Montgomery: The mayor on Tuesday criticized a state law forbidding the majority-black city from removing or altering a Confederate monument as well as a new proposal to fine cities $10,000 a day for violations. “We’re saying protect something that is a slap in the face to black residents of this city, that are 74% of this city, the fourth-blackest city in America. You want to have a statue that is commemorating relegating black people to being property and slaves,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin told reporters. Birmingham faces a $25,000 fine for erecting a wooden box obscuring the inscriptions on a 52-foot obelisk honoring Confederate veterans. The mayor made the comments in Birmingham on the same day lawmakers in Montgomery debated a proposal to increase the fines for violating the law.
Anchorage: A veteran long-distance musher has won the 2020 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. Brent Sass crossed the finish line Tuesday afternoon in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to win the 1,000-mile race, the Anchorage Daily News reports. Sass, 40, also won in 2015 and 2019. “This was a slog, there’s no doubt,” he said at the finish line. “I’ve run 13 Yukon Quests and broke trail 10 times more (in this one) than in any of the other races put together.” Michelle Phillips of Tagish Lake, Yukon, finished second four hours after Sass. Sass got down on the ground and rolled in the snow with one of his wheel dogs before standing up and working his way down the line, petting each dog. He fed them all steak chunks, starting with leaders Morello and Woody, the latter of whom had never been a leader before, Sass said.
Phoenix: A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a 2016 state law barring anyone but a family member or caregiver from returning another person’s early ballot will remain in effect while the state appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. The order from the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals means the law banning so-called ballot harvesting will remain in force through the March 17 presidential preference election. Only Democrats are voting in that election after the Republican Party chose to forego a primary. The appeals court last month found the law and a separate practice of throwing out ballots if a voter went to the wrong precinct have discriminatory effects on minority voters. The ruling also said the ballot harvesting ban was enacted with discriminatory intent. State Attorney General Mark Brnovich plans to ask the high court to overturn the decision.
Little Rock: A black state lawmaker plans to introduce legislation next year aimed at changing police tactics after officers drew guns on her and another black politician who had called 911 to report they were being harrassed. At a news conference Monday, Democratic state Rep. Vivian Flowers, from Pine Bluff, recalled the Feb. 3 incident outside a Little Rock fundraiser for state House candidate Ryan Davis, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. Flowers and Davis said they were talking to each other on the sidewalk when two white residents questioned why the two politicians were in the neighborhood. They and one of the residents told police they then heard a gunshot. The resident also confirmed she had yelled at the pair to leave and subsequently told them to “drop dead.” Officers arrived with their guns drawn on Davis and Flowers, according to a police report.
Los Angeles: It’s a girl. The Los Angeles Zoo announced this week that its staff have determined the sex of a Western lowland gorilla that was born Jan. 18. The baby had spent three weeks “bonding and clinging tightly to her mother,” a zoo statement said. The baby, who doesn’t yet have a name, is the first gorilla born at the zoo in more than 20 years. She’s the first child for 25-year-old N’djia, who came to the zoo in 2018 from the San Diego Zoo as part of a breeding project. The father is a 32-year-old named Kelly. Western lowland gorillas are considered critically endangered because of poaching, diseases and habitat loss. “Every birth is a celebration, both in zoos and in the wild,” said Candace Sclimenti, curator of mammals at the L.A. Zoo. “We are thrilled about this baby because she will provide additional attention to this critically endangered species.” Mom, dad, baby and two other gorillas can be viewed at the park’s Campo Gorilla Reserve.
Denver: U.S. immigration officials are asking a federal judge to force the city to turn over information about three men accused of crimes who are subject to deportation after Denver refused to comply with its order to do so. In a continued escalation of the conflict between federal officials and so-called sanctuary cities, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement filed a complaint in Denver federal court Thursday asking that a judge enforce administrative subpoenas it issued to the Denver’s sheriff department last month for information such as addresses, identification and arrest reports on the two Mexican nationals and a Honduran. Accusing ICE of seeking the information for “political reasons,” Denver said it would not comply with the subpoenas unless a judge determined they were appropriate.
New Haven: Police will soon begin distributing clean syringes and glass pipes in what are being called “harm reduction kits” to residents who use drugs. The kits, to be offered to those discharged from the New Haven police lockup, are also expected to include information about care and treatment options, Brillo pads to use as filters for smoking crack cocaine, sterilizing pads, cotton, condoms and a tourniquet, among other items, city officials said, according to The New Haven Register. “While many think that the primary responsibility of police is to protect and enforce the laws, for us in New Haven, the primary responsibility is the protection and the preservation of life,” police Chief Otoniel Reyes said. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said New Haven is the first department in the state to distribute such kits.
Wilmington: Federal authorities have filed a lawsuit seeking judgment against an Italian shipping line for damage allegedly caused by one of its ships to a jetty along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Delaware said the costs of repairing damage to the jetty could exceed $3 million. Defendants in the lawsuit include the Grimaldi Group SpA and its Atlantic Container Line shipping company. Also named in the lawsuit were Capt. Colleen Moran and the vessel Atlantic Conveyor. Federal officials said the Reedy Point North Jetty was damaged in February 2017 when it was hit by the ship as it was being piloted by Moran. The jetty is a navigation structure at the confluence of the canal with the Delaware River.
District of Columbia
Washington: The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform passed Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s bill on D.C. statehood Tuesday, sending H.R. 51 to the House floor for the first time since 1993, WUSA-TV reports. The vote was split down party lines, 21-16. The passage of the D.C. Democrat’s bill marks the first time in 27 years that members of Congress will vote on the possibility of the district becoming the 51st state, giving D.C. one House member and two senators. “We emphasized today what supporters of statehood already knew coming in: D.C. statehood is constitutional, we have a plan in place to make it happen, and it is the only way to fix the injustice of denying more than 700,000 Washingtonians a vote in Congress,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “It is fitting that this historic vote happened in the midst of Black History Month, for I dare say – achieving D.C. statehood would be black history.”
St. Petersburg: Two dolphins have been found with gruesome, life-ending injuries along the Gulf Coast in recent weeks, and federal authorities are offering a reward of up to $20,000 to help solve the case. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one dolphin was discovered dead in waters off Naples late last week. Officials said the animal had received bullet or stab wounds – possibly both. Also last week, the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge found a dolphin with a bullet in its left side along Pensacola Beach in the Panhandle. Experts believe the two deaths might have stemmed from humans feeding the animals. When dolphins learn to associate people and boats with food, they can expose themselves to dangerous situations. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is offering a reward of up to $20,000 for information that leads to those responsible. Anonymous tipsters can call 1-800-853-1964.
Atlanta: A firefighter is set to be suspended next week for actions he took while trying to save a 95-year-old woman from a blaze. Atlanta Fire Department Capt. Daniel Dwyer was among the firefighters responding to a house engulfed in flames last June when he entered the home by himself, located resident Sally Skrine on the ground and pulled her to safety, video from the scene showed. Skrine later died from her injuries, news outlets reported. But a “notice of final adverse action” prepared last week by the department ordered Dwyer to be suspended without pay for four days, citing his decision to enter the home alone as a breach in the safety policy of “no freelancing,” according to the complaint obtained by WXIA-TV on Monday. An official for the firefighters’ union told WAGA-TV that Dwyer made a “split-second” decision to go in and save Skrine without waiting for reinforcement because of the intensity of the fire.
Honolulu: The city has requested proposals from private organizations interested in providing managed, fee-based access to its famed Haiku Stairs. The city announced Tuesday that any interested party would need to restore, maintain and operate the Oahu staircase that attracts 4,000 people annually. “Haiku Stairs is a significant asset to the people of Oahu and it should be better managed, with a safe and controlled entry point that doesn’t intrude on the surrounding neighborhood,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a statement. The stairs are part of a World War II-era military installation that has been officially closed to the public for decades. The attraction is still visited daily by hiking enthusiasts, and area residents have complained that some hikers trespass and vandalize their properties. The staircase has also caused injuries and costly rescues of hikers who ignore security guards and trespassing signs to climb it, officials said.
Boise: Two men who combined spent nearly 40 years in prisons for crimes they didn’t commit testified Tuesday in favor of state legislation that would compensate the wrongly convicted. Christopher Tapp and Charles Fain told lawmakers on the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee that they left prison with no resources after DNA evidence proved their innocence. Both had been convicted of murder. “Being in prison is as horrible as you can imagine, and being there when you are innocent is that much worse,” Tapp, who spent 20 years in prison, told lawmakers. Fain spent more than 17 years incarcerated, mostly on death row, where he spent 23 hours a day in a small cell. The legislation brought forward by Republican Rep. Doug Ricks would pay $60,000 a year for wrongful incarceration and $75,000 per year on death row. The committee won’t vote on whether to send the legislation to the full House until Thursday.
Springfield: The Illinois Education Association on Tuesday released a report that shows Illinoisans do not have high regard for public schools outside their own communities. The association indicates in its State of Education report that 1,000 Illinois residents taking part in a poll gave a grade of “C-” to public schools, although they gave their local public schools an “A” or “B” grade. The report indicates more than half of those polled believe teachers are paid too little. Many also said they wouldn’t advise family members to become teachers. There are about 2,560 teacher positions open in Illinois. “The State of Education Report tells us we have a long way to go when it comes to fixing the teacher shortage,” IEA President Kathi Griffin said. “The people of Illinois have spoken. We need to invest in our public schools, give our educators a louder voice at the table and truly put our students first.”
Bristol: A traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit on life in rural America will be on display at northern Indiana’s Elkhart County Historical Museum until mid-March. The exhibit, “Crossroads: Change Comes to Rural America,” includes photos depicting farms, forests, small towns and rivers from Alaska to New Hampshire. Visitors can also hear residents talk on video about their experiences. Museum officials have added local touches for display alongside the exhibit, including information about a family that settled in Elkhart County in 1858 and changes in agriculture, according to the South Bend Tribune. The display runs until March 15. Admission is free. Museum director Julie Parke said museum officials are excited to “spark conversations we think are important to have about the intersection of urban and rural, the tensions between agricultural and manufacturing.”
Des Moines: Students in the Hawkeye State could soon be singing and dancing their way to meet their physical education requirements. A bipartisan bill advanced by a Senate subcommittee Tuesday would add “show choir” to the list of extracurricular activities that could excuse high school students from physical education class, just as athletics does. “This is a sport unto itself,” said Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, among the bill’s sponsors. “The physical exertion – no doubt about it, it should be exempt.” Currently, Iowa law requires students to participate in physical education classes each semester they are in school. But students involved in athletics can get exemptions. If the bill became law, high school principals could excuse students from the PE requirement if they’re participating in show choir for the time equivalent to PE classes and if the student needs to enroll in classes that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them.
Wichita: A study reveals that universities in the state pay their instructors less compared to schools of the same size with similar programs in other states. The latest figures from the Kansas Board of Regents show state university instructors who are full-time and spend at least half their time teaching made on average $13,796 less than instructors at comparable universities in the 2019 fiscal year. In other words, instructors made 86 cents for each dollar their out-of-state peers earned. The previous year, Kansas faculty made 84 cents for every dollar paid to their peers, KCUR-FM reports. Educators say state funding for universities has fallen behind rising education costs, and they say smaller paychecks make it harder to recruit and retain talented professors. Wichita State’s provost, Rick Muma, blamed the pay gap on state funding.
Fort Knox: The Army has selected Fort Knox for a new corps headquarters, which will bring 635 additional soldiers to the central Kentucky post, federal officials announced. The Army plans to activate V Corps Headquarters by October 2020, officials said. “Fort Knox was chosen based on time required to facilitate activation of the headquarters, cost, the ability to facilitate future expansion if required and minimizing disruption to other, current missions at the installation,” according to a letter of notification from the Pentagon, The News-Enterprise reports. The move came at the request U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, according to a joint statement from the three Tuesday that said the headquarters is needed for national defense and to support U.S. forces and operations in Europe. In addition to boosting the post, the headquarters is expected to have a positive effect on nearby towns.
New Orleans: A lawsuit seeking to return federal protection to the real bears that inspired teddy bears has been thrown out by a federal judge. The people and environmental groups who sued in 2018 didn’t provide any evidence to back up their claims that they would be hurt by the decision to remove Louisiana black bears from the “threatened” list, wrote District Judge John Bates of Washington, D.C. Bates didn’t rule on the merits of the case itself, only on whether the plaintiffs had legal standing to sue, attorney Paula Dinerstein of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said Tuesday. That group, the Sierra Club, the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper organization, Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West and individual plaintiffs are considering their next step, Dinerstein said. Louisiana black bears are the largest and rarest of 16 American black bear subspecies. President Teddy Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot one in 1902 inspired the first “teddy’s bears.” The subspecies once roamed Texas and Mississippi but now is found only in a few areas in Louisiana. It was put on the “threatened” list in 1992 and removed from it in 2016.
Portland: Federal regulators don’t believe a state plan to reduce risk to endangered whales goes far enough, and that means fishermen could face more restrictions. Maine officials submitted a plan to the federal government designed to meet a requirement to better protect rare North Atlantic right whales from entanglement in lobster fishing gear. The whales number only about 400 and can die if ensnared in the gear, which is used to trap one of Maine’s best known and most valuable natural resources. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notified the state in a Jan. 10 letter that its proposed package of measures would result in no more than a 52% reduction in risk to the whales. The required goal is 60%, said the letter, which was written by Michael Pentony, regional administrator for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service’s Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office.
Salisbury: Police have recovered a statue taken from the Salisbury Zoo, with the help of an accidental hero canine. The pooch who found the statue, Ghost, was honored by Mayor Jake Day and the Salisbury City Council for his valiant deed. Ghost was near the Salisbury City Dog Park with his owner when he found the missing statue. Ghost then alerted his owner, who notified police of its discovery. The statue of a great blue heron was announced stolen last week in a tweet from the Salisbury Police Department. Capt. Rich Kaiser, a spokesperson for Salisbury Police Department, said the statue was returned to the zoo with “some damage.” For his superb detective skills, Ghost is being honored with the “Goodest Boy Award.”
Boston: A ballot question that would let convenience stores and other food stores in the state sell beer and wine is drawing criticism from some researchers and substance abuse coordinators who say it could result in more crime and alcohol consumption. The question would let local authorities issue licenses allowing food stores to sell wine and malt beverages to be consumed off the premises. The new licenses would be in addition to existing licenses issued for the sale of alcoholic beverages and would not include the sale of hard liquor. David Jernigan, a professor of health law and policy at the Boston University School of Public Health, said there is a close tie between the easy availability of alcohol and crime. He said because Massachusetts – and Boston by extension – has limits on the number of alcohol outlets, the relationship between alcohol outlets and violent crime is weaker than in many other cities.
Grand Rapids: A white woman who used racial slurs as she attacked a black car salesman at a dealership has avoided a jail sentence despite a tearful appeal from the victim for time behind bars. Shelly Hueckel of Nashville, Michigan, was sentenced Tuesday to two years of probation by Judge Paul Sullivan. Hueckel was convicted in December of misdemeanor assault but cleared of ethnic intimidation, a felony. Before the Kent County judge handed down Hueckel’s punishment, Terrence Smith tearfully asked that the maximum sentence be imposed. The misdemeanor conviction is punishable by up to 93 days in jail. “I was … assaulted for no reason and called a (N-word) over and over again at that point. I took every ounce of strength in me to restrain myself from defending myself, and I did it: I stood tall through an incredibly hard moment,” Smith recalled. Hueckel allegedly struck Smith repeatedly, knocking off his glasses while shouting racial slurs.
Collegeville: The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is launching a new program to encourage anglers to switch to lead-free fishing equipment as a way to save the state bird, the loon. The campaign was created with money from the federal government’s settlement with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Minnesota Public Radio News reports. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded Minnesota agencies more than $6 million from the settlement to help support its loon population after researchers found traces of oil and the chemicals used to disperse the spill in the feathers, eggs and blood of birds in Minnesota. About $1.2 million will go toward the public awareness campaign called “Get the Lead Out” over the next three years. While some states have total or partial bans on the use of lead sinkers and jigs, Minnesota’s lead-free campaign is voluntary.
Jackson: State senators clashed Tuesday before passing a bill to let the state auditor see tax returns to verify the income of people enrolled in Medicaid or other public assistance programs. Supporters said the plan is designed to ensure people are not receiving benefits if they earn too much money. But critics questioned the timing and said Mississippi is looking for waste in the wrong place. The debate happened days after Auditor Shad White announced that the former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services and five other people had been indicted on charges tied to misspending of millions of public dollars that should have been spent to help poor people. White, a Republican, called it the largest public embezzlement case in Mississippi in at least 20 years. “The timing is awful,” said Republican Sen. Josh Harkins of Flowood, sponsor of the bill that passed Tuesday.
Jefferson: State legislators debated a measure Tuesday that would ban public colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition to students living in the U.S. illegally. Schools in the state now risk losing state funding if they offer students with “an unlawful immigration status” anything less than the tuition rate charged to international students. That’s because of restrictions that lawmakers have placed on state funding in recent years through the budget process. Suburban St. Louis Republican Sen. Bob Onder’s bill would enshrine that budget policy in law. Democratic Sen. Lauren Arthur, who worked as a Kansas City teacher before joining the Legislature, said she previously taught students brought to the U.S. illegally as children who call Missouri home and questioned the public benefit of discouraging those students from staying in the state amid a labor shortage. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and several religious groups, including the Missouri Catholic Conference, also spoke out against the proposal Tuesday.
Missoula: The state has revoked 85 specialty license plates that have not been chosen or renewed by at least 400 drivers in the previous year, the state Motor Vehicles Division said. The license plates discontinued in January include some whose extra fees raise money for high school booster clubs, several high schools, animal shelters, youth sports leagues, environmental groups and other nonprofit groups. The Bitter Root Humane Association has 377 plates on the road, said treasurer Linda Williams. So for being 23 plates short, the association will lose the approximately $7,000 the license plates brought in, Williams told ABC Fox Montana. The Humane Society of Western Montana faces the loss of about $10,000 in annual funding, said development manager Katie Hofschield. A law passed last year allows people with discontinued plates to keep them until it’s time to renew their registration.
Lincoln: The Lincoln-Lancaster County Genealogical Society needs a new home for its 8,000-piece collection. The collection has been housed at the Union College library for the past 30 years. But the college has decided to turn the collection space into a student tutoring center, said Michael George, the genealogical society president. The society has until mid-March to find a new place, or the collection will go into storage. “If all of our stuff is in boxes, it takes away from one of our core missions,” society board member Prudence Sadler told the Lincoln Journal Star. The collection includes items such as a 1924 Tobias telephone directory, the book “Abie to Yutan: Nebraska’s pictorial history” and an index to the marriage records of Lancaster County from 1866 to 1893. Sadler said the society wants to keep the collection local but has looked at locations outside of Lincoln and Lancaster County.
Reno: The Nevada Air National Guard Base has proposed replacing its 25-year-old fleet of big turboprop planes that can carry troops or cargo with newer aircraft that are better for their firefighting capabilities. The base in Reno has proposed replacing its eight C-130H aircraft with the newer C-130J model, KTVN-TV reports. “They have a lot of hours on them, and we have a difficult time coming up with maintenance parts at times in the supply chain,” said 152nd Airlift Wing Commander Col. Jacob L. Hammons. Multiple senators have sent a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett requesting the planes to help firefighting efforts throughout the western U.S. The newer aircraft model provides crews with better performance and safety, Hammons said. “You’re low to the ground, you’re at heavy weight, and you’re at slow air speeds, all in a constrained environment where there is fire present,” Hammons said.
Claremont: A deer stranded on a chunk of ice on a river that caused bystanders a lot of anxiety made it across the water, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said Tuesday. Col. Kevin Jordan said an officer saw deer tracks coming out of the Sugar River onto the bank in Claremont early Tuesday. “I don’t think people are aware that deer are pretty good swimmers,” Jordan said. For hours Monday, passers-by watched the deer sitting on the ice and wondered if she could be rescued. Jordan said a rescue attempt was risky, as it could stress out the deer, and an attempt to tranquilize the animal might startle her. “She’ll jump in the water, and we’ll lose her,” he said. Officers decided to wait the situation out, hoping that with the cover of night and fewer people around, the deer would feel safe enough to swim out on her own. As for how the deer got on the ice, Jordan said she likely was pursued, probably by coyotes.
Fort Lee: The state’s political scene needs, among other things, better sexual misconduct prevention training to stop widespread misogyny, according to nearly a dozen witnesses who spoke Tuesday at the first public meeting of a roving panel addressing the mistreatment of women. The Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics session held Tuesday in Fort Lee was the first of what are expected to be at least three public meetings. The panel is chaired by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and included Democratic Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, and 11 other women from across New Jersey politics. Weinberg set the panel up after a December report on NJ.com that cited dozens of instances of misconduct, including groping, unwanted advances and even assault. Tuesday’s hearing lasted over two hours and heard from nine women and one man.
Santa Fe: A plan to spend $100 million to fix dams throughout New Mexico – the state with the highest percentage of high-hazard dams in the country – passed its first test Tuesday amid an urgent call to upgrade the facilities over worries about the loss of life. The New Mexico Senate Conservation Committee voted 9-0 to move along a measure that would add funding to address the state’s dam infrastructure that advocates say is in dire need of repairs. Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, said the state had no choice but to get started soon on fixing dams or risk a tragedy in the future. He said the $100 million request would only cover about a third of the cost of fixing the state’s dams. Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, said the state should spend the money to fix its dams while it has revenue from an oil and gas windfall. “We may not have the money later,” Soules said.
Albany: As jail populations continue to plummet across the state, New York’s governor is proposing to allow counties to opt into regional lockups instead of solely operating their own facility. The legislation from Gov. Andrew Cuomo is one in a long list of policy proposals included within his state budget proposal, on which lawmakers continue to hold hearings this week. The governor’s office says the legislation will allow counties to lower costs by not maintaining their own separate facility. Newly released data from the state shows that New York’s total jail population plunged by 30% from January 2019 to last month. Most of that decline has come in the past few months, something reform advocates say is tied to the rollout of a state law that eliminates cash bail for the wide majority of misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes.
Raleigh: The fate of a Confederate statue torn down by protesters was thrown back into uncertainty Wednesday when a judge overturned a settlement by the University of North Carolina’s governing board that gave the monument to a Confederate heritage group along with money to preserve it. Judge Allen Baddour ruled in Orange County court that the Sons of Confederate Veterans didn’t have standing to bring the lawsuit that led to the hastily arranged deal that gave them possession of the statue known as Silent Sam, along with $2.5 million to maintain it. He vacated the settlement and dismissed the underlying lawsuit brought by the SCV. Critics had questioned how the deal was quietly struck between the Confederate group and the UNC Board of Governors in a way that allowed the lawsuit and settlement to be filed in quick succession and then approved by Baddour just before Thanksgiving.
Bismarck: The U.S. Commercial Service says that excluding oil, the state exported more than $2.2 billion worth of products last year, which is nearly an 11% decrease from 2018. The state’s export decline was led by soybeans and machinery, including farm implements. Soybean exports decreased 55% between 2018 and 2019. Data shows North Dakota exported about $30 million worth of soybeans in 2019, down from $66.9 million the year before. The value of machinery dropped from $652 million to $488 million, a 25% decrease. Some exports of crops saw an increase, including the state’s durum, wheat and corn. Crude oil, the state’s largest export, made up about 67% of North Dakota’s in total exports in 2019, down slightly from 2018.
Columbus: A fiscal analyst has warned lawmakers that a proposal to make it harder to raise the state income tax could harm Ohio’s bond rating. At issue is a proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a supermajority requirement in both chambers for the General Assembly to raise such taxes. States with similar supermajority requirements have seen their credit ratings lowered, Zach Schiller, research director at the nonpartisan organization Ohio Policy Matters, told the Senate Ways and Means Committee Tuesday, according to Gongwer News Service. “It would constrain the state’s ability to fund critical programs, limit policymakers’ options during recessions and undermine the democratic process,” Schiller said. Lower bond ratings can affect the rates at which governments can borrow money, among other things.
Oklahoma City: Gov. Kevin Stitt and Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell unveiled the state’s new brand Wednesday after a monthslong creative process that started last summer. The colorful new logo and tagline that implores people to imagine all of the state’s possibilities will appear on state agency websites, tourism efforts and new “Welcome to Oklahoma” signs. In future years, the logo also may appear on license plates. A handful of new welcome signs at various entry points to the state will be installed starting Thursday. The colorful elements of the logo, inspired by nature, form a circle intended to highlight Oklahoma as a hub at the center of America. The tagline “Imagine that,” which also will be used on promotional materials, attempts to convey what makes Oklahoma unique as a state that defies expectations, provides opportunities and lets people dream about their potential, Pinnell said.
Portland: People seeking winter vistas of the north Oregon coast will need to find them elsewhere as Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach has been closed indefinitely. The park is closed south of the Indian Beach day-use area, after a large section of the Crescent Beach trail slid over the cliff, damaged the entrance road and disconnected the park’s main waterline over the weekend, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department said. The affected section of road is an old repair made of compacted gravel, damaged as the hillside beneath the road gave way. That same landslide also cut off all running water in the park. Visitors at Ecola on Sunday were all escorted out safely, officials said. The state parks department said visitors can still access the park’s Indian Beach day-use area via the Tillamook Head Trail but can’t travel farther south into the park.
Harrisburg: A court this week will consider a legal challenge by three transgender women to a two-decade-old state law that prohibits people who have committed serious felonies from ever changing their names. Commonwealth Court will hear oral arguments Thursday in the lawsuit brought by plaintiffs who live as women but are unable to change their masculine first names because of a 1998 state law designed to prevent fraud. Pennsylvania law requires anyone convicted of a felony to wait at least two years after completion of their sentence to apply for a name change, and those convicted of certain more serious felonies are permanently barred from changing their names. People have a fundamental right to control their own names, and that can’t be overridden by a legal presumption that felons are engaging in fraud when they seek a name change, the women’s lawyers wrote in a court filing in May.
Providence: Most of the state’s municipalities have websites that do not use the domain name for government entities, according to a WJAR-TV report. The television station reviewed websites for Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities and found that 29 of them use a domain name that does not end in .gov. Cybersecurity experts recommend using .gov for security and so that residents know they are on a legitimate government website. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, when told of the findings, said she would contact the 29 municipalities and offer federal funding that has been allocated to Rhode Island to make the switch. She said it’s a good investment because of the risk of cyberattacks. The Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns said municipalities would welcome the opportunity to make their websites and networks more secure, especially if the program helps defer costs.
Columbia: Gov. Henry McMaster tapped a retired U.S. Army major general Tuesday to be his second choice to run the state’s new Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Maj. Gen. William Grimsley of Beaufort came highly recommended before McMaster chose state Rep. Bobby Cox to lead the agency in December. So after Cox was found ineligible under a state law preventing a lawmaker to run an agency created during his term, the governor said Grimsley was an easy second choice. Grimsley, 62, served in the Army for 33 years, finishing his military career as senior commander at Fort Hood, Texas, and chief of staff of the United States Strategic Command. Grimsley is currently president of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Foundation and a coach and trainer at strategic planning firm Broomfield Creek.
Pierre: Native American groups opposed to the Keystone XL oil pipeline told state lawmakers Wednesday that Gov. Kristi Noem’s plan to restore criminal penalties for encouraging riots would result in peaceful protesters being silenced. The Republican governor proposed updates to the so-called riot-boosting laws after a judge struck down efforts last year to allow the state and counties to prosecute disruptive demonstrations against the pipeline. Several Indian tribes in the state opposed the bill, putting a strain on the governor’s relationship with the tribes. The new proposal sailed through a House committee on Wednesday, as Native American groups testified, prayed and protested at the Capitol. Lester Thompson, chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, said the First Amendment already protects a person’s to protest, and the law would put protesters in a defensive position, vulnerable to laws that do not make it clear what constitutes violence during a riot. “It could be me raising my fist,” said Derrick Marks, a committee member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. “Is that considered riot boosting? Is that considered violence?”
Nashville: A proposal to include feminine hygiene products during the state’s annual sales-tax holiday faced resistance Tuesday from lawmakers concerned about the lack of limit on such purchases. The legislation is the latest evolution of a push to eliminate the so-called tampon tax on items such as tampons and menstrual pads. The bill would allow these products to be tax-free during Tennessee’s three day weekend when certain goods – ranging from $1,500 computers to $100 clothing items – can be purchased tax-free. The weekend is held the last Friday in July, when most families are preparing for the new school year. Republicans inside the GOP-dominant Statehouse have pushed back against proposals to remove the “tampon tax.” “I would think since it’s a sales tax holiday, there’s really no limit on the number of items anybody can purchase,” said Sen. Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald. “I don’t know how you would limit the number of items someone could purchase.”
El Paso: Lawyers for the suspect in a shooting at a Walmart that left 22 people dead waived a federal bond hearing and the reading of the indictment Wednesday, as survivors of the attack teared up and consoled one another. Patrick Crusius, of Allen, Texas, is already being held without bond on state charges. His attorneys waived a reading of his 90-count federal indictment in which he was charged with hate crimes in the shooting, which targeted Latinos in the border city of El Paso. He has also been charged with capital murder under Texas state law. Attorney David Lane asked a federal judge to waive a bond hearing for Crusius, 21, who is already being held without bond on the state charges under tight security at the El Paso County jail. Crusius stood silently by Lane and showed no emotion as his attorney took questions from a federal judge.
Salt Lake City: State lawmakers say they won’t consider proposals that could censure or recall U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney following his vote to convict in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson said the GOP caucus decided not to advance either proposal following a “robust debate” behind closed doors. Instead, Wilson will be presenting a citation thanking the president for his administration’s work on issues “critical to Utah.” The citation will also urge Congress to put the contentious process behind them. Utah Senate leaders have already signaled support for that ide, but little appetite for publicly rebuking Romney. Romney returned to Utah the day after his vote, which set off a wave of national GOP anger, to explain his decision to legislative leaders. That seemed to mollify some concerns from lawmakers, one of him had introduced a resolution to publicly rebuke him.
Montpelier: Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed a bill that would have increased the state’s minimum wage. In a message sent to lawmakers, the Republican governor said raising the minimum wage to $12.55 an hour by 2022 from the current $10.96 could end up decreasing employee hours and increasing the costs of goods and services. “I believe this legislation would end up hurting the very people it aims to help,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office. When the minimum wage bill passed the House, it did not have enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto. State Sen. Tim Ashe, a Democrat and progressive who supported the increase, said the governor’s decision “wiped out nearly $5,000 in income” for Vermonters struggling to get by. “Make no mistake, this is a battle between the Governor and the tens of thousands of Vermonters who don’t seem to fit into his hollow affordability slogan,” Ashe said in a statement.
Richmond: The state House and Senate passed sweeping energy legislation Tuesday that would overhaul how utilities generate electricity and, supporters say, move the state from the back of the pack to the forefront of renewable energy policy in the United States. Critics, though, warned that the legislation, drafted privately by a group that included industry representatives and environmental advocates, strips state regulators of some oversight and leaves ratepayers on the hook for what could be excessive costs. The measure, called the Clean Economy Act, lays out a plan to get Virginia to 100% renewable generation. The House version would demand that goal be met by 2045, and the Senate’s version sets a deadline of 2050, in line with a goal Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam set in an executive order in September.
Olympia: The state House has passed a measure that would ban race-based discrimination against hair texture and hairstyles. The measure passed on a bipartisan 87-10 vote Wednesday and heads to the Senate for consideration. If passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, Washington would join three other states with such a ban: California, New York and New Jersey. The bill amends the Washington Law Against Discrimination so that the term “race” includes traits historically associated or perceived to be associated with race, including hairstyles like afros, braids, locks and twists. Under the measure, people could file claims with the state’s Human Rights Commission if they believe they were discriminated against because of their hair.
Charleston: Educators would have to teach students about suicide prevention under a bill passed Wednesday by the state Senate. Lawmakers voted 33-0 to approve the bill, which would require that teachers, students and other school officials get training on suicide prevention and awareness. Sen. Ryan Weld, a Brooke County Republican, sponsored the measure and described a “grim” set of statistics on the rising rates of youth suicide. Figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show suicide was the eighth leading cause of death in West Virginia in 2017, the most recently available data. Nationally, suicide was the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 24. The proposal now moves to the House of Delegates for consideration.
Madison: The state Assembly approved a bill Tuesday that would make bestiality a felony. Having sex with an animal is a misdemeanor under current law. The bill would create a new crime punishable by up to 121/2 years in prison. Sentences would vary depending on the circumstances, such as whether the animal dies and whether a child is present or coerced into sex with an animal. Convicts would have to register as sex offenders. The measure’s author, Republican Sen. Andre Jacque, introduced the same bill last legislative session after a Town of Eaton man was convicted of molesting a horse. The Assembly passed the bill, but it died in the Senate. This time around, the Senate approved the bill on a voice vote in October with no debate. The Assembly passed it on a voice vote late Tuesday evening, also with no debate. The measure goes next to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ desk.
Jackson: State officials plan a series of public meetings to help them determine how to protect the last bighorn sheep in the Teton Range. They’re seeking recommendations from the public on an issue that could lead to closing off more areas in western Wyoming to backcountry skiing. Research suggests backcountry skiing displaces sheep from some of their best habitat, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reports. Bighorn sheep used to be abundant in the Tetons but now number only about 100. They’re divided into two subpopulations that don’t mingle. Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife biologist Aly Courtemanch says the agency seeks specific recommendations from the public on how to help the sheep. The public meetings will be held in February, March and April.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports