Mobile: A vote by the Mobile City Council has moved the northern Gulf Coast one step closer to resumption of regular Amtrak service for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. Members voted 6-1 to approve a grant application for restoring passenger train service to the city, news outlets report. The train would link New Orleans and Mobile twice daily with stops in Mississippi in Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis. Mobile would be asked to pay about $3 million over three years beginning in 2023, and the state could be asked to help. The states of Louisiana and Mississippi have already committed millions. The Southern Rail Commission said it is applying for nearly $8 million in federal grant money for the project, and Mobile’s commitment was needed to move forward. Actual train service is still likely years away, officials said.
Kaktovik: An overnight fire destroyed the only school in this North Slope village early Friday morning, Anchorage television station KTUU reports. The school, part of the North Slope Borough School District, was a total loss, Kaktovik Mayor Amanda Kaleak says. Kaktovik resident Melvin Kayotuk captured video of the fire. “We woke up then heard the school was on fire,” Kayotuk says. The official cause of the fire hasn’t been determined. Pipes had frozen in the school, Kayotuk says, and heaters were attempting to thaw them out. “I feel sad for our kids that are gone right now,” Kayotuk says. “They went to play a ball game in another village, and they’re going to come home, and they’re going to have no more school.” No injuries were reported. Kaktovik is an Inupiat village of 250 on the Beaufort Sea about 75 miles northeast of the Canada border.
Phoenix: Legislators are proposing a new law to block airports across the state from raising fees on ride-sharing services, like Uber and Lyft. Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, says House Bill 2817 rolls back the fees on rides to and from airports to the same levels as at the end of 2017. That would cut existing fees and block an increase that Phoenix Sky Harbor is planning for ride-sharing services, says Grantham, who is sponsoring the measure. Phoenix already charges a fee of $2.66 for ride-share companies picking up passengers at the airport. But the city had planned on a new fee of $4 for picking up passengers as well as $4 for dropping off passengers. The fee would then increase by 25 cents each year, reaching $5 each way in 2024. Uber threatened to stop operating at Sky Harbor if Phoenix implemented the new fees.
El Dorado: Officers on Friday shot and injured a man who authorities say struck a deputy with his vehicle outside the sheriff’s office and threatened to shoot officers inside. The El Dorado News-Times reports multiple deputies were placed on paid administrative leave while the Union County Sheriff’s Office and Arkansas State Police investigate the incident. Union County Sheriff Ricky Roberts told the newspaper that officers approached the man who was in the parking lot of the sheriff’s office after he made the threats. The man drove toward the approaching officers and struck Chief Deputy Charlie Phillips, Roberts said. Deputies fired at the man and struck him in the arm, causing him to crash into a sheriff’s office employee’s vehicle in the lot. Roberts declined to release the man’s name but said he had been treated and was in custody.
Sacramento: Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to pause physical education tests for students for three years due to concerns over bullying and the test discriminating against disabled and nonbinary students. The move also comes after annual test results show a growing percentage of students scoring not healthy. H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the Department of Finance, said the state has received complaints that the current examination’s measurement of body mass index is discriminatory to nonbinary students. A measurement calculated from weight and height, BMI screenings require students to select “male” or “female,” he said. Annual state reports of the fitness test since the 2014-2015 school year show a steady decline in the share of students scoring healthy, according to a review by the Associated Press. Students’ scores have particularly dropped in the category of the fitness test that measures “aerobic capacity.”
Denver: A bill that aims to boost immunization rates and make it more difficult for parents to opt their children out of vaccinations is expected to be introduced soon at the Capitol, and Gov. Jared Polis says he’ll support it. The proposal – sure to heat up the discussion on immunizations, protecting public health and parents’ rights – would require parents who want to opt out to get a signed document from a medical professional or watch an online video, produced by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Right now, parents simply submit a form to a child’s school. The proposal would not eliminate non-medical or personal belief exemptions. Polis’ office said as it stands, he backs the measure. “The governor is encouraged by the conversations he has had with the bill sponsors and appreciates their hard work,” said a statement from his office.
