Grasshopper invasion, Curls for Cancer, wildfire tourism: News from around our 50 states
Kieran Moise, 17, braces to have six years of hair growth cut off May 29 in Huntsville, Ala. Moise launched a fundraiser through St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in memory of classmate Josh Quist, who died from cancer. As of Thursday, “Kieran’s Curls for Cancer” had raised about $35,000. (Photo: Courtesy of Gregg Gelmis via AP)
Huntsville: Kieran Moise’s afro, at 19 inches long, was a huge part of his personality. But after six years of growth, the 17-year-old bound for the U.S. Air Force Academy knew he and his hair would soon be parted. So in memory of a friend who died from cancer, he cut it off and donated it to the nonprofit Children With Hair Loss, which provides human hair replacements to children and teenagers facing medically related hair loss due to cancer treatments, alopecia and burns. “I knew I wanted to send a message,” he said. He did – and many responded. Moise printed out flyers and spread the word on social media for an event held by the nonprofit at a brewery in Huntsville. There, family, friends, and even some of his elementary and middle school teachers took turns cutting his hair in braids. His story was widely shared online. “It’s good to see good news and see … that people are still doing good things because all it does is inspire others,” he said. “That’s really what I want to come out of this: I want other people to (say), ‘Hey, if he’s doing this, so can I.’ ” Moise also launched a fundraiser through St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which had helped his late classmate, Josh Quist, who died when they were in middle school. Initially, Moise hoped he could raise $19,000, or $1,000 per inch of hair. “Kieran’s Curls for Cancer” has exceeded expectations and has already raised nearly $35,000 for St. Jude.
The Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Malaspina and Amak Towing tugboat Jennie B. share a mooring in Ketchikan, Alaska. (Photo: Dustin Safranek/Ketchikan Daily News via AP)
Juneau: The state is trying to dispose of a 58-year-old ferry and even has offered to give it to the government of the Philippines for free. Gov. Mike Dunleavy offered to give the Malaspina ferry away in a letter last month to the Philippines consul general in San Francisco, CoastAlaska reports. “This vessel is surplus to our fleet, is in need of some repairs, but does have some service life left,” according to Dunleavy’s letter dated May 20 and obtained by the Alaska Public Media in a routine public records request for the governor’s correspondence. “We would be willing to provide the vessel to the Philippine government or to a private ferry company in the Philippines free of charge,” the letter says. The Malaspina, built in 1963, last sailed in 2019. Instead of paying at least $16 million in needed steel work, the state put the ferry into cold storage. The state Department of Transportation has estimated it would cost up to $45 million to overhaul the ferry, including installing new engines. The state is paying about $450,000 a year to keep it in storage. Alaska Marine Highway System General Manager John Falvey said there was only tepid interest in buying the ferry, matching the struggles the state experienced in disposing of three other ferries recently. One went to a scrap yard in India, and two others were sold to a Spanish ferry company.
Tucson: The University of Arizona has been asked to investigate failures involving its animal research programs that led to the deaths of two sheep and caused it to temporarily halt surgical procedures on mice. In a letter to University President Robert Robbins, the animal rights organization Stop Animal Exploitation Now called for the university to look into five incidents involving animal research in 2020 that resulted in a response from the federal government. Michael Budkie, co-founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, urged that staff involved in the incidents be banned from future work with animals and that UA officials terminate the projects during which the incidents occurred. Last year the University of Arizona self-reported four incidents that had a negative effect on the health and well-being of animals involved in research to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, part of the National Institutes of Health. In one incident Nov. 1, 2020, the sheep area of the Campus Agricultural Center was broken into and vandalized. Two sheep were injured, and veterinarians at the center determined they needed to be euthanized. UA said it fixed the problem by implementing additional security measures at the site, according to its response to the federal government.
Cabot: A sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a 17-year-old boy during a traffic stop early Wednesday, but authorities didn’t say what led to the fatal shooting. The Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office said it has turned the investigation of the shooting that occurred about 3 a.m. over to Arkansas State Police. That agency said the circumstances of the traffic stop and what led the deputy to fire his gun at Hunter Brittain after stopping the truck he was driving “will be documented in the investigation.” The shooting occurred outside an auto repair shop along Arkansas Highway 89 south of Cabot, state police said. The city of about 26,000 people is about 30 miles northeast of Little Rock. State police said Brittain was from McRae, a small town about 15 miles northeast of Cabot. Later Wednesday, the sheriff’s office identified the deputy as Sgt. Michael Davis, who has been with the sheriff’s office since 2013. The office said Davis will be on administrative leave pending the outcome of the state police’s investigation.
A pair of male tule elk on Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif. (Photo: Eric Risberg/AP)
San Francisco: Dozens of tule elk at Point Reyes National Seashore have died from starvation and dehydration in the past year because the animals couldn’t get past a fence that the National Park Service placed to stop them from competing for food and water with cattle, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the federal government. Three California residents and the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the park service in federal court in San Francisco, claiming it is being negligent, and more animals will die if the agency is not ordered to provide food and water during the drought. “The National Park Service has a responsibility to protect and preserve these beautiful animals. The idea that depriving them of food and water somehow fulfills that responsibility isn’t just absurd; it’s undeniably inhumane,” said Kate Barnekow, of Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic, who is representing the plaintiffs. Point Reyes National Seashore spokeswoman Melanie Gunn said she couldn’t comment on pending litigation. Tule elk are a subspecies native to California. The 700-pound animals, hunted to near-extinction in the 1800s, were reintroduced to the park in 1978. According to the lawsuit, 152 elk – more than a third of the population – have died since last year, and necropsies show the emaciated elk died of starvation and/or dehydration.
Wild lupine blooms near the closed Green Mountain Trail on the west side of Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park on June 17 amid the burned soil left behind by the East Troublesome Fire. (Photo: Miles Blumhardt / The Coloradoan)
Fort Collins: More than 4.5 million visitors journey to Rocky Mountain National Park annually for views of wildlife along the roads, snow-capped peaks and refreshing waterfalls. But this year they will have the opportunity to marvel at the power of the largest wildfire scars in the park’s 106-year history. Last year’s East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires burned about 10% of the park’s 265,769 acres and 15% of its 350 miles of trails. While the devastation will cost the park nearly $4 million over the next three years in trail renovation, the burn scar should be a destination rather than a deviation for visitors. Much of the burn scar is located in backcountry wilderness areas closed to visitors due to the severity of the fire. But enough of it can be seen from roads and on trails to offer visitors a once-in-a-lifetime view of the fire’s delicate stroke and insensitive brush. “In some areas we are seeing aspen shoots and beautiful wildflowers in green meadows and waterfalls we have never seen before,” said Doug Parker, the park’s trails supervisor. “In other parts, mainly on the west side, it’s completely black.” Parker said park staff last fall began the arduous task of assessing the damage and rebuilding trails and bridges where they can. Still, he said, park visitors will be shocked at some of the devastation. “Visitors will have a moment to look like a wildland firefighter because when they hike into some of those areas, they will come out with black legs and clothes that are all black and dirty,” he said.
A beluga whale is suspended in midair as it is moved to a transport cart after arriving at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn., on May 15. The whale was among five imported to the aquarium from Canada for research on the endangered mammals. (Photo: Jason Decrow, AP Images for Mystic Aquarium)
Mystic: The Mystic Aquarium plans to auction off the chance to name three of its five recently arrived beluga whales to raise money for their care and to offset the cost of transporting them from Canada. President and CEO Stephen Coan said the Sea Research Foundation has teamed with New York-based auction house Guernsey’s to hold a fundraising auction Aug. 19 at the aquarium, which it operates. “The three whales will get what we refer to as stage names, and they would be referred to by those names going forward,” he said. The Mystic Aquarium hopes to raise $4 million at the auction, which will also include donated art, perhaps a boat or vintage car, and some unique experiences – such as educational dive trips with scientists to places such as the undersea Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean, Coan said. It will cost the aquarium about $5 million a year to care for the belugas, he said. That includes about $250,000 a year to pay for food and veterinary care for each animal, as well as costs associated with running the habitat and research. The foundation also spent millions of dollars last month transporting the whales from their previous home at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, using custom-made stretchers and special tanks inside a C-130 cargo plane, Coan said.
Dover: House lawmakers on Wednesday approved a spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 that adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the budget that Democratic Gov. John Carney proposed in January. House members voted 38-1, with two abstentions, for a $4.77 billion general fund operating budget for fiscal 2022. That is an increase of almost 5% over the current year’s budget and roughly $65 million more than what Carney had recommended. House members also voted unanimously for a “supplemental” budget bill of one-time expenditures that brings the increase over the current year’s $4.5 billion operating budget to more than 10%. With state revenue estimates having skyrocketed since January, lawmakers included more than $221 million in one-time funds for a variety of expenditures next year. The budget bill, which now goes to the Senate, includes $22.7 million for across-the-board pay raises of $500 or 1%, whichever is higher, for state employees. They also approved almost $15.3 million for $500 bonuses to government retirees. Other one-time expenditures include $20 million for state employee health insurance costs and $5 million for a loan program that helps volunteer fire companies upgrade equipment and improve facilities.
District of Columbia
People work on the scene of a collapsed pedestrian bridge along Kenilworth Avenue & Polk Street Northeast in Washington on Wednesday. (Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via AP)
Washington: A pedestrian bridge collapsed over a highway in the nation’s capital Wednesday, sending five people to the hospital and snarling traffic. The collapse happened just before noon along Interstate 295 in Northeast Washington. The bridge was found to be in poor condition at an inspection just a few months earlier. Investigators believe a truck struck the bridge, causing it to come loose and collapse, said Chris Geldart, deputy mayor for public safety and justice. Several other vehicles were also involved in the collapse. He cautioned that the investigation was still in its preliminary stages. The five people taken to the hospital had non-life-threatening injuries, Geldart said. Chunks of concrete and other debris were strewn across the highway, and both directions of traffic were expected to be closed at least until late Friday. The bridge was lying atop the truck, which was leaking diesel fuel along the roadway, officials said. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Wednesday afternoon that there were no recent reports of structural concerns about the bridge. But Geldart said in a statement later Wednesday that the mayor was incorrect. He said the bridge was inspected in February, and a subsequent report May 25 rated it in poor condition. He said the rating – 4 on a scale of 9 to 0 – marked a threshold prompting a multiyear planning process to replace the bridge.
In the shadow of the Magic Kingdom, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officers search for the body of a young boy after he was snatched off the shore and dragged underwater by an alligator at Grand Floridian Resort at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in 2016. (Photo: Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
Orlando: Wildlife officials have removed 250 alligators from Disney properties in the five years since a 2-year-old boy was killed by an alligator at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, a newspaper reports. The company has worked with trappers contracted through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to remove the gators, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Most of the nuisance gators taken from Disney properties are euthanized and sold for their hide and meat, Tammy Sapp, spokeswoman for the wildlife agency, told the newspaper. Some are also transferred to alligator farms, animal exhibits and zoos, she said. Those less than 4 feet long are relocated, she said. Trappers receive $30 for every captured gator, plus the proceeds from any leather and meat sold, the newspaper reports. After Lane Thomas Graves was killed in June 2016, Disney installed a wall and put up reptile warning signs along waterways throughout its resorts. Disney guests said they’re glad the resort is proactively removing gators from its properties. A biology expert agreed, adding that the removals should have a minimal impact on the Florida alligator population.
Georgia State Patrol Capt. Thornell King, bottom right, watches visitors to Tybee Island, Ga., last summer, after restrictions were lifted that kept visitors from public beaches. (Photo: Stephen B. Morton, Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Tybee Island: More summer visitors are flocking to the state’s largest public beach, and that means local officials are writing more tickets for violations. Police on Tybee Island in recent months have been reporting high numbers of citations for beach rule violations such as littering, having glass containers on the beach and climbing on sandbars, WTOC-TV reports. City Manager Shawn Gillen said one particular violation has shown a huge increase: people bringing dogs onto the beach, which the city doesn’t allow. “We’ve written more dog tickets in the last year than we have in the last four years combined,” Gillen said. “It’s one of those things where we’re getting more and more signage to let people know about the rules, and we ask people to go to our website, look at the beach rules and understand them because the code enforcement will be writing a ticket if they see the violation.” Gillen said it’s not just more people coming to the beach that’s driving up citations after the coronavirus pandemic slowed tourism last year. He said the island also has a full staff of code enforcement officers patrolling the beach, which wasn’t the case during the height of the pandemic.
Wailuku: As some on Maui become overwhelmed by an influx of visitors, the first in a series of sustainable tourism town halls this week focused on lessons learned at another Pacific tourist hot spot. Orion Cruz, a Maui attorney who worked with the government of Palau on tourism issues, participated in the virtual panel, The Maui News reports. Cruz, a former legal counsel to the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism of the Republic of Palau, said the Western Pacific island nation encourages environmentally friendly visitors and enacted measures to ensure sustainability funding. There is a $100 “Palau Pristine Paradise Environmental Fee” added to every international airline ticket, Cruz said. “This hundred dollars supports the country in a variety of ways, but a substantial portion goes to fund Palau’s protected areas network, which is kind of like their national park system,” Cruz said. Tourists also sign the “Palau Pledge” and agree to act responsibly both environmentally and culturally. The virtual panel was hosted by Kelly King, chairwoman of the Maui County Council’s Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee. “The community wants action to ensure a future for the visitor industry that protects the people, culture and environment,” King said in a statement.
Boise: The state will continue playing a $4,551-per-month housing stipend to the governor for now, a special legislative committee has decided, but the panel will reconsider the matter later this year. The Governor’s Housing Committee voted unanimously to keep the stipend in place, the Idaho Press reports. “We really need to be talking about should we be doing this, should we be doing it at this rate, is it still needed, what are some of the other states doing,” said Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland. The panel will meet again in November or December to consider possible changes. “Does it still make sense today? I don’t know,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks, R-Meridian. “I certainly didn’t have enough information to make a decision other than let’s maintain where we’re at.” Idaho is one of just five states that does not provide an official residence for its governor. Some states have historic governor’s mansions, and some require their governors to live in those homes. Idaho hasn’t had an official residence for its governor since the hilltop Simplot mansion, donated to the state by potato magnate J.R. Simplot’s family in 2004, reverted back to the family in 2013. No Idaho governor ever lived in the mansion. Then-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter was J.R. Simplot’s ex-son-in-law and opted to stay at his ranch in Star rather than moving to the Boise residence. The Simplot family demolished the house in 2016.
Annette Nance-Holt, who lost her 16-year-old son, Blair, to gun violence in 2007, speaks at a 2015 news conference in Chicago. Nance-Holt was confirmed to the post of deputy fire commissioner Wednesday. (Photo: Saiyna Bashir/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago: The City Council on Wednesday confirmed the appointment of Chicago’s first Black female fire commissioner. Annette Nance-Holt was serving as acting fire commissioner after the retirement earlier this year of Richard Ford. When she appointed Nance-Holt acting fire commissioner, Mayor Lori Lightfoot noted she had more than three decades of proven leadership and a passion for public service. Nance-Holt, who joined the department four years after the first women joined the ranks, will take over an agency with a history of racism and sexism. Earlier this year, Chicago’s inspector general issued a report recommending the department put in place stronger policies to deal with the sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Last month, Nance-Holt welcomed 42 new members to the department, including 13 women and 15 from minority communities. It was during that ceremony that Lightfoot nominated her for the top post. “Graduates, look to Commissioner Nance-Holt’s exemplary example of sacrifice and service, even in the face of her own personal pain and tragedy,” Lightfoot said. “She is the real deal.” Nance-Holt first gained public notice when her 16-year-old son, Blair Holt, was shot to death in 2007 on a city bus shielding a classmate from gunfire. She went on to establish the nonprofit Purpose Over Pain, which helps parents who have lost children to gun violence.
Holiday World ride operator Ty Kunkel checks the safety restraint on each cart of The Raven roller coaster train May 14. (Photo: MACABE BROWN / Courier & Press)
Indianapolis: In just a week, teenage workers will no longer have to obtain work permits from schools, expediting hiring at a time when the service industry is desperate for workers. “Now we can interview, make the decision to hire, and they can technically start working that day,” said Matt Eckert, the president of Holiday World, a theme park in southern Indiana where many of the employees are teenagers. The requirement for teenagers to get a work permit from a school has been frustrating for the theme park, not only because it delayed hiring but also because students from Kentucky had to find a school in Indiana to provide that permit, he said. The change in state law will be a help to businesses that rely on younger workers but won’t do much to improve enforcement of labor laws for underage workers, some labor experts say. The elimination of such work permits was part of a wide-ranging bill targeting teenage employment that passed in 2020 with bipartisan support. The bill also increased the number of hours 16- and 17-year-olds could work from 30 to 40 during school weeks and up to 48 hours during non-school weeks. It also eliminated a requirement for breaks. While most of the changes took effect last year, the elimination of the work permit was delayed until this July.
An early morning fire Wednesday damaged the historic former North Des Moines City Hall building and destroyed the Black children’s memorial created by the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: Andrea Sahouri/Des Moines Register)
Des Moines: A blaze that badly damaged a former City Hall building and destroyed a makeshift memorial to Black children was being investigated as “suspicious,” according to fire officials. The fire early Wednesday destroyed a memorial created last summer by the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement to honor Black Iowa youth who have died in recent years. Lt. Rick Thomas of the Des Moines Fire Department said the fire was still under investigation, and its cause had not yet been determined, but investigators believe the cause is “suspicious.” Investigators were reviewing video of the fire, reported about 5 a.m. Wednesday. The memorial was at the entrance to the 132-year-old former North Des Moines City Hall, which has been unoccupied for many years. North Des Moines was once its own city but now is part of Des Moines. The memorial, embellished with flowers, candles, signs and other items, has been a site for vigils and marches. About 100 people marched from a park to the memorial June 12 to honor Black and transgender women and children killed in the state and across the country. A statement from the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement said the organization is heartbroken and believes the fire may have been set intentionally.
Goddard: Health officials have identified the bacteria that caused a outbreak of illnesses at a splash park near Wichita. State and Sedgwick County health investigators said Wednesday that the Shigella bacteria caused a diarrheal illness in at least three infected people who visited Tanganyika Wildlife Park. Those people were the three original cases linked to the park, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Sedgwick County Health Department said in a news release. Several other visitors to the park have reported becoming ill. The Shigella bacteria is spread from person to person through exposure to contaminated feces, the public health agencies said. That can occur through swallowing contaminated water, touching contaminated items and then touching one’s mouth, or cleaning up after someone using the bathroom or changing diapers. An investigation began Friday when several people reported becoming ill after visiting the park. More than 200 people have responded to a survey designed to identify Tanganyika visitors with symptoms of fever, diarrhea or vomiting. It is not yet clear how many of the respondents may be connected to the outbreak at Tanganyika’s Splash Park, The Wichita Eagle reports.
Frankfort: Overhauling the state’s outdated technology for processing jobless claims could take up to three years, Kentucky’s labor secretary said Tuesday as lawmakers delved into problems with the pandemic-stressed unemployment insurance system. The state is in the “latter stages” of selecting a contractor to take on the task of “reworking and rebuilding” the claims-processing system, Labor Secretary Larry Roberts said. “If we can modernize our system, that’s going to make a big difference,” he told the legislative task force that began reviewing problems with the unemployment system. In the meantime, Kentucky labor officials are looking for ways to make more immediate improvements, he said, because of the longer timeline needed to replace the system’s antiquated computer system, which is expected to cost roughly $40 million. “It may take two to three years to make that an outcome,” Roberts said. Like other states, Kentucky was overwhelmed by record waves of claims for jobless assistance caused by the pandemic. Tens of thousands of Kentuckians found themselves in limbo for months as they waited for claims to be processed. Even with most coronavirus restrictions now lifted, lawmakers continue to forward complaints from constituents awaiting jobless aid. Some date back to last spring.
Alexandria: After being missing for 60 years, the gravesite of former Gov. Joseph Walker has been found in Rapides Parish. Walker was the 13th governor of Louisiana, serving from 1850 to 1853. Local historians found the gravesite off Bayou Rapides Road in the city of Alexandria, in central Louisiana, after searching for the landmark since the 1950s, KALB-TV reports. They are hoping a historical marker will be placed at the site. “The fact that the graveyard had been missing for so long is because the tombstone or the markers that we know from that time period are not where they used to be,” said Benjamin Fuselier, a metal detectorist. When Walker died in 1856, he was buried in a family graveyard located on his property in Rapides Parish. In 1864, his former home burned to the ground. A century later, nobody could find the grave. “Something happened around 1960 in which the graveyard was plowed under to use for cultivation of plants. It is a great loss to our state’s history,” said local historian Michael Wynne. Historians said aerial maps, artifacts and witness statements helped pinpoint the location of Walker’s burial site several weeks ago.
Portland: The number of people who died from drug overdoses in the state rose to an all-time high last year, surpassing 500 for the first time in the midst of the pandemic, officials said Wednesday. The 504 deaths in 2020 represented a 33% increase over the previous year and easily surpassed the state’s previous high of 418 overdose deaths in 2017, according to the annual report. Gov. Janet Mills said the jump in deaths represents “yet another example” of how the coronavirus pandemic hurt the state. “My heart breaks for every single life lost to a drug overdose. Those we lost are friends, loved ones and community members – people with meaningful lives,” Mills said in a statement. While officials blamed the pandemic for the spike in deaths, the exact correlation was unclear, wrote Marcella Sorg, the report’s author at the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. An estimated 91% of the deaths were accidental overdoses, the number of suicides remained flat, and only one of the victims with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 actually tested positive for the virus, the report said. “We are doing more research to explore whether characteristics of the pandemic, such as isolation, access to medical services” or other factors, contributed to the spike in deaths, she wrote.
Guido's Burritos serves up a diverse menu of authentic Mexican cuisine and over 100 varieties of alcoholic beverages. But customers have just a few days left during which they can get margaritas to go. (Photo: Image courtesy of Rocco DiFilippo)
Ocean City: Carryout alcohol service will come to an end in this beach resort town just as the Eastern Shore gets ready to celebrate Independence Day, according to officials in Worcester County. And one county over in Wicomico, officials are meeting next week to consider the continuation of carryout alcohol. Gov. Larry Hogan initially allowed establishments to sell carryout alcohol under specific rules to aid struggling restaurants and bars during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hogan used his state of emergency declaration to circumvent county liquor boards. The service became very popular. During the 2021 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly approved the permanent sale of carryout alcohol, but the new law requires that individual counties opt in. In Worcester County, officials announced Tuesday that carryout alcohol service would be discontinued once Maryland’s state of emergency is lifted July 1. The Wicomico Board of License Commissioners is set to hold a public hearing on carryout cocktails at 1 p.m. Tuesday. The body will open the floor to discuss formally opting in to takeout and delivery, as well as outline drafted regulations for such permitting.
Amherst: The town has approved creating a fund to pay reparations to Black residents. The Amherst Town Council on Monday voted 12-1 in favor of setting up the fund and requiring a two-thirds vote of the council to authorize any spending from it, The Daily Hampshire Gazette reports. Town Manager Paul Bockelman said establishing the fund means the town can now begin accepting contributions for the effort and decide on a plan to finance reparations work going forward. The council is weighing a proposal to designate more than $200,000 in surplus budget funds as an initial seed investment. The council on Monday also approved creating the African Heritage Reparations Assembly, to develop the town’s reparations plan by Oct. 31, the newspaper reports. It will be made up of six Black residents and one representative from Reparations for Amherst, a local advocacy group. Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke voted against the fund because she said it was premature to establish it before forming the assembly. Michele Miller, the cofounder of Reparations for Amherst, said Thursday that her group hopes to establish a private fund to bolster the town’s efforts. “We look forward to supporting the African Heritage Community to implement a robust and sustainable reparative plan,” she said.
Narcan, a brand of naloxone, is used to save someone's life during an opioid overdose. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services urges opioid users to have Narcan on hand as overdoses increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Courtesy/Matthew Rakola)
Lansing: A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced a package of bills Wednesday to curb opioid overdose deaths in the state, which experts say spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement came during a media conference to mandate supportive practices in hospitals and increase access to life-saving medications. Before the pandemic, the state had seen some success in reducing the number of opioid-related deaths, even making it a goal to cut the number of deaths in half by 2024. In 2019, opioid-related overdose deaths decreased by 13.2% from 2018, according to the state. However, from January to June of 2020, opioid-related overdose deaths increased by 20% from the same months in 2019, jumping from 874 to 1,045 deaths. An average of five Michiganders a day died from an opioid overdose in 2019, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical officer. “Unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic means we’ve had to fight two crises at the same time, and early data, unfortunately, suggests that we actually saw an increase in overdoses in 2020,” Khaldun said. “These deaths are absolutely tragic, but they are preventable as well.” One bill in the package expands access to Naloxone, a drug used to reverse an opioid overdose, for community organizations.
St. Paul: A new report shows a growing number of law enforcement agencies are using drones to help with search and rescue efforts, investigations and public safety. The legislative report says 93 agencies statewide either maintained or used a drone in 2020, with 1,171 flights recorded. The report is the result of new regulations lawmakers passed last year. The bipartisan law prevents an agency from deploying a drone with facial recognition technology unless authorized by a warrant or in exceptional circumstances including an emergency situation that involves the risk of death or bodily harm to a person, KSTP-TV reports. Each time a law enforcement agency uses a drone for one of those purposes, it must be documented and submitted to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which compiles the annual report for the Legislature. The law also prohibits law enforcement agencies from equipping drones with weapons and limits how long drone video can be retained. The aerial equipment gives Cottage Grove police an advantage from above when every moment matters, said Sgt. Michael McCormick. “The whole initial idea of it was to save lives,” McCormick said. “We’ve got parks and water everywhere, so really the idea was to have an extra set of eyes above to assist with officers.”
Biloxi: A new training facility for people who want to learn coding is coming to the Gulf Coast. The University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Computing Sciences and Computer Engineering and Mississippi Coding Academies are opening a Biloxi location, according to a press release. Applications are open for the new Biloxi Cyber Center, scheduled to launch in early August. Mississippi Coding Academies offer tuition-free 11-month courses. The program was founded in 2017 as a joint project between Innovate Mississippi and the Mississippi Development Authority, a state agency tasked with recruiting new businesses and promoting economic growth. The program’s goal is to offer a nontraditional path to getting into the software field and to offer economic mobility for residents, particularly those from disadvantaged and underserved communities. “Most participants come from under-served families and are either not college bound or found that college did not provide the desired economic independence,” the program’s website says. “Most only have a high school education and are typically earning part time minimum wages.” The program has three other training locations, in downtown Jackson, Starkville and south Jackson.
Jefferson City: A judge ruled Wednesday that a ballot measure to expand Medicaid in the state is unconstitutional, meaning hundreds of thousands of newly eligible low-income adults won’t be able to access the health insurance program July 1 as promised. Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem wrote that the voter-approved amendment unconstitutionally sought to force lawmakers to set aside money for the expansion. Under the Missouri Constitution, lawmakers can’t be forced to make appropriations unless the ballot measure includes a funding mechanism. Beetem wrote that the amendment “indirectly requires the appropriation of revenues not created by the initiative and is therefore unconstitutional.” Voters approved Medicaid expansion last August, passing a constitutional amendment by 53% of the vote. It was set to take effect July 1. But Republican Gov. Mike Parson declined to provide coverage for an estimated 275,000 newly eligible low-income adults after the GOP-led Legislature refused to provide any extra funding to do so in the state budget. Three low-income women, including two mothers, sued the state to try to force Parson’s administration to give them the health insurance coverage. The plaintiff’s lawyers said they will appeal Beetem’s decision.
Grasshoppers eat a plant. The insects are on track to become a plague in drought-stricken rangelands. (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service via AP)
Billings: A punishing drought in the West is drying up waterways, sparking wildfires and leaving farmers scrambling for water. Next up: a plague of voracious grasshoppers. Federal agriculture officials are launching what could become their largest grasshopper-killing campaign since the 1980s amid an outbreak of the drought-loving insects that cattle ranchers fear will strip bare public and private rangelands. In central Montana’s Phillips County, more than 50 miles from the nearest town, Frank Wiederrick said large numbers of grasshoppers started showing up on prairie surrounding his ranch in recent days. Already they’re beginning to denude trees around his house. “They’re everywhere,” Wiederrick said. “Drought and grasshoppers go together, and they are cleaning us out.” Grasshoppers thrive in warm, dry weather, and populations already were up last year, setting the stage for an even bigger outbreak in 2021. Such outbreaks could become more common as climate change shifts rainfall patterns, scientists said. To blunt the insects’ economic damage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture this week began aerial spraying of the pesticide diflubenzuron to kill grasshopper nymphs before they develop into adults. Approximately 3,000 square miles in Montana are expected to be sprayed, roughly twice the size of Rhode Island.
Lincoln: Federal regulators have ordered a rancher and Cherry County officials to clean up a remote stream after it was deluged with enough sand and sediment to change the shape of the waterway. The Environmental Protection Agency said the Snake River had been a deep and narrow creek until an estimated 1.6 million tons of sand washed into it, turning a 3-mile stretch into a wide, shallow and sandy waterway, according to the Omaha World-Herald. That’s enough sand to fill an area the size of a football field about 540 feet deep. The stream is a popular fishing and canoeing spot in the Sandhills, a desolate region of grass-covered sand dunes in north-central Nebraska. The sand and sediment flowed into the Snake River after a 2.5-mile ditch was excavated to the river to drain water from a flooded pasture and road. Federal officials said the sand was deposited into the stream without proper permits. Under the federal Clean Water Act, the sand and sediment are considered pollutants. On June 14, the EPA ordered rancher Dick Minor of Gordon, Nebraska, and Cherry County officials to stop the erosion and create a plan within 60 days to permanently stop the flow of sediment into the stream. Minor and the county were also ordered to restore the stream’s deep channel “to the extent technically feasible.”
Reno: The state has agreed to pay $175,000 in legal fees to settle a lawsuit with a rural church over COVID-19 capacity caps on religious gatherings that a U.S. appeals court found illegal in December. But while no COVID-19 restrictions have been in place since June 1, a second church is continuing to press for a federal court order declaring Gov. Steve Sisolak’s earlier limits unconstitutional. Lawyers for Calvary Chapel Lone Mountain in Las Vegas filed a motion in U.S. District Court on June 11 seeking permission to amend its complaint against Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Justin Luna, chief of the Nevada Division of Emergency Management. They said a formal ruling is necessary to prevent the state from enacting similar illegal orders in the future and to force compensation for the harm suffered by the church’s parishioners and other businesses deemed nonessential under the governor’s emergency directives. “Unless and until injunctive relief is granted, plaintiffs will continue to suffer irreparable harm for which they are left without an adequate remedy at law” and “be fearful of exercising their right to peacefully pray, assemble, engage in business and to be treated for COVID-19,” the motion says. Last year, indoor religious gatherings in Nevada were subject to a hard cap of 50 churchgoers, while attendance limits at many businesses, including casinos, were based on a percentage of the buildings’ fire-code capacities.
Concord: Dartmouth College has relaxed many of its COVID-19 rules, including no longer requiring people who are fully vaccinated to wear masks and lifting physical distancing and dining restrictions. Provost Joseph Helble said Wednesday that Dartmouth was easing protocols in light of the fact that 83% of the students who will be on campus this summer have already been vaccinated, the Valley News reports. The college announced in April that all students will be required to be vaccinated ahead of the fall term. Dartmouth also is requiring employees to be vaccinated by Sept. 1. Employees can request religious and medical exemptions, but those who remain unvaccinated will be subject to wearing personal protective equipment, maintaining physical distancing and being tested more frequently for the coronavirus.
Ernie and Ron Isley get the royal treatment during a street-renaming ceremony Thursday in Englewood, N.J., designating Isley Brothers Way. (Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)
Teaneck: With flag twirlers, a gospel choir and seemingly endless proclamations from local officials, Teaneck and Englewood named streets after the Isley Brothers in the towns where the musicians lived in their heyday. “It’s a ‘wow’ moment,” Ernie Isley said. “This is a spectacular culmination of a lot of dreams and a lot of prayers.” The suburbs a few miles across the Hudson River from New York City held dual ceremonies Thursday to honor the legendary group that scored hits with songs including “Shout,” “Twist and Shout,” “It’s Your Thing,” “That Lady” and “Fight the Power.” Ron Isley lived in Teaneck and Ernie in neighboring Englewood during the 1960s. Another brother, Rudolph, lived in Irvington, about 12 miles south of Teaneck. The brothers helped put Teaneck on the map when they launched the T-Neck record label, known to generations of music fans for the distinctive orange dust jacket on its 45 rpm records. A local music fan, Teaneck resident Ira Buckman, hit upon the idea of renaming part of Van Arsdale Street as Isley Brothers Way two years ago, inspired by watching a rerun of the movie “Animal House,” which iconically features “Shout.” The town’s council approved it and, after a delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, unveiled the new sign Thursday on Isley Brothers Day. Former bandmates and neighbors reminisced about befriending the brothers in the ’60s and ’70s. Neighbors recalled swimming in Ron Isley’s family’s backyard pool all summer long and never being turned away, or hearing the group’s new songs before they were released to the general public.
Campers are parked on the beach along New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Lake. Water levels at the lake are expected to drop to record levels soon. (Photo: Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)
Albuquerque: Many communities are behind the curve when it comes to investing in drinking water infrastructure as persistent drought threatens supplies, and the state’s fragmented funding process makes it hard to know what taxpayers are getting for their money, legislative analysts said Wednesday. New Mexico provided roughly $876 million for water projects over a five-year period. But the analysts told members of the powerful Legislative Finance Committee during a meeting that communities aren’t doing enough to leverage federal and local dollars. A review of the state’s numerous financing mechanisms for water projects found that New Mexico over the past decade made proportionally more grant and loan funding available for water projects than any other state in the U.S. But inconsistent vetting and piecemeal funding put projects at greater risk of being delayed or derailed, according to the review. About one-third of the state-funded local water projects that were examined did not meet their intended purpose – even several years after the initial funding was issued. In the village of Maxwell, for example, $1 million was spent to drill and equip a new drinking water well that could be used in times of drought. A $30,000 shortfall resulted in the well not being hooked up to electricity, leaving the project unfinished and unable to yield any public benefits. Similar issues were found with projects in Lovington and Pecos.
New York: The New-York Historical Society is creating a new archive that will focus on “marginalized communities and inclusive voices” in the city over the past quarter-century. The Diamonstein-Spielvogel Institute for New York City History, Politics, and Community Activism will chronicle “important political, social, and cultural moments from the mid-1900s to the present,” the historical society announced Thursday. “We are so grateful for the initiative and support of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Foundation for this new endeavor, which will help scholars and the general public to understand how political and social movements, focused on balancing individuals’ right to self-determination with their responsibility to one another, have shaped our city’s history,” Dr. Louise Mirrer, the society’s president and CEO, said in a statement. Initial contributions to the archive will include documents on the building of the High Line in Manhattan. The archive also will include materials already available at the society, including those on Occupy Wall Street. Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, the foundation’s chair and a former commissioner of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and former chair of the New York State Council on the Arts, is contributing her own papers to the archive.
Raleigh: The state would end offering supplemental benefits from the federal government to the unemployed in roughly a month under legislation finalized Wednesday by Republicans in charge of the General Assembly. But House and Senate Democrats voted almost unanimously against the compromise hammered out by GOP leaders from both chambers, signaling a possible veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. The legislation would do away with the $300-a-week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit for at least 200,000 displaced workers in the state. A $100-a-week additional payment for self-employed workers also would end. Both coronavirus aid programs already are set to expire nationwide in September, but Republicans have agreed with business owners’ concerns that the extra benefits are a disincentive for some to return to the workforce after being months at home. Twenty-six states, all but one with Republican governors, have already decided to withdraw early from the program, according to the National Employment Law Project. By ending the $300 weekly supplement benefit, the final legislation sides with what the House approved earlier this month.
Bismarck: A longtime animal doctor from Hettinger has been named the new state veterinarian and animal health division director, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring announced Wednesday. Dr. Ethan Andress will take over for Dr. Susan Keller, who is retiring after serving the state for 23 years. Andress will start July 12. Andress is owner and partner of West River Veterinary Clinic in Hettinger, where he has worked as a mixed animal practitioner for 24 years. He graduated from South Dakota State University in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He earned his doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Iowa State University in 1997. “Dr. Andress brings valuable experience in the field of veterinary medicine and extensive knowledge of bovine, equine and bison medicine,” Goehring said. “His business background will also be an asset to our animal health programs and the state.”
Gov. Mike DeWine congratulates Sara Afaneh, 13, on a video call after she won a full-ride college scholarship from Ohio's Vax-a-Million drawing. (Photo: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's office)
Columbus: The state that launched the national movement to offer millions of dollars in incentives to boost COVID-19 immunization rates concluded its program Wednesday, still unable to crack the 50% vaccination threshold. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s May 12 announcement of the incentive program had the desired effect off the bat, leading to a 43% boost in state vaccination numbers over the previous week. But numbers of shots administered have dropped since then. “Clearly the impact went down after that second week,” DeWine acknowledged Wednesday. About 5.5 million residents had received at least one shot of a vaccine as of Wednesday, or about 47% of the population. About 5 million people, or 43% of the population, have completed the process. While the incentive’s success was short-lived, it got Ohioans who either were straddling the line or had no plans to get a shot to make a move, the governor said. As evidence, Jonathan Carlyle of Toledo, an Amazon delivery driver who won the second $1 million prize June 2, said the next day: “When y’all announced the Vax-a-Million, as soon as I heard that, I was like ‘Yes, I need to go do this now.’ ” DeWine continues to urge Ohioans to get vaccines, saying the end of state social distancing requirements, the return to in-person school classes in the fall, and the multiplying of coronavirus variants remain concerns.
The Rev. Derrick Scobey (Photo: DOUG HOKE, Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman)
Oklahoma City: Efforts to build a new food distribution warehouse on the property of Ebenezer Baptist Church experienced an unexpected obstacle related to a hot-button, widely misunderstood topic: critical race theory. The Rev. Derrick Scobey said a professional land surveyor entered into a contract with the church but refused to honor it because he disagreed with the preacher’s views on critical race theory. Scobey, who is African American, said Bob Manley, with The Manley Co., agreed to provide land surveying services for the warehouse project, with work to be completed no later than June 14. The minister said staff from Manley’s company came out to the church and did some work, and all the company had left to do was submit the necessary drawings to the church. However, Scobey said Manley, who is white, contacted him to say that he had no plans to finish his part of the project. Scobey said when he asked why, Manley said it was because Scobey was among a group of Black ministers who met with Gov. Kevin Stitt to urge him to veto a measure effectively banning critical race theory from Oklahoma classrooms, a few days before Stitt ultimately signed the measure into law last month. Attempts to reach Manley for comment were unsuccessful.
Salem: The state’s aviation authority tried to circumnavigate Oregon’s land-use system in adopting a plan to extend the runway at Aurora State Airport, the state’s Court of Appeals determined. The Land Use Board of Appeals’ decision to uphold the aviation board’s plan was flawed because “there is no evidence in the record to support LUBA’s erroneous findings” in the case, the court said in reversing and remanding the body’s decision. The court said the Land Use Board of Appeals “misunderstood its task” and mistakenly relied on testimony from Department of Aviation staff and associated businesses around the airport when making its decision. The airport, located just outside the Aurora city limits, is the third-busiest in Oregon and one of 28 the state owns. For years, the state and associated businesses advocated to extend the runway to 6,004 feet from its current 5,004 feet, arguing it wouldn’t be used for allowing bigger aircraft but would allow the planes that currently use it to fly out with larger fuel loads.
Harrisburg: Lawmakers made a final vote Thursday to approve a bill to let parents decide whether to have their children repeat a year of school, a measure designed to help children catch up after a year of schooling disrupted by the pandemic. The Senate voted 50-0 for the proposal, which also would permit students in special education to return for another year, even if they have reached the maximum age of 21. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has not taken a stand on the bill, though his office said Thursday that there are concerns about how it might affect schools’ finances, staffing and programming. “We will review the bill when it gets to the desk,” said Wolf press secretary Lyndsay Kensinger. Under the bill, parents would have to decide by July 15 whether their child should repeat a grade. Students could participate in extracurricular activities but would not get another year of eligibility to play sports if they have already maxed out. Students who have reached age 18 would be able to make their own decision about whether to repeat a year. “Some students have struggled, and it makes sense to give parents a stronger say in whether their child should advance to the next grade level or repeat a grade to make up for learning loss,” said the sponsor, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre.
Providence: Years of “noes” have culminated in the Legislature saying “yes” to a proposal that would remove lawmakers’ authority over approving who has permission to officiate marriages. Lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to a proposal that would end the General Assembly’s role in deciding who gets to officiate a wedding in Rhode Island. The bill awaits the signature of Gov. Dan McKee, who has said he supports it. Currently, people who are not either a member of clergy or a judge need special permission from the Legislature before they can perform a wedding in the state. But that can be a time-consuming and confusing process, said those who supported the change. “It is an inconvenience to the people of Rhode Island that they need to seek a formal act of law just because they want a friend or family member to officiate at their wedding,” Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, who introduced the bill in the Senate, said in a statement. There have been multiple attempts in recent years to amend the law. Supporters of the bill also argued that the current law allowed opponents of gay marriage to deny marriage bills for LGBTQ couples.
Cafe Strudel owner Trip Turbyfill listens as officials speak during a ceremonial bill signing for legislation that prevents people in South Carolina from suing businesses over COVID-19 on Thursday at his restaurant in West Columbia. (Photo: Jeffrey Collins/AP)
West Columbia: Gov. Henry McMaster again said the state is recovering better from the COVID-19 pandemic than just about any other as he held a ceremonial signing Thursday of a bill preventing people from suing companies over the coronavirus. The new law protects businesses and other groups as long as they follow guidelines to protect people from the virus. Dozens of other states have passed similar measures. McMaster headed less than 2 miles across the river from his Statehouse office to Cafe Strudel, whose owner praised him and the Legislature for taking steps to reduce his risk from reopening after the worst of the pandemic. The governor again said his decision to resist closing restaurants and other businesses and allow them to reopen more quickly meant South Carolina suffered fewer economic problems. “As a result a lot of other states are struggling to get out of the holes they were in. We’re ready to blast off,” McMaster said Thursday before signing the bill that he initially signed April 28. COVID-19 has killed more than 9,800 people in South Carolina since March 2020. Only about 37% of the population has been fully vaccinated against the disease. After the bill signing, McMaster said he wasn’t worried about the low vaccine rates or new coronavirus variants. “We’re always on alert,” the governor said.
Austin Green stocks fireworks Thursday ahead of the Fourth of July, at Fire Bros. Fireworks in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Photo: Erin Bormett / Argus Leader)
Rapid City: Shipping delays from China and record-breaking sales from last year are having an impact on fireworks supplies this Fourth of July, according to industry experts. Douglas Bellinger, owner of Extreme Fireworks in Rapid City, said a shortage is limiting the amount of products he can sell this year. “It’s quite a shortage on the 24-shot artillery shells and a lot of our littler stuff that we sell,” he told the Rapid City Journal. According to Bellinger, fireworks supplies from China normally take 30 days for shipping, but this year it’s taking 60 days. “There’s also trouble when they hit the docks and yards in California; getting a truck here is taking longer, too,” he said. The fireworks industry was not immune to the coronavirus pandemic that caused closures and staffing problems in the supply chain. “For example, we ordered seven containers and only got two of them, so we are five short,” Bellinger said. “Each container holds 800 to 1,000 cases, so the supply issues are impacting how much we have to sell.” And Bellinger said fireworks have been in high demand since last year when more people celebrated Independence Day at home. “Last year was a great year. They were wanting to get out and were tired of being cooped up,” he said. “It ran the supplies short here and emptied a lot of the warehouses.”
Nashville: Residents can now search the full records of many state Supreme Court cases through an online database thanks to the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The opinions have long been available electronically, but the associated case files were stored in more than 10,000 boxes in the attic of the Capitol building, according to a news release from the Administrative Office of the Courts. For more than a decade, Library and Archive staff has been cleaning and indexing these records. Today, about 85% of the collection is available online. Court of Appeals Judge Andy Bennett, through his leadership role in the Tennessee Supreme Court Historical Society, helped make the project happen. “You can open up a book and find the opinion, but you don’t have the briefs. You don’t see the arguments. You don’t have the depositions,” Bennett said. “If you really want to go behind the opinion, these documents are great.”
Marvin Scott III died March 14 after struggling with detention officers following an arrest related to a small amount of marijuana. He was put on a restraint bed and his head covered with a spit mask. Deputies also used pepper spray on Scott. (Photo: Family photo/Courtesy of Lasondra Scott via AP)
McKinney: A grand jury has declined to indict eight jailers over the in-custody death of a Black man after struggling with detention officers. But the Collin County grand jury also issued a rare statement Tuesday calling for the creation of a work group to study the March death of Marvin Scott III to prevent something similar from happening again. “We sincerely hope that the loss of Marvin Scott III will not be in vain,” the statement said. “We are therefore recommending that a work group be convened as soon as practicable to study the events of March 14th for lessons learned in an effort to avoid any similar future tragedy.” The grand jury found no probable cause to charge the eight jailers with a crime in connection with Scott’s death, which was ruled a homicide in April. A medical examiner found that Scott died of “fatal acute stress response” while struggling with officers who were trying to detain him. The medical examiner said Scott was previously diagnosed with schizophrenia, and his family has said Scott was likely in a mental health crisis at the time. Scott was arrested March 14 at an outlet mall in Allen on a charge of possessing less than 2 ounces of marijuana, authorities have said. Allen officers took Scott to a hospital because he was reportedly acting erratically. He was released, and police took him to the county jail, where he was placed on a restraint bed, authorities have said. Deputies used pepper spray and covered Scott’s face with a spit mask, which authorities have said fit over his head. Scott became unresponsive at some point and later was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Salt Lake City: The city has issued a fireworks ban as drought conditions worsen throughout the state. Mayor Erin Mendenhall said Tuesday that the ban covers fireworks including smoke bombs and sparklers. Mendenhall also issued an open burning ban that prohibits people from starting any fires outside. Utah is experiencing its worst drought in decades. About 90% of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories. “Our foothills, our open spaces, and even our yards and park strips are dry and could be ignited by a single spark,” Mendenhall, a Democrat, said in a statement. “These conditions present a very real, immediate threat of fire.” Fireworks are banned on all state and unincorporated business lands, but Republican Gov. Spencer Cox has said he does not have the legal authority to enact a statewide ban. It is unclear if state law allows cities to outright ban fireworks, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. Public safety code prevents local governments from prohibiting explosives around July’s Independence Day and Pioneer Day holidays, except “in certain areas with hazardous environmental conditions.” Republican legislative leaders have avoided taking action to ban fireworks statewide and instead have encouraged local governments to implement their own restrictions.
Rutland: The Norman Rockwell Museum of Vermont is planning to close its doors at the end of the year, almost half a century after its opening. The museum recently reopened after being closed for months because of the pandemic. Business has been slow amid the decline in tourism and travel during the past year, the Rutland Herald reports. Co-owner Colleen Schreiber said the museum is trying to sell its retail stock, but there is no definitive closing date for now. Schreiber also cited personal health concerns as a reason for closing the museum. “We’re in our 80s,” Schreiber said. “We have our health issues and nobody to turn it over to.” Currently, the museum owners are trying to find a new home for the art collection in Vermont before the official closing, which Schreiber said will be before the fall. She said the museum had been open for more than 40 years and housed 2,000 of Rockwell’s commercial art works. “It would appear at this time there’s not a market for (the museum), which is a shame because the Norman Rockwell legacy is a Vermont signature,” said Lyle Jepson, executive director of the Chamber & Economic Development for the Rutland Region.
Charlottesville: Three entities have already expressed interest in acquiring two statues of Confederate generals from downtown parks, including one that was the focus of a violent white nationalist rally in 2017, according to city officials. Earlier this month, the City Council voted unanimously to remove the statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Virginia requires a 30-day window for the city to offer the statues to any museum, historical society, government or military battlefield. Officials say three entities have submitted statements of interest so far, according to The Daily Progress. City Manager Chip Boyles said at Monday’s council meeting that two of the interested entities are in state and one out of state. The offer expires July 7. Downtown business owner Cali Gaston urged the council to remove the statues as quickly as possible and place them in storage until arrangements can be made. “Please don’t give them to just any organization offering to pay. They need to be in the hands of an organization that is trusted to speak for the whole community,” Gaston said. “One that will help shift the narrative to one that is inclusive and anti-racist.” White supremacist and neo-Nazi organizers of the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally said they went to the city to defend the statue of Lee. They clashed with counterprotesters before a white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd of people, killing a woman.
King County Council member Reagan Dunn has proposed legislation seeking to have the homeless encampment at City Hall Park, south of the King County Courthouse in Seattle, condemned as a public safety hazard. (Photo: Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times via AP)
Seattle: A local lawmaker wants to condemn a city-owned park with a large homeless encampment next to a courthouse and declare the area a public safety hazard or nuisance property. Under the proposal by King County Councilman Reagan Dunn, the county would acquire the park from the city of Seattle and request that Executive Dow Constantine relocate the park’s dozens of residents to transitional or permanent housing, provide additional security, and fix damage to the park, The Seattle Times reports. The proposal came after the fatal stabbing June 17 of a 31-year-old man in the park. Seattle police Sgt. Randy Huserik, a spokesperson for the department, said police responded to 100 calls of service at City Hall Park between April 13 and June 20, including assaults, robberies, warrant arrests and public disturbances. “The city of Seattle has no one to blame except for themselves for failing to abate the nuisance and keep that area safe,” Dunn said. “People have the right to a safe county courthouse, and we shouldn’t have to fight this hard for it.” The adjacent King County Courthouse belongs to the county, and taking over City Hall Park would allow it to be policed by the King County Sheriff’s Office instead of the Seattle Police Department, he said.
Charleston: The University of Charleston and Bethany College both say COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for the upcoming academic year at the private schools. University of Charleston President Marty Roth told news outlets that it is the school’s responsibility to provide a healthy environment for the 1,500 students expected at the Charleston campus and 200 at the Beckley campus. The way to do that is to require students to be inoculated, he said. Students at the university won’t have to wear masks, but 3 feet of social distancing will be required in classrooms and public spaces, Roth said. Bethany College’s vaccination requirement was decided by the college’s Pandemic Response Team in accordance with Centers for Disease Control guidance, the school said. “I applaud our community for its commitment to protecting one another, and I believe strongly that our decision to require the vaccine will maximize the Bethany experience even more,” Bethany President Tamara Nichols Rodenberg said in an email announcing the update.
Gov. Tony Evers announces $140 million in grants to tourism and entertainment industries that were hit by the COVID-19 pandemic at the Sheboygan Visitor Center on Thursday in Sheboygan, Wis. At left is Mayor Ryan Sorenson. (Photo: Gary C. Klein/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)
Madison: The state’s tourism and entertainment businesses, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, are getting some financial help to recover. Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday that more than $140 million in federal grant money will be available for the lodging industry, movie theaters, live event venues, minor league sports, and other entertainment and tourism businesses. The grants from the federal economic stimulus bill passed by Congress earlier this year will be administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration and Department of Revenue. “Last year, local venues kept their doors closed to help protect their communities,” DOA Secretary Joel Brennan said. “Now that nearly half of all Wisconsinites have received at least one dose of the vaccine, life is returning to normal. Minor league ball games are welcoming back families, theaters are reopening, and concert venues are booking new shows. These investments will ensure our communities bounce back stronger than before.” The lodging industry will receive $75 million in funding, with $12 million reserved for small businesses that host live events and about $11 million for movie theaters.
A wildfire burns off the shore of Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo. (Photo: AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Moose: The risk of wildfires is growing with more warm, dry weather in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The fire danger in Yellowstone is rated as “high,” and in Grand Teton it’s “very high.” The scale tops out with “extreme” fire risk. The parks aren’t there yet, but more hot and dry weather is in store for the weeks ahead, Grand Teton officials warned Wednesday. Already this year, firefighters in the Grand Teton area have put out 52 unattended or abandoned campfires, up from 18 at this time in 2020, park officals said. They discouraged visitors from having campfires. Those who do should have plenty of water on hand to douse and stir their fires until the fire pit or ring is cool, they said. Fireworks are prohibited in the parks and surrounding areas. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service has begun efforts to control an invasive grass in the area of a massive wildfire last fall in Medicine Bow National Forest, among Wyoming’s biggest wildfires in recent memory. A helicopter began spraying herbicide Monday to reduce cheatgrass in burned areas. Spraying will continue for about two months, forest officials said. Cheatgrass is a nonnative species that can proliferate in disturbed environments and burns readily, destroying sagebrush and other native plants.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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