Birmingham: The state will provide artifacts from the last slave ship to dock in the United States for a special public exhibition later this year, officials said Tuesday. The Alabama Historical Commission, in a statement, said an exhibit named for the slave ship Clotilda is set to open this fall in Mobile, where the schooner arrived with African captives in 1860. The artifacts include pieces of wood and metal taken from a muddy river bottom where the ship was discovered, said Jim Delgado, a maritime archaeologist who helped identify the wreck. The History Museum of Mobile will add pieces from its own collection to help tell the story of the port’s maritime history, the commission said. The city is working on plans for a new facility to house the exhibition. To settle a bet between wealthy white men on whether slaves could be imported into the South in defiance of a federal ban, the wooden ship illegally transported 110 people from west Africa to Alabama, where they became slaves. The freed people later settled in a community called Africatown, which still exists and will be the site of the exhibition.
Juneau: The city’s tourism task force is not expected to recommend placing a cap on the number of visitors during the upcoming tourist season. The City and Borough of Juneau Visitor Industry Task Force is more likely to recommend the city use infrastructure to limit the number of visitors, The Juneau Empire reports. The 10-member task force met Sunday to develop recommendations it hopes to present to a March 23 meeting of the Committee of the Whole, a work session of the city assembly. The infrastructure changes could include berthing larger cruise ships filled with passengers closer to the city to reduce congestion, as well as requiring longer separations between ship arrivals. Mayor Beth Weldon created the task force in 2019 to answer questions about the management of Juneau’s growing tourist industry. There are expected to be 1.44 million visitors to Southeast Alaska communities this season.
Phoenix: Rough roads are costing the state’s drivers about $2,000 each year in car repairs and time lost to traffic, according to a report officials released Tuesday amid a renewed push at the Capitol to raise gas taxes. The report from TRIP, a Washington, D.C., transportation nonprofit, concludes that the total cost to Arizona drivers from added vehicle repairs, crashes where the roadway was a contributing factor, and added time and fuel expenses is worth $9.6 billion. The report says 44% of major roads and highways in Arizona are in poor or mediocre condition, based on data from the Federal Highway Administration. Officials from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns along with the County Supervisors Association of Arizona, representing all 91 incorporated municipalities and supervisors from all 15 counties, said the report shows the need for more tax revenue for road repairs.
Little Rock: The Arkansas Department of Human Services is requesting double-digit pay increases for direct care workers at state institutions for the developmentally disabled in hopes of retaining the employees. The department’s proposal includes five human development centers where pay would increase about 18%, from $22,000 to $26,034, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. Pay for supervisors would also increase almost 12%. Currently direct care and support staff members all make the same starting pay. Part of the proposal would also offer free training for all employees to become certified nursing assistants and require the direct care staff members from all five centers to achieve the certification by the end of the year. The proposed changes in salary increase are in hopes of reducing annual turnover that currently averages more than 100% across the five centers, said Melissa Stone, director of the department’s Division of Developmental Disabilities Services.
Sacramento: The state may have to end most restrictions on personalized license plate language that some might find offensive, if a lawsuit filed Tuesday prevails. The libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation lawsuit challenges the state Department of Motor Vehicles’ current policy on free speech grounds. The department denied more than 30,000 of the nearly 250,000 applications submitted in 2018, the last year for which statistics are available, after deciding that the proposed language “may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency,” says the lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco. Department officials declined comment on the pending litigation, which challenges a program that brought the state nearly $60 million last year. The environmental plates challenged in the lawsuit cost $53 initially and $43 annually to renew and are among 14 special interest license plates that help pay for environmental and special programs.
Denver: A bill allowing electric vehicle manufacturers to sell directly to consumers passed a key state legislative committee, clearing the way for a compromise with auto dealerships. The House Energy and Environment Committee approved an amended version of the bill Monday, The Colorado Sun reports. The original measure would have allowed Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and other automakers with dealer franchises to jump into the direct-sales market to sell their electric vehicles. The compromise was an amendment that will allow only automakers that have no existing dealer franchise to sell electric vehicles direct to consumers. Democratic House Speaker KC Becker, a primary sponsor of the measure, said the bill’s intention is to close a loophole allowing only Tesla Inc. to sell its electric cars directly to Colorado residents.
East Haven: A lawsuit brought by a retired police department employee was reinstated Tuesday by an appeals court. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Dyanna Green can try to prove that her punishment for taking a container of biscuits from the department’s communal refrigerator was part of age discrimination. Green was 58 and working in the records division in 2012 when she says the department’s bosses created a hostile work environment to force retirement after hiring someone else half her age to replace a recently retired worker in the division. Facing a disciplinary hearing, she quit. In December 2014, Green maintained she took one of two canisters of buttermilk biscuits dough to her desk, planning to bake them at home and bring them back for officers and staff, the appeals court said. But before Green went home, a lieutenant sent an email to employees demanding the missing canister be returned. When Green tried to return it, she encountered the police chief standing by the refrigerator, which had yellow “crime scene” tape sealing it, the appeals court said.
Dover: Some state lawmakers say that if you do business in Delaware, you need to accept cash. A bill introduced Tuesday prohibits any business selling goods or services from refusing to accept cash from a consumer making an in-person purchase. Senate President David McBride says not everyone has a bank account, and many people cannot obtain credit or debit cards. Lawmakers also note that there is currently no federal law mandating that businesses or individuals accept paper currency. Officials in other states and localities, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York City, also have taken action to ban cashless stores. Massachusetts passed its law almost 40 years ago. Under the proposed legislation in Delaware, a person who violated the law could be fined up to $10,000 per violation.
District of Columbia
Washington: The annual St. Patrick’s Parade in the district has been postponed as what officials say is a precaution to growing coronavirus concerns, WUSA-TV reports. The parade was originally scheduled for this Sunday. Organizers with the parade committee announced the postponement in an email Wednesday, citing concerns about the health and safety of attendants. The parade is one of many events and conferences to get postponed or canceled in the DMV, with organizers and attendants taking preventative measures to help reduce the impact of the virus. On Wednesday, D.C. Public Schools announced it will be closing schools next week to prepare for potential impact on students and faculty. Colleges have begun to prepare for the virus impact as well, with Georgetown University announcing Wednesday that it will move to virtual learning until after spring break Monday.
Tallahassee: The state would create a task force to identify unmarked and abandoned African American cemeteries and make recommendations on how to preserve them under a bill unanimously passed by the Senate on Monday. Several such cemeteries have been found around the state, including one in Tampa where the local housing authority built apartments above the graves of about 800 African Americans buried in the early 1900s, as well as a slave burying ground that’s now under a Tallahassee golf course. “Across the state of Florida, such cemeteries called lost are being found,” Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson said. “We cannot continue to run away from our collective history, and we can no longer allow others to rewrite that history or, at its worst, force the history off the pages of time.”
Atlanta: Legislation advancing at the state Capitol aims to raise the age at which teens can be charged as adults from 17 to 18. The House Juvenile Justice Committee approved the bill unanimously Monday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Georgia, Wisconsin and Texas are the only states that charge people over the age of 16 as adults, according to the newspaper. The bill moving forward in Georgia would allow the juvenile justice system to handle cases involving 17-year-olds accused of committing crimes. Those cases are currently heard in superior court. “This is really about making sure 17-year-olds aren’t burdened with criminal records that are going to hurt them in the long run,” said Josh Rovner with Washington, D.C.-based criminal justice nonprofit The Sentencing Project. Supporters say it would also give the teens greater access to services that try to prevent them from committing another crime.
Honolulu: Officials have confirmed another discovery of a fungal disease that has killed hundreds of thousands of native ohia trees in the state. An ohia tree with the infection was found on Oahu near the popular Poamoho trail above Wahiawa, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources confirmed the tree was infected with Ceratocystis huliohia, the less aggressive of the two fungal species responsible for the blight. The fungal disease infected four other trees on Oahu and has been found on each of the four main islands. An aerial survey in November found Oahu’s fourth case of the fungal disease at the Honolulu Watershed Forest Reserve above Tripler Army Medical Center. The state will be cautious in removing the latest infected tree because Poamoho is a critical watershed that is home to numerous endangered plants and animals, officials say.
Boise: Environmental groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a Trump administration decision to reopen a long-closed road built through grizzly bear habitat in northern Idaho. The Center for Biological Diversity and four other groups contend the road will harm grizzly bears, mountain caribou and other wildlife in the Selkirk Mountains. The U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last month announced plans to reopen more than 5 miles of Bog Creek Road because of threats to border security. The agencies didn’t specify the types of threats. The road was closed in the late 1980s to protect endangered grizzly bears roaming the area between Upper Priest Lake and the Canadian border. “Not only is this proposed road bad for bears, it’s also totally unnecessary for border security,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Chicago: A man’s decadeslong stay in isolation in a prison in the state has prompted proposed legislation that would limit how long a prisoner can stay in solitary confinement. Called the Anthony Gay Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, the legislation would bar the Illinois Department of Corrections from placing an inmate in isolation for more than 10 days in a six-month period. IDOC would also be required to give isolated inmates access to therapy, medical appointments, job assignments and exercise outside their cells. Anthony Gay went to prison in 1994 for stealing a dollar bill and a hat. Behavior problems, including self-mutilation, added to his sentence, and by the time he was released in August 2018, he had served 24 years in prison, 22 in solitary confinement. Later that year, the Corrections Department determined nearly 1 in 3 prisoners in segregation had serious mental illness issues.
Indianapolis: In an effort to combat distracted driving, state legislators on Tuesday gave their final approval to a proposal banning motorists from using handheld cellphones on Indiana roads. The state House voted 81-11 and the Senate 49-1 in favor of the bill allowing cellphone use by drivers only with hands-free or voice-operated technology, except in emergencies. The measure would broaden the state’s current ban on texting while driving that officials point out is unenforceable and doesn’t ban actions such as emailing or using Snapchat, Twitter and other apps. The new law would take effect in July, but any tickets issued to violators won’t result in state Bureau of Motor Vehicles points toward a driver’s license suspension until July 2021. Distracted driving was to blame in at least 860 injury crashes and 48 fatalities in Indiana last year, according to state police.
Des Moines: The state House has passed a bill that would change how much THC patients can receive through the medical marijuana program, add more qualifying conditions and allow more health care practitioners to recommend Iowans be added to the program. The bill, which passed on a vote of 52-46, follows the recommendation of a state advisory board and is in line with what Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said she is comfortable with signing, but Democrats called it a step backward for the program. The bill would replace Iowa’s current percentage-based limit, which allows medical marijuana products to contain up to 3% THC, with a per-patient limit of 4.5 grams of THC in a 90-day period. There are two exceptions to the THC limit: if a doctor determines that amount is insufficient to treat a patient’s condition, or if the patient is terminally ill.
Topeka: Legislators are taking steps to allow college athletes to hire agents and sign endorsement deals because they fear that if they don’t, out-of-state rivals will attract the best recruits and leave Kansas’ athletic programs in the dust. A bill that would bar state universities from preventing their athletes from earning outside compensation easily cleared the state Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday. It also would allow private, nonprofit colleges to permit their athletes to hire agents and do endorsements. It goes next to the full Senate for debate. Athletics officials at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University back the measure, and it appears to have bipartisan support, as Kansas’ top-ranked men’s basketball team looks ahead to March Madness. “We need to make sure that we are, as a state giving, a signal to the NCAA, ‘You need to be addressing this, or you’re going to have a quilt of legislation in all the different states,’ ” said state Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Kansas City-area Republican.
Frankfort: Gov. Andy Beshear urged churches on Wednesday to cancel worship services this week as part of his recommendation that people avoid large gatherings to help prevent spread of the new coronavirus. “I don’t believe that whether you go to church during this period of time is a test of faith,” he said. “I believe God gives us wisdom to protect each other, and we should do that.” Beshear also said that state prisons are being temporarily closed to visitors and that nonessential out-of-state travel has been suspended for state employees. He recommended that private businesses do the same. The governor acknowledged that recommending the cancellation of worship services statewide was a “big step” and one that’s likely to draw some pushback. But he said he sees it as necessary to protect public health.
Baton Rouge: The state is restarting its stalled effort to replace its voting machines, with the solicitation for bidders expected to go out shortly, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said Tuesday. New machines, however, won’t be in place quickly. Louisiana will continue casting ballots this fall on the same types of voting system that it has used for 15 years, without the paper backup advocated by many elections security experts. “It’ll be after the election. It won’t be for the presidential election because we don’t have the time to get through the (bid) process completely,” Ardoin, the state’s chief elections official, told lawmakers during a House Appropriations Committee budget hearing. Allegations of improper bid handling derailed a previous effort to replace Louisiana’s voting machines, so the secretary of state’s office has had to redo its vendor search process.
Augusta: The Legislature is revisiting the state’s stricter vaccine law to make some tweaks before it goes into effect next year. The new law eliminates religious and philosophical exemptions for childhood vaccines starting in September 2021. But the education committee on Monday took up a proposal to exempt students enrolled in online charter schools from the new requirements. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ryan Tipping, said Monday that it made little sense for the stricter rules to apply to kids who don’t sit in a classroom. Reject Big Pharma, a group that unsuccessfully fought the elimination of most vaccine opt-outs, was represented at the hearing. Mainers voted overwhelmingly last week to keep the new law that ends nonmedical vaccine opt-outs by September 2021 at public and private schools and universities, including nursery schools.
Salisbury: Electric bills may be going up if the state’s Public Service Commission approves a request from Delmarva Power to raise rates to its Eastern Shore customers. The electric provider is asking the commission to approve a rate increase that could cost the “average electric residential customer” $5.10 more a month, according to a press release from the PSC. Delmarva Power currently serves 206,000 customers on the Eastern Shore, according to the PSC press release. The utility estimated the rate increase could result in an additional $18.5 million for the company, according to a filing with the PSC. Delmarva Power has been replacing parts of its infrastructure as well as installing new technology to “provide reliable service in a cost-effective manner,” according to the company’s request.
Boston: A police patrol plan on the area’s public transit system that took effect in 2016 continues to keep violent crime consistently lower than it was just five years ago, Transit Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan said. Sullivan on Tuesday released figures showing there were 779 homicides, rapes, aggravated assaults, larcenies and other so-called part one violent crimes on the MBTA last year, compared to 770 in 2018, he said Tuesday. The four-year average for 2016 through 2019, however, stands at 782, compared to 998 for the previous five years, he told The Boston Globe. Sullivan said the numbers show that since he and Chief Kenneth Green instituted a new patrol plan in 2016, “part-one crimes had a precipitous drop, and we’ve maintained that for the last four years.” Riders take more than 1.1 million trips on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority every weekday.
Detroit: Water and sewer system projects are getting started in two neighborhoods as part of a $500 million program to upgrade the city’s aging water infrastructure. Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department is investing more than $44 million into Cornerstone Village and North Rosedale Park, according to the city. The work includes replacing water mains, fire hydrants and city sewer pipes. Lead service lines will be replaced with copper pipes on blocks where water mains are being replaced. The Water and Sewerage Department is replacing some service lines on private property at the department’s cost. Cornerstone Village is on Detroit’s east side. North Rosedale Park is in northwest Detroit. Most Detroit water and sewer pipes are more than 80 years old, the city said, adding that the last massive infrastructure upgrade was in 1930.
St. Paul: Some 36,000 public school students had another day off Wednesday while their teachers walked the picket line in the second day of a labor strike. Teachers and support staff picketed again outside the city’s schools, as parents scrambled to make alternative plans for their children. St. Paul Federation of Educators spokeswoman Megan Boldt said Wednesday that no new contract talks have been scheduled with the school district. “We are ready to come back to the table when the district is ready to make some movement,” said union president Nick Faber. The two sides broke off talks about 3 a.m. Tuesday after six days of mediation. The union wants mental health teams in every school building, but district officials say that would be cost-prohibitive. The union also wants more multilingual staff and additional educators working with students with special needs.
Jackson: The state House voted Tuesday to put a second medical marijuana proposal on the statewide ballot this year. But people who petitioned to get the first one there say the second is designed to split the vote and kill both proposals. More than 200,000 people signed petitions to put Initiative 65 on the November ballot. It would amend the Mississippi Constitution to allow the prescription of up to 5 ounces of marijuana per month for a person with a debilitating medical condition. On Tuesday, the Mississippi House voted to put an alternative medical marijuana proposal on the same ballot. Republican Rep. Trey Lamar of Senatobia said the alternative would allow local zoning regulations that would prevent pot shops from springing up on main streets. The alternative would restrict the smoking of prescribed marijuana to people with terminal illnesses, although people who are ill but not dying could use oils or other forms of the drug.
St. Louis: A new four-year medical school will focus on training doctors who will work in poor urban and rural areas. Puerto Rico-based Ponce Health Sciences University is making an $80 million commitment to develop the new campus in north St. Louis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Construction will begin later this year with a freshman class of 150 in the fall of 2022. Ponce President David Lenihan told the newspaper the goal is to provide opportunities for minority and low-income students who fail to get a spot in a traditional medical school but show promise to succeed. He said those students tend to work in communities where they grew up and have a strong understanding of their patients. Herb Kuhn, Missouri Hospital Association president, said several counties have no primary care physicians, and eight acute hospitals in rural Missouri have closed in the past five years. All told, 44 Missouri counties lack a hospital.
Billings: The U.S. Department of the Interior is providing money for two specialists to help it manage grizzly bears in the state following conflicts with landowners and livestock that often end in bears being killed by wildlife workers. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in letter to members of Montana’s congressional delegation that the agency would play a “more conclusive role” in dealing with problem bears. Grizzlies are protected as a threatened species, and hunting of them is not allowed. However, bears that prey on livestock or pose a threat to public safety are routinely killed. Interior is entering a $250,000 contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to hire the two bear management specialists. The state is home to the largest grizzly populations in the U.S. outside Alaska, with more than 1,000 bears in northwestern Montana, and hundreds more live in the Yellowstone region.
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Lincoln: State lawmakers will debate a new bill to lower property taxes as early as next week after a legislative committee endorsed it in a Tuesday vote. Members of the Revenue Committee voted 6-1 in favor of the bill, which would provide roughly the same $520 million boost to Nebraska’s K-12 public schools as an earlier proposal that stalled last month. Schools are the biggest consumers of local property tax revenue in Nebraska, and the bill would offer them the additional money along with tighter controls on their ability to tax and spend. Schools fought an earlier version of the bill, saying they don’t trust the state to maintain its commitment and arguing that the controls would hinder their flexibility. The new version relaxes some of the proposed controls, although schools may still question it.
Las Vegas: A state judge has again rejected a decadeslong bid to tap groundwater beneath vast rangelands in northeast Nevada and pipe it to fast-growing suburbs and glittering gambling resorts in and around Las Vegas. In a strongly worded statement, Judge Robert Estes said he saw no reason to undo findings he made in December 2013 that block a Southern Nevada Water Authority plan to spend billions of dollars to pump groundwater from four rural valleys in White Pine and Lincoln counties near the Utah border. Simeon Herskovits, an attorney representing the Great Basin Water Network and most opponents of the project, called the ruling “the end of the road for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the state engineer, unless they appeal again to the (state) Supreme Court.” The order followed two days of hearings last November.
Concord: As spring approaches, the state’s Department of Environmental Services wants to hear from residents when lakes and ponds become ice-free. The “ice-out” conditions mean a water body is thawed and can be navigated by boat. Lake Winnipesaukee has annual “ice-out” observations by aircraft. New Hampshire Public Radio reports there are “ice-out” conditions on some lakes in the southern part of the state. It’s similar to conditions in other mild winter years, such as 2018 and 2016. State officials are looking for more long-term data of “ice-in” dates, as well, to show whether warmer winters are causing shorter ice seasons.
Leonia: A town near the busy George Washington Bridge has won a court reprieve in its effort to close residential streets to reduce gridlock from commuters using navigation apps. Leonia made headlines two years ago when it implemented the closures, after the town passed ordinances limiting traffic on some streets to local residents or nonresidents having business in town. Apps like Waze and Apple Maps typically reroute some of the tens of thousands of vehicles headed to the bridge each morning, particularly when there is an accident or other disruption. Police said in 2018 that studies showed that more than 2,000 vehicles often passed through the town of about 9,000 residents from just one of the three exits off Interstate 95, causing safety concerns and gridlock on side streets.
Las Cruces: A woman is facing charges after police say she stole a car and later tried to claim she was pop singer Beyonce Knowles. Surena Henry was arrested Saturday morning in Las Cruces when an officer spotted a vehicle that resembled one that recently had been reported stolen, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports. According to court documents, the 48-year-old Henry ignored the officer’s orders to pull over and later parked in front of her home. Documents say Henry told the officer she was Beyonce. Police also reported Henry told the officer she found the keys in the vehicle and decided to take it for a joy ride. She also allegedly told police that she didn’t stop driving when she saw the emergency lights because she didn’t feel like it. Henry is charged with unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, concealing identity, and resisting or obstructing an arrest.
New York: The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been postponed for the first time in its 258-year history because of coronavirus concerns, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday. The postponement of next Tuesday’s parade adds to the roster of events and holidays upended around the world by the spreading infection. Chicago, Boston and even the Irish capital, Dublin, have canceled St. Patrick’s Day parades. The New York parade honoring Irish heritage dates back longer than the United States and draws tens of thousands of marchers and throngs of spectators to Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Cuomo, a Democrat, said while the risk of transmission might be lower in an outdoor gathering, health experts had urged him to call it off. The governor’s statement did not say when this year’s parade will take place, if at all. But Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted late in the night that he promises the parade will go on, “whether it’s in the heat of summer or on a clear fall day.”
Raleigh: A police shooting that wounded a suspect during a foot chase in the city sparked protests early Wednesday from hundreds who demanded answers and burned a flag outside the governor’s mansion. Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said officers responded to a 911 call Tuesday evening reporting a man with a gun near a shopping center in eastern Raleigh. She said arriving officers spotted a person matching the caller’s description, later identified as 26-year-old Javier Torres. Torres ran and was chased by officers who repeatedly ordered him to stop and drop the gun, Deck-Brown said. Torres was shot in the abdomen by an officer who had joined the chase, the chief said, adding that the suspect was running directly toward that officer and would not drop his gun. The extent of Torres’ injuries was not immediately known.
Fargo: Democrats moved Tuesday to bolster staffing at the largest of the state’s 14 caucus sites after heavy turnout forced some voters in Fargo to wait in line as long as an hour. The party had been expecting a big surge in turnout due to a revamping of the state’s caucus system and high interest in the presidential race. North Dakota shifted this year from traditional caucuses to so-called firehouse caucuses that function largely like a typical election, with voters able to show up, cast a ballot and leave. The process is run by the parties. Democrats set up 14 voting sites around the state, with voting from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The lines were longest in Fargo, the state’s largest city and home to North Dakota State University. The party said wait times in Grand Forks, home to the University of North Dakota, were about 40 minutes. Lines were shorter in Bismarck and Minot. Bernie Sanders ultimately won North Dakota, the smallest prize among states that voted Tuesday.
Athens: An investigation into hazing allegations against Ohio University’s marching band found several “concerning” unsanctioned band traditions, according to university documents. The Marching 110 is one of several campus groups that was investigated last fall for hazing allegations that led to the suspension of all the university’s fraternities. The investigation, which included interviews with 117 students and seven staff members, could lead to the removal of some students from the band, The Columbus Dispatch reports. Multiple annual band events included the illegal consumption of alcohol, as well as the use of marijuana on a bus during a band trip, according to a summary of the investigation. The summary also detailed other incidents such as band members competing to drink a gallon of milk in an hour and one section watching pornography together for several years. None of the conduct resulted in “grave physical harm,” and students were not forced to consume alcohol or marijuana.
Oklahoma City: The state House on Wednesday passed legislation to prohibit minors under 16 years of age from getting married. The House’s vote reversed actions the chamber took earlier in the week to kill a different version of the bill.The latest version of House Bill 3873 by Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, prohibits those under age 16 from getting married. Currently, teenagers under age 16 can get married if a court approves. Under the proposal, minors ages 16 and 17 would have to get parental and court approval for a marriage. Additionally, the court would be required to conduct an on-camera interview with the minor or minors to ensure they are entering the marriage willingly. The court also would be required to verify a minor is of age to get married, according to the amendment proposed by Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid. The amendment seemed to appease many legislative Republicans who voted down an earlier version of the bill, saying it cut parents out of the process.
Bend: The U.S. Forest Service wants to change the rules for recreation in the hundreds of underground caves that dot the Deschutes National Forest to protect them from vandalism. Rules to shield the caves – and the bats that call them their home – have been in effect since the 1990s, The Bulletin reports. Advances in mobile mapping technology and an increase in central Oregon’s population, however, have put more of a strain on the 700 known caves. Problems include litter, graffiti, loud music that can disturb bats, bolts and anchors that have been illegally installed for climbing, and human feces, the newspaper says. Streamlining the rules will make it easier for the public to understand them and will give the laws more teeth, officials said. Tom Rodhouse, an ecologist with the National Park Service, said the efforts will also help bats, which use some of central Oregon’s caves for protection in both summer and winter.
Harrisburg: A task force set up three years ago issued recommendations Wednesday about how to improve the process of reentering outside society among prisoners who have finished their sentences. The Pennsylvania Reentry Council’s report addresses housing, work, health, education and other challenges that former inmates face upon release from incarceration. The group says reentry coalitions are currently in 30 of the 67 counties but should be established across the state. It is calling for all prisons and jails to hire reentry counselors, as the Department of Corrections has done. It urges lawmakers to fund a program to provide state-issued identification to all inmates upon release, expanding to counties an effort that’s currently done in state prisons with assistance from the Transportation Department.
Providence: Employees making minimum wage in the state can expect to receive an additional $1 per hour. Gov. Gina Raimondo signed a bill into law Tuesday that raises the minimum wage from $10.50 to $11.50, effective Oct. 1. The state House of Representatives passed the legislation in February. Some Republicans voted against the bill, saying the steadily rising wage threatens to hurt employers and could lead to job losses. Some Democrats supported the bill, though they had wanted a higher raise. The minimum wage has increased multiple times since 2012, when it was $7.40. It was bumped up from $10.10 to $10.50 at the beginning of 2019. The hourly rate in Massachusetts is $12.75, and Maine’s is $12. Connecticut’s minimum wage is $11.
Columbia: The House passed the state’s $10 billion budget Wednesday, putting additional money into teacher salaries, roads, safety at state prisons, and tax relief and rebates. The House finished work on the spending plan a day earlier than usual, much faster than expected given that lawmakers had $1.8 billion more to spend this year than last. The biggest debate of the week was over raises for state employees. The spending plan offers $42 million for extra pay but sends the pool of money to agency leaders to decide who gets raises and how much. Democrats wanted to offer an across-the-board increase – a 5% or 2.5% raise for all state employees that would be funded by reducing tax cuts – because they said it would take possible favoritism out of the equation. “Not everybody in state government has the luxury of knowing somebody in this chamber,” said Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg.
Pierre: Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe passed a referendum to legalize medical and recreational marijuana on the Pine Ridge Reservation, according to preliminary results from the tribe’s election commission. A proposal to allow alcohol in the tribe’s casino failed. In the tally from all precincts announced Wednesday morning, both medical and recreational marijuana passed by wide margins, with 82% of voters approving medical marijuana and 74% approving recreational pot. The alcohol proposal failed by 12 percentage points. The Oglala Sioux will become the only Native American tribe to set up a cannabis market in a state where it’s otherwise illegal. Chase Iron Eyes, a spokesperson for the tribe’s president, Julian Bear Runner, said the vote reflected the difference in how many tribal members perceive alcohol and marijuana. He called alcohol a “poison” that was forced on the tribe but marijuana a “healing plant” that presented a path out of poverty and historical trauma.
Gatlinburg: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is recruiting volunteers to adopt a trail, according to a news release from the park. Trail volunteers are asked to hike at least one designated trail four times each year and submit a report on conditions. With 848 miles of maintained trails, the information volunteers provide is critical to helping trail maintenance staff prioritize work, according to the release. The cooperation helps ensure that trails remain accessible to visitors. Volunteers should be comfortable hiking in the backcountry and enjoy interaction with visitors, according to the release. A 3-hour training session is required. Information on adopting a trail and other volunteer opportunities is available at the Friends of the Smokies website under the “volunteer” tab.
Austin: Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated after his wife called police to their house over an argument, according to court records released Tuesday. The Infowars founder was booked into an Austin jail shortly after midnight and released on bond a few hours later, Travis County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kristen Dark said. Jones, 46, had a “strong odor of alcohol” coming from him, and his blood-alcohol level was recorded at .076 and .079, according to court records. In Texas, the legal blood alcohol limit is .08%. Jones was also allegedly unable to complete sobriety tests, losing his balance and failing to touch heel to toe. An attorney for Jones did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday. An article posted on his Infowars website suggested he was pulled over for going 5 miles per hour over the speed limit. The article mentions Jones having a “small amount of sake” with his wife at dinner but does not mention an argument.
Salt Lake City: All six women in the state Senate walked out in protest and refused to vote before the chamber passed a bill mandating that a woman be shown an ultrasound before receiving an abortion. Republican Sen. Deidre Henderson said the walkout late Tuesday was a spontaneous decision to underscore concerns about the “invasive nature” of the bill. The six female lawmakers – two Republicans and four Democrats – would not have changed the outcome. Five Republican men voted against the measure that passed 16-7. Henderson said she opposes abortion, but the mandatory ultrasound proposal went too far. It would require showing a pregnant woman images and making the fetal heartbeat audible, if possible. Women now get an ultrasound before abortions, but providers aren’t required to show them the results. Under the bill, doctors could be fined $100,000 or more if they don’t.
Burlington: The City Council has voted to guarantee local law enforcement cannot report a person’s citizenship status to federal immigration agents. The council voted 11 to 1 Monday night in support of a resolution written by Councilor Perri Freeman, WCAX-TV reports. The resolution amends the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy adopted by the city in 2017. The resolution came in response to concerns about potential loopholes in protections for immigrants in the policy. Activists contended that immigrants living in Burlington should not have to fear that local law enforcement officers are working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But Burlington Interim Police Chief Jennifer Morrison said that the council’s decision violates federal law and could put federal funding at risk.
Richmond: Hunters killed a record number of American black bears during the state’s 2019-2020 hunting season, according to data from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Hunters reported 3,540 kills during the period, the Virginian-Pilot reports, citing data from the department. That’s about 840 more bears than were recorded during the 2018-2019 season, said Stephanie Simek, the department’s bear project leader. American black bears are the only species of bear in the state, and the department said it extended the hunting season for the animals by up to a week in some areas in order to try to stabilize rising populations. Depending on the area, some hunting seasons started in late September or early October and continued through the first week of January, the newspaper said.
Spokane: People in the state remain sharply divided on whether four federal hydroelectric dams along the Snake River should be removed to help endangered salmon and orca recover, a state report concluded. The final version of the report said the dams bring benefits and liabilities to the region, and there is no clear consensus in the state on whether they should be retained. “‘They have boosted the economy and local communities in southeast Washington but have also harmed tribal and fishing communities throughout the Pacific Northwest,” said the report, released by Gov. Jay Inslee. The contentious issue of removing the dams has been kicking around the Northwest for a couple of decades and largely breaks along political lines. Republicans tend to favor keeping the dams, while Democrats tend to be more open to removing them.
Wheeling: More than 200 properties in a historic district have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service approved the addition of the South Wheeling area last week, news outlets report. The area includes historic properties between 31st and 41st streets from Chapline Street to West Virginia 2. Wheeling Heritage and the Wheeling Historic Landmarks Commission oversaw the project. “South Wheeling as a historic district is important because it recognizes the industrial and vernacular architecture of Wheeling,” said Betsy Sweeny, historic preservation program manager for Wheeling Heritage. Along with giving the properites recognition, the listing makes property owners eligible for tax incentives and opportunities, such as the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, Sweeny said.
Madison: Nine out of 10 students in the class of 2019 completed high school within four years, continuing an upward trend, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction reported Tuesday. The state’s graduation rate has increased 1.6% over the past five years. It is 90% in 2019, up from 89.6% in 2018 and 88.6% in 2017. There were also improvements among smaller subgroups of students, including blacks, Hispanics and those learning how to speak English. Black students in the class of 2019 graduated in four years at 71.3%, a 2-point increase from the previous year and a 7.3-point improvement over the past five years. The 82.8% graduation rate for Hispanic students increased a half-point between 2018 and 2019. English-language learners saw a 4.5-percentage-point increase from the prior year, with a 74.6% graduation rate in 2019. That was up 12.4 points over the past five years, the education department said.
Rock Springs: The Bureau of Land Management has scheduled multiple adoption events in southwestern Wyoming for about 40 wild horses that were corralled in October. People can look over and adopt the horses at the Rock Springs Wild Horse Holding Facility this Friday and Saturday and April 24-25, the Rocket-Miner reports. Animals will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, according to a statement by the agency. Gates will open at 9 a.m., and load-out begins at 1 p.m. and continues until 3:30 p.m. each day. Anyone at least 18 years of age and wishing to adopt must fill out an application, have it approved by the agency and pay a $25 adoption fee for each horse, the statement said. If approved, adopters must make their own arrangements to transport the horses from the adoption facility.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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