Hartford: Initial testing has failed to identify two victims of the 1944 Hartford circus fire whose bodies were exhumed from a cemetery, the state’s chief medical examiner said Friday. Dr. James Gill also announced that anthropological examination and dental comparisons excluded a Vermont woman as being one of the two people whose remains were exhumed. The bodies were removed in October from two of five graves of unidentified circus fire victims at Northwood Cemetery in Windsor. A state judge approved the exhumations in hopes of determining whether one of them was Grace Fifield, a 47-year-old woman from Newport, Vermont, who was never seen again after attending the circus on the day of the fire. The fire at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus on July 6, 1944, killed 168 people and injured 682 others.
Wilmington: University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis has told a legislative committee that a lack of qualified students is to blame for low in-state enrollment at the school. During a hearing Thursday before the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, Assanis was asked why less than 40% of the school’s students come from Delaware. “I am not the one holding back the kids in Delaware to come into the university,” Assanis said. “We need better-qualified students who come out of our K-12. Because we don’t want to put them into a first-class environment and then lead them to having mental health problems.” Legislators quizzed Assanis about the university’s enrollment of Delawareans and underrepresented students, groups the school has long struggled to recruit. Assanis said a slowdown in population growth and a lack of qualified students coming out of Delaware high schools are to blame.
District of Columbia
Washington: The white nationalist group Patriot Front marched near Union Station on Saturday afternoon, WUSA-TV reports. Members of Patriot Front shouted “reclaim America!” as they moved down the streets of D.C. The group ended its march at a Walmart in the Union Station area, as some onlookers called them cowards, witnesses say. Dressed in similar long-sleeved clothing with hats, masks, sunglasses and American flags, the group was trailed and surrounded by police officers who were there to de-escalate any issues that arose. The group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is an image-obsessed organization that rehabilitated the explicitly fascist agenda of Vanguard America with garish patriotism. The SPLC says Patriot Front focuses on “theatrical rhetoric and activism that can be easily distributed as propaganda for its chapters across the country.”
Tallahassee: Common Core is over in the Sunshine State. The state Department of Education said in a statement Friday that the controversial set of academic standards “has been officially eradicated from Florida classrooms.” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he is recommending that the state Board of Education adapt Common Core’s successor, Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking. The Common Core standards were first proposed a decade ago by associations of governors and state education chiefs, and they were embraced in Florida by former Gov. Jeb Bush. The standards were adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia but have come under criticism in the past decade. A broad coalition of conservatives, liberals, parents and teachers found fault with Common Core for different reasons. After taking office last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis promised to get rid of Common Core.
Atlanta: The state could soon loosen safety standards for dams that sit above newly built homes, under a proposal unanimously passed by a state Senate committee. Senate Bill 319 would allow for homes and other inhabitable structures to be built in a dam’s inundation zone – the area that would be flooded if the dam fails – without causing the dam to be recategorized and required to meet higher safety standards. The structures would have to be built to withstand a breach of the dam and receive certification from an engineer approved by the state Environmental Protection Division’s Safe Dams Program. The bill’s sponsor, Republican State Sen. Frank Ginn of Danielsville, said it would protect dam owners from having to choose between taking on costly upgrades or removing a dam. The proposal, passed Tuesday by the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, could soon go to the full state Senate for a vote.
Honolulu: A bill before the City Council proposes to reduce the long-term carbon footprint of Oahu’s buildings, but the measure has encountered opposition from the island’s gas utility and construction industry, Hawaii Public Radio reports. The changes to the building codes would be the first in more than a decade. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports almost 40% of energy consumed in the United States is used to power buildings. That has led many state and local lawmakers to modify building codes in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Honolulu’s Bill 25 includes provisions such as mandating more efficient insulation and lighting in buildings. But other parts of the bill have generated opposition. The state’s construction industry opposes the bill’s proposed ban on gas water heaters in new single-family homes and a requirement for more electric vehicle charging infrastructure in apartments and commercial buildings.
Boise: Former gubernatorial candidate and Democratic state lawmaker Paulette Jordan announced Friday that she’s challenging two-term Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Risch. “I’m running because we need a senator who will work to reengineer our government to prioritize American prosperity, protect our precious land and resources, fight for affordable, quality health care, and ensure a world-class education for our children,” Jordan said. In 2018 she became the first woman to become the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Idaho but lost in the general election to Republican Brad Little. The 40-year-old Jordan is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. She’s a former two-term state representative with a long history of working on the tribal council. Jordan said she’ll fight for the rights of rural Idahoans and Native Americans while focusing on the environment and justice.
Peoria: A thrift-store find has prompted its buyer to find the person to whom it rightfully belongs – and might not know it’s even gone. A bargain-hunting Robert Ray spotted what was labeled a figurine in a Peoria Goodwill store. Upon closer inspection, he recognized it was actually an urn, with ashes still inside, The (Peoria) Journal Star reports. Ray said he bought the $2.99 jar, decorated with a military-style flag and eagle, with the intention of finding the owner. He bought it in late December, just a day or two after it arrived in the store. Goodwill officials say they don’t know the source of the donation. Ray hopes someone realizes the urn is mistakenly donated and contacts the newspaper. “I’m shooting in the dark and hoping the best,” he said.
West Lafayette: Purdue University will offer free tampons and other feminine hygiene products in the campus’ bathrooms in response to student advocates who have been pushing for the move for three years. University President Mitch Daniels on Thursday credited the University Senate, a faculty-led body, for proposing the initiative in a resolution that described feminine hygiene products as a basic necessity that should be in campus restrooms free of charge. The measure was set to be voted on later this month, but Daniels obtained permission from the University Senate to go ahead and implement it. Alison Rickert, a junior studying neurobiology and physiology at Purdue, founded The Period Project – an initiative aimed at providing menstrual products to those who need them both in and out of university walls. She said Purdue’s decision resulted from her and other students advocating for the issue.
Cedar Rapids: Staffers at a winter homeless shelter are working with police to reduce problems that have led to complaints from neighbors. Since the Fillmore Center opened in mid-November to offer a warm place to sleep, police have received 82 calls for service, according to The Gazette. Those calls include 41 for disturbances and 31 for medical needs, as well as others for theft, a warrant and other issues. Police said there have been 10 arrests, including seven for public intoxication. That led to neighborhood complaints and an effort by staff to take a firmer stance with rule-breakers and plan more activities in the center, which can house up to 70 people. “I am not sure what all helped the most, but we have seen a decline since we made all of these changes,” said Phoebe Trepp, of Willis Dady Homeless Service, which staffs the shelter.
Lawrence: Douglas County law enforcement officials are undergoing training and planning to coordinate investigations and prosecutions of sexual assault cases after facing criticism last year for charging women with making false sexual assault complaints. Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said last week that other changes planned in the county include a task force and continuing education on handling trauma and sexual assault cases, The Lawrence Journal-World reports. In October, Branson dismissed a case against a woman who was charged with filing a false rape report, after a Lawrence police detective said in an affidavit that he thought the woman reported the rape because she was angry the man involved was seeing another woman. Advocates for sexual violence victims criticized Branson and investigators, saying filing such charges would make victims reluctant to report sexual assaults. Two similar cases were dismissed in December.
Frankfort: The state would ban the paddling of students under a bill that won House passage Friday after a couple of state lawmakers recalled being on the receiving end of disciplinary swats. The measure, which would prohibit schools from using corporal punishment, cleared the House on a 65-17 vote. It now goes to the Senate. Kentucky is among 19 states that still allow corporal punishment as a form of school discipline. Republican Rep. Steve Riley, the bill’s lead sponsor, said corporal punishment fails to change behavior in a positive way. Another GOP lawmaker, Rep. Kevin Bratcher, said he was paddled in high school after being caught sneaking out with some classmates to chew tobacco. “All it really did was make us set up a guardsman the next time,” said Bratcher, who voted for the bill. The paddling, he said, was delivered by a longtime school principal who is now his House colleague, Democratic Rep. Charles Miller.
New Orleans: The Mississippi River was below 15 feet at a key gauge in the city Friday, leading the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to end, for now, a “flood fight” protocol calling for daily levee inspections. The corps said in a news release that it was moving from a “Phase II” flood fight, implemented when the river hits 15 feet at New Orleans’ Carrollton Gauge, to a “Phase I,” maintained as long as the river is between 11 and 15 feet. Phase I calls for twice-weekly levee inspections. And it requires special waivers for certain types of construction or other work on or near the levees. Phase II is implemented when the river hits 15 feet at the Carrollton Gauge. It calls for daily inspections and no waivers for the prohibited work.
Bath: The state has been the site of more than a half-dozen attacks on people by foxes in the past few months, prompting one city to try trapping the animals. Foxes are common in Maine and are typically skittish around humans, but the state’s mid-coast region has been the site of numerous attacks in the past six months. One man, Norman Kenney of Bath, was attacked twice by a rabid fox on separate occasions and had to undergo treatment for the dangerous disease. The Bath City Council voted unanimously Feb. 5 to spend $26,000 to lay out traps to catch foxes. The city is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the effort, WGME-TV reports. Maine is also in the midst of its annual season for fox hunting. The season starts in October and runs until the end of February.
Annapolis: Foods made of animal tissues cultured from cells outside of the original animal, or made from plants or insects, could not be labeled “meat” in the state under a Republican-backed bill in the General Assembly. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jason Gallion, R-Harford and Cecil, who called it “truth in advertising.” Eleven other GOP senators are co-sponsoring the legislation. “Laboratory-grown meat will become more prevalent in the future, and this bill will proactively prevent these ‘franken-meat’ alternatives from being labeled as meat,” Gallion said at a bill hearing Thursday. Meanwhile, Dan Colgrove with the Plant Based Foods Association told lawmakers that “we just think it’s unnecessary. … These products have to be very clearly marked as veggie, vegetarian or plant-based. That’s sort of the point, to offer alternatives to meat products.”
Boston: One of the largest unions in the city has filed a lawsuit against Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration alleging repeated violations to the union’s collective bargaining agreement. The lawsuit filed by Boston Fire Fighters Local 718 names the city and Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn and cites three instances in which a firefighter’s status was changed from injured leave to sick leave or light duty, the Boston Globe reports. This change forced firefighters to either work or use up sick time. The union alleges that the city acted “in an arbitrary manner and without justification or cause” in changing three firefighters’ status. The union has asked in the suit for a judicial ruling to prevent the city from taking similar action until the matter is solved through arbitration. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court.
Lansing: A major figure in the Michigan Republican Party whose Lake Michigan property is eroding suggested that political donations would fall unless GOP lawmakers do something to help, according to a memo. Peter Secchia, a Grand Rapids businessman, has been a Republican donor and activist for decades. His name is on the state party headquarters in Lansing, and he served as U.S. ambassador to Italy when George H.W. Bush was president. Secchia sent a letter in November to Republican leaders in the Legislature, noting a $6 million property loss in Ottawa County due to extraordinarily high lake levels eroding the shore and threatening homes. “There seems to be little interest in the Michigan House of Representatives or the Michigan Senate,” Secchia’s memo said. “This lack of concern mystifies me. Our property values will diminish greatly … hence, our donations will also diminish.”
Minneapolis: The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota called Friday for an investigation into the conviction of a black teenager who is serving life in prison, after the Associated Press uncovered serious flaws and inconsistencies in the police probe. Myon Burrell was found guilty in the 2002 shooting of an 11-year-old girl, who was killed by a stray bullet while doing homework at her dining room table. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was the top prosecutor in Hennepin County at the time, has highlighted that case throughout her political career as an example of getting justice for victims. ACLU-MN Executive Director John Gordon says not only was there no physical evidence tying Burrell to the scene, but the AP investigation also showed police made no attempt to speak to Burrell’s key alibi and discredited co-defendants who said he was not at the scene. One of them, Ike Tyson, has for years insisted he himself was the triggerman. Police also relied heavily on jailhouse informants, who were given reduced sentences for coming forward.
Purvis: A court ruling is ending a legal fight over the voluntary merger of two school districts in south Mississippi. The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that opponents waited too long to file a lawsuit. In April 2017, the Lumberton Public School District and the Lamar County School District voted to consolidate. The plan included some territory and affected some students in Pearl River County. The Mississippi Board of Education approved the plan in June 2017, and the two districts consolidated in July 2018. Lamar County schools officials agreed to keep Lumberton schools open and have Lumberton students attend those schools. The officials also hired Lumberton teachers. Pearl River County officials filed a lawsuit to oppose the merger, arguing that students who live in Pearl River County should attend school in Pearl River County.
St. Louis: Two local black educators have formed a support group to inspire more black students to go into teaching and to give them a place to network with one another. Darryl Diggs, a 37-year-old assistant principal at Parkway South High School, co-founded Black Males in Education-St. Louis in 2019 along with Howard Fields, the principal at Givens Elementary in Webster Groves. The men created the organization for other black people, particularly men, to feel secure in their professional roles in urban or suburban schools. The group on Friday hosted the State of Black Educators Symposium at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. About 1,300 people signed up. Among the speakers was Kelvin Adams, superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools, who says recruiting teachers of color is a top priority for the district, where 79% of students are black compared with 37% of educators.
Kalispell: A one-eyed hawk that went missing after a weekend windstorm knocked over its enclosure at a rehabilitation facility in western Montana has been found safe. Bird rehabilitator Kari Gabriel climbed the ladder of a Kalispell Fire Department bucket truck with a firefighter who used a net to capture the bird in a tree Thursday, NBC Montana reports. In a Facebook post, Gabriel said Hawkeye was dining on her favorite food – beef heart. Gabriel realized Hawkeye was missing when she found her cage overturned Feb. 1. Gabriel, who runs a program called the Montana Bird Lady, asked the public for help searching for the hawk. The bird was spotted several times, and after several chases Thursday, Hawkeye stayed in one spot long enough to be captured. Gabriel took in Hawkeye after the bird was hit by a car in 2014. The hawk could not be released back into the wild because she is missing an eye and is partly blind in the other.
Lincoln: Sandhill crane watchers are getting ready for a new season in central Nebraska after a prolonged cold spell and flooding last year that kept some people from seeing them in person. Everything is on track this year for the Crane Trust to open as scheduled March 1, said Chuck Cooper, the group’s president and CEO. As many as half a million sandhill cranes converge on the Platte River in central Nebraska from mid-February through mid-April, according to the Grand Island Independent. The cranes fly in from their winter grounds in Texas and New Mexico and stop for about a week or more to fatten up on loose corn in the surrounding agricultural fields. During their time here, the cranes roost at night along the Platte River, congregating on sandbars for safety from predators.
Las Vegas: The state Department of Motor Vehicles has eliminated the parallel parking portion of the driving skills test. The test still meets the national standards set by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators even without the parallel parking element, department public information officer Kevin Malone said. The changes took effect Jan. 13. Nevada joins several other states – including California, Colorado and Florida – that have removed parallel parking from their driving skills exams. “Testing of the parking skills needed is met by the requirements of entering, and backing out of, a perpendicular parking space and by other vehicle control requirements,” Malone said. The changes are expected to reduce the number of repeat visits by drivers who can pass everything but parallel parking, officials said. Some driving schools have since stopped teaching parallel parking unless a student requests it, officials said.
Concord: The state Senate has passed a bill that would let qualified patients grow their own medical marijuana. The measure approved by senators Thursday allows designated caregivers or patients to grow up to three mature plants, three immature plants and 12 seedlings each. Although the state legalized medical cannabis in 2013, growing the plant for personal use is currently a felony offense. Rep. Tom Sherman, a Democrat from Rye, said dispensary costs can be prohibitive for patients and caregivers, and that dispensaries sometimes don’t carry the type of medical cannabis patients need to treat their conditions. The bill now heads to the House. A similar bill cleared the House and Senate last year. Republican Governor Chris Sununu vetoed it, citing public safety concerns.
Trenton: Lying on applications to get tax breaks should open companies up to prosecution, and the state should create an inspector general post to watch over the agency handing out incentives, according to a report published Friday by a legislative committee probing the credits. Those were just two of more than two dozen recommendations in the Special Committee on Economic Growth’s final report, issued after nearly a year of looking into the now-expired tax incentives and holding four public hearings. The Chris Christie-era tax break program expired June 30, meaning that new applications aren’t being considered, though previously approved awards could still be paid out. The committee’s report comes about a year after Gov. Phil Murphy put tax breaks in the spotlight, citing state auditor and comptroller reports that raised questions about how the awards were handed out as the rationale for the creation of his own task force.
Santa Fe: The state Senate on Friday endorsed a red-flag gun bill prompted by concerns about a mass shooting last year in El Paso, Texas, and suicide prevention efforts. The bill won Senate approval on a 22-20 vote, with Republicans and four Democrats voting against it. The proposal moves to the House, which last year approved a similar measure that languished. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has urged the Democrat-led Legislature to provide new avenues for law enforcement to prevent gun violence and better secure the safety of schools. “The extreme risk protection order is part of an effort to give law enforcement every single tool,” she said after the Senate vote. The bill as currently written would allow law enforcement officers to petition a state district court to order the temporary surrender of firearms.
Albany: The state will require manufacturers to disclose the use of potentially dangerous chemicals in children’s products under a new law signed Friday. The law, which goes into effect March 1, also creates a children’s product safety council that will advise state environmental regulators about which chemicals to restrict and how. Currently, New York prohibits the use of dangerous chemicals on an individual basis. But child safety advocates for years have pushed for more comprehensive regulations over concerns that children can be more sensitive than adults to small amounts of chemicals. The new law requires manufacturers to phase out the use of certain chemicals including asbestos. It also creates a process for state environmental regulators to ban other chemicals down the road. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed the bill into law Friday.
Raleigh: Thousands of people took to the streets Saturday in an annual march and rally designed to call for action on social and economic justice issues in the state. The 14th annual Mass Moral March on Raleigh drew support from the state NAACP, more than 200 other organizations and their supporters. Participants marched to the old Capitol building for a 14-point “People’s Agenda” that includes laws that expand health care coverage, create livable wages, redress racial wrongs and grant collective bargaining for government employees. The event began in 2007 with the leadership of then-state NAACP president the Rev. William Barber of Goldsboro, who is now president of the national organization Repairers of the Breach. From the dozens of signs and banners people carried during the march, a clear message emerged: Change starts at the ballot box.
Fargo: Move over, meat. An agriculture research center on the North Dakota State University campus is plugging plants as an alternative protein source. The Northern Crops Institute is planning a three-day course this spring to provide information on the basics of plant-based foods and show participants how to produce the best products. The seminar is targeting foodies, restaurateurs, food bloggers and “pretty much anyone with an interest in it,” institute spokesman Grant Christian said. Many restaurants and fast food chains have recently bolstered their menus with vegetarian offerings. That includes the introduction of meatless tacos, meatless burgers and meatless wings. The course is scheduled for May 19-21 at the Northern Crops Institute. It will feature crops such as soy, wheat and pulses and include hands-on training in using raw ingredients and developing final products.
Columbus: Opponents of a bill that would repeal the ban on using fireworks on private property are warning the legislation could lead to dangerous consequences. Current law allows consumers to legally buy fireworks in Ohio but requires they be taken out of the state within 48 hours of purchase. Critics of the law have noted for years that it’s widely ignored. The bill before the House Commerce and Labor Committee would repeal the transport requirement and allow individuals to buy and use consumer fireworks in Ohio. Roughly 1 in 5 of the 10,000 serious consumer fireworks injuries each year are to the eye, Sherill Williams, president and CEO of the Ohio affiliate of Prevent Blindness, testified Wednesday. Other opponents include firefighters, the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and veterans concerned about fireworks’ impact on vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Oklahoma City: A group that wants to change how the state’s legislative and congressional district lines are drawn has refiled an initiative petition in hopes of bringing the issue before voters. People Not Politicians refiled a new version of its petition Thursday, two days after its original petition was struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In that ruling, the court said that the proposal itself was constitutional but that a shorthand description of the measure, called a gist, didn’t adequately describe the proposal. The group needs to gather about 178,000 signatures in 90 days to qualify for the ballot. The plan calls for an end to partisan gerrymandering of Oklahoma’s legislative districts by creating an independent, bipartisan commission to draw district lines. The commission would include an equal number of Republicans, Democrats and members unaffiliated with either party, selected by a group of retired state Supreme Court and appellate judges.
Salem: The cost to hike and camp in three of the state’s most popular wilderness areas won’t be as high as expected. The U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday that it would cost $1 for a day permit and $6 for an overnight permit to enter the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson and Mount Washington wilderness areas beginning this summer. That’s a drop from the $4 to $11 per person, per day, that was proposed earlier this year and received an overwhelmingly negative response from over 13,000 public comments. The permit system is intended to limit overcrowding and environmental damage in 450,000 acres of Oregon’s most beautiful but fragile backcountry. Permits will go on sale at Recreation.gov beginning April 7 and be required from May 22 to Sept. 25, even though some key questions about the system still need to be finalized.
Philadelphia: The last jailed member of the radical group MOVE was released from prison Friday, according to an attorney who represented the members in their parole appeals. Brad Thomson, an attorney for Chuck Sims Africa, posted on Twitter that the man had been released. Africa was the last of the so-called MOVE 9 to be paroled after being convicted of third-degree murder in the 1978 shooting death of Officer James Ramp in Philadelphia. The nine members of the anti-establishment, back-to-nature group were each sentenced to between 30 and 100 years in prison. The 1978 standoff with police came after officers tried to evict the group from its Philadelphia headquarters, saying they received noise and sanitation complaints from neighbors. The members barricaded themselves inside and have said they believe Ramp was killed by friendly fire. Police contended there was gunfire exchanged from both sides, but MOVE members have denied returning gunfire.
Providence: The City Council has introduced a resolution to rename a bridge to honor a local civil rights leader. The Providence Journal reports the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge could be renamed after Michael Van Leesten, who died last year. Van Leesten helped co-found and served as CEO of the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Rhode Island, a nonprofit that provides job training, career counseling and other programs for people from underserved communities. “Michael Van Leesten was a dear friend of mine and a ray of inspiration and hope to many,” Ward 3 City Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune said. “He was also a bridge builder and architect of connections, and that is why so many of us believe it would be appropriate to name the bridge after him.” Council members voted Thursday to send the resolution to the Committee on Urban Redevelopment, Renewal and Planning for approval.
Charleston: College students will help archaeologists map the walls used to defend the city more than 250 years ago. Students from Clemson University and the College of Charleston will use ground-penetrating radar in downtown Charleston’s Marion Square to find exactly where the fortification called the Hornwork was built, the American Battlefield Trust said. The 30-foot-tall wall built in 1758 stretched for three city blocks and also had a ditch or moat. The wall was made from tabby, which was a mix of seashells, sand and lime, the organization said. The Hornwork played a vital part in Charleston’s defense over the next several decades, including during the British siege of the city in 1780 during the Revolutionary War. Some of the wall remains visible in Marion Square, and archaeologists have an approximate location of the fortifications, but the radar will help pinpoint exactly where it was built.
Pierre: Democrats called foul Friday after the Republican-dominated state House shot down their efforts to allow Native Americans use their tribal IDs to register to vote. The defeat prompted several Democrats to level accusations of voter suppression. Republicans say their resistance is all about keeping voter registration secure. “The way our voting system is set up does disenfranchise in particular Native American voters,” said Rep. Ryan Cwach, a Yankton Democrat. In the 2018 general election, tribal communities reported some of the lowest voter turnout figures in the state. Native Americans make up 9% of the state’s total population. Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, a Mission Democrat who is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said tribes in the state have improved the quality of their IDs in recent years. They include addresses, holographics and other security measures; are recognized by federal agencies; and can be used to take flights.
Lawrenceburg: A tornado that hit this southern Tennessee city has damaged several headstones in the community’s second-oldest cemetery, where the actor and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson is buried. Lawrenceburg City Administrator Chris Shaffer said officials won’t know how many headstones were damaged by Wednesday’s EF-1 tornado at Mimosa Cemetery until several large oak trees are cleared away, WTVF-TV reports. WTVF says the trees narrowly missed Thompson’s headstone. One of Tennessee’s senators from 1994 to 2003, Thompson was also an actor who appeared in at least 20 motion pictures and the TV series “Law & Order.” He died in 2015. Local resident Jennifer May told told WTVF she was driving nearby when she noticed something different about the cemetery. “Walking through here and seeing this breaks my heart because these are loved ones,” May said.
Houston: The Texas Legislative Black Caucus has announced it’s working on a bill that would ban discrimination based on hair textures and styles commonly associated with race following the suspension of a black high school student near Houston. State lawmakers, accompanied by black officials and advocates, introduced the CROWN Act at a press conference Thursday, the Texas Tribune reports. CROWN stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, and the measure would protect against “unjust grooming policies that have a disparate impact on black children, women, and men” in workplaces and public schools, CROWN Coalition advocate Adjoa Asamoah said. The coalition is a national alliance of organizations working to end hair discrimination. The bill is a show of support for students like Deandre Arnold, who was suspended from Hill High School in Mont Belvieu and won’t be able to attend graduation unless he cuts his dreadlocks.
Provo: Residents getting married in the state can now get their marriage licenses online, officials say. The state auditor’s office has already launched the digital application process on its website, KUTV-TV reports. Most states require the couple to appear in person, fill out paperwork and present identification, a process some clerks have called labor-intensive. “You and your significant other handed that to one of our clerks, who then retyped everything you had just handwritten,” clerk Amelia Powers Gardner said, citing the possibility of human error. Utah County issues about 10,000 marriage licenses each year, county officials said. The 10-minute online process requires both people to use one smartphone or computer to fill out a form and take pictures of themselves and their IDs so the system can verify identities, officials said. The couple is then emailed a PDF document with the marriage license, officials say.
St. Johnsbury: A guinea pig found on the street was taken to the local police department for safekeeping, and firefighters and police are already clamoring to keep it if an owner doesn’t come forward. The furry creature was found Wednesday by a pedestrian walking down Railroad Street, Cpl George Johnson told the Caledonian Record. Firefighter Phil Hawthorne said that if no owner comes forward, the guinea pig should become a resident of the firehouse. Det. Daniele Kostruba also volunteered to take the creature home as a pet. The animal, dubbed Harvey by dispatcher Karen Montgomery, was given food, water and a box to stay in. Police asked that the owner of the guinea pig go to the public safety building on Main Street to confirm ownership of the animal and take it home.
Richmond: Democratic state lawmakers are advancing legislation to ban the sale of assault weapons and the possession of high-capacity magazines despite fierce opposition from gun owners. A state House committee on Friday advanced legislation backed by Gov. Ralph Northam to ban the sale of certain semiautomatic firearms, including popular AR-15-style rifles, and silencers and to prohibit the possession of magazines that hold more than 12 rounds. It’s the most ambitious measure proposed by Northam and one that’s met the most pushback, including from members of his own party. Gun owners packed the committee room Friday and erupted in protest when the measured passed. Capitol Police cleared the committee room of almost every spectator after the vote. Heated debates over guns have dominated this year’s legislative session, as Virginia has become ground zero in the nation’s raging debate over gun control and mass shootings.
Olympia: Lawmakers have passed a bill that would change a tax that’s supposed to make it easier for the state to pay for the Legislature’s promise to make college more affordable. The Seattle Times reports that initially, the 2019 package planned to use a business-and-occupation tax to pay for a measure making higher education more accessible, starting in the 2020-2021 school year. The new bill, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, replaces the tax lawmakers approved last year with a different version of the levy. In addition to worries that there wouldn’t be enough funding, lawmakers were concerned last year’s version was so complicated that there could be trouble collecting it. The new measure, which has passed the Senate, now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee. If he signs it, the law would take effect April 1.
Charleston: Gov. Jim Justice says he has committed $1 million in state funds to encourage participation in the 2020 census, saying federal officials have told him the state is “behind” in the effort. “We need to get cranking,” he said at a press conference Thursday with Census Bureau officials who encouraged residents to apply for temporary jobs helping with the count. An estimated 74% of West Virginians responded to the previous census in 2010, according to the governor’s office. Justice said a lack of participation in the count has led to the state missing out on “tens and tens of millions of dollars” in federal grant funding. Justice said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has twice told him that “West Virginia’s behind” in the census.
Madison: The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved tuition increases Friday for nonresident and graduate students at six institutions. Increases will range between 1.5% and 25% at UW-Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Platteville, River Falls, Stevens Point and Whitewater starting this fall. The schools say they need more money to cover instruction, raises, recruiting faculty, technology and training clinical professionals. Republican lawmakers have kept tuition frozen for in-state undergraduates since 2013. System officials have long complained that the freeze has hamstrung them financially and have tried to compensate by raising out-of-state and graduate tuition over the years. The board approved the plan unanimously during a meeting at UW-Madison. There was no discussion.
Rock Springs: A public comment period has started for a draft resource management plan amendment and associated draft environmental impact statement for wild horse management in southern Wyoming, land agency officials say. The Bureau of Land Management has made the draft amendment and related documents available for review and comment until April 30, the Rocket-Miner reports. The draft amendment would update wild horse management direction within the White Mountain, Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek herd management areas, officials say. The analysis considers strategies for the herd management areas, which encompasses about 4,400 square miles, agency officials say. The Bureau of Land Management hopes to protect wild horses and burros on public land through its wild horse and burro program, agency officials say.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports