Montgomery: A lawmaker fed up with her colleagues’ attempts to outlaw abortion has filed legislation to require all men over 50 to get vasectomies. Democratic Rep. Rolanda Hollis said Friday that she introduced the bill to send “the message that men should not be legislating what women do with their bodies.” Alabama lawmakers last year approved a ban on abortion unless the woman’s life was in danger. A federal judge blocked the law from taking effect while a legal challenge plays out in court. Hollis said doctors, not legislators, are the ones to be consulted about surgery, medications and making the “incredibly difficult decisions” related to personal reproductive rights. Her bill suggests the state require a man to get a vasectomy within one month of turning 50 or after the birth of his third child. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that forced sterilization is unconstitutional.
Anchorage: Volunteers slung bales of hay onto a table Thursday, where they were swiftly stuffed inside blue plastic bags, twirled and shut with twist ties before being dragged off to waiting pallets. Their efforts will help ensure the canine participants in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race have someplace warm and dry to bed down when their mushers stop along the 1,000-mile trail between Anchorage and Nome. The so-called straw drop is the first volunteer event of the Iditarod race, says Mark Nordman, the race director and marshal. More events follow this week, including people helping prepare shipments of food for both the dogs and the mushers to the checkpoints. The race over treacherous Alaska terrain – including two mountain ranges, the frozen Yukon River and the ice-covered Bering Sea – starts March 7 in Anchorage with the fan-friendly ceremonial start. The actual race begins the next day in Willow, about 50 miles north. The winner is expected in the old Gold Rush town of Nome, on the Bering Sea coast, about 10 or 11 days later.
Lake Havasu City: Officials plan to end scheduled closures of London Bridge for special events, saying they don’t want to block vehicle travel between an island and the rest of the western Arizona city along the Colorado River. City officials cited safety reasons and residents’ concerns about closures that typically have lasted two or three hours, Today’s News-Herald reports. Events that have required bridge closures include the annual Line Dance on the London Bridge; Camaros on the Bridge; and, infrequently, Corvettes on the Bridge. City Manager Jess Knudson says officials were grateful “for all the events that have been on the bridge in the past. But the city has decided to go a different direction now.” Lake Havasu City founder Robert McCulloch purchased the stone bridge in the late 1960s and had it transported by ship and truck from London in pieces.
Little Rock: A federal appeals court panel in Washington upheld a lower court’s decision Friday that blocked the Trump administration’s work requirements for Medicaid recipients. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found Arkansas’ work requirements for Medicaid recipients to be “arbitrary and capricious.” About 18,000 people in the state lost benefits because of the work requirements, but it wasn’t clear how many obtained coverage elsewhere. “In short, we agree with the district court that the alternative objectives of better health outcomes and beneficiary independence are not consistent with Medicaid,” the opinion said. “The text of the statute includes one primary purpose, which is providing health care coverage without any restriction geared to healthy outcomes, financial independence or transition to commercial coverage.” Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he’s hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court will review the case.
San Diego: A Southern California aquarium has successfully bred the rare weedy sea dragon, the lesser-known cousin of the sea horse that resembles seaweed when floating. San Diego’s Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography said in a news release that two weedy sea dragons hatched last week, making the aquarium one of the few in the world to successfully breed the unusual fish. The babies with leafy appendages are less than an inch long and have eaten their first meal of tiny shrimp. The aquarium is keeping the delicate creatures out of public view for now. The hatchlings come less than a year after the aquarium at the University of California, San Diego built what is believed to be one of the world’s largest habitats for the sea dragons, whose native populations off Australia are threatened by pollution, warming oceans and the illegal pet and alternative medicine trades.
Denver: Research shows gun sales in the state have dropped for the third consecutive year, and experts suspect a correlation to which political party is leading the country. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation conducted 335,370 backgrounds checks in 2019, a 1.4% decrease compared to the year before, the Denver Post reports. The state does not track the number of firearms sold, so background checks performed ahead of gun sales are used to calculate totals instead, department officials say. Department data has shown about 98% of background checks were approved, and denials were due to assault or drug records by potential gun buyers. Data suggests sales tend to increase under Democratic presidents and decrease under Republican leadership, experts say. “When Obama was elected, sure enough gun sales went up,” says Eileen McCarron, president of Colorado Ceasefire Legislative Action, a group that advocates against gun violence. “But they didn’t just spike – they went up and stayed up.”
Hartford: State officials have announced drug overdose deaths increased by nearly 20% last year. Exactly 1,200 people died of some sort of drug overdose in the state in 2019, an increase mostly attributed to the continued rise in fentanyl use, the Hartford Courant reports. “Fentanyl is still increasing,” Chief State Medical Examiner Robert Gill said. “If we had a magic wand and could make all the fentanyl disappear, there is no doubt that we would see a considerable decline in accidental drug intoxication deaths in Connecticut.” The number of overdose deaths had dropped for the first time in 2018 to 1,017, Gill said. Last year marked the first time the state reached the 1,200 death milestone. A spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont said that state agencies must continue to work together and that perhaps federal funding is needed.
Wilmington: A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a state prison inmate who complained about running out of toilet paper. The judge ruled Thursday that the lawsuit by Isaac Pierce was frivolous. The ruling contains references to several other court decisions regarding toilet paper, or the lack of it, in prisons. Those rulings generally concluded that, while a temporary lack of toilet paper might be unpleasant, it does not violate an inmate’s rights or, in the words of one court, does not present a question of “constitutional magnitude.” The lawsuit was filed last year by Pierce and two cellmates, who were subsequently dismissed from the case. They alleged they were forced to use newspapers after they were denied more toilet paper for two and a half days in August 2019.
District of Columbia
Washington: A couple’s new cannabis delivery service took some getting creative to keep it legal, WUSA-TV reports. District Derp co-owner Chris says because pot can be gifted but not sold in the district, he and his partner consulted a team of legal experts to make sure the business – which primarily sells their dog’s original artwork, combined with a cannabis gift – always operated above board. “When it came to navigating the law, our legal team just kind of advised us, do what you do best,” Chris said. “Make your art, sell your art, and provide the great cannabis experience that you can on the side.” Now, their business model is equal parts of sausage meat and patience. “Sudo is a very food-driven dog,” Chris says of the artist. Sudo is an Alaskan Klee Kai, a breed known for its smarts. District Derp co-owner Anais says it took about a month to unleash Sudo’s artistic skills.
Miami: A pack of peacocks that has wreaked havoc on a neighborhood will be relocated after city commissioners voted Thursday night to side with residents and agreed to have the birds taken away. It was a big win for many residents who have complained that the birds have taken control of a Coconut Grove neighborhood, mating into the night, pooping in large piles, and scratching cars as they travel in packs of 20 to 40 or more, the Miami Herald reports. Andrews Candela told commissioners before Thursday night’s vote that he once felt lucky to live in North Grove, but the massive infestation of peacocks has ruined the quality of life for him and his wife. “I don’t want to remain forgotten in a filthy, dirty peacock land as hostage to a group of birds,” Candela said. “I think that is more than unfair.” Commissioners unanimously agreed to amend the city’s charter to allow for trapping and removal of excess peacocks.
Atlanta: Election officials have loaded and shipped the last truckloads of new voting machines making their statewide debut in the March presidential primaries, getting the equipment to local election offices Friday barely two weeks before advance voting begins. Distributing 30,000 machines among 159 Georgia counties ahead of the primaries posed a big challenge for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. A federal judge last August ordered Georgia to retire its outdated, paperless system before any votes were cast in 2020, citing security concerns. Raffensperger’s office had just awarded a $103 million contract for the new machines when the judge ruled, increasing pressure to meet an already tight rollout schedule. Georgia will hold its presidential primaries March 24. But advance, in-person voting begins March 2.
Honolulu: An invasive bug was discovered feeding on avocado leaves across the state and was most recently found on Maui plants in retail outlets, entomologists said. The avocado lace bug was first discovered in Pearl City, Oahu, in December and was subsequently identified on Hawaii Island and Maui, the state Department of Agriculture said. Department officials have not confirmed the presence of the bug on Kauai. The infested Maui plants located in retail outlets were destroyed or treated, department officials said. It is unclear how the bug was introduced in Hawaii. The lace bug feeds on the leaves of avocado plants, extracting nutrients and gradually destroying the plants, experts said. The bug does not feed on the fruit itself. The bug causes green to yellowish blotches on the leaves, and damaged leaves become dry and may curl, drop prematurely and cause reduction in fruit yields.
Boise: The state has been awarded a grant to study how elk herds move through a northern Idaho migration corridor also used by grizzly bears and wolverines. The grant, announced by the U.S. Department of the Interior on Friday, is part of $3.2 million in funding for big game rangeland studies in 11 western states. Idaho’s research will focus on the McArthur Lake area, which serves as a link between the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains used by grizzly bears, wolverine and elk. Scientists will put GPS collars on 40 elk to monitor their movements over two years and then combine that data with information from a grid of 119 trail cameras. The findings will be used to map seasonal ranges, movement routes and stopover areas, according to the Interior Department.
Springfield: A new sculpture honoring the 16th U.S. president is coming to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Museum officials announced plans last week for the “Beacon of Endurance” piece, designed by B.J. Krivanek. He described the sculpture in a statement as standing 24 feet, 10 inches tall. Renderings of the piece show an obelisk, with a base inscribed with quotes from Lincoln and a stainless-steel upper portion inscribed with words describing Lincoln. Members of an advisory panel will weigh in on which words to include, and the museum also plans to take ideas from the public through social media. Officials plan to place the sculpture outside the museum. Renderings show that the piece includes projections of key words onto the southeast corner of the building’s exterior at night.
Indianapolis: A 60-day law license suspension is being recommended for the state’s attorney general after allegations that he grabbed the buttocks of a state legislator and inappropriately touched three other women during a party. The recommendation filed Friday with the state Supreme Court puts the Republican Curtis Hill’s ability to remain as state government’s top lawyer in jeopardy, as he must have a law license to hold the position. It wasn’t immediately clear how a temporary suspension would affect his status. Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby proposed the punishment in a report to the court, which will make the final decision in the professional misconduct case. Selby said his law license should not be automatically reinstated following the suspension. In her 36-page report, Selby wrote that Hill committed battery, and she “finds and concludes by clear and convincing evidence” that he violated rules of professional conduct.
Des Moines: A state court judge on Friday heard arguments on whether to dismiss a lawsuit challenging an Iowa law passed last year that would block Planned Parenthood of the Heartland from receiving federal grant money for sex education courses. Judge Paul Scott is considering whether to throw out the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa for Planned Parenthood. It challenges the law passed as a violation of free speech, due process and equal protection rights. Last May, Judge Joseph Seidlin temporarily halted enforcement of the law until the court could decide whether it’s constitutional. He concluded that Planned Parenthood is likely to succeed in its equal protection claim and that it has demonstrated significant harm through loss of funding.
Wichita: A significant drop in methamphetamine prices led to a nearly a 20% decline in burglary in the city last year, according to a police official. Thanks to the low price of meth, the theft of guns and other items from inside vehicles also was down from 2018 to 2019, Wichita Police Department Deputy Chief Jose Salcido told a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting. Meth now sells for $2,400 per pound, which is the lowest price in 20 years, Salcido said. “The market is saturated. There’s no incentive for criminals to go steal to finance their habits like in the past,” Salcido said. The latest available state data shows that the street value of meth is at $3,500 to $5,000 per pound, according to a 2018 Kansas Bureau of Investigation report. An ounce costs between $250 and $500. In 2014, meth prices were about three times as much at $13,000 to $15,000 for a pound and $800 to $1,200 for an ounce. In 2019, the city reported 255 stolen guns from vehicles, a 17.5% drop from the year prior. Theft of items from inside a car fell by 19% from 2018 to 2019.
Frankfort: Medical marijuana is getting a serious look in the Legislature. In another sign of momentum for the push to legalize cannabis for treatment of some medical conditions, House Speaker David Osborne said the bill could come up for a House vote as soon as this week. The measure cleared the House Judiciary Committee on a 17-1 vote Wednesday. One of its lead sponsors, Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, has predicted it would pass the House by a wide margin. House Republicans will discuss the measure internally to gauge support and develop a plan for it when the GOP-led Legislature reconvenes Tuesday, Osborne told reporters. The speaker praised the bill’s supporters for crafting a version that has drawn a lot of support. Supporters point to strong grassroots support for the legal use of medical cannabis for people battling chronic pain and certain debilitating medical conditions.
New Orleans: Fire trucks traditionally bring up the rear of the city’s Mardi Gras parades – but not this year. As Carnival season kicks into high gear, the first of the major parades, with marching bands and floats carrying masked riders, rolled Friday evening. Parades are scheduled almost daily through Mardi Gras – or Fat Tuesday – which falls on Feb. 25 this year. Fire trucks traditionally roll behind each parade in the city, signalling a procession’s end. But Mayor LaToya Cantrell and fire chief Tim McConnell confirmed at a news conference on Mardi Gras safety issues that the practice is being abandoned. Fire crews will still do safety inspections on floats before parades but will then return to their stations. McConnell said the change will mean more trucks are available when needed anywhere in the city. He and Cantrell said the move was not prompted by an ongoing labor dispute involving firefighters.
Belfast: Dozens of residents told the state they’re opposed to the building of a large salmon farm in this coastal city. The proposal from Norwegian-owned Nordic Aquafarms would create a $500 million salmon farm that uses land-based facilities to grow the fish for human consumption. Many Maine residents told the Maine Board of Environmental Protection during a Tuesday night hearing that they think the project is a bad fit for the community, the Bangor Daily News reports. The environmental protection board is visiting Belfast to review environmental permit applications that are needed for the project. Residents at the hearing raised concerns including that the environmental impact of the project would be too much for the community. Others said it was simply too large for Belfast. Nordic has characterized the project as a sustainable way to create jobs and meet demand for healthy seafood.
Annapolis: School construction funding would increase by $2.2 billion over five years under a measure approved by the House of Delegates on Friday. The House approved the measure, called the Built to Learn Act, on a bipartisan 128-6 vote, and it now goes to the Senate, whose leaders support it. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, also has expressed support. “I think it’s telling how important this bill is on both sides of the aisle,” said House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat. The measure enables the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $2.2 billion in revenue bonds. The money would be on top of about $400 million the state spends each year to build and repair schools. The debt on the bonds would be paid by $125 million annually over 30 years from casino revenue that goes to the state for education.
Boston: A traveling exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage is heading to the city. The exhibit presented by the American Bar Association will be on display at the John Joseph Moakley Law Library from Monday through Feb. 28. It’s titled “100 Years After the 19th Amendment: Their Legacy, and Our Future.” The exhibit was curated by the Library of Congress and includes photos and artifacts about the movement to give women the right to vote. Women’s right to vote was secured by the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.
Battle Creek: Officials at Binder Park Zoo are hoping its male snow leopard hooks up with a female snow leopard he was paired with through a breeding program that aims to give the threatened species a boost. The zoo recently introduced Victoria, a 2-year-old snow leopard who arrived in August from Omaha, Nebraska’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, with Raj, who’s been at the Binder Park Zoo since 2012. Until Victoria arrived, the 7-year-old Raj was the lone snow leopard in Battle Creek. Zoo officials are hoping the pair will mate and produce a litter of cubs. The big cats were matched through a Species Survival Program breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquarium to make sure they were genetically compatible. “They do have a ‘dating profile,’ so to speak, but it’s driven by science rather than romance,” says Leslie Walsh, manager of marketing and development for Binder Park Zoo.
St. Paul: Gov. Tim Walz and LGBTQ activists rallied at the Capitol on Friday to demand that the Republican-controlled state Senate pass a ban on “conversion therapy” for minors, a discredited practice that seeks to turn gay people straight. The proposal passed the Democratic-controlled House last year, but an effort to amend it onto a larger bill on the Senate floor by Sen. Scott Dibble failed late in the session. The Minneapolis Democrat, who is openly gay, said he plans to reintroduce it this year, though he acknowledged in an interview that enacting it will be an uphill fight. But he has an ally in the Democratic governor. Walz pointed out to a crowd of about 100 people in the Capitol rotunda that 19 other states have enacted conversion therapy bans. “The idea that this absolutely discredited, Byzantine, torturous way of telling our children they are not who they are has got to end and will end,” Walz said. The American Psychological Association says conversion therapy is not based in science and is harmful to mental health.
Jackson: A legendary rodeo clown who spent decades performing has died after the final performance of the 55th Annual Dixie National Rodeo and Livestock Show. Lecile Harris, 83, died in his sleep after the show Wednesday night in Jackson, according to a release from the Mississippi Fair Commission. Born in Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, Harris gained popularity after starring in the television show “Hee Haw,” as well as roles in other TV shows and movies. He was inducted into the Mississippi Rodeo Hall of Fame and the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association award for Clown of the Year five times. “All of us involved at the Dixie National are truly saddened,” Mississippi Fair Commission executive director Steve Hutton said in the news release. “We all send our love and wishes to Lecile’s family, friends, and adoring fans around the world.”
Cape Girardeau: A southeast Missouri peach grower was awarded $15 million in actual damages Friday in his lawsuit alleging the weedkiller dicamba severely damaged his orchards. Bill Bader, of Campbell, sued Bayer and BASF, alleging they were responsible for damage at Bader Farms, one of the largest peach farms in the state, which his attorneys argued would likely not survive repeated exposure to dicamba. Bader’s lawsuit is one of several filed against Bayer and BASF that blame the pesticide for damaging millions of acres of crops across the country. Farmers have been using dicamba for more than 50 years, but complaints increased after Monsanto – which was bought by Bader in 2018 – released dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans, leading to increased use of dicamba-based herbicides and more complaints about the chemical drifting onto farms that did not have resistant crops.
Missoula: Hunting regulations on wolf and elk near Yellowstone National Park have increased, wildlife officials say. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission tightened wolf hunting rules and reduced elk-hunting seasons, the Missoulian reports. The commission discussed proposals and allowed public comment on the regulations Thursday during its daylong meeting in Helena. Regulations included reducing wolf hunting quotas to one per person in each district near Yellowstone National Park and shortening elk shouldering seasons by a month in some districts in central Montana, commission officials said. Some public commenters have argued that wolf quotas should be one or none because the animals are crucial to the ecosystem, while opponents suggested increasing the quota to two. The commission also adopted elk shoulder seasons for several hunting districts covering west-central Montana, agency officials said.
Lincoln: Researchers at the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this week will discuss in a lecture the new research on black homesteaders in the Great Plains. The Paul A. Olson Great Plains Lecture is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the center in Lincoln. Although few in comparison to the multitudes of white settlers, black people also carved out lives for themselves on homesteads. About 70% of them settled in clusters or “colonies,” the center said in a new release, including one in DeWitty, Nebraska. The free public talk is part of a lecture series from the Center for Great Plains Studies on various Great Plains topics. More information is available online.
Las Vegas: Workers have completed the first of two underground tunnels for a system to whisk passengers between exhibit halls at an expanded Las Vegas Convention Center, tourism and project officials said Friday. It took about three months, and officials say the drilling machine now will be disassembled, repositioned, reassembled and restarted for the second tunnel. The $52.5 million people-mover is being built by billionaire Elon Musk’s company The Boring Co. It is expected to be completed by the end of the year and is designed to offer conventioneers an approximately one-minute trip in self-driving electric vehicles between three exhibit hall and parking stations. The system is being called key to an ongoing, $1.5 billion convention center expansion and renovation that includes adding a three-story, 1.4 million-square-foot building across the street from the existing single-story convention center.
Concord: Cats are closer to achieving equal footing with dogs in the state, at least when it comes to their untimely demise. House lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill that would require anyone who hits a cat with a vehicle to notify police or the animal’s owner as soon as possible. Such notification already is required when it comes to canine collisions. The bill now goes to the Senate, but three other bills related to killing animals won’t live on. The House voted against a measure that would have repealed a prohibition on hunting with ferrets, another that would have created a safari hunting license for those taking elk and boar at a private game reserve, and a third that would have lowered the bar for killing animals that damage crops or other property. Current law allows someone to kill wild animals that cause “actual and substantial” damage. The failed bill would have removed the “and substantial” language.
Morris County: A bowhunting organization says a 700-pound bear shot in the state last fall has set a world record as the largest black bear killed with a bow and arrow in North America. The Pope and Young Club, a bowhunting and conservation organization, said the bear killed Oct. in Morris County toppled a record set in 1993 by a hunter in California. “It has been an inspiring journey, to say the least,” hunter Jeff Melillo said in a statement quoted by the organization. “New Jersey, my home state, has its first-ever world record animal!” Club records director Eli Randall said the animal’s skull measured over 23 inches and had a bone structure that he called “the heaviest I had ever seen.” Melillo recalled an Outdoor Life article suggesting that that a world record black bear would likely come from New Jersey one day. The state’s black bear hunt has generated controversy in recent years, with Gov. Phil Murphy vowing during his campaign to seek an end to it and in 2018 instituting a ban on hunting bears on state lands. The New Jersey Sierra Club is still seeking a complete ban.
Albuquerque: State lawmakers are considering setting aside $20 million that could be used as seed money as water managers, municipalities and farmers scramble to find ways to reduce groundwater pumping that is at the center of a high-stakes legal battle. The fight over the Rio Grande has pitted Texas against New Mexico as demands increase and drought persists. It will be up to a special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to eventually decide how New Mexico goes about ensuring enough of the Rio Grande flows south to users in Texas and Mexico. Right now, the system is out of balance, and Texas is arguing that New Mexico should be forced to reduce its pumping by as much as 60%. That would be equivalent to more than half of the water supplied annually to residents in Albuquerque, the state’s largest city. Such a reduction would be disastrous for users in southern New Mexico, says John D’Antonio, New Mexico’s top water engineer.
Albany: The state is courting winter tourists with a fee-free weekend for out-of-state snowmobilers. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the plan Sunday at Saranac Lake. Fees will be waived March 14 and 15 for Canadian and other out-of-state visitors with registered, insured vehicles. New York State Snowmobile Association President Rosanne Warner says a lack of snow has made it tough to get the state’s more than 10,000 miles of trails ready this season. The state has committed $4.2 million in grants for trail maintenance and grooming, funded by snowmobile registration fees. Registration is $100 a year, or $45 with membership in a snowmobile club. Cuomo’s office says winter tourism generates nearly $14.4 billion in direct visitor spending.
Raleigh: The state schools superintendent has been accused of using a database to send hundreds of thousands of text messages and emails for political gain. The Raleigh News & Observer reports multiple ethics complaints have been filed against State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson. Johnson sent 540,000 text messages and 800,000 email messages that he accessed from a state database to voice his opposition to the “Common Core” educational standards. Johnson’s opposition to the standards is a major part of his campaign for lieutenant governor. The complaints allege that the messages were designed for Johnson’s personal gain and were issued at the start of early voting before next month’s primary. Johnson is in a crowded field of Republicans running for lieutenant governor.
Bismarck: State officials say passenger boardings at the state’s eight commercial service airports during January were up nearly 12% over the same month in 2019. Nearly 100,300 people boarded planes in Bismarck, Devils Lake, Dickinson, Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Minot and Williston during the month, according to the state Aeronautics Commission. All airports saw an increase in boardings except Grand Forks. Devils Lake had the largest increase at 28.8%, followed by Fargo at $17.9%. Dickinson had an increase of 13.5%, followed by Bismarck at 11.8%, Minot at 9% Williston at 5.4% and Jamestown at 3.9%.
Columbus: Gov. Mike DeWine is backing legislation that makes distracted driving reason enough to pull someone over. The bipartisan bill in the Ohio Senate addresses writing, sending or looking at texts, watching or recording photos or videos, or livestreaming while handling an electronic device, among other activities. The legislation would make those a primary offense, meaning police don’t need another reason first – such as speeding – to pull drivers over. The bill would also increase fines for people who are caught regularly using electronic devices while driving. Exemptions include using a phone to place an emergency call or using hands-free functions to talk on the phone or dictate texts. DeWine said Thursday that it’s time for a cultural recognition that distracted driving is just as bad as driving while drunk. Traffic deaths on Ohio roads have increased in five of the past six years.
Oklahoma City: More inmates have been released under a law that directs a state board to review sentences of those in prison for crimes that would not be considered felonies if charged today. The law, which took effect in November, gives the state Pardon and Parole Board authority to establish an accelerated, single stage docket to review sentences, The Oklahoman reports. Under Oklahoma’s expedited commutation docket, 124 inmates, 83 men and 41 women, were released Thursday. Elizabeth Bijelic, 28, is one of those inmates. She was reunited with her 2-month-old daughter, to whom she said she gave birth while serving a three-year sentence for drug possession. “It’s amazing,” Bijelic said. “I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. I’m very blessed to be out. I’m not saying I didn’t need to be sat down for a minute, but it was excessive.” More than 450 inmates were released in November.
Portland: Concordia University students walked out of their classes Thursday in protest of the Board of Regents’ recent decision to close the 115-year-old institution this year. The private Lutheran university’s board voted last Friday to cease operations and sell Concordia’s 24-acre campus in Northeast Portland. Concordia enrolls about 5,700 students, but sources estimate only about 1,200 of them attend classes on campus. Most of the students study remotely through Concordia’s online classes. Students spoke on campus Thursday morning outside the president’s residence holding signs asking “Where did my money go?” “Almost graduated” and “CU in court,” The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. In a poster calling for the walkout, students outlined a list of demands targeted at the Board of Regents: clear financial records, questions answered regarding the sudden closure, and a support plan for students, staff, faculty and the surrounding community.
Harrisburg: A funeral director has been suspended indefinitely after four decomposing bodies were found at his funeral home. Andrew Scheid agreed to the indefinite license suspension before a scheduled appearance Friday before the State Board of Funeral Directors. The suspension means he won’t be able to direct or supervise funerals at his locations in Lancaster and in Manor Township, outside Millersville. At the request of Lancaster County prosecutors, the coroner’s office went to Scheid’s Manor Township location last month and found the decomposing remains in a preparation area, according to WHTM. None of the bodies had been refrigerated or embalmed. One body had been there 17 days, while another was there for 12, according to a petition for suspension. No criminal charges have been filed.
Providence: The state appears poised to raise its minimum wage. The House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday night to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by Oct. 1. The hourly rate is currently set at $10.50. The state Senate approved a bill last week to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour on Oct. 1, and Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has said she wants to raise the minimum wage. Rhode Island’s minimum wage has been $10.50 since Jan. 1, 2019, which is lower than the hourly rates in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut. Some Republicans voted against the bill, saying they were worried that the steadily rising wage threatens to hurt employers and could lead to job losses, The Providence Journal reports. Some Democrats supported the bill even though they had wanted a higher raise.
Columbia: Gov. Henry McMaster is now the oldest person ever to hold that office in the Palmetto State. McMaster turned 72 years and 262 days old Thursday, one day older than James Byrnes when he left office in January 1955. “I’m glad to be living,” the Republican governor told The Post and Courier of Charleston after reaching the milestone. McMaster is only the third governor to serve into his 70s among South Carolina’s 117 chief executives dating back to 1670. And McMaster could serve a lot longer. He has given no indication he won’t run for reelection in 2022, and if he won, his term would end in January 2027, when he would be 79. Longevity runs in McMaster’s family. His father retired from his law firm at 99 after trying his final case at age 93. McMaster is still younger than President Donald Trump, who is 73. And he is only the nation’s fourth-oldest current governor.
Rapid City: Police say complaints against the city’s officers in 2019 were the lowest in nine years. Citizens filed 12 complaints last year compared to a high of 56 in 2015 and an average of 35 between 2011 and 2019, the Rapid City Journal reports. Last year also marked the debut of equipping officers with body cameras, allowing the department to use the footage to help investigate the complaints. The 12 complaints were the result of 142,186 calls for service and 8,243 arrests. “The high volume of work and the low number of complaints is a positive reflection of the quality of employees who serve you as well as the training they receive,” Police Chief Karl Jegeris wrote in the report. Jegeris said the department takes the complaints seriously, and when “we are wrong, we admit it, and we take measures to improve our ability to provide service to citizens.”
Nashville: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing $9 million on high-speed broadband internet projects in 10 rural Tennessee counties. USDA officials said in a statement Thursday that the broadband projects will create or improve high speed internet connectivity in more than 3,700 households and more than 70 businesses and farms. Projects are planned in Cumberland, Houston, Henry, Maury, Montgomery, Rutherford, Smith, Stewart, Williamson and Wilson counties. Rural areas around the country have been clamoring for more high-speed internet access for use in schools, libraries, homes and businesses such as farms. Funds come from the federal ReConnect Pilot Program, which provides loans and grants to help build broadband infrastructure in rural parts of the country.
Falfurrias: Authorities are searching for vandals who damaged a south Texas shrine to faith healer Don Pedrito Jaramillo. The damage to the shrine to Don Pedrito Jaramillo in Falfurrias, about 150 miles south of San Antonio, was reported Friday, according to Brooks County Sheriff Urbino “Benny” Martinez. “We’re really working hard on it because I think it’s really unfortunate that that would happen to Don Pedrito,” Martinez told the San Antonio Express-News. “It’s been there for years and years.” Jaramillo was known as “the healer of Los Olmos,” for using natural remedies to heal the sick. He came to the Los Olmos Ranch near Falfurrias in the early 1880s and died in 1907. The shrine began at his burial site and received a Texas Historical Marker in 1971. Falfurrias City Administrator Melissa Landin said damage to crosses and statues of Jaramillo may be irreparable.
Salt Lake City: Authorities are investigating an attack on a black missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a possible hate crime. Two men were arrested Thursday on suspicion of assault, and charging documents show a hate crime designation is under consideration. The NAACP expressed outrage about what allegedly happened, and church officials said they are concerned about the incident. The victim and his missionary companion were preparing to go to a house of people they were going to teach Jan. 28 in the central Utah city of Payson when they encountered six people wearing dark hoodies, charging documents show. The assailants shouted a racial slur at the victim, who is Panamian, and told him to get out of their “hood,” he told police. They threw his cellphone on the ground, threatened his mother and called him a “church boy” before punching him in the head and face and kicking him, the document shows.
Montpelier: The Vermont Land Trust is giving a $5,000 award to a farmer who exemplifies land stewardship, giving back and entrepreneurial farming. The deadline for applications for the Eric Rozendaal Memorial Award is June 30, the Bennington Banner reports. Rozendaal, who died in 2018 at age 51, was a pioneer in the farm-to-plate movement in Vermont and one of the first to sell directly to restaurants, stores and hospitals, the Land Trust said. He also enhanced his farm’s soil, built relationships with customers and farm workers, and shared his knowledge with others, the group said. His family and friends raised money to create the award in his honor. The award will be given out each year through 2028. Corie Pierce of Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne and South Burlington was the first recipient of the award last year.
Richmond: State officials announced plans Friday to create new habitat for about 25,000 seabirds after their nesting grounds were paved for a state tunnel expansion project – a case that highlighted weakened protections for birds across the U.S. under President Donald Trump. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said the state was acting because of the Trump administration’s new interpretation of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act that says accidental bird deaths are not enforceable under the century-old law. “Had this federal policy remained unchanged, it would have protected the birds on South Island from harm,” Northam’s office said in a statement. The announcement comes after the Virginia Department of Transportation earlier this month confirmed to The Virginian-Pilot the extent of the damage to the decades-old nesting site.
Olympia: The state Senate on Friday passed a data privacy measure that would give consumers the right to manage how information held by private companies is used. The measure, called the Washington Privacy Act, passed on a bipartisan 46-1 vote and now heads to the House for consideration. It would require businesses or other entities that control or process the identifiable data of more than 100,000 people to allow consumers to find out what data is stored about them, correct errors or request deletion. It would also allow people the right to opt out of their data being used for the purposes of targeted advertising and to opt out of the sale of their personal data. The measure would also set rules for facial recognition technology for companies. The measure has been modeled on European rules and protections put in place in California.
Charleston: Gov. Jim Justice on Friday offered a conditional apology for calling a high school girls’ basketball team “thugs,” saying he didn’t know the remarks would cause any trouble. Justice has drawn criticism for using the term after a scuffle broke out at a heated Tuesday night game between Greenbrier East High School, where he coaches, and Woodrow Wilson High School. The team’s coaches are black, as are some of the players. His comments spread quickly on social media and at the Capitol, with one lawmaker, Del. Mike Pushkin, tweeting that the governor was making “thinly veiled racial slurs.” On Wednesday, the Republican governor defended himself, issuing a statement that said: “Anyone that would accuse me of making a racial slur is totally absurd.” Then on Friday, in an interview with local ABC affiliate WCHS-TV, Justice said he was sorry if he hurt any feelings, while noting others who’ve used the word.
Madison: The Wisconsin Claims Board on Friday awarded $25,000 to a U.S. Navy veteran who spent 26 years behind bars for a homicide he didn’t commit. Derrick Sanders, now 48, argued he was wrongfully convicted in the fatal shooting of Jason Bowie in Milwaukee in 1992. Prosecutors dropped the charges against him in 2018 after a circuit judge threw out his conviction. “The Board concludes and finds that the evidence is clear and convincing that Sanders was innocent of the charge discussed herein,” the decision said. Sanders had asked the board for $5.7 million, but state law limits compensation for wrongful convictions to $25,000. Sanders’ current attorney, Rex Anderegg, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
Cheyenne: Veterans and lawmakers including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, rallied in support of a bill in Wyoming that would restrict combat deployment of National Guard troops. The bill failed an initial vote, 35-22, falling far short of the two-thirds majority needed for introduction in the Wyoming House. Under the Defend the Guard Act, Wyoming troops and airmen could only be sent to combat with congressional authorization specifically granted by the Constitution, such as declaration of war. “We now have kids going to war who were born after 9/11. I don’t think one generation should bind another generation in war,” Paul told a small crowd Friday at the Wyoming Capitol. Opponents of such measures in other states have pointed out there’s already a potential check on combat deployments of National Guard troops – they must be approved by a governor. Lawmakers defeated the bill on introduction without debate later Friday.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports