Mobile: Researchers from the University of South Alabama are working on a study to learn more about deadly West Nile virus. Genetic material from infected mosquitoes will be sent to Yale University, according to a statement from South Alabama. Workers at Yale’s public health school will sequence DNA to help understand how the virus and spread over the past two decades in the United States. “They are looking at how the virus has evolved over time by sequencing genomes,” says Jonathan Rayner, who works in infectious diseases at the South Alabama medical school, which says it is the first school in the state to join in the project. West Nile virus killed nearly 170 people nationwide last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 2,647 cases of West Nile virus were reported last year, 550 more cases than in 2017.
Soldotna: Project Homeless Connect 2020 has just about everything it needs to be a success, but it’s missing volunteers. The annual event provides a one-stop shop for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. During the event, community members can come in for a free meal, blankets, clothes, diapers, shower and laundry vouchers, haircuts and a number of other services all provided at no cost. Similar events occur in other parts of Alaska, including Anchorage and Juneau, and this year events will be taking place in Homer and Seward to cover the entire peninsula. Project Homeless Connect will take place Jan. 29 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Those who wish to volunteer can contact Stuart at 907-283-3125.
Phoenix: A lawmaker has proposed ending the state’s practice of hiring private companies to provide health care for its 34,000 prison inmates and instead turning that duty back to the state. Democratic Rep. Diego Rodriguez of Phoenix says his bill to end privatized health services at Arizona’s 10 state-run prisons was inspired by numerous accounts about inmates with minor ailments later facing serious health problems because the privatized system responded slowly or inadequately. “It’s broken, and people are dying because of this,” says Rodriguez, who disputes the claim that privatization has saved the state money. But Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills who opposes the bill, says ending privatization would lead to high costs for the state, including higher pension costs. “It’s a lot cheaper having a private company do that,” Kavanagh says.
Little Rock: Holiday Island, a lakeside community, has received enough signatures from voters to try once again to become an incorporated city after a failed effort in 2017. State laws regarding incorporation were changed this year, making it easier for Holiday Island to incorporate this time around, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. The changes include exemptions in population limits, allowing Holiday Island to incorporate should voters approve a ballot initiative. As an incorporated city, Holiday Island will be able to enforce its own codes and receive state money from taxes to maintain streets and roads. A spokesman for Holiday Island Citizens for Incorporation, Dan Kees, says the petition drive to get the incorporation on the 2020 general election ballot received 557 signatures from voters; only 498 were needed.
San Francisco: The commercial Dungeness crab fishing season in the San Francisco Bay Area has begun after a monthlong delay, allowing fishermen to start hauling in the wiggly crustaceans in time for the holiday season. Fishing boats began returning through the Golden Gate Bridge on Sunday with bins packed with crabs and headed to wholesalers at Pier 45, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife pushed back the season to lower the risk of whales getting entangled in fishing lines. The recreational crab season began Nov. 2 as scheduled. Boat captains said they saw no whales and faced rough waters on the first day of crab fishing. The commercial Dungeness crab industry in California takes in $40 million to $95 million a year. In recent years, the season has also been cut by elevated levels of the neurotoxin domoic acid found in some crabs.
Denver: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has downgraded the air quality rating of the state’s biggest population center. The EPA finalized the move Monday, lowering the ozone status of Denver and eight other northern Colorado counties from “moderate” to “serious.” That will force the state to work harder to reduce harmful pollution but also bring tougher and costly regulations for businesses. Gov. Jared Polis took the unusual step of inviting the EPA to downgrade the rating, saying in March that Colorado would no longer ask for an exemption from standards by claiming some of the pollution was drifting into the state from elsewhere. He said in August that it was time to stop “sugar-coating” Colorado’s air problems. The reclassification requires the state to revise its plan to reduce ozone-forming emissions, which can aggravate asthma and contribute to early deaths from respiratory disease.
Hartford: A new base is being raised in a key battleground of the state’s opioid epidemic: the bustling Park Street corridor where drug deaths in Hartford are most concentrated. The harm reduction center opens in January in a former law office on Grand Street, its ammunition a combination of director Mark Jenkins’ straight talk and belly laugh and his large stocks of clean syringes and heroin cookers, fentanyl test strips, condoms and candy, the Hartford Courant reports. Jenkins supplies them to drug-dependent people and sex workers to alleviate the dangers they face and ultimately draw them in to recovery. His organization, the 5-year-old Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition, has operated a drop-in resource center on Albany Avenue since last summer, but it’s essentially an outpost in the epidemic, serving a population with far lower rates of fatal overdoses than the neighborhoods around Park Street.
Wilmington: A bright-eyed puppy just might be what you need to get in the holiday spirit. Families can host a shelter pet from the Brandywine Valley SPCA for a short stay over the holiday season, as part of the organization’s holiday sleepovers program. BVSPCA says the program gives pets a “much needed” break from life in the shelter while giving families a fun guest during the holidays. “Sleepovers have been shown to reduce stress for shelter animals, and we also learn more about the pet’s personality in a more natural environment,” Walt Fenstermacher of BVSPCA said in a statement. There are two sleepover options: the “Santa Sleepover,” for pickup Dec. 20-23 and return Dec. 26-30, and “Winter Break,” with pickup Dec. 20-23 and return Jan. 2-5. This is BVSPCA’s second year offering holiday sleepovers. Last year, more than 30 pets spent the holidays with a family.
District of Columbia
Washington: Public safety advocates say the Metro put riders of a crippled Red Line train in danger, possibly breaking a federal guideline and its own policy, by sending a train full of people toward tracks that were seen sparking moments earlier, WUSA-TV reports. “There was a moment of panic,” says Joe Twinem, who took video of the incident in a tunnel near Tenleytown Metro. It was the first of three such arcing track insulator incidents that snarled morning and evening rushes last week. Twinem says a smoky haze filled his train car. Firefighter Dave Statter, a former WUSA9 reporter, calls the incident similar to the 2015 tunnel fire that killed a woman. The National Transportation Safety Board subsequently told Metro to stop using trains carrying passengers to investigate track problems. Metro is investigating the incident.
Orlando: Universal Parks and Resorts on Monday pledged 20 acres of land for affordable housing in the state, a day before the company asked county officials for millions of dollars for road construction that will allow it to build a third theme park, Epic Universe. The theme park company said the land for affordable housing will accommodate 1,000 mixed-use housing units in Orlando. The metro area is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis for its hospitality-driven workforce. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings has made affordable housing a top priority and had recommended working with corporate partners to come up with solutions to the metro area’s housing needs. Universal also said it would make another 3 acres available for mass transit.
Atlanta: The mayor ordered city courts Monday to soon begin restricting public access to records involving people cited for minor marijuana offenses. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an administrative order that Atlanta’s Municipal Court by Feb. 1 must make court records for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana accessible only to law enforcement. Bottoms said in a statement that racial disparities in criminal cases involving small amounts of pot justified the change. “The fact remains that communities of color are disproportionately affected by the lingering stigma of victimless, minor offenses – even long after the accused have paid their debts,” Bottoms said. “This outmoded practice deprives our communities and workforce of brilliant and promising minds, all because of an unfair justice system that can and will be course-corrected.” The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the move.
Hilo: Hawaii County has proceeded with efforts to restore access to public roads inundated by lava following the opening of a Big Island highway last month. About 13 miles of public roads were covered by lava from the 2018 Kilauea volcanic eruption affecting portions of Highway 137, Highway 132, Pohoiki Road and others, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. Temporary access was established to Highway 137 a year ago, and Highway 132 was restored last month, officials said. However, multiple other affected roads have remained closed throughout southeast Hawaii Island. Highway 132 was fully covered by the Federal Highways Administration, but reimbursement for other affected roads would need to come through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, officials said.
Boise: A portion of a lawsuit brought by an Idaho family against the U.S. government after a boy and his dog tripped a cyanide-spraying, predator-killing trap near their home has been dismissed. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill dismissed all personal injury claims Friday related to cyanide exposure to Mark and Theresa Mansfield and their son. Canyon Mansfield was playing with his dog in March 2017 near his home when the then-14-year-old triggered the trap that the U.S. Department of Agriculture placed to kill coyotes. The dog named Casey died. Winmill agreed with U.S. Department of Justice attorney Michele Greif that the Mansfields didn’t prove they experienced ill effects from cyanide exposure or will experience them in the future. The devices, called M-44s, are embedded in the ground and look like lawn sprinklers.
Chicago: City agencies are telling people to stop feeding the raccoons that populate the city’s northern lakefront. People are hand-feeding kitchen scraps to the dozens of raccoons living in the area, which the agencies say is dangerous, WBBM-TV reports. “We ask that visitors not feed wildlife in parks or along the lakefront for their own safety and the health and wellness of the animals,” Chicago Park District spokeswoman Irene Tostado said in a statement. Chicago Animal Care and Control said it has not received any raccoon-related service requests from the area. Raccoons are rabies carriers and can transfer other diseases and pests such as roundworm, the Humane Society advises.
Vincennes: A preservation group that saved an ornate church from demolition has found a buyer who plans to turn it into a rural retreat. Indiana Landmarks spent seven years trying to find a buyer for the former Palmyra Cumberland Presbyterian Church, located just outside Vincennes in southwestern Indiana. That perseverance recently paid off when the nonprofit found a private, out-of-state buyer for the Gothic-Revival church, which dates back to 1892. The new owner plans to restore the building and use it as a rural retreat. The church, designed by local architect J.W. Gaddis, retains many of its original, ornate features, including limestone accents and decorative metal finials. The steeple even houses the church’s original bell. Tommy Kleckner, director of Indiana Landmarks’ Western Regional Landmarks Office, says the group took a loss on the sale – at less than $30,000 – because staff felt the building was well worth saving.
Centerville: A Nativity scene removed from a county courthouse lawn in southern Iowa won’t be returning. The scene was erected Nov. 18 outside the Appanoose County Courthouse in Centerville, but some residents complained that a religious display should not be placed on government property. City Administrator Jason Fraser had approved the display’s location but told organizers it needed to be moved before Thanksgiving. It took until Dec. 9 before enough volunteers could be gathered to move the display off the lawn and to a new spot about two blocks south. The county owns the building and the land underneath; the city owns the lawn. The Daily Iowegian reports that at Monday’s City Council meeting, several speakers sharply criticized the scene’s removal and asked that it be moved back.
Overland Park: A 13-year-old girl who was arrested for making her fingers into the shape of a gun and pointing at classmates has been placed on a juvenile diversion program. The Overland Park girl, who was originally charged with felony threatening, was set to go before a judge Tuesday, but the Johnson County Juvenile Court hearing was canceled. A spokeswoman for the Johnson County district attorney confirmed she is on diversion but provided no details, The Kansas City Star reports. Under diversion, a charge can be dismissed if a juvenile successfully meets certain conditions set by authorities. The girl’s mother told The Star previously that a boy asked her daughter who she would kill if she could kill five classmates. The girl reportedly made the shape of a gun with her fingers and pointed at four students, then herself.
Hodgenville: The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park is offering a new book club, and the first book selection will be about the former president’s wife. The first Parks and Pages Book Club discussion will be held Jan. 24 on the book “Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave,” according to a statement from the National Park Service. People can attend at the Kentucky park or join a virtual discussion on the park’s Facebook page using the “Facebook Live” feature. The park service says all books during the club’s first year will be on the same theme: presidential first ladies. The book for January can be purchased in the park’s bookstore, and a couple of copies are available in the park’s library. More book titles will be announced throughout 2020.
Denham Springs: The city has created a housing board that will address the issue of properties that are still dilapidated three years after a flood destroyed most of the area. The 2016 flood devastated much of the Livingston Parish area. Officials in Denham Springs said they’ve been lenient and patient with residents whose homes were damaged by the flood. However, Mayor Gerard Landry told The Advocate that now is the time to focus on the community and neighbors who are living near potentially hazardous homes. “We’ve kind of had a hands-off approach for the last few years out of compassion, but at some point in time I have to have more compassion for the people next door,” Landry said. The Housing Appeals Board, made up of city officials, will meet monthly to discuss the 70 homes in the city that are vacant and deteriorating.
Portland: Someone spray-painted graffiti about the treatment of the homeless on the sidewalk outside City Hall, police said Monday. The graffiti states, “No one deserves to be out in the cold,” and “No cap on the new shelter.” Advocates for the homeless have been lobbying city officials to make sure everyone who needs shelter is afforded it at a new facility 5 miles from the old one. The city said in a statement that it “respects all opinions regarding policy matters, but we do not tolerate criminal acts, and defacing city property is not the right way to share your message.” Officials said the city plans to press charges if the person or people who made the graffiti are located. Meanwhile, the graffiti is being removed from the plaza outside City Hall.
Baltimore: The city is renaming a courthouse after the late Congressman Elijah Cummings. The Baltimore Sun reports the City Council voted to make the change Monday. Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young had asked the council to push the legislation forward. He intends to sign the bill and formally unveil the new name for Courthouse East in the near future. Cummings was chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. He was also a powerful advocate for Baltimore and civil rights. He died in October. Young said in a statement that the courthouse will “stand in perpetuity as a monument to Cummings’ service to the common man, the rule of law in our society, and his commitment to economic justice for all.”
Boston: The city’s Museum of Fine Arts is hosting a holiday celebration with music and free tours of its collection of Jewish art. Wednesday afternoon’s event will mark the sixth year the museum has hosted a Hanukkah observance. It’s being presented in partnership with the Jewish Arts Collaborative and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies organization. Participants will hear traditional songs performed in Yiddish and Hebrew, and events for children include dancing, storytelling and arts and crafts. Organizers say it’s the largest community Hanukkah gathering in Boston. A centerpiece of the celebration is “Brighter Beyond,” a collaborative, interactive blacklight experience that invites visitors to add their light to a glowing installation led by artist Tova Speter. The museum will offer tours of its Judaica collection and four 15-minute talks. It will also offer Hannukah treats such as latkes.
Marquette: A snowstorm that swept across parts of the Midwest and dumped as much as 2 feet of snow in the state last month formed ideal conditions for skiing and snowmobile riding in the Upper Peninsula, but crews are still busy clearing fallen trees blocking trails. Though many trails remain open, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources cautioned that some may be impassable and said riders must be extra alert for logs, rocks or stumps that could be obscured by the snow. “The number of downed trees and limbs is astonishing,” said Rob Katona, central Upper Peninsula trails specialist with the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division. “We haven’t seen conditions like this in recent history.” The heavy snow weighed down young birches, oaks and other small trees, leaving them arched to the ground across trails, sometimes entirely buried under the snow, the Iron Mountain Daily News reports.
St. Paul: The state’s Board of Pardons has approved a request that could lead to a posthumous pardon for a man convicted of sexually assaulting a Duluth woman in 1920. Max Mason was among a group of black circus workers accused in the assault. Three were lynched from a light pole by an angry mob of local residents. Two others went to trial, and Mason was the only one convicted. His supporters believe he was falsely accused and say a pardon would restore justice in a “horrific and shameful episode in Minnesota history.” The board’s vote could open the door for another review of Mason’s original pardon request, which was denied in 1924. Mason was convicted on what some thought was weak evidence. Supporters noted a lack of evidence corroborating the woman’s allegation and a physician’s exam that appeared to contradict her claim, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.
Jackson: The state’s Small Business Administration is now offering low-interest loans to homeowners, businesses and nonprofit organizations who suffered losses when torrential rain caused widespread flooding last spring. The National Weather Service estimates some south Mississippi areas received up to 15 inches of rain in a span of days in May 2019, washing out train tracks, flooding rivers and prompting water rescues, news outlets report. To help in the recovery, Gov. Phil Bryant wrote to the administration last month requesting assistance for eight heavily affected counties, The Biloxi Sun-Herald reports. The Small Business Administration approved business disaster loans, economic injury loans for nonprofits and home disaster loans for citizens last week.
Kansas City: Elected officials in Jackson County are adding plaques to statues of the Kansas City area county’s namesake noting that the nation’s seventh president was a slave owner and forced thousands of Native Americans off their lands. The plaques that will be added to statues of Andrew Jackson outside courthouses in downtown Kansas City and in nearby Independence will note: “Almost two centuries later, we hold a broader, more inclusive view of our nation,” KMBC-TV reports. Jackson began his term as president in 1829, almost three years after the Missouri State Legislature named the county after him because he was a hero of the War of 1812. “This statue of Jackson reminds us we are on a path that, in the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr., bends toward justice. In turn, we must acknowledge the past injustices to help us create a greater nation built upon humane policies to light our way and the way of humanity everywhere,” the plaques will read.
Kalispell: One of Glacier National Park’s most infamous thoroughfares is scheduled for a much-needed face lift next year. Many Glacier Road, which provides access to the popular Many Glacier Hotel and some of the park’s most well trafficked hikes, will be closed to vehicles from April 1 to May 17 and again from Sept. 21 to Dec. 16. During the intervening months, construction projects on the road are anticipated to cause delays of at least 40 minutes and as long as three hours each way from the nearby town of Babb to the Many Glacier Hotel. The construction project is expected to continue in 2021, the Flathead Beacon reports. For years, travel on Many Glacier Road has been an unpleasant adventure for park visitors. The road runs along the Sherburne Reservoir, and the waters of the artificial reservoir have contributed to instability underneath the roadway, causing massive potholes and dramatic undulations.
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Scottsbluff: The City Council has reduced its funding commitment to the local zoo, a commitment that includes a contingency clause for further cuts if city sales tax revenue were to drop. The agreement approved Monday night runs for five years at $300,000 a year, a drop of $50,000 yearly from the 10-year commitment that ends in September next year. The $350,000 a year was becoming unsustainable because of lower sales tax revenue and city spending increases, city officials have said. Riverside director Anthony Mason said fundraisers and private donations could make up the funding difference. Any further reduction of funding would have to be approved by a three-fourths vote of the City Council. Scottsbluff City Manager Nathan Johnson says the hope is that by investing in the zoo, the returning tourism dollars will stimulate city’s sales tax revenue.
Carson City: With costs falling for hepatitis C treatment, state prisons are launching a program to test all inmates for the blood-borne virus. The Department of Corrections has budgeted about $6.8 million and plans to hire contract staff to screen all inmates in coming months, including those just entering the system, Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Nevada has about 13,000 men and women at seven correctional centers, nine conservation camps and two transitional housing facilities, corrections department spokesman Scott Kelley said. In a report Friday to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, deputy prisons chief John Borrowman called curing chronic hepatitis C before releasing inmates “an invaluable step toward (virus) elimination and successful community reintegration.”
Franconia: A shelter located inside a 19th-century barn is planned to undergo an ambitious reconstruction. The Bancroft House has planned demolition and reconstruction of its Franconia property after decades of struggling financially, the Caledonian Record reports. The barn currently offers free room and board to residents, allowing them to save up the rent and deposits required for securing housing when they leave. “Currently the barn’s floor has collapsed, and critters have easy access to the interior, preventing us from accepting linens, towels, and anything with fabric or stuffing, which rodents will quickly use as nesting material,” says Kevin Johnson, a member of the shelter’s board of directors. The organization has spent the past few years trying to improve the nonprofit’s financial health, and demolition has proven to be the most cost-effective way to address the deteriorating structure.
Trenton: Wildlife officials are extending the second phase of the state’s black bear hunt because the harvest objectives for the year have not been met. The six-day hunt had concluded Saturday. But it will now resume Wednesday and continue through Saturday. Officials say 265 bears were harvested during the first phase of the hunt in October. Another 37 were culled last week, meaning 302 bruins were killed overall. New Jersey’s bear management policy mandates that the hunting season be extended by four days if less than 20% of tagged bears are killed. The harvest rate for this season stands at 14.7%. That harvest rate is deemed necessary to provide better ecological balance to the bear population and reduce the potential for bear-human encounters.
Las Cruces: New Mexico State University has been awarded a grant that will go toward building the only botanic garden within 100 miles of the southern New Mexico campus. The garden will be used to grow and study plants native to New Mexico and the Chihuahuan Desert that might attract bees and other pollinators. In addition to the research side, officials are aiming to create a garden that will be welcoming for visitors. The plan incorporates paths throughout the garden and a large gazebo for shade and outdoor events. Rather than straight rows of plants, it will be designed using a paisley pattern made up of four repetitions with the same plants in each plot. Officials say it will likely take several years for the garden to be completed.
New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed new legislation Tuesday that would close a loophole in state law that often prevents prosecutors from bringing rape charges when victims become drunk of their own volition. The governor wants to amend the state’s definition of who cannot legally consent to sexual activity. That currently does not include someone who remains conscious – but is too drunk to consent – after becoming voluntarily intoxicated. “While New York has some of the most aggressive laws in the nation when it comes to combating this insidious disease, a loophole in current law allows rapists to walk free and vacate their heinous crimes based on a legal technicality,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Our laws must protect the people of this state – not condone rape as a punishment for consuming alcohol.”
Monroe: An item found in the state in 1973 may be thousands of years old, according to the state’s office of archaeology. The 7-inch carved artifact found by a Monroe landowner is suspected to be a grooved adz, a tool used for smoothing or trimming wood, The Charlotte Observer reports. It could have been used to carve bowls, dugout canoes or other objects, according to a North Carolina Office of State Archaeology statement. The item’s age is unclear, but it may have been made about the time when many grooved axes were being made and used, according to the office’s 3D model and description of the item. That means it likely dates to the Late Archaic period between 3,000 and 1,000 B.C. Indigenous groups in the area over the years include the Catawba Nation and the Lumbee Tribe, according to the Observer.
Bismarck: A group seeking to legalize recreational marijuana in the state can begin circulating petitions to try to bring the issue to voters. Secretary of State Al Jaeger approved the format of the petition Monday. LegalizeND would need to gather and submit nearly 13,500 signatures by July 6 to get a proposed measure on November ballot. The proposed measure would allow any person over the age of 21 to use, possess and transport up to 2 ounces of prepared marijuana, but it would ban home growing of the plant. The group gathered enough signatures to put a legalization measure on the ballot in 2018, but that effort failed 41% to 59%.
Columbus: The state unveiled its new Ohio School Safety Center on Tuesday as a panel that will advise that office begins its work. The new office under Ohio Homeland Security is intended to help educators and police prevent and address violence involving schools and students. It began its work months ago with a staff that included intelligence analysts scanning social media and websites for threats. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said the center also will review school safety plans, help train school threat-assessment teams and share best practices. It will get input from a new working group whose 40-plus members were announced Monday. Among them are representatives of schools and school employees who work with students in crisis, as well as emergency responders, other state offices and organizations that promote children’s wellness.
Oklahoma City: Gov. Kevin Stitt said Tuesday that he’s taking over gambling negotiations with Native American tribes from the attorney general and plans to hire his own out-of-state legal team. Stitt also announced at a news conference that he intends to offer tribes an extension that would allow casino gambling to continue after Jan. 1, when Stitt maintains the current compacts expire. “The language in this extension will allow each side who signs on to the extension to retain their legal positions,” Stitt said. “I want business to continue as usual while we resolve this dispute.” Attorney General Mike Hunter took over several months ago as the state’s lead negotiator with the tribes, but Stitt said Tuesday that he felt it was best to have “one unified voice.” He said his office is working on finalizing a contract with an out-of-state law firm to assist his office in negotiating with the tribes.
Salem: Members of a homeless encampment are planning to stage a protest at the Capitol, possibly this week, after a citywide camping ban went into effect Monday. The plan was announced as city officials prepared to give the homeless 24 hours’ notice Tuesday to depart the camp at The ARCHES Project, a downtown social services provider. Those who refuse to leave could face civil citations. “We have nowhere to go now,” said Anthony Stevens, the camp’s unofficial spokesman. “We can’t go back to the parks, we can’t go to where we can hide, because they’re just going to come in, mow everything over and send us on our way.” The ban, passed at the start of December with a two-week delay, was aimed at clearing city sidewalks and other public property of homeless camps. City councilors OK’d the ban but aborted a proposal to prohibit sitting and lying on sidewalks.
Harrisburg: Policymakers announced a task force Monday that will take a broad look at the state’s juvenile justice system in hopes of improving the results it produces. Legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced formation of the group at a Capitol news conference, giving it nearly a year to issue recommendations about how to make people safer, improve accountability and save tax dollars. Its members will be appointed by Wolf, the court system and the Legislature. House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said the concept is to use data and research to reconfigure the juvenile justice system to improve results. “I’d like to say there is no such thing as a bad kid,” said Sen. Mike Regan, R-York. “However, we all know kids do bad things.” Wolf said the project will build on clean slate legislation, reductions in the state prison inmate population, an end to automatic driver’s license suspensions and other adult justice reform changes in recent years.
Providence: Critics of a state campaign finance law say it violates the First Amendment. The law requires the disclosure of the top five donors behind any campaign communication during state election cycles. In addition, it requires groups producing the communications to file public reports of any donor who gave more than $1,000. The law is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by conservative advocacy groups, though it also has critics on the left, The Boston Globe reports. Critics of the bill have argued that identifying donors encourages them not to participate in the democratic process. Supporters of the bill have argued that it will enlighten voters as to who is trying to influence their decision at the ballot.
Greenville: A prosecutor said he will decide by January how to handle convicted and sentenced to a year in prison for using his power and office to push a personal assistant to have sex with him. The other charges against ex-Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis cover a range of additional misconduct including lying about conducting a background check on a deputy, giving someone a badge who was not qualified and intimidating his employees to try to keep them from cooperating with investigators. The evidence, including recorded phone calls, made the affair case the strongest to get a conviction, so prosecutors decided to try Lewis on two counts of misconduct in office first, Solicitor Kevin Brackett says.
Rapid City: A little boy who always dreamed of getting a train for Christmas finds himself on a magical adventure – with a distinctly Black Hills twist – in a new book starring the 1880 Train. “Marlon McDoogle’s Magical Night” introduces readers to 12-year-old Marlon, who’s waiting for a Christmas surprise his grandfather promised him. However, Marlon could never predict what would happen when his grandfather arrives on Christmas Eve and tells the boy, “We have lots of work to do!” The pair drives off in Grandpa McDoogle’s old truck for an unforgettable encounter with visitors from the North Pole and a wild ride aboard the 1880 Train. The book is the latest project from Sean Covel of Deadwood, the producer of films including “Napoleon Dynamite” and the author of “Porter the Hoarder” books that were recently distributed in elementary schools throughout South Dakota, the Rapid City Journal reports.
Memphis: A nonprofit group has handed over statues of Confederate leaders Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, two years after they were removed from public parks in the city, officials said Tuesday. City of Memphis legal officer Bruce McMullen said the statues of Forrest and Davis have been given to Forrest’s descendants and the Sons of Confederate Veterans “to display them as they wish.” The statues’ location was not disclosed, but they could be re-erected at some point. Memphis and the Confederate veterans’ group have battled in court over the statues’ removal from two city parks. Forrest’s equestrian statue, which stood over the grave of the Confederate general and his wife, and the monument of Davis, the Confederate president, were removed from the parks under the cover of night Dec. 20, 2017.
Houston: A 19-year-old man has been arrested after mercury was found spilled in the city, leading dozens of people to be decontaminated as a precaution, FBI said Monday. The agency’s Houston office said on Twitter that Christopher Lee Melder has been charged with burglary and unlawful disposal of hazardous material. He is also charged on an outstanding felony drug possession warrant. It wasn’t immediately known whether he had a lawyer, and authorities didn’t immediately say if the spills were intentional. City officials said, according to the FBI, that he broke into a lab at an undisclosed location and took the mercury. Someone called 911 about 11:15 a.m. Sunday to report a white liquid on the ground, Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena has said. Officials later determined less than a pint of mercury was spilled outside a Walmart, a Sonic Drive-In and gas station.
Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defended Tuesday how it uses and invests member donations after a former church employee charged in a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service that the faith had improperly built a $100 billion investment portfolio using member donations that are supposed to go to charitable causes. The vast majority of member donations are used to fund church operations, temples, missions, education and humanitarian needs, while another portion is “methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement. The IRS complaint from a former church investment manager alleges the Utah-based faith sets aside about $1 billion a year from the $7 billion it receives annually in member donations, the Washington Post reports.
Burlington: Voters in the city will have a say in March 2020 on whether legal noncitizens can vote in city elections. The City Council passed a resolution Monday to go to voters. The charter change would have to approved by the Legislature, WCAX-TV reports. Independent Burlington City Councilor Adam Roof had pushed the proposal, saying that all Burlington residents are affected by decisions made by the local government, regardless of their citizenship status, so they should be allowed to vote. A similar charter change in Montpelier stalled in the Senate during the last legislative session, after it was approved in the House.
Arlington: A redevelopment plan for Amazon’s second headquarters has been unanimously approved by a county board, clearing the way for the company to transform 6.2 acres into twin 22-story buildings. The Arlington County Board voted 5-0 on Saturday to give Amazon final approval to began building the headquarters known as HQ2, news outlets report. HQ2 will be an approximately 2 million-square-foot mixed-use set of buildings that will house a day care facility for employees and other residents, ground-level retail shops, an underground parking garage and an indoor event space for county-sanctioned events. Amazon promised the county a $20 million commitment for affordable housing because the site was once zoned for residential use and because the company is adding 590,000 square feet of density to the area.
Spokane: The Spokane Tribe of Indians will finally be compensated after some of their ancestral homelands were flooded by the giant Grand Coulee Dam seven decades ago. The U.S. House on Monday approved and sent to President Donald Trump a bill that sets up yearly payments to the tribe based on a similar system for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, who also lost land when the dam and its reservoir were created. The Spokesman-Review reports the Spokane Tribe will receive $6 million a year for 10 years and $8 million a year after that. The money will come from revenues of the Bonneville Power Administration, which sells electricity generated by Grand Coulee and other federal dams in the Northwest. Trump is expected to sign the bill, the newspaper reports.
Point Pleasant: The site of a bridge that collapsed 52 years ago and killed dozens of people has been recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ recognition for Silver Bridge was announced Sunday during a ceremony where the suspension bridge once stood, news outlets report. The bridge named for the color of its aluminum paint crossed the Ohio River, connecting Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and Gallipolis, Ohio, and first opened to traffic in 1928. It collapsed Dec. 15, 1967. Eyewitnesses reported it took seconds for the bridge to fold like a deck of cards, sending dozens of cars and people into the water below. The National Transportation Safety Board later determined the collapse was caused by an eyebar that fractured due to stress corrosion and corrosion fatigue.
Madison: The new leader of the state’s jobs agency is pledging to refuse to award state tax credits to technology manufacturing giant Foxconn for employees who don’t work in Wisconsin – but a new state audit shows the agency’s procedures leave the door open. For the second time in as many years, the nonpartisan Legislature Audit Bureau is warning the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to change its procedures to ensure taxpayers don’t end up paying for work that doesn’t benefit the state economy. Foxconn struck a deal in 2017 with state lawmakers to build a $10 billion LCD panel manufacturing facility in southeastern Wisconsin in exchange for $3 billion in state incentives. The project – once hailed by President Donald Trump as the “eighth wonder of world” – has since been scaled back, but the state’s contract with the company hasn’t changed.
Casper: The state Republican Party has passed a resolution opposing the addition of another vaccine to the requirements for children in school. The Department of Health is considering changes to vaccine rules that will be sent to Republican Gov. Mark Gordon for approval, The Casper Star-Tribune reports. The department added meningococcal vaccine to the required list of school inoculations. The disease can cause meningitis, a life-threatening illness that attacks the central nervous system. The GOP resolution said the party opposes adding the meningococcal vaccine to the required list due to statements from U.S. Supreme Court justices about a vaccine “regulatory void.” The resolution also referred to money paid by a national program to compensate those injured by vaccines and a Johns Hopkins University study saying medical or hospital error is a leading cause of U.S. deaths.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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