From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
Published 2:41 AM EST Jan 8, 2020
Hayneville: A teenager admitted to fatally shooting a sheriff who was attempting to disperse loiterers at a gas station, a state investigator testified Monday. Lt. Shawn Loughridge of the State Bureau of Investigation testified in a preliminary hearing that 18-year-old William Chase Johnson admitted after being arrested that he shot Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams Sr. Johnson is charged with capital murder in the sheriff’s death. Store security video showed the sheriff arriving at a gas station and attempting to disperse a noisy crowd that was blocking gas pumps, the investigator said. He said witnesses indicated Johnson first approached Williams in an “aggressive” manner, and the sheriff told him to return to his vehicle. The sheriff was shot after approaching Johnson’s black Silverado truck, Loughridge testified.
Juneau: One of the longest-serving members on the state Supreme Court plans to retire later this year. The Alaska Judicial Council is accepting applications for the seat held by Justice Craig Stowers, who plans to retire effective June 1, according to Mara Rabinowitz with the state court system. Stowers, a former Superior Court judge, was appointed to the Alaska Supreme Court in 2009 and later served as a chief justice. Of the current justices, only Daniel Winfree has served on the Supreme Court longer. Winfree was appointed in 2007. The judicial council plans to meet in May to interview applicants. The names of finalists advanced by the council will be sent to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who will make the appointment.
Tucson: Like many city libraries, the one in downtown Tucson is a refuge for homeless people looking for a bathroom, a computer or just a respite. But staff at the Valdez Main Library want to be even more of a resource for men and women having a hard time. For more than a year now, the librarians here have been holding monthly meetings as part of the On the Streets program. Those experiencing homelessness can once a month get a meal and connect with services. The program has helped temper friction that can develop when library staffers have to approach people who are sleeping, bathing or bringing in multiple items. An average of 50 people show up for the monthly sessions. They receive a meal prepared by a local food bank and can choose to stay for the meeting. They get to shape the topics of discussion, too.
Little Rock: State officials announced Monday that the closure of a hog farm near the Buffalo River has been completed, months after striking a deal with the facility’s owners. Arkansas Parks, Heritage and Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst announced that the terms of the state’s agreement with the owners of C&H Hog Farms Inc. are complete. The shuttered hog farm’s owners have received $6.2 million in state and private funds that was held in escrow since last August, and the state in return now holds a conservation easement for the property. Under the agreement, the state will be responsible for the closure of the waste ponds at the property. Gov. Asa Hutchinson in June announced the settlement with the 6,500-hog farm in Vendor, about 95 miles northwest of Little Rock, which had been the source of controversy since it was permitted several years ago. The Nature Conservancy provided $1 million of the funding.
San Diego: A team of eye experts has operated on an unusual patient – a gorilla. A cataract was removed Dec. 10 from the left eye of a 3-year-old western lowland gorilla who lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the park announced Monday. The gorilla, named Leslie, was given a muscle blocker to keep her still while a team that included vets along with anesthesiologists and an ophthalmology team from UC San Diego Health removed the cloudy lens and replaced it with an artificial lens that should last for life. The operation was performed at the San Diego Zoo Global’s Paul Harter Veterinary Medical Center. Cataract surgeon Chris Heichel, who led the team and has performed thousands of operations, said it was his first on a gorilla.
Denver: An initiative to reintroduce gray wolves to the state has qualified for the November ballot. The secretary of state’s office said Monday that backers of the proposal turned in sufficient valid voter signatures to qualify the measure. The gray wolf has been successfully reintroduced to a number of U.S. states. It was eradicated in Colorado in the 1940s. Colorado ranchers and other interests strongly oppose the initiative, saying it would threaten livestock as well as elk, moose, deer and other animals. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund is campaigning for the plan. It says voters have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether to introduce the wolf, whereas efforts in other states are directed by federal wildlife officials. If passed, the initiative would direct the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to devise a plan to introduce wolves on public land west of the Continental Divide before 2024.
Westport: Gov. Ned Lamont is scheduled to appear at a public meeting this weekend to discuss his proposed transportation plan, which could include highway tolls. The town hall-style meeting is planned for Sunday at a school in Westport, where the Democratic governor is expected to be joined by Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti. It will be hosted by state Sen. Will Haskell and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, both Democrats. A transportation forum that originally was planned for Tuesday evening in Westport had been postponed. “Improving our infrastructure is a top concern for my district. That’s why I’m so excited to host Gov. Lamont and leaders from his administration to hear directly from my constituents at this town hall meeting,” Haskell said.
Wilmington: An 18-year-old man has been charged with throwing an incendiary device at a Planned Parenthood location in the state, a federal prosecutor’s office announced. Samuel James Gulick, of Middletown, was charged Monday in federal court. Security video recorded Gulick spray-painting the phrase “Deus Vult,” a Latin expression meaning “God wills it,” in red letters across the Newark building’s exterior Friday, the U.S. attorney’s release said. Gulick then stepped away, lit an object and threw it at the front window before running for cover. The object exploded, and a fire burned for a minute before going out, the court documents said. Gulick was arrested by the FBI on Saturday after investigators identified his car through the security video and found social media posts under his name containing the same phrase he scrawled on the building, as well as several anti-abortion messages.
District of Columbia
Washington: The viral art phenomenon known as “Infinity Mirrors” is returning to the Hirshhorn Museum on April 4. The Hirshhorn announced Monday that a mini exhibit of Yayoi Kusama’s work, “One with Eternity: Yayoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Collection,” will be on display through Sept. 20, WUSA-TV reports. The exhibit includes two “Infinity Mirror” rooms, including Kusama’s 1965 installation “Phalli’s Field” and a new room that will be announced soon. An early painting, photographs of Kusama and the 1964 sculpture “Flower Overcoat” will also be part of “One with Eternity.” The Japanese artist has created more than 20 of the mesmeric mirror rooms, allowing visitors to physically partake in the infinite repetition for which her paintings are known.
Tallahassee: The state’s environmental cops fine polluters today less than half as much as they did a decade ago, before former Gov. Rick Scott took office and shifted state regulators to a more pro-business posture, state data shows. Through the first week of December, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection assessed 352 penalties in 2019, totaling $4.4 million in fines for violating air, water, sewer, petroleum tank and other state environmental regulations. By comparison, in 2010 DEP assessed 1,249 environmental penalties in Florida, totaling $10.2 million – more than 3 1/2 times as many penalties and double the fines assessed this year. DEP holds that the lower figures prove the success of the agency’s mission to help businesses, utilities and other polluters to clean up their acts. But the agency’s critics say the steep drop in fines reflects an ever-softening stance.
Atlanta: The city’s police chief has ordered a halt to all police car chases after crashes that killed or injured people. “I don’t want to see us cost someone their life in pursuit of an auto theft person or burglar when the courts aren’t even going to hold them accountable. I mean, how can we justify that?” Chief Erika Shields said at a news conference. Two men were killed last month in Atlanta when their car was hit by a stolen car evading authorities, police said. The chief said the order will stay in effect while she reviews a chase policy that has been in place since 2018. Changes might include allowing only highly trained officers to take part in chases, Shields said. “I have not heard of any department totally restricting pursuits without some exception” for extreme situations such as active shooters or terrorists, said Jack Rinchich, president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police in Titusville, Florida.
Honolulu: Road crews are working to repair a section of highway that collapsed into the ocean as some residents question the state’s actions to fight road deterioration. Repair crews began working Sunday on Kamehameha Highway in Hauula after coastal erosion caused the collapse of the shoulder and part of a lane. An area north of Pokiwai Bridge will remain closed until further notice, the Hawaii Department of Transportation said. Ed Sniffen, the state deputy director for highways, estimated the repairs would cost about $120,000 and take about a week to complete. The collapsed area of road is 12 feet long and 6 feet above the beach. Inspectors found the shoulder had been undercut for approximately 20 feet in both directions, the department said.
Boise: Gov. Brad Little says education funding will be his top priority for the state budget, continuing a theme from his just-completed first year in office. The 65-year-old Republican governor delivered his second State of the State address to lawmakers Monday in what is considered the kickoff to the legislative session. “I am committed to working with you to invest in education, continue reducing regulatory burdens, and increase all Idahoans’ prosperity and quality of life,” Little declared. His budget limits general fund spending growth to 3.75%, a reduction from recent years. His budget leaves a surplus of $60 million and increases the state’s rainy-day funds by $102 million as protection against a possible economic slowdown. The state spends about half its budget on K-12 education, or about $2 billion annually. Little’s budget increases that by about 4%. In particular, Little is keen on increasing the reading ability of young students.
Chicago: Several recreational marijuana dispensaries in the state were closed Monday, with some owners saying strong demand has caused a shortage in supplies and staff exhaustion. The legal sale of recreational cannabis began Jan. 1 in Illinois, with customers spending about $3.2 million on the first day and more than $10.8 million over five days. By comparison, Michigan, which made recreational marijuana legal Dec. 1, generated $3.1 million in the first two weeks of sales. Neal McQueeney of Midway Dispensary in Chicago said the shop stopped selling recreational product Sunday and doesn’t expect to resume sales until Friday. Jason Erkes said Cresco Labs shut its Sunnyside shops in Chicago, Rockford and Champaign to all customers to “reset” and give his staff a break after working five consecutive 14-hour days.
Evansville: A recently retired University of Southern Indiana professor already has a new job, as the state’s newest poet laureate. The Indiana Arts Commission says Matthew Graham of Evansville began his two-year term as state poet laureate last week. He succeeds Adrian Matejka, an Indiana University professor. Graham’s duties will include making public appearances at poetry readings or literary events and promoting poetry. Graham is the author of four books of poetry, including “The Geography of Home,” released in 2018. He’s received a number of national, regional and local awards, including a Pushcart Prize, an Academy of American Poets Award and two grants from the Indiana Arts Commission. Graham co-founded and co-directed “The Ropewalk Writers’ Retreat” in the historic southwestern Indiana town of New Harmony.
Des Moines: To keep up with a sharp increase in passengers, Des Moines International Airport is adding gates to its planned new terminal years before construction even begins. Planned with 14 gates when it opens in 2028, the terminal will instead need 18 to handle the additional load, airport officials said Monday. The extra four gates hadn’t been slated to be built until 2040. The airport will have a combined $60 million in additional capacity-boosting projects, including the $40 million cost of the extra gates. But because the growth in passenger traffic has generated additional revenue, the shortfall in funding for the $500 million project remains at $194 million – similar to two years ago, when airport leaders were looking at scaling back the project to cut costs.
Topeka: Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly proposed Monday that the state give itself more breathing room in its budget by slashing annual payments to its pension system for teachers and government workers, offering a new version of a plan that the Republican-controlled Legislature spiked last year. Kelly’s proposal would give the state an extra 10 years to close a long-term gap in funding for the state pension system. The move would free up tens of millions of dollars each year for more than a decade, money that could be used for schools and social services. But it’s not clear if her new plan will fare any better than last year’s proposal – which was dead from almost the moment she presented it to lawmakers. The Kansas Public Employee Retirement System projects Kelly’s proposal would increase the cost of closing the gap by a total of $4.4 billion – comparing it to extending the length of a home mortgage.
Louisville: The Kentucky Humane Society had its largest adoption year on record with about 6,902 animal adoptions in 2019. The Humane Society said it was the first year that cat adoptions outnumbered dogs. In total, 3,424 cats found new homes compared to 3,398 dogs. Adoption officials said cat adoptions have been increasing over the past few years. Humane Society spokeswoman Andrea Blair said cats are popular with seniors, busy families, renters and people who travel for work. Blair said 1,583 cat adoptions took place at Purrfect Day Café, which opened in August 2018. The cafe serves coffee, snacks and cocktails while patrons interact with adoptable kittens and cats. Total adoptions were up 816 from 2018.
New Orleans: Residents who had real Christmas trees to celebrate the holidays are being asked to help the state’s fisheries. Jefferson Parish is seeking volunteers to help with its annual Christmas tree recycling program. It’s the parish’s 30th year doing the project. Volunteers, especially people with shallow draft boats, are needed Feb. 1 to help move the trees out to Goose Bayou, according to Seamus Riley with the parish’s Coastal Management Department. The staging area is at Cochiara’s Marina in Lafitte and begins at 9 a.m. The parish collects trees from residents and uses them to protect Louisiana’s coastline. The trees are used to build wave-reducing fences and to fill in man-made canals, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports. In 2019, more than 6,000 Christmas trees were collected in Orleans Parish and airlifted by the Louisiana National Guard into the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.
Augusta: Biologists with the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are getting ready to round up some moose. Starting this week, biologists will be capturing and collaring 130 moose as Maine’s moose survival study enters its sixth year and focuses on a new study area. The study began in the winter of 2014 in western Maine, and a second study area in northern Maine was added in 2016. Over five years, 475 moose were captured by helicopter-launched nets and fitted with a GPS collar. This year, the program will include a new area north of Moosehead Lake. The collars enable staff to remotely track moose locations and movements over time and to be notified if a moose dies. Adult cows are monitored each spring and summer to determine birth rates and survival rates of calves. For each collared moose, biologists collect detailed health information, including a blood sample, parasite loads, body condition and winter tick loads.
Annapolis: A newspaper’s review of state court records has found an apparent loophole that allows documents filed electronically to be kept from the public. The Capital reports court documents filed through the state’s electronic record-keeping system can be made secret by attorneys, judges and clerks and their staffers without a court order or public notice. In contrast, attorneys who want a record kept secret must obtain an order from a judge when filing by paper. That process requires notice and an opportunity for any interested party to intervene. The newspaper reports it’s unclear how many records have been so easily sealed across the state. In the case of the man accused of opening fire in the Annapolis newsroom in 2018, killing five employees, the newspaper learned through a public records request that almost 70% of the documents were designated “confidential,” keeping them from public view.
Boston: The City Council swore in the most diverse group in its history Monday. The council made up more than half by women and people of color was ushered in by Mayor Martin Walsh during a ceremony at Faneuil Hall, the Boston Herald reports. The mayor swore in 13 members who included four new faces, which is an unusual amount of turnover for the council. Voters in November also elected the council’s first Latina member, Julian Mejia, as well as district councilors Ricardo Arroyo, Kenzie Bok and Liz Breadon, the first openly gay woman to serve on the council. City Councilor Kim Janey will also make history as the third woman of color to serve as the body’s president. The council was a white male bastion for decades, but Boston is now a “majority minority” city where whites comprise roughly 47% of the population.
Midland: It’s not what the Egyptians had in mind, but it worked: A group of high school students made a pyramid out of toilet paper – 27,434 rolls. It took 16 hours for students to assemble the pyramid at Bullock Creek High School in Midland County. They are hoping to be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records and sell the toilet paper as a fundraiser for the 20-member robotics team. “There was a lot of excitement when we got to the last few layers, but the final roll at the top was actually pretty anti-climactic,” Maxton Herst told MLive.com. “Every single roll you place, you want it to be in the correct spot. It was just kind of mind-numbing work.” Herst got the idea three years ago after seeing a similar pyramid on YouTube. The students built the pyramid during holiday break. Rolls of the two-ply toilet paper have since been placed into 96-count boxes for purchase.
Winona: An employee has been fired after tweeting criticism of his firm’s holiday gift to its workers. A branch manager for Fastenal in Canada was fired just before New Year’s Day after he posted a tweet chiding the company about its gift choice of barbecue sauce and a wooden grill scraper. Fastenal says the tweet violated the company’s policy on social media posts. CEO Dan Florness said the policy about acceptable standards of conduct is given to every employee and posted on the company website. News of the firing has been widely shared on social media and prompted a backlash, including several website posts and phone messages that were deleted immediately because they were “vulgar” or “threatening,” Florness told the Star Tribune. Fastena’l, based in Winona, says it’s the largest fastener distributor in North America.
Jackson: Prisoner advocates are calling on the federal government to investigate the state’s prison system for possible civil rights violations, saying the violence of recent days highlights deliberate violations of inmates’ constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups said they were sending the letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Justice. The letter warns that “it is no exaggeration to say more lives will be lost absent immediate intervention.” U.S. Rep Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s only Democrat in Congress, called Sunday for a federal investigation after inmates were killed by fellow prisoners across three prisons and an unknown number of inmates were injured in disturbances. Mississippi prison officials, who called in state troopers and a special team of prison guards from Tennessee to help regain control of the situation, have said four of the deaths are related to violence between gangs.
St. Louis: Gov. Mike Parson says he’s not convinced that unregulated and untaxed video gambling terminals in the state are illegal, even as investigators in his administration work to halt their spread. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Parson, the former Polk County sheriff, said he is monitoring a Platte County court case that could provide legal guidance to the state’s prosecutors on what constitutes a game of chance versus a game of skill. The video gambling terminals, which work in a fashion similar to slot machines, have been rolled out in truck stops, gas stations and convenience stores across the state. Opponents argue that slot machines are only allowed in casinos. But backers say the machines give players the option of viewing the outcome of a wager before placing a bet. The governor’s stance is in contrast to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, whose leaders have made a decision.
Great Falls: A Native American tribe has planned a celebration after recently gaining federal recognition. The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana has announced plans to host a celebration Jan. 25 in Great Falls. The celebration comes about a month after President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act containing an amendment giving the Little Shell Tribe federal recognition, officials said. The free celebration will be held at the Holiday Inn from 5 to 10 p.m. and is open to the public, tribal council members said. The celebration includes dinner, traditional music played by fiddlers, and speeches by dignitaries and council members. Other tribes are expected to be represented at the event, councilmembers said. The public is also invited to attend a pipe ceremony the same day at 1 p.m. at the Shawn Gilbert Event Center, tribal members said.
Lincoln: The City Council is cracking down on illegal dumping at recycling collection sites. The council voted unanimously Monday to make it illegal to put recyclables anywhere but in the proper containers at the 19 collection sites available to residents. The new ordinance also bans dumping at the sites or in the recycling containers anything that can’t be recycled. People have left garbage and other objects at the sites, including hot tubs, tires, beds, televisions, wood pallets and pianos – all items that can’t be recycled. Cleaning up the resulting messes fell to the businesses hosting the sites, Lincoln transportation and utilities assistant director of utilities Donna Garden told the council last month. The ordinance also applies to recycling processing centers, salvage operations and commercial composting operations. Violators face fines of up to $500 for the misdemeanor offense.
Reno: An Australian mining company has agreed to a moratorium on new activities at a planned lithium mine in the state in exchange for conservationists dropping a lawsuit to protect a rare desert wildflower they say doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. The Center for Biological Diversity filed notice in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas that it was voluntarily withdrawing its lawsuit against the Trump administration seeking a ban on all drilling and road building at the site on federal land as a result of the newly reached agreement with Ioneer USA Corp. The center filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in October to list Tiehm’s buckwheat as an endangered species. The lawsuit filed weeks later accused the Bureau of Land Management of illegally dividing the mining operations into two separate projects so as to bypass its own regulations for any land disturbances larger than 5 acres.
Manchester: Monks at a Catholic college faced off in court Monday against the school’s board of trustees in a dispute over an effort to limit the the monks’ power – a move some worry could lead to increased secularization. A judge heard motions in Hillsborough Superior Court related to a lawsuit filed against the Saint Anselm College board last year. The unusual clash was set in motion when the board moved to take away the monks’ ability to amend the school’s bylaws. Michael Tierney, representing the monks, said the school’s charter dictated that they retain the power to amend laws governing the school. The school was set up and run by Benedictine monks for 130 years. The board has argued that it has the authority under state law on nonprofit organizations to amend the bylaws. It argues the move is necessary to ensure it has the required independence for reaccreditation.
Trenton: The state could see a significant increase in the number of electric cars traveling on local roads under a bill gaining momentum that would expand the state’s network of charging stations and give motorists a sizable rebate on a purchase or lease. The measure is seen as a cornerstone of efforts to reduce air pollution, including greenhouse gases, in a state that continually receives failing grades for smog. The bill was approved by two Assembly committees Monday as lawmakers push to pass it before the legislative session comes to a close next week. To achieve those clean air reductions, motorists will be given one of the best incentive packages in the nation to buy an electric car. At the center of the bill is a rebate of up to $5,000 intended to lower an electric vehicle’s sticker price to make the sector more competitive with gasoline-powered cars.
Santa Fe: The Legislature’s lead budget-writing committee on Tuesday recommended a 6.5% increase in state general fund spending and endorsed plans to stash away a portion of New Mexico’s windfall from oil production in trust funds to ensure future financial stability. The Legislative Finance Committee that operates a year-round policy and accountability office recommended a $464 million increase in sustained spending to about $7.5 billion for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Another $325 million would be set aside in an investment trust to underwrite early childhood schooling and services, alongside smaller trusts dedicated to college affordability and rural libraries. Legislators expect the state will receive an $800 million surplus in general fund income next year, in excess of the $7 billion in current spending obligations.
New York: The country’s busiest train station would get new tracks, expanded terminals and better access for commuters under a plan announced by the governor Monday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will propose acquiring the block south of Penn Station to add at least eight new underground tracks, which he said will create new, larger terminals and boost track and train capacity by 40%. More than 600,000 people pass through Penn Station daily on trains run by Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, operator of the Long Island Rail Road and the New York City subway system. The station has 21 tracks and operates at full capacity during peak periods, leading to rippling delays when trains or infrastructure break down. The more than century-old station was considered an architectural masterpiece in its day, and its demolition and repurposing in the 1960s provoked a public outcry.
Wilmington: A popular ferry route has closed for three months to allow crews to perform repairs. The StarNews reports the N.C. Department of Transportation closed the Southport-Fort Fisher ferry beginning Monday to update ramp equipment at both ferry terminals. The department’s ferry division said contractors expect work on the approximately $3 million project should be done by early April. The work comes after a failure of the ramp system on the Southport side of the ferry shut down the route for five weeks in August and September. The ferry closure will be a headache for tourists and commuters. What was a 30-minute trip over the water could take an hour-plus by road. Nearly 200,000 vehicles make the Southport-Fort Fisher crossing each year, the StarNews reports, citing state statistics.
Bismarck: A county commission that recently voted to limit how many refugees it would accept voted Monday not to put the issue before voters in a nonbinding straw poll. The Bismarck Tribune reports the five-member Burleigh County Commission voted 3-2 against a potential ballot question relating to future refugee resettlement. The vote breakdown was the same as the commission vote last month not to accept more than 25 refugees in 2020. That vote came after a four-hour meeting where several refugees, in often emotional testimony, urged the commission to continue accepting new arrivals. Had the commission voted a total ban on refugee resettlement in Burleigh County, home to about 95,000 people and the capital city of Bismarck, refugee resettlement groups said they believe it would have been be the first local government to do so since President Donald Trump gave states and counties that power.
Columbus: Gov. Mike DeWine has asked the state’s Medicaid official to look into what can be done in response to the recent increase in the number of children without health insurance. The governor’s directive came after a recent report showed Ohio’s uninsured rate for infants, toddlers and preschoolers is now the third-highest in the nation, with nearly 12,000 more children without coverage in 2018 than in 2016, the Columbus Dispatch reports. DeWine said he asked Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran “to see what steps that we can take to deal with this” and to see if there is a way to “make re-enrollment easier” so that it is not a hurdle for those looking to get insured. The number of children without health insurance coverage climbed to 5% in 2018 from 3.6% in 2016, according to report released in December by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.
Oklahoma City: Two days of meetings and new searches are planned this week for two 16-year-old girls missing and presumed dead for more than two decades, authorities said Monday. Investigators with the Craig County District Attorney’s Office and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation will be joined by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman in and around the former town of Picher, about 85 miles northeast of Tulsa, said district attorney spokeswoman Michelle Lowry. Lowry said a request from Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma late last year prompted the federal agency’s involvement. The OSMRE will use an underground camera and, if needed, lighting to examine the floors and walls of mine shafts in the area. Picher, which no longer exists as a town, was included in a federally funded buyout after a 2006 Army Corps of Engineers study revealed abandoned lead and zinc mines beneath the area had a high risk of caving in.
Salem: Lagging snowfall early in the season could mean a tough, dry summer for farmers and ranchers around the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Resources Conservation Service says the amount of water from snow that’s fallen in Oregon right now is just 45% of normal statewide, the Capitol Press reports. Water from melting snow is crucial for replenishing streams and reservoirs for farms and fish, particularly in eastern Oregon where the climate is drier. Every water basin is measuring below average for snow except for the Owyhee Basin in southeastern Oregon, which stands at 117% of normal. The lowest totals are in the Hood, Sandy and Lower Deschutes basins at 25% of normal and the Willamette Basin at 26%. The water year, as defined by hydrologists, begins Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30 of the following calendar year.
Harrisburg: Voters in three Pennsylvania House districts will choose new state representatives during special elections scheduled for March, the state House speaker announced Tuesday. A top aide to Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said the March 17 date was chosen to fill seats that became vacant because the incumbents were elected in November to other offices. The seats were most recently held by Rep. Tedd Nesbit, R-Mercer; Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks; and Justin Walsh, R-Westmoreland. Nesbit and Walsh were elected to become county judges, and DiGirolamo is now a county commissioner. Rep. Tom Murt, R-Montgomery, will succeed DiGirolamo as chair of the Human Services Committee, and Rep. Gary Day, R-Lehigh, will chair Aging.
Providence: Nonprofits in the state have been awarded grants totaling nearly $300,000 for outreach to boost participation in the 2020 census. The Rhode Island Foundation announced the grants Monday from the Rhode Island Census 2020 Fund, a statewide, collaborative funding initiative. The goal is to protect the $3.8 billion a year Rhode Island receives in federal funding for education, health care, transportation and housing based on census data, the foundation said. Twenty-six organizations received funding for programs to reach hard-to-count communities, including the Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education in Providence, Progreso Latino in Central Falls, and Meals on Wheels in Providence. Nonprofits, municipalities, houses of worship, and public agencies including libraries and schools can apply for grants in the second round of funding.
Charleston: The Citadel is evaluating the college’s existing buildings, infrastructure and landscapes to create a long-term plan that will guide future building projects and campus renovations. The campus master plan will create a vision of what the public military college could look like 15 years from now, The Post and Courier reports. “Once we have a plan in place, it will guide all of our facility decisions going forward,” said Jeff Lamberson, vice president of facilities and engineering. The college finalized a $450,000 contract with Ayers Saint Gross, an architectural design firm spearheading the project, in October. College officials have talked with hundreds of students, faculty and staff in more than 35 focus-group meetings.
Sioux Falls: Legislators have invited the Crow Creek Sioux tribal chairman to deliver the annual State of the Tribes address after some tribal leaders threatened to boycott a planned address by a member of Gov. Kristi Noem’s Cabinet. Lawmakers on Monday invited Lester Thompson Jr. to deliver the address next week. The move is a switch from plans to have Secretary of Tribal Relations Dave Flute give it. The annual speech is supposed to promote cooperation between the state government and the tribes but instead became a point of friction when tribal leaders objected to having a state employee give the speech. Last week, some tribal leaders said they would hold their own event called the Great Sioux Nation Tribal address. That event will still happen in Fort Pierre across the Missouri River from the Capitol but has been rescheduled for after the State of the Tribes address.
Townsend: One of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s most popular sites has been closed to all vehicles until repairs to a main access road tunnel are finished. The Cades Cove closure started Sunday night and is expected to last until March. Major repairs are needed for the internal drainage system in the 121-foot long Bote Mountain Tunnel on Laurel Creek Road, according to the National Park Service. The tunnel hasn’t undergone significant work since it was built in 1948. The cove’s campground also will be closed until March. The nearby Elkmont Campground and the Smokemont Campground in North Carolina will remain open year-round to accommodate displaced cove campers, according to WATE-TV.
Dallas: A contempt of court charge has been dropped against the Dallas County district attorney over a television interview he gave on the eve of a high-profile murder trial involving a police officer. Both sides filed a motion to drop the contempt charge against Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, who gave an interview before the start of former officer Amber Guyger’s murder trial despite a gag order by Judge Tammy Kemp. The white officer was convicted of murder for the shooting death of her unarmed black neighbor, Botham Jean, inside his own apartment. Kemp said in an order that the interview, in which Creuzot explained why he thought Guyger was correctly charged with murder rather than manslaughter, was a “direct violation” of the gag order she’d issued in the case.
Salt Lake City: The state Department of Transportation has started making safety improvements near a homeless resource center where cars killed three men, officials said. The department has installed electronic message signs to urge drivers to be cautious and alert for pedestrians near the South Salt Lake center, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. Salt Lake City leaders called for immediate pedestrian safety improvements after three men were fatally struck while trying to cross the street near the center. Police believe all three men were homeless and seeking shelter at the center. Four crashes, including those involving the fatalities, have occurred in the area since the November opening of the 300-bed men’s resource center, police said.
Montpelier: A bakery is hosting a raffle to find the lucky person who gets to tear down a gingerbread village. In a first for Birchgrove Baking, the sweet treat establishment is selling customers tickets “for the chance to win the right to destroy the village.” Initially, after the holiday season was over, the bakery struggled to find a creative way to raze its gingerbread village. Birchgrove co-owner John Belding says the owners have in the past resorted to destroying it themselves, getting out their own tension from the hectic year. Sales from this year’s raffle will go toward the Central Vermont Humane Society, an ongoing collaborator with Birchgrove Baking. Winners will be announced Friday.
Richmond: More people earned bachelor’s degrees in the state last year than ever before. Data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia shows that a record number of degrees were awarded in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health fields. During the 2018-19 school year, public and private nonprofit colleges and universities awarded 122,168 degrees and certificates – an increase of nearly 50% from a decade ago. In-state students accounted for 86,325, or more than 70%, of those awards. Bachelor’s degrees accounted for 46% of the total, while graduate degrees made up 25%. Associate degrees made up 16%, and certificates made up 13%. The three most popular bachelor’s degree programs remained unchanged from previous years: business administration and management; psychology; and biology/biological sciences. Those three majors accounted for 19% of all bachelor’s degrees.
Olympia: The state Supreme Court on Monday swore in a new chief justice, as well as its first-ever Native American justice. The Spokesman-Review reports Justice Debra Stephens became the court’s 57th chief justice. A former Appeals Court judge and adjunct professor of law at Gonzaga University, she called it “the greatest privilege I can imagine.” Raquel Montoya-Lewis, a former Whatcom County Superior Court judge who is a member of the Pueblo Iselta tribe of New Mexico, was sworn in at the same ceremony. Montoya-Lewis is the first Native American to serve on Washington’s highest court and only the second to serve on any state supreme court in the nation. Stephens called it a historic day. Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday was a day when “a daughter of Spokane ascends to chief justice,” and the court gets Lewis-Montoya, a “judicial superstar” who is a good listener, decisive, caring and compassionate.
Charleston: The Department of Natural Resources says anglers should expect trout stocked in state waterways during the winter months to be smaller than usual. A long dry spell across the state from late summer through fall is thought to have affected the average “catchable” size of the fish, Jim Hedrick, the division’s hatchery supervisor, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. When the drought broke in October, the hatcheries’ water supplies were replenished and allowed workers to begin feeding trout at the normal rate. But winter weather soon slowed the growth rate again, Hedrick said. The growth rate is expected to return to normal as the weather gets warmer, he said. The division is also adding feed to try to increase trout size. Hedrick said each of the 31 streams and 30 lakes designated for January stockings will receive as many pounds of fish as last year.
Madison: Republicans decided Tuesday to place only President Donald Trump’s name on the state’s primary ballot this spring, setting up obstacles for any long-shot candidates to challenge him in the state. A committee made up of Republicans and Democrats met with state election officials in the Capitol to decide which candidates will be placed on the April 7 primary ballot. The Republican committee members submitted only Trump’s name; he was approved on a unanimous voice vote. The Democratic committee members submitted 14 candidates. The Republican move will make it more difficult but not impossible for other GOP hopefuls such as former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh to get on the GOP primary ballot. They could still be included if they each collect 8,000 signatures by Jan. 28.
Casper: A school district has paid off more than $4,000 in student lunch debt after a crowd-sourced check bounced. The Casper Police Department has opened an investigation into the “Feed Casper Students” fundraising campaign on GoFundMe aimed at paying off the Natrona County School District’s student lunch debt, The Casper Star-Tribune reports. The district accepted about $19,000 in fundraising donations in April, the same month the check bounced, school officials said. The district paid off the lunch debt for about 250 students out of its general fund, rather than reopen the outstanding debt for the students, officials said. A school district administrator made several attempts to reach the woman who started the fundraiser, Brittny French, authorities said. Multiple attempts by the Star-Tribune to contact French were unsuccessful last week, including through GoFundMe. Police asked anyone who had donated to the campaign to get in touch with police.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports