Auburn: Jordan-Hare Stadium will officially be at full capacity for Auburn football games in 2021, the university said in a release outlining what game days will look like this year. Face coverings are recommended but not required in open-air spaces, the release said. However, the university requires masks in indoor spaces, so fans using elevators, premium indoor seating or transit buses will need to bring them. While some schools such as LSU are requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test for stadium entry, Auburn is not. Tiger Walk will be back, but the team’s pregame procession into the stadium will be shortened. The traditional pregame war eagle flight is also returning this year. The marching band will be allowed on the field for pregame and halftime festivities after being prohibited from the field last season. The university is encouraging fans to use digital ticketing through mobile devices. Merchandising and concessions inside Jordan-Hare will be cashless and contact-free, but game programs will still sell in and around the stadium for $10 cash.
Anchorage: Plastic is no longer a choice when checking out from stores in Anchorage. A ban on plastic bags is back in force in Alaska’s largest city after a temporary suspension during the pandemic, Alaska’s News Source reports. As of Wednesday, the option when checking out is paper or reusable options. The ban first took effect in 2019, but Assembly member Felix Rivera said it was relaxed during the pandemic in part because the supply chain for paper bags was disrupted. There were also concerns about whether reusable bags could transmit the coronavirus, he said. “I think since last year, we’ve learned a lot about the virus, and now nothing that I am reading leads me to have a lot of concern about reusable bags transmitting the virus,” he told the Anchorage television station.
Phoenix: In a process that some people call a “virgin birth,” a Brazilian rainbow boa was born at the Phoenix Zoo with DNA from only one parent. Its mom, who has been at the zoo for 10 years, has never been paired for mating. Imagine the keepers’ surprise when the baby boa was discovered in the snake’s enclosure Aug. 3. The snake was likely born through parthenogenesis, in which one – or multiple – eggs mature without fertilization. The zoo believes this is the second documented birth of its kind among Brazilian rainbow boas. Mom is currently in the Boa Hut on the Forest of Uco Trail, and the zoo plans to house the baby in a reptile nursery on the Children’s Trail. So-called virgin births, or asexual reproduction, may not be that uncommon among vertebrates. Thelma, a reticulated python at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, gave birth to six baby pythons without a partner in 2014. “Once considered an evolutionary novelty, facultative parthenogenesis has now been documented in an increasing number of vertebrate species, ranging from the hammerhead shark to domestic turkeys, komodo dragons to snakes,” Warren Booth, an associate professor of molecular ecology at the University of Tulsa who studies the phenomenon, said in a statement in 2016.
Little Rock: Several inmates say they weren’t told a medication they were given to treat COVID-19 was actually an anti-parasite drug that federal health officials have warned should not be used for that purpose. Three inmates at the Washington County jail said they didn’t know they were being given ivermectin until its use at the facility was revealed last week. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas said it’s heard similar complaints from inmates. The inmates’ comments contradict assertions by the sheriff and the jail’s physician that use of the drug was voluntary. “They were pretty much testing us in here is all they were doing, seeing if it would work,” said William Evans, who said he was given the drug for two weeks after he tested positive for the virus. The drug’s manufacturer, Merck, said in February that it had found no evidence ivermectin is an effective treatment for COVID-19 patients. Edrick Floreal-Wooten said he was given ivermectin after testing positive Aug. 21. “I asked what are they, and they’d just tell me vitamins,” Floreal-Wooten said. He said he refused to take the drug last week after seeing a news article about ivermectin being prescribed to inmates. “Never. I’m not livestock,” he said. “I’m a human.” The ACLU said it has also heard from inmates who say they were told the drug was vitamins or steroids.
Sacramento: The state could soon force large department stores to display some child products in gender-neutral ways after the Legislature passed a bill Wednesday aimed at getting rid of traditional pink and blue marketing schemes for items like toys and toothbrushes. The bill would not outlaw boys and girls sections in department stores but would require retailers to have a gender-neutral section to display “a reasonable selection” of items “regardless of whether they have been traditionally marketed for either girls or for boys.” It would only apply to department stores with 500 or more employees, so most small businesses would be exempt. It also wouldn’t apply to clothes, just toys and “childcare items,” which include hygiene and teething products. The state Senate passed the bill Wednesday, sending it back to the Assembly for a procedural vote before it heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. If it becomes law, California would become the first state to require these sections in stores, according to the office of Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, the bill’s author. He said the measure was inspired by a 10-year-old whose mother works in his legislative office. “Britten asked her mom while shopping why certain things in a store were ‘off limits’ to her because she was a girl but would be fine if she was a boy,” Low said. “Thankfully, my colleagues recognized the pure intentions of this bill and the need to let kids be kids.”
Denver: Three suburban police officers and two paramedics were indicted on manslaughter and other charges in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man put into a chokehold and injected with a powerful sedative in a fatal encounter that provoked national outcry during racial injustice protests last year. The grand jury indictments announced Wednesday by state Attorney General Phil Weiser are the latest chapter for the police department in the city of Aurora, which has been plagued by allegations of misconduct against people of color, including a officer charged this summer with pistol-whipping a Black man. McClain’s death helped inspire a sweeping police accountability law in Colorado, a ban on chokeholds and restrictions on the use of the sedative ketamine, both of which the indictment alleges contributed to his death. The charges were announced days after the second anniversary of when police stopped McClain on the street after a 911 caller reported a man who seemed “sketchy.” “What I set out to do is still not over, but I’m halfway there. I’m halfway there,” McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, said of her efforts to hold police accountable. Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who took over last year and has pledged to work to restore public trust, said the department will continue to cooperate with the judicial process.
Farmington: A small jet crashed shortly after taking off from a small airport Thursday morning, killing all four people aboard, officials said. The jet took off just before 10 a.m. from the Robertson Airport before crashing into the building at Trumpf Inc., a manufacturing company, Farmington Police Lt. Tim McKenzie said. “It appears there was some type of mechanical failure during the takeoff sequence that resulted in the crash behind us,” he said. The plane, a Cessna Citation 560X, was headed to Dare County Regional Airport in Manteo, North Carolina, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Two pilots and two passengers aboard the plane were killed, McKenzie said. The crash set off chemical fires inside the Trumpf building, Gov. Ned Lamont said. Everybody who was inside the building has been accounted for, and there were no serious injuries, McKenzie said. Lamont said authorities were in the process of identifying those who died on the plane. He said there was nothing left of it when first responders arrived. “It was just a ball of fire, an explosion, and then the chemical fires afterwards,” he said. “I think they are still trying to identify who was there, identify the next of kin before we can say anything else. I just know it was incredible. The thing was filled with jet fuel.”
Wilmington: After heavy rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ida overnight, officials said the city was seeing historic flooding Thursday. The Wilmington Fire Department and other agencies were performing water rescues, and many streets and bridges remained closed, officials said. Flooding affected several neighborhoods, and a Wilmington Fire Department spokesperson said crews had rescued 60 to 80 people by noon. Delaware Department of Transportation Community Relations Director CR McLeod said the flooding was affecting homes and businesses, and there were many vehicles underwater, WDEL-FM reports. More than 50 bridges would need to be surveyed and assessed, he said. “A lot of this water is coming down from Pennsylvania with the excessive amounts of rain that they had associated with the storm yesterday,” McLeod said. “All that water is going to make its way down toward the Delaware River, and it’s all coming down the Brandywine.” The Brandywine entered a major flood stage Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning it reached a maximum crest of 23.1 feet, a new record, according to the National Weather Service. Waters began to recede, and the creek was expected to fall below flood stage early Friday, according to the agency.
District of Columbia
Washington: The nation’s capital ranks last in the country for teacher pay compared to other jobs, WUSA-TV reports, citing a study from business.org. The July study compared the average salary of primary and secondary school teachers to the average salary for all jobs within each state and the district. The data was collected using the National Center for Education Statistics and compared with the salaries of all occupations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The results found that D.C. and Virginia rank last in the country, with educators earning 17% and 10% less than the average wage, respectively. Virginia and D.C. are among seven states that the study claims pay teachers below the state’s average salary. The study reports that Mississippi has the lowest salary for teachers at just more than $45,000 per year, but that is still 8.6% higher than the average salary in the state. Pennsylvania ranked highest in the country, according to the study, with teachers earning 30% more than the average wage.
Sarasota: An elementary school was placed in a temporary, limited lockdown after a parent threatened to leave his job and confront an assistant principal for telling his children they couldn’t come to school without being masked. Christopher Kivlin was met by police officers Tuesday outside Ashton Elementary School in Sarasota. No charges were filed, but he was ordered not to come back to the school without calling first and getting permission. An incident report said Kivlin showed up to campus saying the school was violating the law by not allowing his children to attend school. The Sarasota County school district is among a dozen of Florida’s 67 districts, representing about half of the state’s 2.8 million public school students, that have defied Gov. Rob DeSantis’ executive order barring schools from requiring masks over parent objections. A judge last week ruled that DeSantis did not have the authority to issue the order. The DeSantis administration is expected to appeal the decision. Kivlin told television station WFLA he had no intention of hurting anyone but just wanted to talk to a school official. He apologized for scaring anyone and said that “it was just emotions built up.” “I found out after the fact that the school had to go into lockdown, I was like, ‘That’s horrible,’ ” Kivlin said. “I feel like I might have scared other parents.”
Atlanta: A judge’s decision striking down a Trump-era rule that eliminated federal protections for some wetlands and streams is giving hope to opponents of a proposed mine outside the Okefenokee Swamp’s vast wildlife refuge in southeast Georgia. A federal judge in Arizona on Monday tossed the rule that narrowed the types of U.S. waters that qualify for federal protection from pollution under the Clean Water Act. The judge’s order, which applies nationwide, says the rule enacted under former President Donald Trump improperly limited the scope of clean water protections. One high-profile project directly affected by the environmental rollbacks under Trump was a proposal by Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals to mine titanium dioxide on land about 3 miles from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge near the Georgia-Florida line. Conservationists fear mining close to the swamp’s edge could cause irreparable harm to the largest federal wildlife refuge east of the Mississippi River. Yet the Army Corps of Engineers declared last year that the project no longer required a federal permit because the rollbacks under Trump excluded wetlands on the site from federal protection. That left sole authority to Georgia state regulators to decide whether it could move forward.
Honolulu: Tourism officials have released a plan to reduce visitors on Oahu, the state’s most frequently visited and populous island. The plan was approved by the Hawaii Tourism Authority in July, and the full plan has now been released to the public, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. “Decreasing the total number of visitors to Oahu to a manageable level by controlling the number of visitor accommodations and exploring changes to land use, zoning and airport policies,” the plan says. It also establishes a regenerative tourism fee, creates reservation systems for natural and cultural sites, manages visitors’ use of cars, and promotes consumption of locally produced and sold goods. “We appreciate the Oahu residents who participated in the (plan) process and passionately contributed their diverse viewpoints, discussed various tourism-related challenges in their neighborhoods and helped set forth an actionable plan that is necessary for the community’s well-being,” said John De Fries, the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s president and CEO. “It’s about continued collaboration and moving forward together to malama (care for) this cherished place and each other, as desired by the people of Oahu.” The three-year plan was developed by community members and county officials in collaboration with the tourism authority.
Lewiston: At least two state lawmakers received threatening letters concerning their votes on a law intended to drastically reduce wolf numbers. The anonymous letters to Republican Sen. Dan Johnson and Republican Rep. Caroline Troy say that “just as the wolf went from predator to prey, so shall you.” It’s not clear how many more lawmakers received the letters. The Lewiston Tribune reports some of the lawmakers contacted the Idaho State Police. Backers of the wolf law that took effect July 1 said the state can cut the number of wolves to 150 before federal authorities would take over management. That would be a 90% reduction of the state’s 1,500 wolves. The letters describe lawmakers as “nothing more than a sellout to the Cattle Association and that pitiful minority of cattle producers that seemingly dictate how our wildlife lives and dies.” Johnson said the envelope had a Sacramento postmark, and the return address was the Statehouse in Boise. “It’s OK for people to disagree with my votes or my bills, but some comments cross the line,” he said. “I think this letter comes close to the line, if not stepping over it.” The law passed the Senate 26-7 with no support from Democrats. It passed the House 58-11 with one Democrat in support and no Republicans opposed.
Chicago: Rowers, kayakers and other users of the Chicago River are getting a real-time look at one measure of water quality in the system that weaves through downtown and several neighborhoods. Chicago nonprofit Current installed three sensors in the river’s three main branches in 2019 to continuously estimate the amount of bacteria from human and other warm-blooded animals’ waste. The organization initially planned to begin making the real-time results public in 2020. But the coronavirus pandemic delayed its plans until Thursday, when a website updating with data taken every 15 minutes went online. The city’s development in the 19th century was thanks to the river – truly a system of rivers and manmade canals – that provided a path between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system. While the meatpacking and lumber industries could use it for shipping, the waterway also became a dumping ground for those and other industries and for sewage from homes and businesses. Quality of the 156-mile river system has improved in recent years, helped by multibillion-dollar construction of new reservoirs and underground tunnels. But when rain overwhelms Chicago’s sewer systems, sewage and stormwater is diverted to the river, prompting warnings to stay off the water for several days.
Indianapolis: Schools got an incentive from the governor Wednesday to require face masks in classrooms in hopes of slowing down the number of COVID-19 outbreaks among students. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a new statewide executive order that eases quarantine requirements for students if all children and adults in the school were wearing masks throughout the day. The revised order comes as many Indiana schools have seen COVID-19 outbreaks and as the state’s vaccination rate remains stubbornly low. Holcomb said the coronavirus’ spread in Indiana was regrettable but avoidable. “To the skeptics or unbelievers or deniers, I would just plead to look at the facts, to look at the numerical data that shows we can all stay safe if you get vaccinated,” Holcomb said. Meanwhile, the state’s largest hospital system will be stopping all inpatient nonemergency surgeries as the state faces a growing surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations. Indiana University Health announced Thursday that the surgery suspension would start Monday. The decision comes after IU Health said last week that it was cutting such surgeries by half. IU Health, which operates 16 hospitals around the state, also said that more than 1,000 employees did not meet Wednesday’s deadline to get COVID-19 vaccinations and would be suspended immediately.
Iowa City: A federal judge on Thursday ordered a prominent participant in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to return to jail after he was caught accessing the internet to watch false conspiracy theories about the presidential election. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly said Doug Jensen, 42, of Des Moines, had violated the strict conditions that were set when he was released from jail July 13, including prohibitions on accessing the internet and using a cellphone. Prosecutors had moved to revoke Jensen’s pretrial release Aug. 19, days after a federal officer found Jensen in his garage using an iPhone to watch news from Rumble, a streaming platform popular with conservatives. Jensen acknowledged that he had earlier watched two days of the cyber symposium sponsored by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, an ally of former President Donald Trump who used the event to push false theories that the 2020 election’s outcome was changed by Chinese hackers. Kelly noted that he had released Jensen from jail in July after Jensen claimed he had an awakening behind bars and realized the QAnon conspiracy theory to which he adhered was a “pack of lies.” The judge said it was significant that Jensen’s violations were caught during the first unannounced visit to his home by pretrial services officers.
Topeka: About a third of Kansas nursing homes have less than half of their health care workers vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data released by the state. Just four of the more than 300 federally licensed nursing homes are meeting the state’s goal for 90% of health care workers vaccinated, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services and Kansas Department of Health and Environment data shows. The departments released the data about a week after President Joe Biden announced that his administration will require nursing home staff to be vaccinated as a condition for those facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding. The department for aging and disability services said in a statement last week that it released the data to prepare for those new rules. Gov. Laura Kelly’s office said in a statement, without offering details, that the administration would encourage nursing home workers to get inoculated. As of Wednesday, about 46% of Kansans were fully vaccinated, according to data provided by the state.
Louisville: A judge has refused to grant a divorce decree to a couple who swore under oath that their marriage was irreparably broken. The reason, she said: They were too nice to each other in court. In a decision condemned by divorce lawyers, Bullitt Family Court Judge Monica Meredith at least temporarily declined to dissolve Douglas and Nicole Potts’ 13-year marriage, which both insist can’t be salvaged. In an Aug. 23 order continuing the case and suggesting the couple undergo counseling, Meredith observed they were “respectful and courteous toward one another, and both held themselves in dignified and mature composure.” Meredith, who was elected to Family Court in 2018, said that “divorce court does not typically bring that demeanor out in its participants.” But in interviews and emails, a half-dozen family lawyers said Meredith’s order was inappropriate, unlawful and ridiculous. “It sends a terrible message to litigants: You are better served by acting like a petulant child in court than by acting mature,” said Louisville attorney Hal Helmers, who wasn’t involved in the case. Louise Graham, professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky’s Rosenberg College of Law, said counseling may be ordered only if one side disagrees the marriage is over. “Ninety-nine percent of divorce lawyers agree with the above, and we can never agree on ANYTHING,” Helmers said in an email.
Port Fourchon: Photos show what appears to be a miles-long oil slick near an offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Ida, according to aerial survey imagery released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and reviewed by the Associated Press. The government imagery, along with additional photos taken by the AP from a helicopter Tuesday, also show Louisiana port facilities, oil refineries and shipyards in the storm’s path where the telltale rainbow sheen typical of oil and fuel spills is visible in the water of bays and bayous. Both state and federal regulators said Wednesday that they had been unable to reach the stricken area, citing challenging conditions in the disaster zone. The NOAA photos show a black slick floating in the Gulf near a large rig with the name Enterprise Offshore Drilling painted on its helipad. Aerial photos taken by NOAA on Tuesday also show significant flooding to the massive Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery along the bank of the Mississippi River, just south of New Orleans. In some sections of the refinery, rainbow sheen is visible on the water leading toward the river. Asked about reports of levee failures near the refinery Monday, Phillips 66 spokesman Bernardo Fallas said there was “some water” in the facility and stressed that operations were shut down before the storm.
Portland: Newly unionized nurses at Maine Medical Center are frustrated over the end of pandemic accommodations. The policies had let high-risk employees work outside COVID-19 care, covered COVID-19 treatment costs, provided quarantine pay for coronavirus exposure outside the workplace and allowed pregnant nurses to start paid maternity leave in the last month of their pregnancy. “In the middle of a spike in infections from a fast-moving variant, this is not the time to remove the protections that have helped both staff and patients here for the past several months,” nurse Madison Light said. The surge is causing nurses to scramble to staff the COVID-19 units. They’re not getting enough breaks, they said. “Now it feels like there is no end in sight. Nurses and caregivers are exhausted, frustrated, and stretched to their physical and emotional limits,” Light said. MaineHealth said its policies on COVID-19 exposure and pregnancy leave follow current clinical and OSHA guidelines. Accommodations for high-risk employees are considered on a case-by-case basis, the company said.
Thurmont: First responders in western Maryland used a boat to rescue 10 children and a driver from a school bus caught in rising floodwaters as the remnants of Hurricane Ida dumped heavy rainfall Wednesday afternoon. Frederick County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Todd Wivell said the bus got stuck when it tried to cross a bridge in the Thurmont area that had water going across it, WTOP-FM reports. The driver and 10 children were rescued from the bus by boat, with the help of first responders from the sheriff’s office and the Frederick County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, he said. Even 6 inches of moving water is enough to knock a person off their feet, Wivell said. Frederick County Public Schools recalled all school buses that were in the process of dropping students off. Parents were asked to pick their kids up from school buildings. Frederick County Public Schools’ Superintendent Terry Alban apologized after facing criticism for not dismissing children early, saying the decision to remain open for a full day led to “stress and anxiety for many,” The Frederick News-Post reports. School systems in neighboring counties sent students home early ahead of forecasted inclement weather.
Boston: A question that would require voters to present an ID and a second that would grant new benefits for drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft while stopping short of declaring them employees have cleared an initial hurdle on their way to next year’s ballot. Other proposed initiatives that received a constitutional green light from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office Wednesday would legalize the sale of fireworks, create a “whale safe fishing act,” allow for the return of “happy hours,” and create a “Right to Counsel Program” for those facing eviction. The questions were among 16 proposed laws and one proposed constitutional amendment that met the requirements for ballot initiatives outlined in the Massachusetts Constitution, according to Healey’s office. Another 13 proposals were deemed unconstitutional. The state constitution requires proposed initiatives be in the proper form to present to voters, not be substantially the same as any measure on the ballot in either of the two preceding statewide elections, contain only subjects related to each other and not involve topics specifically excluded from the ballot initiative process.
Lansing: Thousands of Flint residents were put at potential risk because a New York law firm, for six months, used handheld X-ray devices to scan their bones for lead without first registering the devices and putting recommended safety measures in place, documents obtained by the Detroit Free Press show. Starting in about August 2020, the Napoli Shkolnik firm used the portable scanners – which are tools in the mining and scrap metal industries but are not designed for use on humans – as a way of bolstering residents’ claims for larger shares of a proposed $641.25 million settlement of civil lawsuits arising from the 2014 lead poisoning of Flint’s drinking water supply. The law firm’s failure until February 2021 to register the devices with the state of Michigan, as required by law, and the state’s low-key response once it learned the scanners had been used for months without required approvals add insult to the injury that was the Flint drinking water crisis. “Unfortunately, thousands of bone scans using these devices … went forward under improper and illegal circumstances,” said Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, a Flint pediatrician and former president and CEO of Mott’s Children’s Health Center, who first raised concerns about the scanners in a February court filing.
Minneapolis: Attorneys for three former police officers charged in George Floyd’s death asked a judge Thursday to bar their upcoming trial from being livestreamed, saying some witnesses won’t testify if the proceedings are broadcast. The request from attorneys for Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao is an about-face from their earlier request to have the trial publicly broadcast, and it is opposed by prosecutors and news outlets. Lane, Kueng and Thao are scheduled to stand trial next March on charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s May 2020 death. Their co-defendant, Derek Chauvin, was convicted in April of murder and manslaughter after weeks of proceedings that marked the first time in Minnesota that a criminal trial was livestreamed in its entirety. Before Chauvin’s trial, attorneys for all four men requested the trials be broadcast, but Lane and Kueng recently backtracked, with their attorneys saying that the “worldwide publicity” from televised coverage of Chauvin’s trail “crushed” their clients’ right to a fair trial. Attorneys Earl Gray and Tom Plunkett say the public access led some witnesses to decline testifying for the defense, noting one witness in the Chauvin trial has been harassed and another faced professional scrutiny.
Gulfport: The U.S. Marshals Service has arrested a man in connection with an assault on an MSNBC reporter during a live broadcast from the state Monday. Benjamin Dagley was taken into custody Thursday afternoon at a shopping center in Dayton, Ohio, according to a report. With the assistance of the public, the Gulfport Police Department identified Dagley, of Wooster, Ohio, as a suspect in an assault on Shaquille Brewster as he covered Hurricane Ida. Dagley allegedly pulled up in white pickup truck and ran toward the camera crew. The suspect could be heard off-camera repeatedly screaming something about reporting the hurricane accurately. Brewster attempted to go on with the live coverage, even shifting his position to move away from the suspect, but when he realized the accused was not backing down, Brewster tossed it back to the studio. As the camera faded, viewers could see Brewster being physically confronted. Gulfport police issued warrants Tuesday charging Dagley with two counts of simple assault, one count of disturbance of the peace and one count of violating emergency curfew. Police also said Dagley is on probation for a previous charge in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
Jefferson City: A state senator from Kansas City said he is demanding answers after an exhibit on the gay rights movement in Missouri was removed from the state Capitol. Democrat Sen. Greg Razer, the only openly gay member of the Missouri Senate, said he was “appalled” when he was told the exhibit, “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights,” had been removed from the Missouri State Museum. Connie Patterson, spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, did not immediately reply to questions about why the exhibit was moved and who made the decision. On Tuesday, Uriah Stark, legislative aide for state Rep. Mitch Boggs, R-La Russell, posted pictures of the exhibit on Facebook and questioned why the “taxpayer funded museum is pushing the LGBT agenda in our state capitol?” The next day, Stark thanked “several of our great elected officials” for having the exhibit removed, specifically mentioning Republican Reps. Ann Kelley, of Lamar, and Brian Seitz, of Branson, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. “There is NOTHING controversial about an exhibit that explains how members of the LGBT community fought to end persecution and demand rights as citizens,” Razer tweeted Thursday. “I’m extremely disappointed and angry that @mostateparks may think otherwise.”
West Glacier: Glacier National Park is ending its reservation requirement to travel on the Going-to-the-Sun Road after Labor Day as the busy summer season winds down. The reservation system has been in place for anyone wanting to travel on the scenic highway since May 28. Reservations were required between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. The pilot program testing the reservation system worked to alleviate traffic, but park officials said some people struggled to find available tickets. The park’s shuttle service will also end after Labor Day.
Lincoln: The state government is stepping in to help shuffle patients between local hospitals that are dealing with a surge of people with COVID-19 and other health issues, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday. The Republican governor said the state has partnered with Nomi Health, the creators of the TestNebraska program, to offer call centers that overcrowded hospitals can contact when they need to transfer patients elsewhere. The around-the-clock call centers will serve as coordinators for in-state hospitals to try to keep them from getting overwhelmed, at a cost of $200,000 a month. The announcement is another sign that the state is once again struggling with coronavirus cases, even though most of the hospitalizations are patients without the coronavirus. State officials opened a similar call center last year but ended the program after the number of cases and hospitalizations declined. The new call center is scheduled to open Saturday. Nebraska’s hospitals reported to the state Wednesday that 72% of their 3,234 beds were occupied, although some facilities were far more crowded and having to send patients to other places. Ricketts relaxed licensing restrictions for nurses last week in an attempt to fix severe staffing shortages.
Las Vegas: Casino giant Caesars Entertainment Inc. said Wednesday that a conference scheduled next month in Las Vegas by a group espousing the fringe conspiracy theory known as QAnon won’t be held at any Caesars property. It wasn’t immediately clear if the “Patriot Double Down” event organized by Patriot Voice would be moved, postponed or canceled. Caesars Entertainment executive Kate Whiteley confirmed a Las Vegas Review-Journal report that the Oct. 23-25 event billed as a “Great Awakening Weekend” won’t be held at the new Caesars Forum convention space near the Las Vegas Strip. With tickets from $650 to $3,000, the conference was billed to feature speakers including former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn and 8kun website owner Jim Watkins. QAnon is a theory featuring the baseless belief that satanic pedophiles, child sex traffickers and cannibals are in collusion with the so-called deep state and will be uncovered at a reckoning followers call a “Great Awakening.” QAnon signs are often seen at rallies for ex-President Donald Trump, and some adherents are facing trial for roles in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. The group also derides the COVID-19 pandemic as a “plandemic,” suggesting the coronavirus was manufactured and its severity exaggerated.
Lebanon: Dartmouth-Hitchcock says it’s experiencing staff shortages during the coronavirus pandemic that range from nursing positions to food service workers. The health care system said Wednesday that it organized a “Managing and Staffing to Capacity” task force to identify solutions to the shortage, especially in the inpatient units and other care areas at its flagship hospital in Lebanon. Dartmouth-Hitchcock also began planning for reallocation of resources and staff. Earlier this year, it increased the starting rate for newly licensed nurses to $30 per hour and made wage adjustments for experienced clinical nurses and nurse supervisors. It plans to provide a 2% wage increase for other staff beginning in October. Joni Menard, task force leader, said that “the overall situation continues to be challenging as clinical demand increases and the supply of traveling staff is depleted across the nation.”
Trenton: Murphy administration officials used an unapproved encryption app at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and deleted correspondence “on at least one occasion,” according to new court records. The alleged use of the encrypted messaging application Telegram by Department of Health officials shows the limits of New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act and the ability to skirt them and other laws and rules, experts said. Lawyers for Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy revealed that health officials were communicating on Telegram in the administration’s latest legal filing in the whistleblower lawsuit brought by Christopher Neuwirth, an assistant health commissioner who was fired shortly after first-wave peak of the coronavirus. In a 308-page response countering Neuwirth’s claim that he was improperly fired last May, Murphy’s lawyers said Neuwirth required employees who reported to him “use a non-state-approved messaging application – Telegram – furthering burdening those state employees.” The Open Public Records Act does not specifically address encrypted messages but does include emails and text messages used for official business in its definition of government records. Such records are subject to public access unless they fall under one of more than two dozen exemptions.
Albuquerque: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta officials say they’re canceling some parts of the event and will require guests to wear masks to enter the grounds and while in indoor areas and crowded outdoor settings to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity said Wednesday he didn’t believe that face mask requirements and other safety practices would affect attendance numbers for the Oct. 2-10 event. “Masks have been a way of life that we’ve all been experiencing for the past year or more, so I think it’s one of those things that people are used to,” he said. The music fiesta is being canceled this year due to close proximity of guests, and the discovery center is being shelved because of its indoor nature featuring activities with multiple touchpoints, officials said. Other steps being taken include providing cashless options to buy tickets, moving hospitality seating outdoors and increasing spacing between popular special-shape balloons inside the park, officials said. The changes track federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and the current public health order issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, officials said.
Albany: The Democratic-led Legislature voted Wednesday to extend an eviction and foreclosure moratorium for commercial and residential tenants who fell behind on their rent because of hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, had called the Legislature to return for an “extraordinary session” to pass the legislation, which will put evictions on hold until Jan. 15. New York’s previous eviction moratorium, which included foreclosure protections for property owners, expired Tuesday. In an Aug. 12 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court nixed part of the moratorium that allowed tenants to pause eviction proceedings simply by filing a form declaring they’d had a COVID-19-related financial hardship or that moving in a pandemic would prove a health risk. The court said landlords should have the ability to challenge those hardships in court. New York is poised to change how the moratorium works in light of that ruling. Landlords will be able to challenge hardship declarations and direct judges to require tenants with hardships to apply for rental assistance. Hochul said the legislation will stand up to legal scrutiny. But the leader of the Rent Stabilization Association, the largest organization of landlords in New York, vowed Wednesday to sue to block the moratorium in federal court.
Raleigh: The majority of public school students taking standardized state exams in reading, math and science last school year failed them, data shows. State education leaders cautioned against making year-over-year comparisons with the tests taken during a school year marked by limited in-person instruction because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 45.4% of K-12 students passed the exams for the 2020-21 school year, according to results released at a State Board of Education meeting Wednesday. Two years ago – the last time testing was required – nearly 59% of K-12 students passed state exams. The U.S. Education Department did not require states to test students in the 2019-20 school year but required it this past year to assess pandemic learning loss. Because of coronavirus safety concerns, some high school students this past year took exams months after completing the course on which they were being tested. Some tests were revised, and a lower-than-normal share of students took them, news outlets report. “While the 2018-19 data is included as a way to provide context, comparison of the two years should only be made with a recognition that multiple anomalies occurred during the 2020-21 school year and during test administration,” state board member Jill Camnitz said.
Bismarck: A lawmaker who heads the state’s anti-abortion legislative caucus said Thursday that it’s likely the Republican-led Legislature will seek to pass a measure mirroring a new Texas law that virtually bans all abortions and that the Supreme Court has allowed to remain in force. GOP Sen. Janne Myrdal, one of the Legislature’s most ardent anti-abortion lawmakers, said she “assumes” legislation will be crafted eventually that uses the Texas law as a template. “I hear people talking about it,” Myrdal said. About a third of the Legislature’s 141 members are active in the caucus, which already has successfully pushed some of the nation’s toughest abortion laws. If it is drafted, it’s unclear when it would be introduced, though it could happen when the Legislature meets later this year in a reconvened or special session meant to deal with legislative redistricting. North Dakota is one of several states that have so-called trigger laws that would ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide. Myrdal said the high court’s action – or lack thereof – offers “a glimmer of hope” the court might eventually overturn Roe v. Wade because of its shift to the right following the appointment of three conservative justices by former President Donald Trump.
Columbus: The state’s elections chief this week launched an effort to purge inactive voters from state rolls, while using the announcement to push for passage of a bill making several changes to Ohio’s election process. The four-year process for purging inactive voters targets those who have not voted for two years and whose addresses may have changed and whose voter registration must be updated to reflect the move, according to Wednesday’s directive by GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose to Ohio’s 88 county elections boards. Inactive voters can keep themselves on the rolls by voting in any election in the next four years, submitting an absentee ballot application, registering to vote or taking other election-related steps. Earlier this year, LaRose said 97,795 inactive voter files were removed in scheduled post-2020 election voter roll maintenance, a lower number than predicted after thousands of voters avoided the purge by voting and undertaking other election activities. In his announcement Wednesday, LaRose also urged for the passage of a Republican voting bill introduced this spring that prohibits the placement of ballot drop boxes anywhere but at local elections offices, eliminates a day of early voting, shortens the window for requesting mail-in ballots and tightens voter ID requirements.
Oklahoma City: A judge on Wednesday said she will temporarily block a state law banning public school mask mandates, but students or their parents can opt out of the requirement if they choose. Judge Natalie Mai said she will issue a temporary injunction that will go into effect next week when she issues a written order detailing her ruling. Mai said she is blocking the law because it applies only to public, not private, schools, and schools adopting a mask mandate must provide an option for parents or students to opt out of the requirement. The ruling drew praise from Gov. Kevin Stitt, who signed the law and opposes mask mandates without exemptions, and Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, which joined the lawsuit brought by four parents who oppose the law. “This is a victory for parental choice, personal responsibility and the rule of law,” Stitt said in a statement. Clarke said she was also pleased with the ruling. “This is just a first step in ensuring our schools maintain local control and can choose the best path for their students, faculty and staff,” Clarke said in a statement.
Corvallis: Slugs and snails love bread dough, finds recent research from the Oregon State University Extension Service and other universities, suggesting a cheap, easy-to-make, nontoxic and widely available solution for gardeners and farmers alike. The state’s grass seed industry loses roughly $100 million a year to the slimy pests, according to the Oregon Seed Council. “Slugs and snails have a big impact on seed crops,” said Roger Beyer, the council’s executive director. “Our guys will work with anything, be it biological, pesticides or chemicals – whatever it takes to protect their crops, but it has to be economical.” The Oregon Seed Council provides $60,000 to $70,000 a year to fund slug and snail research at OSU, including for the work of gastropod specialist Rory McDonnell, who participated in the multi-university study that discovered bread dough attracts the pests. McDonnell and his fellow researchers ran simple experiments comparing how slugs and snails are attracted to different foods, essentially pitting foods in head-to-head contests until one was determined the most attractive. Cucumber was an early front-runner, and beer and strawberries did well, but bread dough was what really called the mollusks to dinner. McDonnell said it might be deployed in the creation of molluscicides, but dough should work for now.
Harrisburg: The centerpiece of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to fight climate change passed its last regulatory hurdle Wednesday, in a hard-fought bid to make Pennsylvania the first major fossil fuel state to adopt a carbon pricing policy. The plan to impose a price on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants won a 3-2 party-line vote from the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, a five-member panel of gubernatorial and legislative appointees. The commission voted after almost six hours of testimony and nearly two years of Wolf’s administration working on the regulation and shepherding it through the long regulatory process. The vote allows Pennsylvania, through regulation, to join a multistate consortium, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, that sets a price and declining limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. By joining the consortium, “Pennsylvania is taking a historic, proactive and progressive approach that will have significant positive environmental, public health and economic impacts,” Wolf said in a statement after the vote. Mark Szybist, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called it the “most important climate action that Pennsylvania has taken in more than a decade.” At 34%, Pennsylvania’s energy sector is its largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
Cranston: Some residents will be paying more for their health insurance next year, but not as much as insurers wanted them to pay, the state Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner said Thursday. The rate increases for 2022 approved by Commissioner Patrick Tigue were lower than insurers has requested. “As Rhode Islanders confront significant threats to their health and financial well-being due to the spread of COVID-19, my responsibility is to limit the burden of the cost of health insurance within the standards for review and approval set forth by law,” Tigue said in a statement. “Given the strong reserve positions of health insurers operating in the state, I did not believe that charges for profit and contributions to reserves for 2022 were consistent with the proper conduct of the insurers’ business or consistent with the public interest.” Rhode Islanders will save almost $42 million in 2022 compared to what the commercial health insurers requested, his office said. For Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, which has 40,255 members in its small group plan and requested an average rate increase of 2.9%, Tigue approved a 0.3% decrease. Gail Carvelli, a spokesperson for BCBSRI, told The Boston Globe the company accepted the modifications and recognized the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Columbia: The state’s highest court on Thursday tossed out a school mask mandate in the capital city, saying it contradicts a state budget measure aimed at preventing face covering requirements. State Attorney General Alan Wilson had sued Columbia after the City Council passed the ordinance requiring masks at elementary and middle schools. City leaders said the mask requirement, which carries a $100 violation fine, was meant to protect children too young to be approved for COVID-19 vaccines. But Wilson argued the city’s mask rule conflicts with the budget requirement that went into effect July 1 and bans school districts from using appropriated funds to require face coverings. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court sided unanimously with the attorney general. The Columbia ordinance is written so that the burden of enforcing the mask rule falls on school employees, “all of whom have an obvious connection to state-appropriated funds,” wrote Justice John Kittredge. That means school employees have to choose between violating state or city laws, the opinion said. “The City has made clear that every school employee is in the crosshairs,” Kittredge wrote.
Sioux Falls: Lawmakers looking to remake the state’s voter-passed medical marijuana law previewed a coming battle in the Legislature on Wednesday as they recommended outlawing growing the plant in homes and allowing local governments to prohibit dispensaries. A legislative subcommittee approved a spate of recommended changes to a ballot measure approved by 70% of voters last year. The law is set to take full effect in the coming months as the state government faces deadlines to issue medical marijuana identification cards and provide for the licensure of dispensaries. However, the law will continue to be in flux. Republicans, who dominate the Legislature, are currently debating just how far to go in changing the law. The subcommittee on Wednesday recommended changes that could potentially make it more difficult for people in rural areas to access the drug – most significantly by striking all provisions allowing medical marijuana ID-card holders to grow cannabis plants in their homes and allowing local governments to prohibit dispensaries. The recommendations will next face approval by the Marijuana Interim Study Committee before they can be passed to the full Legislature.
Nashville: A state Department of Education video celebrating the return to school drew sharp criticism across social media. The 41-second video released Tuesday features Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, who shares her own memories of excitedly starting school as a kindergartner. “All of our students – 1 million of them – across the state of Tennessee are starting the school year right now,” Schwinn says. “The smell of new books, clean hallways, the energy and feeling of being back in classrooms with their friends and their teachers. It’s such a special time, and I am so excited for our state.” She then asks parents to share stories about why they are excited for the new school year in the comments. The video received swift feedback from parents and teachers experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, quarantines and a growing number of schools already closing as the coronavirus spreads. As of Wednesday, Tennessee was averaging a record-setting 2,330 infections per day among school-age children, ages 5 to 18, according to state data. “How tone deaf do you have to be to ask parents to ‘share their stories’?” commenter Joshua Allen said on Facebook. Several commenters said they sent kids back to school after 18 months of avoiding the virus only to have their children exposed or infected within a few weeks.
El Paso: The state on Wednesday became the 20th and largest in the nation to allow some form of the unregulated carry of a firearm. Under the new law, most people 21 or older who haven’t been convicted of a felony can carry a holstered handgun – concealed or otherwise – in public without undergoing any training or getting a permit. Supporters of the law, including Gov. Greg Abbott and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature, laud it as a necessary expansion of the so-called constitutional carry movement that will allow people to more easily defend themselves without government interference. But critics, including some law enforcement groups and others, say this further loosening of firearms restrictions in a state that has had more than its share of mass shootings is reckless. Until Wednesday, Texans needed a license to carry a handgun outside their homes and vehicles. To get one, they had to submit fingerprints, go through several hours of training on gun laws and gun safety, and pass a shooting proficiency test. Now, they can still take an online training course that the law requires the state to provide, but it is not necessary. While recent mass shootings have put many on edge, Texas has cultivated a strong culture of gun ownership with echoes of the Wild West, and many residents support the loosened restrictions.
St. George: A suspect charged with setting fire to three churches in the city and then leading police on a high-speed chase across Washington County that didn’t end until he crashed his minivan inside Zion National Park told police he was a “type of deity” who was acting in “righteous anger.” The man was booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility on seven separate charges, including two second-degree felony counts of arson and a third-degree felony count of failing to stop for a police officer, according to a report filed in 5th District Court. Local fire officials and federal agents had been investigating the string of fires as a possible hate crime, as all three happened at houses of worship of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints. The suspect, a 36-year-old identified as Benjamin Johnson, was being held without bail. The police report suggests investigators worried that he could be a danger to the community and that his mental health was a consideration.
Montpelier: A refugee resettlement organization is offering to accept about 100 Afghan refugees over the next several weeks if its proposal is approved by the U.S. State Department. Amila Merdzanovic of the Vermont chapter of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants said that if the request is approved, the state’s well-publicized housing crisis will prompt her organization to look for families to host at least some of the new arrivals. It would not be the first time refugees arriving in Vermont lived with host families. “In the 1970s and 1980s when Laotians and Cambodians were coming into the state, there was no refugee resettlement program, so people were being hosted by Vermonters,” said Merdzanovic, who came to Vermont in 1995 as a refugee from Bosnia and Herzegovina and lived with a host family when she first arrived. “That’s the model we are looking to implement.” She said Thursday that since word of the proposal first became public Wednesday, she has already received dozens of messages of support. Historically, Vermont has not been a location where refugees with the types of visas granted to the Afghans have been resettled. Merdzanovic said last week she was not expecting any Afghans, but she learned Aug. 25 that refugee resettlement agencies had two days to submit proposals.
Richmond: The Virginia Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that the state can remove an iconic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a prominent spot in its capital city, saying that “values change and public policy changes too” in a democracy. The 7-0 decision cited testimony from historians that the enormous statue was erected in 1890 to honor the Southern white citizenry’s defense of a pre-Civil War life that depended on slavery and the subjugation of Black people. More than a century later, its continued display “communicates principles that many believe to be inconsistent with the values the Commonwealth currently wishes to express,” the justices ruled. The high court’s decision came in two lawsuits filed by residents who attempted to block Gov. Ralph Northam’s order to remove the bronze equestrian sculpture, which shows Lee in military attire atop a massive stone pedestal. Virginia promised to forever maintain the statue in the 1887 and 1890 deeds that transferred its ownership to the state. But the justices said that obligation no longer applies. “Those restrictive covenants are unenforceable as contrary to public policy and for being unreasonable because their effect is to compel government speech, by forcing the Commonwealth to express, in perpetuity, a message with which it now disagrees,” the justices wrote.
Seattle: Facing a surge in COVID-19 cases, the state’s most populous county is reinstating outdoor mask mandates for large events and strongly encouraging people to wear masks in other outdoor settings when they can’t remain 6 feet apart. In a statement Thursday, Public Health – Seattle & King County said as of Tuesday there will be a requirement for face masks for outdoor events of 500 or more people. The directive applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people over age 5. The recommendation for outdoor masks when people are unable to socially distance from non-household members is also for people 5 and up regardless of vaccination status. “With high rates of disease spread, and our health care system straining to keep up, it is time to take additional steps to keep ourselves and our communities safe,” the health agency said. King County, which includes Seattle, is home to about 2.2 million people. Just last week County Executive Dow Constantine had boasted that King County had one of the highest vaccination rates of any large county in the U.S. As of last week, more than 70% of people 12 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Charleston: Federal mine officials have instructed state environmental regulators to propose a change to West Virginia’s mine cleanup program. The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is giving the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection 60 days to submit an amendment to its reclamation program, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports. An Aug. 23 letter from federal officials to state officials said a review found that the program “has not taken sufficient steps” to make sure reclamation obligations are estimated correctly. Such a failure can lead to unfunded environmental liabilities, the letter said. “The WVDEP recognizes the concerns raised in OSMRE’s notice related to reporting and disclosure and those issues will be addressed,” Environmental Protection Department Secretary Harold Ward said in a statement Wednesday, without specifying what kind of amendment the agency plans to submit. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s review of the state’s reclamation program follows lawsuits filed by environmentalist groups.
Milwaukee: Calling the situation horrific and inexcusable, city, county and state leaders said this week that they are committed to doing what it takes to improve conditions that leave Black renters in Milwaukee far more vulnerable to electrical fires than anybody else in the city. “These people paid for a place that ultimately took their lives,” said State Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, who represents part of the city most affected by suspected electrical fires. “That’s inexcusable. … I have no choice but to find a way to get this addressed. I honestly didn’t know that people were literally losing their lives and everything they own like this.” Johnson said she plans to reach out to Gov. Tony Evers’ office and work with colleagues in the Legislature to consider changes that could help tackle the problem. The reaction follows a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation that uncovered how suspected electrical fires disproportionately harm Black renters in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods and how systems at all levels of government fail to address the underlying issues. “It’s gut-wrenching,” Evers said. “It’s very disheartening.” Evers said he already has spoken to staff members about potential ways to address the problem, which he blamed largely on legislative changes in the last decade.
Casper: The city expects to face labor shortages across all industries as school-related coronavirus cases spike, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. Quarantines and illnesses among children are forcing parents to stay home with their kids, according to the paper, and the problem has already caused issues at day cares.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports