Huntsville: The Federal Aviation Administration is considering a plan to land commercial space vehicles in the state. The agency recently released information about a proposal by the Huntsville airport and Nevada-based Sierra Space to use the site roughly 15 miles west of downtown to land ships that resemble a small space shuttle with upswept wings, WHNT-TV reports. The spacecraft would be launched elsewhere and land on an existing runway in Huntsville, which has the largest commercial airport in north Alabama and is a hub for the aerospace industry. The Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority said the FAA is conducting a preliminary review of the proposal. A study completed in 2015 found the airport compatible for the so-called Dream Chaser, which Sierra Space describes as a “spaceplane” designed to take crew and cargo into low-Earth orbit. It would be launched on an Atlas V rocket. Both the airport and the company would need licenses before any landings could occur.
Juneau: A split federal appeals court panel has sent back for further legal review a 2019 decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw proposed restrictions on large-scale mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region. A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the matter back to a lower court to determine whether the agency’s action “was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or contrary to law.” The appeals court panel expresses “no view on that question,” the decision dated Thursday said. The EPA during the Obama administration proposed but never finalized restrictions on large-scale mining in response to the Pebble Mine project. In 2019, during the Trump administration, the agency withdrew the proposed restrictions, removing what it called an “outdated, preemptive proposed veto of the Pebble Mine” and allowing the project to be vetted through the permitting process. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last fall rejected a key permit for the proposed copper and gold mine. Pebble’s developer, the Pebble Limited Partnership, is appealing that decision. Trout Unlimited and other groups sued over the EPA’s 2019 decision. Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited, called the ruling “an important step toward providing immediate Clean Water Act safeguards for Bristol Bay.”
Mesa: A wig store that serves people who’ve lost their hair to chemotherapy continues to require shoppers to wear masks to protect people with cancer from COVID-19. But last month, the suburban Phoenix shop started receiving harassing phone calls after the founder of an anti-mask group tried to ruin the business by posting its name, phone number and address on social media. Since then, Sunny’s Hair and Wigs has received an outpouring of support from concerned citizens and even a visit from Mesa Mayor John Giles and city Councilman Francisco Heredia. “It’s just been overwhelming,” shop owner Lisa Memberr said. Memberr said her staff has been inundated with phone calls and visits from complete strangers bringing food, treats and some cash and “just letting them know that people care and that we are not alone in this and that they support what we did and are taking action to show that.” The store recently received a check for $1,000 from a woman in New Jersey to help buy wigs for people undergoing cancer treatment. The store was targeted May 28 by Ethan Schmidt, the 23-year-old founder of an anti-mask group who travels around metro Phoenix confronting businesses that still require customers to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 while claiming he is the victim of discrimination.
Fayetteville: The head of the flagship University of Arkansas campus announced Thursday that he was stepping down, citing the challenge of leading the school in “today’s polarized society.” University of Arkansas Chancellor Joe Steinmetz’s resignation, which took effect Friday, came after the UA Board of Trustees met in executive session but took no action. “I still strongly believe in the mission of higher education, yet given the many challenges found trying to manage a university in today’s polarized society, I need to do what’s best for my family and I feel ready to make way for others,” Steinmetz said in a statement announcing his decision. He did not elaborate. Steinmetz’s resignation also followed his recommendation last month to move a campus statue of the late Sen. J. William Fulbright in response to complaints about Fulbright’s support of segregationist legislation. Republican lawmakers during a hearing last week told Steinmetz that such a move would violate a new state law protecting monuments and could result in criminal charges. Steinmetz has served as the school’s chancellor since January 2016. The university said in a release that UA System President Donald R. Bobbitt would visit with the campus and the school’s supporters before announcing plans for choosing the next chancellor.
Sacramento: The state is now offering residents a digital record of their COVID-19 vaccinations that they can use to access businesses or events that require proof they got the shots. The state’s public health and technology departments said the new tool allows Californians access to their COVID-19 records from the state’s immunization registry and includes the same information as the paper cards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To access the information, Californians will enter into a state website their name, date of birth, and the email or phone associated with their vaccine records, and they will be asked to create a four-digit PIN. The record will include a QR code that users can save to their mobile phones. With nearly 20 million people fully vaccinated in California and proof of vaccination already required in some circumstances such as travel, state health officials felt there would be demand for the tool, though it remains optional, said Dr. Erica Pan, the state’s epidemiologist. “The odds are someone is going to misplace their paper CDC card, and a digital COVID-19 vaccine record provides a convenient backup,” she told reporters Friday.
Denver: A coalition that wants to ask voters to approve higher taxes on recreational marijuana to help children make up for learning losses during the pandemic and address special needs for low-income and disadvantaged students said it’s been endorsed by former Democratic and Republican governors. Learning Opportunities for Colorado’s Kids is circulating petitions in hopes of collecting nearly 250,000 voter signatures needed by Aug. 2 to place its initiative on the November ballot. The campaign said former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, former Republican Gov. Bill Owens, state lawmakers from both parties, and a host of educational and advocacy groups, many serving Black and Latino children, have endorsed the effort. Initiative 25 would create a Colorado Learning Authority within the state education department to oversee out-of-school tutoring, English language instruction, special needs and disability instruction, mental health, and career and technical training for children ages 5 to 17. It would generally help children from low-income families and those falling behind their grade levels by certifying tutors, who can be teachers doing the work outside regular hours. To pay for the program, backers want voters to approve a 5% excise tax increase on recreational marijuana by 2024 to generate more than $137 million a year.
New Haven: One of the state’s legendary music clubs is reopening after a yearlong closure due to the pandemic, with the help of the federal government. Toad’s Place celebrated with its first live music, a jazz duo, Friday along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Rosa DeLauro. The club had been closed since March 2020. Blumenthal called the club “iconic.” Toad’s opened in the 1970s and has been a hot spot for local bands but also has hosted acts such as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, U2 and, more recently, Cardi B and Kendrick Lamar. The club was awarded a $1 million grant through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. Venues that lost at least 90% of their revenues during the pandemic are eligible. DeLauro said the federal government has received about 13,000 applications for aid from entertainment venues, and it appears there is enough money to provide support to those that qualify. Catherine Marx, Connecticut district director for the Small Business Administration, said grants had been prioritized for the venues that had been hardest-hit by the pandemic, and Toad’s is one of 10 Connecticut venues to receive funds so far, the New Haven Register reports. “We’ve missed our performing arts. We’ve missed going out,” Marx said.
Dover: Lawmakers want to add protections in the state constitution for the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. House Bill 199 by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, would add “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” and “disability” to the Delaware Constitution’s equal rights clause. The legislation would make the First State the first state in the U.S. to add these protections for LGBTQ people to its constitution, lawmakers said. In Delaware, constitutional amendments require lawmakers to pass one bill for two consecutive legislative sessions, which span two years. This bill would be the first of two, and the next one would not be voted on until 2023 at the earliest. Earlier this year, lawmakers amended the constitution to add anti-discrimination protections for people of color. In 2019, they amended it to prohibit discrimination based on sex. The new bill comes five years after lawmakers failed to agree on a similar, more inclusive proposal from then-Sen. Karen Peterson that would have added protections for race, sex and national origin, along with age, religion, creed, color, familial status, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. Since then, several new Democratic lawmakers – including members of the LGBTQ community – have been elected to the Statehouse.
District of Columbia
Washington: The fight for D.C. statehood continues this week at the U.S. Capitol as proponents prepare to make their case in front of a Senate committee, WUSA-TV reports. The hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs is scheduled for Tuesday morning, according to a statement from D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who said it will be only the second time ever the Senate has held a hearing on statehood for the nation’s capital. Many of the arguments at Tuesday’s hearing will likely echo those made at another hearing earlier this year. In March, Norton told a House committee that “Congress can no longer allow D.C. residents to be sidelined in the Democratic … process.” For Norton and many other supporters, statehood for the district is a civil rights issue. “Denying American citizens a vote in the body that taxes them goes against the founding principles of this great nation,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at that same hearing. However, GOP opposition in the House was strong, with many Republicans calling the push for statehood a political power grab to tip the balance in Congress in Democrats’ favor.
Palm Coast: A high school principal spent the last several months of the school year crafting personalized notes for each of 459 graduates and left them on their seats to read before receiving their diplomas. Matanzas High School principal Jeff Reaves scoured through transcripts, emails and his own personal memories to prepare the notes in time for the June 2 graduation. He wanted to do something special since the seniors’ last two years were marred by the coronavirus pandemic. “I want to be positive for our students, especially in a time where there’s a lot of negativity and turmoil in the world,” Reaves said. “I wanted to shine some light on the students and encourage them as they begin their next journey in life.” He said the process was especially beneficial to him because he got a chance to learn more about each student. “It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, but it’s the names that really matter. I was doing my part to help them feel connected as a community and have their high school experience to be positive.” Reaves said he’s always tried to work in something special for each class, by recognizing certain students and through the songs played at commencements. Last June, seniors graduated at Daytona International Speedway, and the school put customized yard signs for each student on the football field.
Brunswick: The coastal county where Ahmaud Arbery’s slaying raised an outcry over racial injustice has hired its first full-time Black police chief. Glynn County commissioners voted Thursday for Jacques Battiste to lead an embattled department that some state lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to abolish last year. A former FBI agent now serving as a deputy constable in New Orleans, Battiste was chosen after a search conducted by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police with assistance from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. “I promise you I will bring my best game every day,” Battiste told residents during a community forum last week. Battiste’s hiring comes after a turbulent year for the Glynn County Police Department. The agency was widely criticized for making no arrests after Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased and fatally shot by three white men who spotted him running in their neighborhood Feb. 23, 2020. Charges came more than two months later after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over. Days after Arbery’s killing, Glynn County Police Chief John Powell was indicted on unrelated malfeasance charges in what prosecutors called an illegal effort to cover up a narcotics officer’s affair with a confidential informant.
Hana: Some people who live in east Maui say the famed Road to Hana is becoming a gridlocked maze of illegally parked cars driven by tourists. Residents are asking for state and county help to address the traffic and parking problem, Hawaii News Now reports. Maui has seen an influx of visitors as pandemic restrictions have eased. The drive to Hana is among the most popular tourist activities on the island. Now that 8,000 visitors a day are arriving on Maui, the narrow, winding road is getting jammed. The coastal roadway brings visitors past waterfalls and sea cliffs along a rural and lush Hawaii rainforest. The remote shoreline’s residents are among the most geographically isolated in the state. Officials say 400 to 600 people drive the road each day. The state recently installed signs warning people of parking fines. But residents want a more comprehensive traffic plan. “We know our visitors are important to our economy. But there comes a time where you really start to look at the numbers,” said east Maui resident Kamalani Pahukoa, who often sees traffic jams and illegally parked rental cars. “That becomes a problem to our quality of life, traditions, culture and access.” Toll roads and reservation systems are among ideas being looked at, said Lauren Armstrong, the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization’s executive director.
Boise: Officials have approved a plan for Boise government to be carbon neutral by 2035 and the entire city by 2050 to fight climate change. The Boise City Council voted unanimously last week to approve the Climate Action Roadmap. The plan includes a goal for government to use only clean electricity by 2030. Carbon neutrality means cutting greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero.” The goal is to reduce carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas warming the atmosphere. “Tonight is truly a historic moment for our city,” Mayor Lauren McLean said after the vote. “We’re the generation that must solve the climate crisis because our health and economy depend on us doing this now. Boise will be a climate innovation leader, and we will rise to the challenge of this moment.” The capital city has about 225,000 residents. Benefits of the plan include improving human health and growing a climate-friendly economy, officials said. Ways for the city to meet carbon neutrality include such things as switching to electric vehicles or sequestering carbon dioxide by planting trees that store carbon. The plan also calls for using less energy, traveling less and reducing waste. “It is a detailed plan with attainable goals,” Councilman Patrick Bageant said. “It’s not just a declaration of a wish list; it’s an actual plan that we will begin to execute.”
Chicago: The state’s primary election will be moved from March to June next year under a voter access expansion signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The new law makes mail voting a permanent option, allows jail inmates awaiting trial to cast ballots and makes Election Day in November a state holiday, among other things. The move is in contrast with other states that are moving to restrict voter access. “With attacks on voting rights on the rise in states across the nation, Illinois is proud to stand up for a strong, secure, and accessible democracy,” Pritzker said in a statement Thursday. The law took effect immediately. Next year’s primary will move from March 15 to June 28 because lawmakers decided not to draw new post-census district boundaries for members of Congress until official 2020 census figures, delayed by the pandemic, arrive later this summer. Many changes continue or expand existing practices put in place last year to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Election Day would continue to be a state holiday, with empty schools used as polling places. Also, Illinois counties would be required to establish at least one universal voting center to give voters alternatives sites.
Indianapolis: A man who threatened his neighbor with anti-Black racial slurs, displayed a swastika and threw eggs in an attempt to intimidate the neighbor has been sentenced to 46 months in prison and three years supervised release for criminal violations of the Fair Housing Act and unlawful possession of firearms. Shepherd Hoehn, 51, pleaded guilty to the charges earlier this year. Among other racist actions, Hoehn burned a cross above the fence line facing his neighbor’s property and repeatedly played Confederate-era minstrel anthem “Dixie.” The intimidation began when Hoehn became angry as a construction crew began to remove a tree from the neighbor’s property, according to court documents. “Today, Mr. Hoehn was held responsible for his vile conduct,” Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan of the FBI Indianapolis Division said in a press release Friday. The case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Lawrence Police Department. “We are a diverse nation, bound together by shared values and beliefs,” Keenan said. “We are also a nation of laws. Those like Mr. Hoehn who would betray our shared values and beliefs through behavior such as this rightly suffer the penalties our laws prescribe.”
Des Moines: A sharply divided Iowa Supreme Court on Friday stopped a lawsuit aimed at reducing the flow of fertilizer and hog farm waste into the state’s river and streams, finding that limiting pollution from farms was a political matter and not one for the courts. The 4-3 decision handed a significant defeat to environmental groups hoping to get the chance to prove that Iowa should scrap its voluntary farm pollution policy, order new mandatory limits on nitrogen and phosphorous pollution, and stop construction of new hog barns. It is the latest court rejection of an attempt to force the nation’s leading corn- and pork-producing state to clean up farm pollutants from its major rivers that provide drinking water to hundreds of thousands of Iowans. The lawsuit, which was brought by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch, contended that unregulated farm pollution is violating the rights of citizens to clean water in the Raccoon River for recreational and drinking water use. It said a legal concept that precedes Iowa statehood – the public trust doctrine – should apply to this case and require the state to ensure that citizens have a usable Raccoon River untainted by excess pollution caused by farm runoff of fertilizer and animal manure.
Topeka: A team of archaeologists – Jay Sturdevant, Adam Wiewel, Nikki Klarmann and Robert Hoard – recently spent two days in the city laying the groundwork for an excavation project to take place next summer at the Brown v. Board National Historic Site. The Kansas Archeology Training Program field school will be held June 3-19, 2022. The public is welcome to help excavate land archaeologists believe will yield artifacts and the foundations of demolished buildings. Klarmann, public outreach archaeologist for the Kansas Historical Society, said the field school is an opportunity to get a taste of archaeology. “A lot of people think maybe it’s just going out, digging and collecting, but there’s a lot more to it than that. They get experience in the field excavating but also in the lab analyzing artifacts,” Klarmann said. The field school is open to anyone over age 12. Registration will open March 1, 2022, with a registration fee of $15-$90. Klarmann said most participants are people who are curious and don’t have an archaeology background. “Really it’s just people who are interested in history and learning more about their state,” Klarmann said. “We also have people who come from California to do this, and they’ve been coming for years.”
Frankfort: Thousands of Kentuckians can now apply for a waiver that could clear them from having to repay the overpayments included in their unemployment benefits. The Kentucky Office of Unemployment Insurance says it has mailed notices to about 14,000 unemployment claimants identified as having been overpaid in 2020. The notices inform claimants how much they were overpaid and provide instructions on how to apply for the waiver, either online or by completing an enclosed form, the state agency said. Claimants have 30 days from the date postmarked on the letter to apply for the waiver and must attest that the overpayment was the result of no fault of their own, the agency said. Legislation allowing the state to waive the overpayment of some pandemic-related unemployment claims was passed by lawmakers this year and signed by Gov. Andy Beshear. The state has paid out more than $6 billion in unemployment benefits during the pandemic, Beshear’s administration said.
Avery Island: As storms grow more violent and Louisiana loses more of its coast, the family that makes Tabasco Sauce is fighting erosion in the marshland that buffers its factory from hurricanes and floods. Overall, the effort is probably a standoff, said CEO and President Harold “Took” Osborn, great-great-grandson of the McIlhenny Co.’s founder. But in a state that has lost 2,000 square miles of its coast since 1932, holding ground is a victory. The company has been brewing Tabasco Sauce since 1868 on Avery Island, the tip of a miles-deep column of salt. While sinking land is a problem throughout southern Louisiana, Avery Island and four smaller salt domes along the Gulf Coast are still slowly rising. But the danger from hurricanes remains. A 20-foot-high, $5 million earthen levee now encloses the 40 acres or so around Tabasco’s factory after Hurricane Rita’s storm surge pushed floodwaters within inches of it in 2005. Much of the wetlands work is low-tech, enlisting volunteers to plant marsh grass in the 30,000 acres around the island. Osborn holds a master’s degree in environmental science from Oxford University, and company founder Edmund McIlhenny was a self-taught naturalist. Osborn’s great-grandfather, E.A. McIlhenny, created an egret rookery at the island in 1895 because the birds were nearing extermination by hunters who sold their plumage to adorn women’s hats.
Augusta: A statewide ban on single-use plastic bags will begin July 1. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection said it is working with retail stores and restaurants to make sure they are ready. The Legislature passed the ban in 2019, and it was initially scheduled to go into effect in April 2020. The state delayed enforcement of the ban because of aspects of the coronavirus pandemic. The first delay was due to concerns about the transmission of the virus and a second delay due to concerns stemming from disruption in packing supplies amid the pandemic, the DEP said. When the ban takes effect, stores and restaurants will not be allowed to provide single-use plastic bags, the DEP said. Grocery stores, box stores and other large retailers must collect a 5 cent fee for each such bag used, the agency said.
Baltimore: Replacing Amtrak’s Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel will take a least a decade or more to complete. But the $4 billion rail project has officially begun, and officials say it will eliminate the biggest passenger rail bottleneck between Washington and New Jersey. The Baltimore Sun reports officials kicked off the project’s start at an event Friday that included the great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass. The tunnel will be renamed after the famed abolitionist. Douglass had escaped the bonds of slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and eventually boarded a New York-bound train from Baltimore in 1838. “If it had not been for the railroad,” Nettie Washington Douglass told the Sun in an interview, “I would not be standing here.” Jeffrey Ensor, Amtrak’s senior director for the south end of the Northeast Corridor, said the new tunnel will increase train speeds to more than 100 mph from 30 mph. Construction will be funded by the federal and state government because the tunnel is used by Amtrak and MARC passengers. Negotiations are underway to determine how much each government will contribute.
Boston: In a move likely to strike a chord with music fans, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has announced plans to reopen Symphony Hall and resume in-person performances for a complete season starting in September. The BSO will open the 2021-22 season Sept. 30 – after an 18-month live-audience performance hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic – with Music Director Andris Nelsons sharing the podium with Boston Pops Conductor Laureate John Williams for a program featuring soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter. The program will feature Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture, the work that opened the orchestra’s inaugural concert in 1881. The reopening concert will also feature the Boston premiere of a new work by Williams, Violin Concerto No. 2, and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. The season that runs until next April also features a new cycle of six major works by Richard Strauss; a performance cycle of five Beethoven concertos with soloist Mitsuko Uchida; orchestra works of Berlioz, Brahms, Ives, Mahler, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Still and Stravinsky; and world premieres by Julia Adolphe, HK Gruber, and Kaija Saariaho and American premieres by Unsuk Chin and Jorg Widmann. To celebrate the reopening of Symphony Hall, the BSO will also present a free community concert Oct. 3 featuring Nelsons, Williams, Keith Lockhart and Thomas Wilkins.
Traverse City: Organizers of a popular festival that was shut down last year due to the pandemic are encouraging people attending this summer to receive free COVID-19 vaccinations on-site. Masks will not be required at the 95th National Cherry Festival, scheduled July 3-10 at Traverse City’s Open Space Park, according to MLive.com. The Grand Traverse Health Department will offer the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a tent at the park. Michigan lifted all indoor capacity restrictions and mask requirements Monday as the state’s vaccination rate increases and the numbers of COVID-19 infections continue to decrease. “With the impossibility of knowing when restrictions would be lifted or changed, we had to start planning in January to provide Traverse City with a safe, family-friendly event that allowed everyone to participate no matter how ready they are to fully enter back into ‘normal’ life,” said Kat Paye, festival executive director. The festival, a major northern Michigan summer destination for decades, typically offers parades, fireworks, concerts, farm tours, a carnival midway and cherry pie-eating contests. Many event spaces will be reconfigured this year. Some activities will be presented in new ways, such as the festival parade being stationary instead of participants marching along a parade route.
Minneapolis: A new student group in the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry aims to continue the effort to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the school. Better Together hosted its first event May 25, exactly one year after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. Arpun Johal, a third-year student and one of the group’s founding members, said Floyd’s murder prompted the group’s formation, The Minnesota Daily reports. “Last year, I feel that many people did a lot of reflection about racism and the political climate in the U.S.,” Johal said. “From that, we noticed that there was a lot of work to be done in our own careers to help with the larger civil rights movement.” The group’s first meeting covered recent hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, anti-Asian racism, the experiences of Asian dental students at the university and how to become a better ally to Asian students and patients. Zayna Jan, another third-year student and founding member of Better Together, created a toolkit for bystander intervention that students can review and utilize. “I wanted (the toolkit) to be something that people can look at easily and understand quickly – and for it to be dental school-specific,” Jan said.
Jackson: The more than 1,500 Mississippi National Guard members who have been working throughout the state over the course of the coronavirus pandemic to help with virus testing, vaccinations and other initiatives are being withdrawn next month, Gov. Tate Reeves said Friday. The state will cease all operations with the Mississippi National Guard on July 15, Reeves said. The Republican governor also announced that he will lift the COVID-19 state of emergency order Aug. 15. While all pandemic-related restrictions have been lifted, the state of emergency order has remained in place to ensure that members of the National Guard continue to be paid while stationed in Mississippi. Guard members have been serving in Mississippi since March 2020, stationed at dozens of state-run vaccination and testing sites. Adjutant General of the Mississippi National Guard Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles said Friday that the governor’s timeline to lift Mississippi’s state of emergency declaration ensures his service members will “complete all necessary out-processing requirements and receive the benefits and entitlements they have earned during their dedicated service to our state.”
St. Joseph: Summer classes have moved online for some elementary and middle school students because of COVID-19 cases. The St. Joseph News-Press reports Robidoux and Pershing schools will conduct classes virtually through July 1, when summer school ends. Only about 1 in 5 eligible residents, or 20.6%, have received a COVID-19 vaccine in Buchanan County, where St. Joseph is located. That’s below the still-low statewide average of 37%. The vaccine is generally available to all people 12 and older. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved any vaccine for those under age 12, which has been a cause for increased precautions regarding COVID-19 in an elementary school environment. “We just took a precautionary measure,” said Gabe Edgar, the district’s assistant superintendent, adding that because the district has a remote learning system in place, it “really doesn’t make sense to leave those kids in there, potentially at risk.” She said all other summer school locations will remain in person. Summer sessions already were being conducted online only for high school students.
West Glacier: Glacier National Park says it’s seeing more visitors showing up early in the morning and evening when the park’s new ticketed entry system is not in effect. Glacier administrators say people who arrive at the park’s West entrance after 5 p.m. should expect heavy traffic and long waits. The park in northwestern Montana on the Canada border had almost 300,000 visits through May. That’s the highest year-to-date number on record. To ease congestion on the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier this year began requiring visitors to obtain an entry ticket and reservation prior to arrival. About a quarter of Memorial Day weekend visitors arrived without a reservation at the park’s West and St. Mary entrances.
Omaha: Work has begun on nearly $30 million in renovation projects that will change the entrance to Omaha’s Eppley Airfield and upgrade one of the national airport’s garages. The entrance to the airport terminal will be moved about a quarter-mile south, toward downtown along Abbott Drive, the Omaha World-Herald reports, under a project estimated at $20.8 million. The change comes following several studies in recent years showing the need for a longer, wider entrance that will give drivers more time to make maneuvering decisions. The $8.3 million in improvements to the airport’s south garage will include construction of an express ramp to provide access to premier parking and provide wider parking stalls. Both projects include new signs, lights and landscaping. Construction began Wednesday and is slated to be finished by late 2022. Both the terminal and south garage will be open during construction, although drivers may encounter occasional minor detours or closures. Most of the funding for the projects will come from Omaha Airport Authority revenues, but the terminal entrance project is getting a $12 million boost in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Las Vegas: Amid a second year of intense drought, the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s water developments – the only source of water for miles for desert bighorn sheep – have hit perilously low storage levels in Valley of Fire State Park. Without the agency’s emergency intervention, animal populations will decline, and ecosystem viability is threatened. “We’ve had drought conditions before. We have had to haul water on an emergency basis, but not anywhere near approaching this magnitude, this scale of severity,” Wildlife Game Biologist Pat Cummings told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I have been in Southern Nevada since the mid-’70s. I remember 2001 and 2002 as being the worst, back-to-back dry years, even worse than 1996. But what we see now is even worse, even worse.” Last year, Las Vegas went 240 days without measurable rainfall. This year, 40% of the state is in exceptional drought, the highest level, according to the National Weather Service. “All animals, especially bighorn sheep, which have evolved to coexist with the desert environment, rely a lot on the vegetation for water,” Southern Region Game Supervisor Joe Bennett said.
Concord: Disciplinary hearings for police officers accused of misconduct serious enough for decertification should not be automatically held behind closed doors, a judge ruled. The judge’s decision came as the Legislature voted to make disciplinary proceedings public. A spokesman for Gov. Chris Sununu told New Hampshire Public Radio that the governor supports the bill. The Union Leader newspaper sued over the disciplinary proceedings of a detective and an officer in Manchester, arguing that the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council’s practice of shielding hearings and certain records from public view, if requested by the officer, was a violation of the state’s Right to Know law. Judge Andrew Schulman agreed that the council should no longer automatically exempt the public from reading materials or viewing disciplinary proceedings. However, the order does not create a blanket requirement that all disciplinary proceedings be made public. The attorney general’s office is still reviewing the decision and hasn’t said if it will appeal.
Trenton: In a state where medical marijuana is often more expensive than flying elsewhere and buying it there, patients registered with some financial assistance programs could see their weed costs covered. The cost of New Jersey medical marijuana, among the highest of any state in the country, would be covered for patients enrolled in four different financial assistance programs meant to help children, seniors, crime victims and those with disabilities, under identical bills already approved by the Senate and Assembly health committees. The bills, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, could see votes as soon as this week. Under the legislation, patients enrolled in these programs could only have to pay a small copay for medical marijuana or have their costs covered: the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund, Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled, the Senior Gold Prescription Discount and the Victims of Crime Compensation Office. “The cost of cannabis can run into the hundreds of dollars per month for individuals,” Conaway said. “This bill serves those who are financially distressed and … ensures the benefits of medical cannabis are available to all who may need it.”
Santa Fe: The state ranked 49th in a report released Monday measuring child well-being based on data gathered before the pandemic. That’s an improvement over last year, when New Mexico ranked 50th among U.S. states. “It’s encouraging to see that child well-being in New Mexico was improving before the pandemic hit,” said James Jimenez, executive director for New Mexico Voices for Children, which partners with the foundation. He said he’s cautiously optimistic that state policies “helped offset some of the health and financial problems caused by the pandemic.” The annual Kids Count report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation tracks 16 metrics of children’s access to education, health, economic and social stability at home. It ranks New Mexico at or near the bottom on education, economics, and “family and community,” which tracks rates of single-parent homes, teen birth rates and whether the head of household has a high school degree. Roughly 1 in 5 New Mexico children lives in an area where 30% of the population is at or below the federal poverty line. Nationally, only 1 in 10 children lives in a high-poverty area, according to the report. The report ranks the state 37th in child health, with kids having average access to insurance (94%) and only slightly higher-than-average obesity (32%).
New York: The Stonewall Inn’s owners say they won’t serve certain beers at the famous LGBT bar during Pride weekend to protest manufacturer Anheuser-Busch’s political contributions to some politicians who have supported anti-LGBT legislation. Co-owners Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly said they would be instituting the ban Friday in support of the “Keep Your Pride” campaign, a recently launched effort highlighting five companies that it says advertise support during Pride but have also made contributions to anti-LGBT lawmakers. The campaign, a project of Corporate Accountability Action, used data compiled from the National Institute on Money in Politics to show that Anheuser-Busch contributed more than $35,000 to 29 legislators it described as anti-LGBT between 2015 and 2020. “We just felt Stonewall having the platform, the power to do this, it was important to stand up,” Lentz said. “We really just want Anheuser-Busch to stop donating to lawmakers who are trying to legalize discrimination.” In a statement, Anheuser-Busch said: “We support candidates for public office whose policy positions and objectives support investments in our communities, job creation, and industry growth.”
Charlotte: A museum criticized for a planned reenactment of a white slave owner being pursued by Union soldiers says its doors will be closed until further notice, a local department said. The Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Department announced Thursday that the Historic Latta Plantation is closed and that all previously scheduled events are canceled while the department assesses the future use of the county-owned property, the agency said on its website. The house and the grounds also will be closed, the department said. The 19th-century house is owned by Mecklenburg County, while a nonprofit operates the facilities and runs the events at the plantation site. Last Tuesday, Mecklenburg County announced it would let its contract with the museum expire next month over the controversial event that many deemed as racially insensitive. The reenactment was scheduled for June 19, the traditional commemoration date of the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. known as Juneteenth. On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Minot: Officials say wildfires have burned about 156 square miles of land across the drought-stricken state so far this year – more than seven times the amount from all of last year. The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and North Dakota Forest Service report that nearly 1,400 fires have been confirmed in 2021. A total of 921 fires recorded last year burned less than 20 square miles. North Dakota has experienced some of the driest winter and spring months in 127 years of recordkeeping, according to State Forester Tom Claeys. Limited moisture along with warm temperatures have increased the intensity and size of wildfires this year, the Minot Daily News reports. Several local, tribal, state and federal agencies responded to two large wildfires over the April 30-May 2 weekend. The Roosevelt Creek Fire in the Little Missouri National Grassland, north of Medora, burned more than 7 square miles, while another fire on the Fort Berthold Reservation, about 6 miles south of Mandaree, burned more than 15 square miles. “This year, it’s imperative that we all know how to mitigate against wildfires, especially as we make plans to enjoy the summer months by recreating outside with friends and family,” Claeys said, noting that the Fourth of July is “right around the corner.”
Columbus: Just like saving treats for furry friends waiting under the dining room table, utility company AEP Ohio will now donate its leftovers to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and The Wilds. Trimmings from trees and shrubs pruned throughout the Columbus area to keep electric power lines clear will soon be used to feed giraffes, beavers and a variety of animals at the zoo and the safari park near Cumberland. Through a new partnership called “Trim to Treat,” AEP Ohio will deliver those leftovers to the zoo twice a week. Those trimmings will then be sorted through to determine what should be used to feed the animals. “We’re just really thankful,” said Jan Ramer, interim senior vice president for animal care and conservation at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and The Wilds. Ramer said browse – the ecological term for tree trimmings – is good for the animals’ physical and mental health alike. It provides them with fiber needed to aid in their digestion, but it also provides the feeling of being in nature as opposed to captivity. Before the AEP Ohio partnership, Ramer said horticulturalists at the zoo would cut browse from trees and shrubs on its grounds. While that process won’t end with the formation of the partnership, Ramer said AEP’s contributions will supplement and support the zoo’s browse supply.
Oklahoma City: The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, which pioneered the use of electronic passes 30 years ago, is preparing to take a long-awaited first step toward cashless tolls but has yet to comply with a 2016 deadline to integrate the PikePass system with tolling authorities across the country. When introduced, the PikePass system was hailed as a way to reduce crashes that occurred at toll booths with drivers stopping and slowing down as well as a cost savings for the trucking industry. The turnpike authority reports 2,093,460 vehicles are tagged with PikePasses that stick to the top of a windshield and record when drivers enter and exit toll roads in Oklahoma. Toll booths, however, are still operated on the state’s 11 turnpikes, and traffic backups still occur at toll plazas along busy corridors like the Will Rogers, Turner and Kilpatrick turnpikes. Later this summer, the Kilpatrick Turnpike will be the first to be switched to cashless tolls in which drivers without PikePasses will be billed by mail. “We continue to have accidents at cash lanes, so the impact of this is enormous,” said spokesman Jack Damrill. “It will not just help with safety; it with help with the environment also.”
Salem: Authorities in Lake Oswego and Tigard are among communities asking residents to reduce water use during a chlorine shortage. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports water treatment facilities use the chemical in small amounts to prevent harmful bacteria growth in drinking water supply. State officials say they have a plan to help water districts get the chlorine they need if their stockpiles run low, and there’s no threat to the water on which the public depends. The shortage occurred after a power outage earlier this month at the Westlake chemical facility in Longview, Washington, the main provider of chlorine for Oregon. Matt Marheine, deputy director at the Oregon Department of Emergency Management, said the shortage is not unique to Oregon, and “the drinking water in the state of Oregon is clean and safe to use and drink.” The concern is how long the current chlorine supply will last. Most Oregon water districts have about a month’s supply of chlorine, according to Andre Ourso, administrator for the Oregon Health Authorities’ Center for Health Protection.
Carlisle: The remains of 10 more Native American children who died more than a century ago at a boarding school in central Pennsylvania are being disinterred and will be returned to their relatives, authorities said. A team of archaeologists began work Saturday at the cemetery on the grounds of the Carlisle Barracks, which also houses the U.S. Army War College. Nine of the children were from the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota and one from the Alaskan Aleut tribe. The cemetery contains more than 180 graves of students who attended the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School – a government-run boarding school for Native American children. This is the Army’s fourth disinterment project at the school in as many years. The school founded by an Army officer opened in 1879 and housed some 10,000 Indigenous children before it shut down in 1918. Students were forced to cut their braids, dress in uniforms, speak English and adopt European names. Infectious disease and harsh conditions claimed the lives of many of the children buried there. The Army is fully funding the cost of the project – about $500,000 per year, including travel to the transfer ceremony as well as transport and reburial of the deceased children, said Barbara Lewandrowski of the Office of Army Cemeteries.
Providence: The administrator of the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles said he had no idea that a sex business was allegedly operating in a building he owns. Cranston police raided the building owned by Walter “Bud” Craddock through his real estate holdings company following a monthslong investigation into six properties where investigators suspect prostitution was taking police, according to a police affidavit. Craddock told WPRI-TV he knew there was a business but didn’t know about any illegal activities. “I personally had never gotten any complaints, otherwise this would have been rectified a long time ago,” Craddock said. “If I was aware of the things that were alleged to be going on there, the lease would have been terminated.” The 3,200-square-foot property is one of several owned by Craddock’s LUC Realty and was subject of a raid in 2017 “for the same activity, prostitution and massage without a license,” Cranston Police Chief Col. Michael Winquist told WPRI in an email. All six massage businesses that were raided were shut down, 11 people were arrested, and police are investigating whether women were working against their will, Winquist said.
Charleston: Beach towns are ticketing more people for public drinking as summer visitors flock to the coast. The Post and Courier of Charleston reports open container citations on Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island have risen above their pre-pandemic levels. On Folly Beach, not a single person received an open container ticket in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day in 2019. This year, officers handed out seven citations between the end of April and May 23. On Sullivan’s Island, beach officers wrote 180 open container tickets ahead of Memorial Day, a 120% increase from tickets in the same period in 2019. Town officials say the alcohol violations might be related to people enjoying their lives as vaccinations have emboldened some and helped keep many COVID-19 cases at bay. Sullivan’s Island Town Administrator Andy Benke said open container tickets usually pick up after Memorial Day because the beach service officers, who are Citadel cadets this year, get better at ticketing – and less reluctant to punish beachgoers having a good time – over the summer. “If you’ve driven that far to spend the day at the beach, maybe you’re more inclined to roll the dice and take a chance,” Benke told the newspaper. “But Sullivan’s Island and Folly and Isle of Palms don’t allow alcohol on the beach. That’s just the way it is.”
Rapid City: An abandoned gypsum mine in Black Hawk that was exposed by a sinkhole in 2020 may extend farther than current mapped areas show, according to a geophysical study. Mohammad Sadeghi, a professor of geological engineering at Montana Technical University who led the study, said there’s a possibility that the mine extends below Interstate 90. The study recommends further research be done in the area. More than 40 people from 15 homes in the Hideaway Hills neighborhood were forced to evacuate after the collapse in April 2020 in Black Hawk, about 8 miles northwest of Rapid City. At least two lawsuits have been filed in relation to the collapse, one of which is one step closer to class-action status, the Rapid City Journal reports. The Fitzgerald Law firm of Rapid City filed a lawsuit against developers and county and state entities. Fox Rothschild, a large national law firm, filed one against state government. Hideaway Hills residents are also seeking answers to a potential loss of sewage service due to the mine. Sadeghi has presented his team’s research methods to Hideaway Hills residents and said he believed the sinkhole opened due to surface water infiltrating the ground and seeping into the roof of the mine that dissolved gypsum.
Nashville: The Tennessee Department of Correction announced it is participating in a service that provides the public with criminal case information and custody status of inmates. The Victim Information and Notification Everyday service will be used in conjunction with TDOC’s current victim notification system. That system already provides written notice of offenders’ location, transfer, sentence expiration, release and parole hearings. The VINE system will allow crime victims to have more control over the type of notifications they receive and choose the method by which they are notified, according to the Correction Department. Anyone wishing to receive updates can sign up at VINELink.com. Live operators are also available to provide support at 888-868-4631.
Austin: Families who opted for remote learning last school year will have to return to in-person classrooms when the next semester begins Aug.17. The Austin school district announced Friday that it plans to return all students to campus and will not offer a remote learning option for the 2021-22 school year. Austin joins the Round Rock, Lake Travis, Leander, Eanes and Hays school districts in announcing the return to on-campus-only learning. The Austin district cited low COVID-19 case numbers as well as the Legislature’s failure to pass a bill that would have authorized local public schools to count students in remote learning programs as part of their enrollment. School districts are funded based on their daily enrollment numbers. The bill became a casualty of House Democrats’ walkout to kill a Republican voting bill ahead of a midnight deadline last month. Austin and 29 other school districts around the state sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday asking him to take up this legislation in the special session he has promised to call this summer to focus on overhauling the state’s voting laws.
Provo: A local public health expert says an increase in opioid abuse amid the coronavirus pandemic was recorded throughout the state. Gabriela Murza, who leads Utah State University Extension’s HEART initiative in Utah County, presented data to the Utah County Commission during a work session last week while discussing the state-funded program, which “brings academic resources into the community, partnering locally and nationally to address the opioid epidemic and other pressing public health issues,” the Daily Herald reports. According to Murza, the program operates in nine counties, including Utah County, “where opioid use disorder has had some of the most devastating effects as far as overdose and deaths related to opioid use.” Other counties served by the program include Salt Lake, Davis, Tooele and Box Elder. Murza told the commissioners that the rate of opioid use disorder has “leveled off” in recent years, and “the trend seems to be getting a little bit better in Utah.” But “then 2020 hit, and everywhere the numbers went up, they did increase as far as deaths due to opioids,” the public health professor said.
Montpelier: An innovative health care program set up to keep patients healthier while reducing costs missed its financial target between 2017 and 2019, a new report by the Vermont state auditor has found. The report released Monday by State Auditor Douglas Hoffer said that OneCare Vermont, the organization set up to run the program, missed its Medicaid financial targets over the three years by $11.1 million. And the state paid $14.5 million for OneCare’s operating costs to reach a total of $25.6 million total. Hoffer said the financial costs to run the program exceeded any Medicaid savings attributed to it. The goal of what’s known as the all-payer model is to keep patients healthier while reducing health care costs by paying a set amount of money for each covered patient rather than paying for each service provided. “I anticipate the people implementing the All-Payer Model will say the scale and complexity of the reform initiative merit patience before reaching conclusions, and that is reasonable … to a point,” Hoffer said in a statement. OneCare CEO Vicki Loner said she disagreed with the conclusions of Hoffer’s report, and the organization is proud of the work it is doing “tackling one of the most pressing issues of our time.”
Richmond: The state’s “dangerously” full mental hospitals are overwhelmed amid staffing shortages, a situation that has long plagued the hospitals and only worsened during the pandemic, according to state officials. But The Washington Post reports lawmakers and policy experts hope pandemic relief funds can help bring about systematic changes that free inpatient beds and develop community services to keep people out of hospitals in the first place. When the General Assembly reconvenes in August, it will decide how to spend about $4 billion Virginia is getting from a pandemic relief package earlier this year. A joint subcommittee studying mental health services is preparing recommendations for how to use the funds in time for the session. “We have the opportunity with these funds to really do something transformational. That is what we are asking for,” Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Commissioner Alison Land said in a presentation to the subcommittee this month. The state’s nine inpatient psychiatric hospitals, which have a total of 2,124 beds, are operating at an average 98% capacity, she said. And efforts to contain the coronavirus have had unintended consequences.
Spokane: A federal judge has issued a summary judgment in favor of the state against two gold mining companies over years of water pollution stemming from the Buckhorn Mountain gold mine in Okanogan County. U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson on Thursday dismissed the companies’ main defenses, writing there was no support for their claims that the state attorney general cannot enforce all of the mine’s Clean Water Act permit. The lawsuit filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson contended that Crown Resources and Kinross Gold violated the law by discharging illegal levels of pollutants into creeks in Okanogan County flowing into the Kettle River. Now the focus shifts to how much the companies will owe for the violations. They potentially face millions of dollars in penalties for their pollution, and the judge will decide how much. “Crown and Kinross knew even before the mine’s construction that it could release significant contamination, including arsenic and chloride, into surrounding waters, yet plowed ahead anyway,” Ferguson said. “Washington takes our water quality seriously.” Crown Resources and its parent company, Kinross Gold, extracted approximately $1.3 billion in gold from the mine from 2008 to 2017.
Charleston: A new campaign is encouraging residents to support small businesses as the economy continues to reopen. The West Virginia Small Business Development Center launched its “Come In, We’re Open” campaign Sunday. It’s an invitation to people to visit local businesses in their communities, center Director Debra Martin told The Exponent Telegram. “Throughout the pandemic, small-business owners have adapted and persevered and continue to be the backbone of our economy. As West Virginia reopens, it’s critical that small businesses receive enough support to survive long term,” she said. Business owners around the state can get involved by displaying a “Come In, We’re Open” sign and posting to social media with “#WeAreOpenWV.” The campaign will last through September, officials said.
Madison: Superintendents, school board members and other education leaders on Monday demanded that Republican lawmakers devote more state aid to schools. Superintendents and other school officials have been criticizing the amount of state aid for education that the Legislature’s Republican-controlled finance committee inserted in the state budget proposal last week. The full Legislature is expected to pass the budget, which would run from this July through mid-2023, as soon as next week. School leaders predicted that without more state funding, they might have to hold staff salaries flat or cut liberal arts classes. “All students and staff across our state deserve better than zero,” Verona Area School District Superintendent Tremayne Clardy said outside the state Capitol. “This budget simply does not meet the needs of students and families across the state.” Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed giving K-12 schools $1.6 billion over the next two years. Republicans on the Legislature’s budget committee scrapped that plan and instead allocated $128 million – about $400 million less than they needed to allocate to ensure the state’s schools would get about $2.3 billion in federal pandemic relief.
Jackson: With 80% of adults over 18 fully vaccinated in Teton County, health officials are launching an innovative effort to further increase the community’s protection from COVID-19. “The whole goal is to try to get to the people, to make it easier for people,” Public Health Response Coordinator Rachael Wheeler said. The Health Department’s new “Vaxi Taxi,” a repurposed START bus turned mobile vaccine clinic, aims to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines by reaching outlying populations that are unable to get their shots at the health department in town. “Having a more mobile unit where we can easily set up inside that unit becomes really convenient for us,” Wheeler said. Nurses check in patients under a tent outside the bus and ask patients about any potential COVID-19 symptoms or recent contact with infected individuals. Nurses also patiently describe side effects they might experience after the vaccine, usually a sore arm and mild fever, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reports. Patients then head onto the Vaxi Taxi, where they receive their shots in the seats passengers have generally used for transportation. The Vaxi Taxi sports two tables that can be set up and put away with ease, seats for vaccine recipients, medical forms and equipment for vaccine distribution, and a team of friendly professionals.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports