Birmingham: The city has kicked off a new anti-littering campaign. Mayor Randall Woodfin and community leaders in the Bush Hills neighborhood on Tuesday announced the Don’t be a D.U.M.M.Y. campaign – “Dumping Ugly Mess in My Yard.” The mayor and people in various Birmingham communities are tired of illegal trash dumping, WBRC-TV reports. “People are too comfortable dumping in our city. Whether they live here or bring it into the city, we want to make something clear and simple for folks: That is illegal,” Woodfin said. He wants residents to report any illegal dumping by calling 311. They can take video or pictures of people or their vehicles and go to the city magistrate’s office to sign out warrants for their arrest, he urged. First-time offenders will face a $500 fine. For a second or subsequent offense, it doubles to $1,000.
Fairbanks: A federal appeals court has reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by four men who contend they were illegally imprisoned for nearly two decades. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday overturned a lower court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit by the “Fairbanks Four” against the city, KTVF-television reports. George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent were convicted of murder in the 1997 death of Fairbanks teenager John Hartman. The men spent 18 years in prison while they asserted their innocence and appealed their convictions. After a five-week hearing that re-examined the cases in detail and presented the case that others killed Hartman, the convictions were vacated in December 2015. The four men sued the city for wrongful imprisonment and said an agreement that led to their release, in which they agreed not to sue, was not legally binding because they were coerced.
Mesa: Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Teen Center is expanding into the city. The legendary rocker and his wife, Sheryl Cooper, were at Westwood High School on Wednesday to announce a partnership with Mesa Public Schools. They projected a summer 2020 opening of a second Solid Rock Teen Center in a former elementary school downtown. Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Teen Centers will fund the renovations and provide more than $100,000 worth of music, arts and dance programming to youth ages 12 to 20 and the local community. The Mesa center grew out of the Hall of Famer’s annual Rock & Roll Fundraising Bash at Las Sendas Golf Club in east Mesa. The original Solid Rock Teen Center opened in 2012 in Phoenix, built in partnership with Genesis Church and Cooper’s Solid Rock Foundation after more than a decade of fundraising.
Jonesboro: Residents celebrated a street being renamed in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. this week after months of contentious debate. About 100 people gathered Monday at the intersection of Commerce and Highland Drives to witness a new street sign’s unveiling after a parade and program on Arkansas State University’s campus to commemorate King’s legacy. “The question is asked occasionally, do we still need to celebrate Dr. King’s holiday? If you followed the efforts this year to get a street name in the honor of Dr. King in Jonesboro and some of the language used in the debate and editorials, you realize there still remains a need for programs like this,” the Rev. Ray Scales said. Emma Agnew, president of Craighead County’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, encouraged the audience to register to vote at the event, asking them to consider those who died fighting for the right to vote and to take their legacy seriously.
Sacramento: A push to pass first-in-the-nation proposals to limit single-use plastic containers and other items drew support from actor Jeff Goldblum on Wednesday. Environmental groups hail California’s proposal as a landmark attempt to cut down on 75% of waste from plastic items like takeout boxes, food containers and utensils. The bills aim to achieve the target within a decade. “I feel like we’re on the brink of accomplishing something,” Goldblum said, likening the proposal to President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 moon-shot speech. The two bills, one in the Assembly and another in the Senate, would require companies to reduce single-use packaging as much as possible by 2024 and ensure products made or imported into California after 2030 are recyclable or can be composted. Goldblum and advocates met with representatives from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and lawmakers at the Capitol. They delivered signed letters of support from January Jones, Ted Danson, and other actors and activists.
Denver: Immigration and customs officials violated federal law by refusing to release documents about people who are not citizens, a Colorado federal court judge said. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement used the rule to deny the release of records at least 333 times between July 2017 and April 2019, The Denver Post reports. The court ordered ICE to change its nationwide standard operating procedure and comply with the Freedom of Information Act. The case started in 2013 in Glenwood Springs when attorney Jennifer Smith requested documents about her client, but ICE refused to release them because the client was deemed a fugitive, authorities said. Releasing the documents could help people evade immigration enforcement, ICE officials said.
Hartford: A new economic action plan will be rolled out in the state that will include incentives to attract employers to its cities and promote the growth of women- and minority-owned businesses, according to a top state official. David Lehman, commissioner of economic and community development, announced a strong push will be coming to create hubs of innovation in the manufacturing, health care, insurance and bio-science industries, the Hartford Courant reports. Lehman said there is an effort to focus these innovations in cities and strengthen networks that will be enough for Connecticut to become competitive among larger cities like Boston and New York. Since the last recession, the state has struggled to regain jobs, with the latest count showing just 85% have been added back. Lehman said Gov. Ned Lamont will roll out a plan in the coming weeks that he hopes will answer and resolve a lot of the state’s economic and development issues.
Dover: A proposal by Democratic state lawmakers to outlaw homemade “ghost guns,” which can’t be traced by law enforcement agents because they don’t have serial numbers or are fashioned from parts created with 3D printers, has cleared its first legislative hurdle. A Democrat-led House committee voted to release the bill Wednesday after an hourlong public hearing, although its chief sponsor, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, said she plans to amend the bill after meeting Tuesday with representatives of the National Rifle Association. Longhurst said her amendments would include a phase-in date by which owners of existing guns would have to obtain serial numbers for their weapons, exempting muzzle loaders and replicas of antique firearms, and allowing licensed firearms dealers to legally handle gun parts that do not have serial numbers.
District of Columbia
Washington: Despite months of protest from students, faculty and parents, the chancellor for D.C. Public Schools announced Thursday that Washington Met will close at the end of the school year, WUSA-TV reports. The news prompted a group of students to walk out of class Thursday morning in protest, chanting “Save Washington Met!” and carrying signs noting, “School closures disproportionately happen to black and brown communities.” Chancellor Lewis Ferebee’s originally announcement Nov. 26 of a proposal to close the school was met with outrage from some stakeholders. He cited low enrollment and achievement compared to DCPS’ three other opportunity academies. The district hosted two community forums to gather feedback and gave the public a chance to provide input until Dec. 20, which critics said was not nearly enough time.
Tallahassee: The state House on Wednesday moved to repeal a powerful commission charged with placing constitutional amendments before voters. On a 93-25 vote, the House sent the joint resolution to the Senate. If the Senate also approves, it would send the matter to voters in November. The Constitution Revision Commission was established in 1968 and meets once every 20 years to consider measures to put before the state’s electorate. “Maybe it served a valid purpose at one time,” said Rep. Brad Drake, a Republican. “Their purpose was to make revisions to the constitution, not to become policy makers – that’s our job.” The commission last met in 2018 and placed seven measures on the ballot – all of which were approved by voters. Among those was a ban on offshore oil and gas drilling and vaping in enclosed indoor workplaces. Another measure barred public officials from lobbying for compensation while in office and six years thereafter.
Atlanta: Proposed budget cuts could mean fewer state troopers on the road, fewer lawyers defending poor people and fewer probation officers, state agency heads told lawmakers Wednesday as budget hearings continued. Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed overall increases to the state budget, mostly based on higher pay for teachers; increased funding for K-12 schools, colleges and universities; and higher spending on the state-federal Medicaid health insurance program. But Kemp has proposed more than $200 million in cuts to other agencies for the remainder of the current budget year and more for the budget year beginning July 1. Department of Public Safety Commissioner Col. Mark McDonough told lawmakers he would leave 55 trooper positions open in the 2021 budget year and warned that “a reduction in troopers on the roadways equates to an increase in fatalities.”
Hilo: The Solid Waste Advisory Committee in the state has proposed a plan that includes 82 waste management recommendations covering nine programs. The committee also heard recommendations at a public hearing in Hilo on Tuesday, West Hawaii Today reports. The committee made recommendations including to conduct public awareness campaigns, regularly review the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill contract and conduct more household hazardous waste collection events, officials said. Some residents also made recommendations to the committee. “The key approach to landfill reduction is public education,” said Melody Euaparadorn of Zero Waste Big Island. Members of the Sierra Club’s Hawaii Island Group said the committee should enact a disposal fee on all purchased products at the point of purchase, an environmental impact fee on tourists and negotiations for an end date with Waste Management Inc., which operates the West Hawaii landfill.
Boise: The state’s residents wouldn’t have to fall back or spring ahead for daylight saving time under legislation introduced Thursday. The House State Affairs Committee voted to introduce the measure brought forward by Republican Rep. Christy Zito. She said the twice-a-year time change was a safety hazard that caused temporary jet lag leading to injuries among motorists and pedestrians. She said it also increased the chances of strokes and heart attacks. Zito introduced similar legislation last year, but it failed in the full House on a 55-15 vote. A similar fate is expected this year, and there was some mirth among lawmakers on the committee. “At this point, it seems like the only one who can mess with time is God,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri, who is in favor of ending daylight saving time and moved to approve introducing the bill. “We’re going to try again.” Zito acknowledged getting the bill signed is a long shot but said it’s high on the list of what her roral constituents want.
Springfield: Grant funds will provide nearly $30 million for efforts across the state to acquire open spaces and develop and improve recreational facilities. Gov. J.B. Pritzker released the list of 85 projects late last week. They will receive $29.7 million from the Open Space Land Acquisition and Development program through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Investments in local park projects are good for families and recreation enthusiasts, helping them enjoy outdoor activities and making Illinois communities better places to live and work,” Pritzker said in a statement. OSLAD money supports up to half of a project’s cost. With local matching funds, the grant awards will cover $56 million in park developments and open-space land purchases. OSLAD, begun in 1987, receives funding from a portion of the state’s Real Estate Transfer Tax.
Crown Point: Work is underway for a war memorial that was delayed for years by the Great Recession after the 2008 financial crisis. Crews began clearing trees last week in Crown Point for the memorial, which will feature three separate monuments: one for World War I veterans, another for World War II veterans and one for victims of the Holocaust. The two war memorials will be placed at opposite ends of a long walkway lined with plaques with information giving visitors a clearer understanding of the events between the two wars, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reports. Mitch Barloga, president of the Friends of Veterans Memorial Parkway, says the goal is to have the memorial finished by 2021 or no later than 2022.
Des Moines: The state will become the latest to create an organization within state government designed to prevent school shootings under a plan announced Tuesday by Gov. Kim Reynolds. Reynolds said she’s creating a Governor’s School Safety Bureau within the Iowa Department of Public Safety. It would cost $2 million to start and $1.5 million annually to operate, and Reynolds said she’s included needed funding in her legislative budget request. “News headlines about school shootings and threats at unsuspecting communities across America are becoming all too common,” she said. “Although those headlines don’t often involve schools in Iowa, we can’t wait until they do to act.” Full-time bureau instructors will train local law enforcement officers and school staff in identifying and responding quickly in a consistent way. Reynolds’ plan calls for hiring two additional state agents with cyber training to identify and address early threats.
Hutchinson: The family of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the moon, has donated two items that were aboard the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 to the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson. Armstrong’s two sons donated a 4-by-6-inch U.S. flag and a small piece of fabric from the wing of the Wright Flyer, the first flying machine built by the Wright brothers, the museum announced Wednesday. The piece of fabric was in the lunar module when it touched down on the moon, the museum said. Neil Armstrong died in 2012. “When I visited the Cosmosphere in 2019, it was clearly a world-class space museum, but I didn’t see anything from Apollo 11 (mission) on exhibit, and it seemed obvious to me that they should have something from the flight,” Rick Armstrong said in a news release. The new donations will be put on display later this year.
Louisville: People passing by the gym where Muhammad Ali learned to box can see a new historical marker that has been placed there. The Columbia Gym at Spalding University also has a red bicycle hanging over the entrance to the gym. Ali’s red bike was stolen when he was young, leading him to a police officer who trained at the gym. Officer Joe Martin told Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, that he would have to learn to fight, and Clay started training at the same gym. News outlets report the marker was unveiled last week, the day before Ali would have turned 78. He died in 2016. Ali’s brother, Rahman Ali, helped unveil the marker. He said his brother’s “whole life” started at Columbia Gym.
New Orleans: A historic brewery that’s been shuttered since Hurricane Katrina will officially reopen in a new location this weekend. Dixie Brewery plans to hold a grand opening Saturday, news outlets report. It originally opened in 1907. Floods and looting after the hurricane contributed to its closure, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports. The new facility is open to the public and boasts a bar, cafe, outdoor space, museum and games. The brewery will also offer tours showing parts of the production process, according to news outlets. The brewery has created jobs for more than 40 people, WVUE-TV reports. The general manager said he hopes the facility becomes a landmark for people visiting New Orleans. “I mean, if you go to Cafe Du Monde for a beignet, you have to come to Dixie for a beer,” Jim Birch said.
Augusta: The governor used her first State of the State address this week to paint a picture of the Pine Tree State as a home of compromise and bipartisanship in an era marked by political gridlock elsewhere. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills themed Tuesday’s address “We are not Washington; we are Maine” and stuck to a theme of working together to improve health care access, protect the environment and grow the economy. Mills, who has used her first year in office to focus on issues such as Medicaid expansion, tackling climate change and solving the state’s opioid crisis, also ticked off accomplishments that she said show Maine is in good hands. “We have made progress, and we have done so without rancor or bitterness,” Mills told the crowd in the Maine House of Representatives chambers, also touting “the security and saneness of our own small outpost” during the state’s bicentennial year.
Baltimore: A new report says a critical shortage of police officers in the city is delaying many of the reforms that are required under a federal consent decree. The report was authored by an independent monitoring team of policing and civil rights experts, according to the Baltimore Sun. The team wrote that staffing challenges will have staggering effects on overall reforms. The department finished 2019 with 31 fewer officers than it had when the year began. A consultant recently concluded the department needs to hire 300 more officers and 100 civilians to adequately staff areas such as patrol and internal affairs. The consent decree – which followed a federal investigation that found officers routinely violated residents’ civil rights, particularly in black neighborhoods – requires improvements in how police interact with youths and respond to residents with mental disabilities as well as sexual assault victims.
Swansea: A Target employee who faced criticism by a customer upset over the price of a toothbrush received more than $30,000 in donations for a vacation fund. Tori Perotti was overwhelmed with support from social media users after a customer took to Twitter to call her out for the price of an electric toothbrush last week, news outlets report. The manager at the Swansea Target was approached by David Leavitt when he tried to purchase an electric toothbrush that he said was marked on sale for $0.01 but was actually $89.99. When Perotti refused to sell the toothbrush to Leavitt for a cent, he turned to his more than 200,000 Twitter followers to write that Perotti “is not honoring the price of their items,” in accordance to state law. He added in another tweet that he was going to call 911 over the incident. Social media users came to Perrotti’s defense shortly after, with one person going as far as starting a GoFundMe page.
Grand Haven: Record-high water levels on the Great Lakes are wreaking havoc along the state’s coastlines, swallowing beaches and houses, swamping sewer systems, flooding roads and public buildings, and turning farm fields into lakes. And it’s only expected to get worse this year, state lawmakers were told Thursday. “We won’t have much of a beach this summer. We’re telling people to plan on getting your feet wet if you come here,” said Pat McGinnis, city manager of Grand Haven, which sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. “We had to close a public building because of mold issues from the higher water. We’re shutting them down and tearing them down, and there is no insurance coverage.” In Saginaw County, where the Saginaw River leads into Lake Huron, Public Works Commissioner Brian Wendling said there’s no place for the water to go anymore.
Minneapolis: The state Supreme Court has upheld the city’s authority to impose a minimum wage that’s higher than the state’s. The ruling follows three years of legal fighting over the $15 minimum wage as is seen as a victory for laborers and the city. The manufacturing and supplies company Graco Inc. sued in 2017 to try to block the $15 wage from taking effect, according to the Star Tribune. Graco argued it would create a patchwork of compensation standards because of the state’s $10 minimum wage for large businesses. The Supreme Court said in its ruling that the “Legislature did not intend to occupy the field of minimum-wage rates,” and because the city’s rate would not prevent employers from complying with the lower state rate, Minneapolis’ ordinance could stand. Minneapolis was the first Midwestern city to adopt a $15-per-hour minimum wage, which will be phased in gradually until it peaks in 2024.
Jackson: Belhaven University is creating scholarships to honor one of its graduates who is the author of bestselling young adult novels. The Angie Thomas Writers Scholarship program will be based at the Jackson school. Thomas wrote “The Hate U Give,” about an African American teenager who sees a police officer shoot and kill her best friend, and “On the Come Up,” about a young rapper who finds her identity and confronts stereotypes through music. One creative writing major at Belhaven will receive a scholarship to cover all expenses for tuition, room and board for four years, the university said in a news release Thursday. Other top applicants may receive smaller awards. Thomas graduated from Belhaven with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 2011. “The Hate U Give” was published in 2017 and was released as a movie in 2018. “On the Come Up” was published in 2019, and Thomas is working as a producer of the movie that is in development. The deadline to apply for the scholarship is March 1.
Jefferson City: Lawmakers are considering whether to allow police in all of the state’s municipalities to reside outside the cities where they work. A House bill initially introduced to lift the residency requirements for officers in St. Louis was expanded Tuesday to include all Missouri cities, despite opposition from Kansas City leaders, The Kansas City Star reports. Many cities currently require all law enforcement officers to live within city limits. St. Louis supports lifting the residency requirements, in part because the police department is 100 officers short. In Kansas City, officers must live in the city one year before beginning employment, and civilian workers have nine months to move into the city. Attorney General Eric Schmitt supports lifting residency requirements, contending it would help recruit and retain officers and help fight violent crime. The mayor and police chief of St. Louis also support the bill.
Missoula: An oil-drilling lease dispute has continued in federal court over whether to cancel the lease near Glacier National Park on land considered sacred by the Blackfeet tribe. The U.S. Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday from lawyers for leaseholder Solenex LLC and EarthJustice, which is representing the Blackfeet Nation and some environmental groups, the Missoulian reported Tuesday. Drilling leases in Badger-Two Medicine have been a point of contention for years, court officials said. The Bureau of Land Management in 2016 canceled the oil and gas leases held by Moncrief Oil and Solenex LLC, drawing a lawsuit from the two firms. A U.S. district court later reinstated the leases. Moncrief reached a settlement with environmental groups, but Solenex is still defending its lease, company officials said.
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Lincoln: The state’s attorney general filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a commission that voted to allow machine bets on previously run horse races despite the attorney general’s warnings that the machines are illegal. The lawsuit alleges that the Nebraska State Racing Commission approved so-called historical horse racing even after state lawyers advised the commission that the machines violate state law and the Nebraska Constitution’s prohibition of casino gambling. The attorney general’s office said the commission’s vote amounted to a “unilateral decision to expand gambling without action by the Legislature or the citizens of Nebraska.” The commission voted 3-2 in July to allow the terminals at Fonner Park in Grand Island. Lawmakers have considered measures to legalize the machines in the past but rejected them amid arguments that they’re too similar to casino slots.
Reno: The Silver State will be joining Iowa in using mobile apps to gather results from thousands of caucus sites, amid heightened worries about election hacking. The decision to use the apps was made to increase transparency and help run the caucuses more smoothly, says Shelby Wiltz, director of the Nevada State Democratic Party Caucus. Although the technology is intended to make counting easier, it also raises concerns about the potential for hacking or glitches. Party officials say they worked closely with the Democratic National Committee and security experts while picking and vetting the app vendor that was chosen. They declined to name the vendor, citing security reasons. Wiltz says the app has been thoroughly tested. Democratic Party activists in the two states will use programs downloaded to their personal phones to report the results of caucus gatherings to the state headquarters. That data will then be used to announce the unofficial winners.
Concord: Sexual assault survivors, parents and other advocates urged lawmakers Thursday to close a loophole in state law they argue enabled a Concord High School teacher accused of abuse. Primo “Howie” Leung was charged in April with sexually assaulting a student off school property in Massachusetts in 2015 and 2016. But school officials did not report him to police after he was seen kissing a different student in 2018 because state law allows teenagers 16 and older to consent to such contact if they are not being coerced. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a pair of bills filed in response to the school district’s handling of Leung, who has pleaded not guilty. But both sponsors, Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, and Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said they back an amendment offered by the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence combining elements of their proposed legislation.
Freehold: A ham-handed attempt to steal organ pipes has left a township church facing extensive damage. The burglary occurred overnight Tuesday at First United Methodist Church of Freehold, according to a post on the church’s Facebook page. A bid to steal the large decorative pipes caused a collapse that damaged the organ, according to the post. A picture showed the pipes arrayed like pick-up sticks. “At this time, we do not know,” the church’s pastor, the Rev. Wil Wilson, said of the cost of the damage. “Just taking it a day at a time, but costs will be assessed soon.” The post said: “While the damage is shocking and disturbing, we thank God that no one was injured and nothing was stolen. … We will not let this crush our spirits.” Business will go on as usual. The pastor wrote that Sunday services will be held at 10 a.m.
Albuquerque: The state’s largest university is asking students to help with picking a new school seal to replace one that had sparked protests. The University of New Mexico is allowing students to vote on five options. One has a howling Lobo and the Sandia Mountains in the background. Others have the names of the school around various designs. The move comes after the University of New Mexico began looking for a new design for its official seal following protests from Native Americans over concerns about the seal that featured a sword-carrying Spanish conquistador and a rifle-toting frontiersman. The Native American student groups Kiva Club and The Red Nation had been pressuring the university to drop the seal. “If you want to go to a school, and there is an image of a group of people who killed your ancestors on the logo, then it might deter you from going there,” student Cara Greene told TV station KRQE.
New York: The president of the city’s subways announced his resignation Thursday, two years after being brought in to help turn around the beleaguered system. No reason was given for the unexpected departure of Andy Byford, a British executive with experience in transit systems all over the world. But there had also been tensions, notably with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who largely controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that includes the subways that Byford oversaw. In a statement on his resignation, Byford said he was “very proud” of what had been accomplished during his tenure. Speaking briefly at a board meeting Thursday after his resignation became public, Byford thanked Cuomo for giving him the opportunity and gave him credit for the efforts he and the Legislature made in securing capital funds for system improvements.
Hatteras: More than 100 sea turtles stunned by recent cold temperatures have washed up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the National Park Service said. The agency wrote on its Facebook page Wednesday that approximately 95 green and Kemp’s ridley turtles washed ashore Tuesday on the south side of Hatteras Island. Of that total, 35 washed up onto the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the agency said. In addition, the park service says another 10 turtles were found Wednesday morning on the seashore. The turtles were taken to the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island for rehabilitation. Many are expected to be released by the end of the week. The majority of the cold-stunned turtles have been found from Buxton to Hatteras, and seashore biotechs and multiple volunteer organizations continued searching for cold-stunned turtles Wednesday.
Bismarck: Hundreds of electronic devices aimed at adding speed and security at the voting polls will be distributed to the state’s 53 counties in the coming weeks. The 990 poll books replace the paper process to check in voters that are used in most counties. North Dakota has no voter registration but maintains a central voter file, which is a database of who has voted. “One of the things when it comes to election integrity is that once you come in and show your ID, that automatically goes back into our central voter file, and so if you attempted to vote, let’s say, in Minot or drive up to Killdeer or some other place, they would know that you voted already,” Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Monday. The state’s six or seven larger counties have been using the poll books already, and by February every county will have them, the Bismarck Tribune reports.
Cincinnati: The Cincinnati Zoo is using the third birthday of its beloved premature hippo as a way to raise money for Australian wildlife affected by the recent bushfires. Instead of sending birthday gifts, the zoo is asking people to buy T-shirts that will directly benefit the Bushfire Emergency Wildlife Fund. The shirt features a koala and kangaroo giving Fiona a hug and says “Supporting Our Friends Down Under.” All proceeds from sales will be sent to Zoos Victoria to help them care for the animals that are suffering. The zoo will add $5,000 to the total amount raised. Fiona became a global celebrity after she was born Jan. 24, 2017, weighing in at just 29 pounds. The normal range for a hippo’s birth weight is 55 to 120 pounds. Fiona now weighs a healthy 1,300 pounds, according to the zoo.
Oklahoma City: A former zookeeper and one-time candidate for governor was sentenced Wednesday to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder-for-hire plot and violating federal wildlife laws. A federal judge in Oklahoma City sentenced 56-year-old Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage – also known as “Joe Exotic” – for trying to arrange the killing of a Florida animal sanctuary founder who criticized his treatment of animals. The woman, Carole Baskin, wasn’t harmed. Maldonado, who maintained his innocence, also was sentenced for killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs and falsifying wildlife records. A jury convicted him last April. “I still maintain my innocence and looking forward in the upcoming days to my attorneys filing my appeal and moving onto the next step in this nightmare,” he said in a statement posted to his Facebook page.
Portland: Schools raised the statewide high school graduation rate for the class of 2019 to 80% and slightly narrowed racial and economic inequities, according to figures made public early Thursday. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the biggest gains were among low-income students, whose on-time graduation rate rose 2 percentage points; students with disabilities, whose rate rose 3 percentage points; and students who were still learning English as their second language while in high school. The on-time graduation rate for that third group surged more than 4 percentage points to 60%. In 2018, the overall graduation rate was 78.7%. State schools chief Colt Gill hailed what he called an “historic” achievement. He credited hard work in local school districts as well as a half-dozen statewide initiatives for the widespread improvement and the narrowing of racial and other gaps. Oregon’s graduation rate has been considered an embarrassment for many years, with it typically ranking in the very bottom tier of states.
Philadelphia: Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty is under investigation for allegedly assaulting a 13-year-old boy during a photo shoot, police said. Chris Greenwell and his son Brandon met the hairy, googly-eyed mascot at a November event for season ticket holders. Brandon patted Gritty on the head after he and his father posed for a photo with him at the Wells Fargo Center, Greenwell told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Greenwell said that as Brandon walked away, Gritty ran out of his chair and “punched my son as hard as he could.” Greenwell, who told the newspaper he only wanted an apology and something special for his son, filed a complaint with police Dec. 21. A police spokesperson said Tuesday that the investigation is “active and ongoing.” Officials at Comcast Spectacor, the company that owns the Flyers, said it conducted an investigation but couldn’t verify whether the alleged assault happened.
Providence: State lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban 3D guns. The measure would make it illegal for anyone in Rhode Island to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer or receive any firearm that is made from plastic, fiberglass or through a 3D-printing process. The proposal received unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday night. The guns, also referred to as “ghost guns,” are especially dangerous because they can pass through metal detectors and be obtained by people who wouldn’t otherwise pass background checks, supporters have argued. Critics of the bill contend that the ban is unnecessary and that existing laws tackle undetectable firearms.
Georgetown: A sheriff’s deputy responding to a burglary call was forced to settle a beef between his K9 and a spooked cow by using a stun gun. Georgetown County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the Pleasant Hill community Wednesday when a K9 that was brought to the scene reportedly became “distracted” and bit a cow belonging to the property owners, a statement from the agency said. The officer was forced to stun the dog to prevent the cow from being seriously injured, the office said. Reacting to the bite, the cow charged at the deputy and property owner, hitting them and causing minor injuries. After taking stock of the situation, the deputy placed the dog in his cruiser. None of the people or animals involved appeared to be seriously hurt. At the end of it all, the sheriff’s office determined the original burglary call was unfounded.
Pierre: Twenty-one state legislators have signed on in support of a bill that would prohibit local governments from banning plastic bags, straws and other products. Eight states have banned single-use plastic bags, and 15 states, including Minnesota and North Dakota, have adopted laws prohibiting government entities from banning plastic bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Republican Sen. John Wiik says he decided to introduce the legislation after working with retailers on the issue and seeing neighboring states attempt similar legislation. “I just thought it was time to move ahead and give the small businesses, your mom-and-pop convenience stores and small town businesses, a little more solid footing going into the future,” Wiik says. The question of a ban rose to the surface in Sioux Falls last year after the flooded Big Sioux River left thousands of plastic bags stuck in the trees along the river banks as the water receded.
Memphis: The city says it has emergency, private garbage crews on standby in case of a “wildcat” work stoppage this weekend. “They are operating outside of their leadership. Should this stoppage occur, it’s in breach of the memorandum of understanding with the city and also the ordinance,” city spokesman Dan Springer said. he said any worker who participates in an unauthorized work stoppage technically resigns their position under the city charter. How large of a work stoppage is planned for Saturday or if it will happen at all is unclear. Any potential stoppage could delay trash pickup scheduled for this weekend after being pushed back for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The head of AFSCME Local 1733, the Memphis sanitation workers union, wrote a letter to Mayor Jim Strickland last week disavowing a planned, “unsanctioned” strike.
Tomball: A teacher who authorities say brought a handgun to school and made threatening comments about colleagues has been arrested. Mark Davis, a history and geography teacher at Concordia Lutheran High School, was arrested Wednesday. Tomball police say he’s charged with possessing a weapon in a prohibited place and threatening to exhibit or use a firearm at a school. According to a criminal complaint, a teacher who encountered Davis, 62, on Tuesday in a first-floor common area at the private school said he “appeared to be more angry than usual.” Davis told the teacher he felt the principal gave another school a bad reference regarding his time at Concordia, and he complained the school’s baseball coach hadn’t picked him for an assistant coaching position. The teacher told police Davis said he would buy an automatic rifle and had a handgun upstairs, according to the complaint, and he told school officials he brought it to campus to “protect the kids.”
Salt Lake City: A contentious state tax overhaul will be repealed amid growing voter backlash to the plan that would raise taxes on food and groceries while cutting income tax, Republican legislative leaders said Thursday. The repeal was announced after an effort to challenge it through a citizen referendum appeared to have succeeded in getting a spot on the November ballot, the Deseret News reports. Gov. Gary Herbert told reporters during his regular monthly news conference on PBS Utah that an overhaul is still needed, but lawmakers will likely wait to take up the issue until next year. The legislative session begins Monday. “I think we’re accommodating the will of the people,” Herbert said about the repeal. “The fact that we have pushback means we have not done our job as far as convincing the people this is the right thing to do or the right way to do it.”
Montpelier: The state is looking to award $2 million to help construct fast vehicle charging stations along highway corridors. The state is requesting proposals for a third round of grant funding to build Direct Current Fast Charging stations at eleven priority locations along Vermont’s major arteries. As of last October, there were more than 3,500 electric vehicles registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles, up 154% since 2016. The third round of funding will ensure charging stations are available along interstate and other priority highway corridors such as interstates 89 and 91, U.S. Route 4 and Vermont Route 100. “Electric car owners often charge at home, but increased availability and speed of public charging are critical to advancing transportation electrification in Vermont,” said David Roberts, the Drive Electric Vermont coordinator.
Richmond: An event considered the world’s leading international competition for young violinists will feature a Virginia competitor when it comes to the city this spring. The Menuhin Competition Richmond 2020 on Wednesday announced the 44 competitors who had been selected from a pool of 321 applicants for the May event. The Menuhin Competition, which is held every two years in a different location, is known as “Olympics of the Violin.” The competitors represent 16 countries of residence across North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, and 13 U.S. states, according to a press release from event organizers. Kayleigh Kim, a 15-year-old from northern Virginia, will compete in the junior level of the competition, for ages 15 and under. The senior level features musicians 21 and under. The event was founded in 1983 by violinist Yehudi Menuhin, one of the great musical talents of the 20th century.
Olympia: Middle and high school students joined administrators, parents and doctors Wednesday in urging a state Senate committee to pass severe restrictions on nicotine vaping products, decrying how some of their peers leave class to vape in the bathroom or even use the products during class by exhaling into their sleeve. Washington adopted a temporary ban on flavored e-cigarette juice in October as the nation grappled with a mysterious, sometimes fatal lung illness that appeared linked to vaping. Since then, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has said the outbreak appears to have been linked mostly to vitamin E acetate in vaping products containing THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis. The bill considered by the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee on Wednesday would make the flavor ban permanent, while also limiting the nicotine content and size of each vaping juice cartridge.
Charleston: The state’s public schools superintendent wants the state Board of Education not to reduce the number of social studies courses required for high school graduation. Superintendent Steve Paine said in a statement that he will make the recommendation based on an overwhelming response to the proposal. Last month the Board of Education placed the overall high school credits proposal up for public comment through Jan. 24. It would reduce the number of required social studies courses in favor of other courses such as career technical education and computer science. Meanwhile, a new class on cooking, cleaning and budgeting could be coming to schools under a bill passed Thursday by the Senate. Lawmakers voted 33-0 to approve the proposal to have the state education board come up with a home economics course that would also include training on sewing, minor home repair and time management.
Milwaukee: The Milwaukee Brewers home ballpark will have a new name next year after a 20-year deal with Miller comes to an end. American Family Insurance announced this week that Miller Park will become American Family Field next Jan. 1. A new logo and other branding elements will be revealed later this year. The Brewers a year ago announced the 15-year naming rights deal with American Family, but the name of the ballpark was not known until now. No terms of the agreement were announced. The deal with Miller was worth $40 million. The brewing company, now MillerCoors, showed little or no interest in extending the naming rights. The insurance company also has the naming rights to the main amphitheater at Summerfest, the music festival along Milwaukee’s lakefront.
Cody: Sleeping Giant Ski Area in northwest Wyoming is suspending winter operations after this season because of financial problems. Amy Woods, manager of the Yellowstone Recreations Foundation, announced the board of directors’ decision this week, saying that “the number of skiers and snowboarders we currently attract does not make winter operations financially feasible as we run a deficit of over $200,000 per year.” She said the decision is “agonizing but necessary.” The Cody Enterprise reports the zipline will not be affected and will start running again in the summer. In 2007, a local group launched a plan to acquire Sleeping Giant, which had shuttered three years earlier. The Yellowstone Recreations Foundation was established to reopen the ski area.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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