It’s poison,” said deputy state’s attorney Jason Abbott.


Holyoke: A blue wheelchair van once used to transport a judge with ALS to work and doctor’s appointments has been donated to a police chief battling the same condition. Rose Boyle, the wife of late Springfield District Court Judge William Boyle, turned over the keys to the van to Lee Police Chief Jeffrey Roosa during a meeting Tuesday of the Western Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, according to Roosa has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, the same condition that claimed Boyle’s life in September. Roosa, 46, was diagnosed with the disease in 2017. He continues to work, drives his car some, and uses a wheelchair and a cane to get around. He knows eventually he will need the van. Roosa thanked the Boyle family and said the gift will help defray costs for his family as he continues to fight the disease.


Lansing: Internet gaming and sports betting are soon expected to be legal in the state after the Legislature sent a package of bills to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday, on the last session day of the year. The bills, expected to be signed by Whitmer, will allow existing licensed casinos to offer poker, blackjack, slots and other casino-style games over the internet. The legislation also will allow those casinos to set up theaters to accept wagers on live sporting events and accept sports bets online. “It’s been a long journey to move sports betting and casino-style gaming into a regulated, safe and modern environment – but the end is in sight, and with it a great opportunity for Michigan will begin,” said state Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Oshtemo Township, a major sponsor of the package.


St. Cloud: A baby Jesus statue has been missing from a nativity scene downtown for a year. The manger is currently filled by a swaddled toy doll. The statue was stolen last December. The Stearns County History Museum has owned the nativity scene since 1978 and has had it on display near U.S. Bank during the holidays since 1988. “We never did recover the original baby Jesus,” museum executive director Carie Essig says. The museum is looking for a more permanent replacement for the temporary baby Jesus. Local schools raised money to buy the nativity in 1944 and donated it to the city of St. Cloud. The museum will either replace the figure with a similar piece from the era or will have something new cast, Essig says.


Jackson: Legislative leaders are recommending the state spend slightly less during the coming year than the current year. Members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee met Wednesday and adopted a broad outline for a nearly $6.3 billion budget for the year that begins July 1. That would be nearly $94 million less than the state is set to spend in the current year, about a 1.5% decrease. The plan recommends some spending hikes. The Department of Public Safety would receive an additional $4.4 million for new state troopers and another $1 million for pay raises for law enforcement officers. The state would spend an additional $18.4 million to cover the current year’s shortfall for an underfunded teacher pay raise plan. Overall spending for elementary and secondary education would be less than 1% higher. Spending for community colleges would decrease about 3.6% and about 2.6% for universities.


Kansas City: The Kansas City Zoo is now home for eight fluffy new macaroni penguin chicks. Eggs for the chicks were flown in from SeaWorld San Diego and hatched in incubators in Kansas City, the zoo announced Tuesday. It is the first time in the zoo’s 110-year history that it has had this species of penguin. Zookeepers are raising the chicks by hand, which includes giving each of them up to six feedings a day of a mixture of herring, krill and vitamins. The food is working, as the chicks continue to gain weight, the zoo said. They averaged only 92 grams at birth but are gaining 10% to 15% of their body weight every day. They’ll eventually grow to be about 10 pounds and 2 feet tall. The chicks are expected to go on exhibit at the zoo in the next few weeks. Macaroni penguins are listed as vulnerable to extinction. They get their name from the the bright yellow crest of feathers above their eyes.


Missoula: A council at the University of Montana has recommended the removal of a swastika-like tile arrangement on the walls of a university hall. The tiles show a mirror-image swastika called an aristika designed within Corbin Hall in the 1920s, when swastikas were not yet adopted as a symbol by the Nazis, university officials say. After months of calls for the tiles to be taken down amid the image’s negative connotation, the university’s Diversity Advisory Council voted Tuesday to recommended the tiles be removed, archived and replaced. The council will send the proposal to President Seth Bodnar. The student and faculty senates passed resolutions this fall for the tiles to be removed. Some professors have expressed concerns about letting the Nazi use of a symbol overshadow its more positive connotation in other cultures and recommended installing a plaque explaining the symbol’s meaning.

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Lincoln: The school board has scheduled a special election Feb. 11 so voters can decide whether to issue $290 million in bonds to build two more high schools, an elementary and other facilities. The board voted unanimously Tuesday for the bond resolution and authorized district officials to buy two parcels for the high schools. One will be in northwest Lincoln, the other in southeast Lincoln. If the bond issue were to pass, the northwest high school would open in 2022 and the other in 2023. The Lancaster County election commissioner will decide whether the election will be conducted solely through the mail or by traditional balloting.


Las Vegas: A conservative advocacy group wants quick action from a judge to block a statewide red flag gun law allowing firearms to be taken from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. The group NevadansCAN is seeking an injunction against the law that is set to go into effect Jan. 2 amid a “Second Amendment sanctuary” drive in several rural counties where sheriffs have vowed not to enforce the law. Red flag laws are designed to prevent gun violence by allowing weapons to be confiscated after a judge reviews an application by police or family members about a person’s potentially threatening behavior. “It’s more than the Second Amendment. It’s an infringement on your right to due process of law,” said Tina Trenner, of Pahrump, a radio show host in Las Vegas and spokeswoman for the Henderson-based citizen action network.

New Hampshire

Concord: A school board has voted to remove a Native American mascot from certain school logos after facing controversy. Merrimack Valley High School held a meeting on the fate of the school’s logo, and the board voted to remove the controversial mascot from gym banners, WMUR reports. The vote came Monday after those against the mascot’s use asked the school board to permanently remove it. “Our headdresses are very sacred to us. Each feather is earned. You have it on the floor as a mockery,” Andover resident Amy Moriarty said. The board decided the mascot will remain in the school’s hall of fame as well as outside banners for one month every school year. Board members also voted to create a history room that would include Native American school artifacts and asked curriculum to add content in the school education on local indigenous history.

New Jersey

Upper Saddle River: A deer seen wandering around town with its head stuck in a plastic pumpkin has been rescued, police said. The borough of Upper Saddle River posted on Facebook late Tuesday morning that a deer seen wandering around with part of its head, including its mouth, stuck inside a plastic pumpkin had been found, and the pumpkin had been removed. The pumpkin is the kind typically used for trick-or-treating at Halloween. A short time before, Upper Saddle River published a post asking for tips after people reported seeing the deer. The borough thanked animal control and the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife.

New Mexico

Santa Fe: A public hearing has been delayed on a petition to open up the state’s medical marijuana program to ailing pets. New Mexico’s medical cannabis advisory board declined to hear the proposal Tuesday because a quorum of board members was not in attendance or available by phone. Chairwoman Laura Brown was the only board member to attend the meeting in person and apologized when several agenda items were postponed for at least 30 days. An anonymous petition would allow marijuana prescriptions for dogs with epilepsy. The petitioner contends that authorizing cannabis for animals would minimize the danger of animal abuse by regulating the use of medical marijuana with pets and provide new treatment tools to veterinarians. No state has expressly authorized medical pot for pets.

New York

Albany: The governor says he’s put state police in charge of park police at a time of soaring attendance at state parks. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the change will make it easier to deploy state resources to parks visited by 74 million people a year. Cuomo’s memorandum waives age restrictions. About 270 park police officers can become troopers if they apply and meet training requirements including a background investigation. Officers who qualify to become troopers would then attend a shortened academy. Such park officers can also remain in their current titles. The governor says executive staff members will oversee the transition over the next six months. The Albany Times Union reports the park police officers’ union hopes the change will result in better disability and retirement benefits.

North Carolina

Shelby: Barrels of raw pork shoulder were riding fat in a tractor-trailer pulled over by deputies. Approximately $3 million in cash was recovered from the barrels Saturday, the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post Tuesday. The driver of the tractor-trailer was accused of failing to maintain his lane and impeding the flow of traffic on Interstate 85. Deputies became suspicious of the truck when a K-9 alerted them to the trailer, the post says. Deputies searched ut and discovered the cash wrapped in plastic in the barrels. The money is believed to have been obtained from drug sales throughout the region and was headed to Mexico, Sheriff Alan Norman said. “It’s one of the largest U.S. currency seizures in Cleveland County history,” Norman told The Shelby Star.

North Dakota

Bismarck: An anti-abortion group has filed a brief in defense of a state law that requires doctors to inform women they can reverse the procedure when it is carried out with medication, even though the science behind that claim is disputed. Heartbeat International Inc. and its attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom filed the brief in federal court Tuesday. “We want to make sure women are able to know all the facts before they abort a child,” said Kevin Theriot, an attorney for the group. North Dakota is among eight states that have passed or amended laws to require doctors to tell women undergoing medication-induced abortions that they can still have a live birth after the procedure. The law that was passed this year by the state’s Republican-led Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Doug Burgum is on hold pending a federal lawsuit.


Columbus: Voting-rights advocates have urged both the state’s top lawyer and the elections chief to do more to assure that immigrants understand the voting process, after more than 350 apparent noncitizens were referred for investigation last week. A coalition of 11 groups raised their concerns in a letter to Attorney General Dave Yost and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, both Republicans, on Tuesday. Groups including the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Ohio arms of the League of Women Voters, ACLU and Common Cause, and CAIR-Columbus said that publicly announcing investigations into potential voter irregularities involving immigrant communities is harmful. They said the probes rarely turn up serious offenses or intentional fraud, but those results are hardly ever shared with the public.


Oklahoma City: A civil rights group has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against court officials in central Oklahoma, alleging a county’s bail system unconstitutionally discriminates against poor and disabled people. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma filed the suit late Tuesday in federal court in Oklahoma City on behalf of six inmates currently being held in the Canadian County jail. The lawsuit alleges that the county’s bail system routinely keeps poor people in jail before a trial, not because they are a flight risk or a danger to society but only because they can’t afford to pay bail. The suit also alleges that inmates aren’t provided access to counsel when bail is set, that hearings are taking place in private, and that the system unconstitutionally discriminates against people with disabilities.


Salem: The City Council has agreed to spend up to $213,000 to open 140 warming shelter beds at two local churches. Warming shelter openings currently are driven by freezing temperatures. But under a proposed deal between the city, nonprofit and church representatives, the two shelters would remain open every night from Jan. 1 to March 31. Representatives from Church at the Park and Salem First Presbyterian Church still need to OK the deal. Salem First Presbyterian Church’s Pastor Del Burnett called the idea “marvelous” and the deadline “ridiculous.” Burnett said to his knowledge, his church was not consulted on the proposal ahead of time. The warming-shelter idea marks the latest twist as city leaders try to figure out where people experiencing homelessness should go after a public camping ban goes into effect Dec. 16.


Harrisburg: Faculty at state universities will go without a pay raise this year but see their salaries climb at least 12% over the next three years. The four-year contract approved Wednesday covers about 5,000 professors and instructors at 14 schools. Spokesman David Pidgeon of the state System of Higher Education says the raises are expected to cost about $22 million. A similar deal has been reached with about 700 other employees who work in student services. The agreement comes three years after prolonged contract talks between the educators’ association and the state led to a three-day faculty strike.

Rhode Island

Providence: The state is offering $5 million in grants for projects that protect publicly owned wastewater treatment facilities from storm surge, winds and other natural hazards. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank announced the availability of matching grants for resilience projects last week. DEM Director Janet Coit says strengthening the facilities’ resilience is critically important, due to the changing climate that will continue to bring more intense storms and increased rainfall. Rhode Island has 19 major facilities that treat about 120 million gallons of wastewater daily. The department says many are at risk of inundation because they’re at low elevations to take advantage of gravity. Voters approved a green economy and clean water bond last year, which will fund the grants. The deadline is Jan. 30.

South Carolina

Charleston: Mobs of kangaroos can roam largely unrestricted in the state, where laws don’t regulate ownership of the creatures. Most other states have taken a harder stance on the chaotic marsupials and either require permits or ban ownership outright, The Post and Courier reports. South Carolina has regulations on many native wildlife but little when it comes to out-of-state animals. Several laws tightening restrictions have passed over the years, including one that went into effect last year that bans the ownership of large wild cats, non-native bears and great apes. The Department of Natural Resources doesn’t even keep a list of private individuals who own wild or exotic animals, though it did track black bear ownership as recently as 2006, when about 30 owners were listed.

South Dakota

Sioux Falls: A Minnehaha County disaster recovery center has opened in the city to assist survivors of severe storms, flooding and tornadoes in September, according to a news release. State officials and Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives have opened the center at Southeast Technical Institute in the Ed Wood Trade and Industry Center. Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Representatives from the state, FEMA, U.S. Small Business Administration and other organizations will staff the centers to explain available assistance programs and help connect survivors with resources that best match their recovery needs. FEMA hazard mitigation specialists will also be available to provide advice on rebuilding to avoid damage from future disasters. Homeowners, renters and businesses can register for disaster assistance before visiting a recovery center.


Memphis: Singer Bettye LaVette, piano man Eddie Boyd and 1920s star Victoria Spivey are among the performers named to the Blues Hall of Fame this year. Based in Memphis, the hall honors singers, musicians, producers, songwriters, educators and pieces of music that have made significant contributions to the genre. The hall is also inducting two harmonica players this year – Billy Branch and Georgie “Harmonica” Smith, The Blues Foundation said in a news release Tuesday. Also on the list are singer and musician Syl Johnson and producer Ralph Peer, who recorded both country and blues musicians. The Howlin Wolf compilation “The Chess Box” is the only album inducted this year. Blues singles that made the cut include “3 O’Clock Blues,” by B.B. King, “Trouble in Mind,” by Bertha “Chippie” Hill, and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right (Mama),” Elvis Presley’s first recording at Sun Studio in Memphis in 1954.


Dallas: A new judge will consider if a hospital can take a 10-month-old girl off life support despite her family’s opposition after the impartiality of the previous judge was questioned. A temporary restraining order stopping Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth from removing life-sustaining treatment for Tinslee Lewis was set to expire Tuesday. But after the removal last week of Tarrant County Juvenile Court Judge Alex Kim, a new hearing on the family’s request for a temporary injunction will now be held Thursday in Fort Worth. Cook Children’s spokeswoman Wini King said the situation is “hard all the way around.” “We would love nothing more than to be able to make her better and walk her out of here. … But there comes a point, there comes a time when we have to say: We can’t do any more. It’s not making it any better.”


Salt Lake City: A legislative task force has voted to recommend a tax reform plan to the Legislature that would reduce state taxes by $160 million, double the amount in a previous proposal, officials said. The Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force met Monday ahead of a possible special session this week where lawmakers could address a sweeping change to the state tax code, task force members said. The latest version of the plan would decrease state income taxes by $635.5 million, while elimination of certain exemptions, new taxes and tax hikes would generate $475.5 million in new revenue, officials said. The proposal includes a food tax hike from 1.75% to the full 4.85% state sales tax rate generating $250 million by itself, officials said.


Rutland: About 470 miles of snowmobile trails in the Green Mountain National Forest are going to be ready for the opening of the 2019-2020 snowmobile season, National Forest officials said. Weather and snow conditions permitting, nearly 5,000 miles of trails in the national forest and throughout Vermont will be opening Monday and running through April 15. “We are concerned about user safety,” said John Sinclair, Forest Supervisor for the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests. “Patrols which are aimed at enforcing rules and regulations, monitoring trail conditions and providing visitor information will occur throughout the Forest.” Due to heavy snow last month in parts of southern Vermont, forest service employees and snowmobile clubs have been working to clear trees and other debris from the trails.


Virginia Beach: A private Christian university founded by Pat Robertson will remain accredited for another 10 years. Regent University said in a statement Wednesday that its accreditation was reaffirmed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The commission oversees 11 states. Regent is based in Virginia Beach and has nearly doubled its student population to more than 10,000 in the past five years. The school was founded in 1978 and first received accreditation in 1984. Robertson is well-known as a religious broadcaster who founded the Christian Broadcasting Network and for hosting the television show The 700 Club. Gerson Moreno-Riano, executive vice president for academic affairs, said in a statement that Regent will serve for years to come as a destination for “students preparing to become Christian leaders to change the world.”


Seattle: Mayor Jenny Durkan says the city will invest a record $110 million into affordable housing this year. The Seattle Times reports the funding will go toward the construction and redevelopment of 1,944 new units across the city. Durkan stressed the urgent need for affordable housing in a time of great economic growth and displacement. “Look, we know that our city has grown so rapidly, and so many people have been pushed out of the community instantly, that I think it really threatens who we are as a city,” Durkan said.

West Virginia

Charleston: The House of Delegates will reconvene this month to continue the second special legislative session, officials say. Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw issued a call for the chamber to meet Monday at noon. A spokesman for the House said lawmakers will take up a bill to extend a tourism tax credit to 2025. The Senate has already passed the measure. Lawmakers returned to the Capitol last month for their second special session of the year to take up the tax credit bill, a proposal to stop expunging DUI convictions and a measure to allow the state to pay off a road bond. The DUI bill and the road bond bill quickly passed and were signed into law by Republican Gov. Jim Justice.


Madison: The state will no longer categorically deny Medicaid coverage for medically necessary gender-confirming surgery, a practice a federal judge found violated patients’ civil rights and federal health care law. Lawyers for transgender residents who sued last year announced a settlement Tuesday after the deadline had passed for the state to appeal last month’s final judgment in the class-action case. U.S. District Judge William Conley, of Madison, noted the “consensus within the medical profession (is) that gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition, which if left untreated or inadequately treated can cause adverse symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, serious mental distress, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.” Four named plaintiffs will share about $840,000 in damages, and the state will pay about $1.35 million in legal fees to three law firms who handled their case.


Cheyenne: The state faces more tough times ahead but isn’t headed off a fiscal cliff, offering time for a thoughtful approach to delivering government services to citizens without running up deficits, Gov. Mark Gordon told lawmakers in outlining his first state budget this week. Gordon cautioned, however, that an upcoming revenue forecast in January may be less optimistic than one in October, shortly before he released his $3.1 billion biennial budget proposal for 2021-2022. “Navigating for these challenging times will require sacrifice, care and thought,” Gordon, who took office in January, told the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee. The powerful committee met in its traditional conference room on the third floor of the Capitol for the first time after four years of renovations to the over 130-year-old sandstone structure.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

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