From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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Huntsville: A $15 million expansion will add a lot more space to Space Camp, with Boeing making a $3.5 million donation toward the project at the state-run U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Officials held a groundbreaking ceremony Friday for the more than 40,000-square-foot building, which will include a 1,000-seat auditorium, 10 classrooms, laboratories and a permanent home for U.S. Cyber Camp, which focuses on computer technology. Other companies and individuals made additional donations, and the state provided an economic development grant for construction, which officials said would cost about 40% more than first anticipated because of increased costs for materials and labor. The coronavirus pandemic delayed the project, which already is underway and is set to open in March 2023.
Anchorage: A man upset over the impeachment of former President Donald Trump, illegal immigration and the direction he thinks the country is headed is accused of threatening the lives of the state’s two Republican U.S. senators in a series of profanity-laced voicemails that included saying he would hire an assassin to kill one. “Your life is worth $5,000, that’s all it’s worth,” a message left at the office of Sen. Lisa Murkowski said. “And as you let in these terrorists, assassins, guess what? I’m going to use them. I’m going to hire them.” In a voicemail to Sen. Dan Sullivan, the caller vowed to use “illegals for target practice,” assistant U.S. Attorney General Ryan Tansey said. Some of the voicemails were played in U.S. District Court in Fairbanks on Friday during the first appearance for Jay Allen Johnson, 65, who moved to rural Delta Junction, Alaska, from Texas in 2019. The retired man had earlier ties to the Fairbanks area. Johnson’s wife, Catherine Pousson-Johnson, testified on her husband’s behalf in trying to have him released, detailing a series of recent surgeries he’s had: “He’s in pain right now. My husband is an old man, and he gets very angry listening to politics on the news.” Tansey later asked her if she was aware her husband was making threats against two U.S. senators. “Who hasn’t?” she replied.
Phoenix: Child-welfare officials considering whether to terminate parental rights of inmates facing long prison terms have a constitutional duty to offer reunification services to those prisoners who want to try to keep their children, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday. Though Arizona law doesn’t require the state to offer reunification services to help maintain bonds between prisoner-parents and children, it’s necessary because a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision said parents have a “fundamental liberty interest” in the care, custody and management of their children, the Arizona justices said. They acknowledged that their ruling’s requirement for offering reunification services to prisoners serving long sentences departs from a 2005 state Court of Appeals ruling. It’d be difficult to maintain parental relationships while separated, “but an incarcerated parent can maintain a bond with a child in other ways, such as through visits, phone calls, letters, pictures, and gifts,” the ruling said. The justices considered the reunification issue as part of a father’s appeal of a juvenile court’s termination of his parental rights to two young children. Though the court misapplied two legal standards, other circumstances and the childens’ best interests still warranted termination so that they could be adopted by a family, the ruling said.
Little Rock: Lawmakers on Friday rejected legislation preventing businesses from requiring employees to say whether they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, after the House speaker and business groups said it would have devastating consequences. The majority-Republican House voted 41-46 in favor of the Senate-backed bill, which would have created a “right of privacy” for employees and contractors regarding their vaccination status. The proposal, which would allow employees to sue under the state’s civil rights law for any violations, was among attempts to limit or prohibit vaccine requirements in response to President Joe Biden’s order that businesses with more than 100 employees must require vaccinations or weekly coronavirus testing. But the measure faced opposition from business groups and hospitals, as well as GOP legislative leaders who said it went too far in restricting businesses. Speaker Matthew Shepherd told House members before the vote that the bill was “an overreach.” Opponents said it would force businesses to choose between exposing themselves to lawsuits by workers or facing federal fines for not complying with Biden’s order. They also said it would have jeopardized Medicaid and Medicare funding for health care facilities and stopped them from preventing infections and contact tracing.
Visalia: Marie Wilcox, a Native American who saved her tribe’s dying language, has died. She was 87. Wilcox was once the last fluent speaker of Wukchumni, but she worked for more than 20 years to produce a dictionary of the language spoken by her tribe in the San Joaquin Valley and taught her family. Now there are at least three fluent speakers of the language, including her daughter. Wilcox died Sept. 25 in a Visalia hospital after her aorta ruptured. Her great hope was for the language work she started to continue, her daughter, Jennifer Malone, told the Fresno Bee. “Her dream for us was to keep it going,” Malone said on the eve of her mother’s memorial service Friday in Tulare County. “So no matter what, we will do this and teach as many people as are willing to learn.” A Wukchumni dictionary Wilcox wrote was copyrighted, and her family is now looking for a publisher for it, Malone said. The Wukchumni are one of the numerous tribes under the larger umbrella of the Yokuts, Indigenous people in the central San Joaquin Valley. But unlike other Yokuts tribes that are recognized by the federal government, the Wukchumni lack federal status and resources for cultural preservation. Wilcox regularly taught Wukchumni language classes through the Owens Valley Career Development Center. The classes will continue.
Denver: Civil rights groups have filed to block the state’s new congressional map, arguing the independent redistricting commission that redrew the legislative boundaries to match population growth shortchanged Hispanic residents. The filings Friday from the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization and the League of United Latin American Citizens contend the commission continued to dilute the power of Latino voters by following traditional congressional maps in the state, which have separated heavily Hispanic areas. They argue that Latinos – who are 21% of Colorado’s population – are scattered among several congressional districts, mixed in with white residents who vote against their preferred candidates. The groups pleaded for the commission to group Latinos together by, for example, splitting the city of Colorado Springs and attaching its heavily Latino southern end to a southern Colorado district including Pueblo and the San Luis Valley. The commission balked at that, preferring to preserve what are known as “communities of interest” – cities and neighborhoods with shared needs. When it submitted the maps, the commission told the court they complied with the federal Voting Rights Act and did not discriminate against any voter on basis of ethnicity or language.
Hartford: A lawmaker is standing by comments that compared Gov. Ned Lamont and his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic to Adolf Hitler. Republican state Rep. Anne Dauphinais initially posted a comment on Facebook on Thursday night that called the Democrat “King Lamont aka Hitler.” Dauphinais posted a longer comment on her Facebook page Friday night that mentioned Nazi concentration camps, book burnings and other actions under Hitler, interspersed with mentions of Lamont’s mandates during the pandemic. “This Governor, with the help of the one-party rule we have in this state right now, has taken dictatorial powers for himself for what will be almost 2 full years when this latest extension expires,” Dauphinais wrote. “Hitler too was a dictator enabled by the rule of the single Nazi party.” Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director, called the comments “disgusting, repulsive and disrespectful to the history and memory of victims of the Holocaust,” the New Haven Register reports. An email message was left with Dauphinais on Sunday. Her district includes Plainfield and Killingly in eastern Connecticut.
Wilmington: The state’s chain pharmacies are facing a severe staff shortage. Employees at Walgreens and CVS describe chaotic stores with desperate customers waiting in hourslong lines and phone calls that go unanswered. Amalia Lucci said she was surprised to see a closed sign citing “a shortage of employees” at a CVS pharmacy when she went to pick up an antibiotic for her daughter at 4 p.m. “While the door was closed, I saw someone still inside and knocked,” Lucci said. “After explaining my situation, I was able to get the medication, but I could tell he (pharmacist) was really stressed.” Another customer, Mae-Lyn Smith, had to wait more than an hour when she went to pick up medication. “It was not a situation where I could shop around or wait until next day,” Smith said. In social media posts, pharmacists described understaffed pharmacies, customers lashing out during long waits and workers quitting out of stress. “Unfortunately a pharmacy can not be open unless there is a licensed pharmacist and we currently just do not have the pharmacist to staff our pharmacy,” a Walgreens manager, Melissa Anne, wrote in a Facebook post. A number of Walgreens pharmacies have stopped opening on weekends, while many 24-hour stores, mainly in southern Delaware, have reduced operating hours.
District of Columbia
Washington: Former President Donald Trump’s company lost more than $70 million on his Washington hotel during his four years in office despite taking in millions from foreign governments, according to documents released Friday by a congressional committee investigating his business. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform said the luxury hotel just a few blocks from the White House was struggling so badly that the Trump Organization had to inject $27 million from other parts of its business and got preferential treatment from a major lender to delay payments on a $170 million loan. The committee said the losses came despite an estimated $3.7 million in revenue from foreign governments, business that ethics experts say Trump should have refused because it posed conflicts of interest with his role as president. The Trump Organization said in a statement that the findings of the Democrat-led committee were misleading and false, and it did not receive any special treatment from a lender. Trump’s company has been trying to sell the 263-room hotel since fall 2019 but has struggled to find buyers during the coronavirus pandemic at a reported initial asking price of more than $500 million.
St. Augustine: A house connected to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is now in the hands of a couple who plan to preserve it. David Manaute and Patti Barry live near 5480 Atlantic View already and were familiar with the house’s history. A historical marker stands on the property, which is on the coastline several miles south of St. Augustine. During the 1960s, King came to St. Augustine to advance the civil rights movement and stayed in different places around town to maintain his safety. The Atlantic View home was the target of attacks by people who apparently thought King was staying there. A bullet hole is still in one of the door frames. Before the shooting, the St. Augustine Record printed the address of the cottage after getting a tip that he was staying there, according to historian David Colburn’s book “Racial Change & Community Crisis.” King wasn’t in the home at the time of the shooting. But he arrived later, and a photo showing him looking at a bullet hole in glass became “one of the iconic images of the civil rights movement,” according to the marker at the property, which is from the ACCORD Freedom Trail. The home was the winter residence of missionaries who supported the civil rights movement, who opened the house to King, according to information from ACCORD.
Atlanta: The unique experience of racing on a runway at one of the world’s busiest airports is back this year. The Mayor’s 5K on the 5th Runway returns Saturday after being canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The airport says it’s “one of the flattest – and fastest – courses in metro Atlanta.” With the pandemic ongoing, masks are required before and after the race. While planes will continue to take off and land on the other runways, the 9,000-foot fifth runway, isolated on the far south side of the airfield, will be cleared. The race course goes down the runway and a taxiway. The race starts at 6:30 a.m., and all participants must clear the runway by 7:30 a.m. so airport workers can sweep the area and prepare for flights to start landing again about 8 a.m., the newspaper reports. Proceeds from the race registration fee go to the Mayor’s Youth Scholarship Program and United Way of Greater Atlanta.
Honolulu: The city will soon begin allowing a limited number of fans at University of Hawaii football games and other outdoor entertainment events as it begins to ease restrictions protecting the community from COVID-19. Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said Friday that they were taking the steps in response to improving public health data, including rising vaccination rates and declining numbers of coronavirus cases, hospitalized patients and test positivity rates. Starting Wednesday, outdoor venues may have up to 1,000 attendees or fill up to 50% of capacity – whichever is smaller. For the next Hawaii football home game Oct. 23, attendees will likely be limited to family and friends of players. Attendees will need to be vaccinated, wear masks and maintain physical distance. No food will be allowed, and water will be the only authorized beverage. Restrictions on indoor entertainment, outdoor weddings and funerals, golf tournaments, road races and triathlons will also be eased. Ige said the goal was to manage Hawaii’s health care infrastructure while taking prudent risks and building back the state’s economy. “This is not an all-clear signal. The pandemic is far from finished in Hawaii, in the nation and around the world,” Ige said.
Boise: A former state lawmaker charged with rape has been arrested and jailed. Online records show Aaron von Ehlinger was booked into the Ada County Jail on Friday afternoon, KBOI-TV reports. He is facing charges of rape and forcible penetration by use of a foreign object. He was arrested in Georgia on Sept. 25 on a “fugitive from justice” charge in connection with a warrant in the case. Von Ehlinger was a Republican state representative from Lewiston when a 19-year-old legislative intern reported he brought her to his apartment under false pretenses and raped her. Previously, von Ehlinger has denied all wrongdoing and maintained he had consensual sexual contact with her. A legislative ethics committee found that von Ehlinger engaged in “behavior unbecoming” and said it would support a vote to remove him from the Idaho Statehouse. He resigned from office before the vote was held. The Idaho warrant, issued Sept. 9, would have allowed him to be out of custody after his arrest as long as he posted bond. But von Ehlinger did not turn himself in over the subsequent two weeks. If he is convicted of the charges, von Ehlinger could face up to life in prison and be required to register as a sex offender.
DePue: Efforts to change the roughly 200-year-old, racist name of a creek in northern Illinois have gained traction. An 11-mile waterway was named Negro Creek after the DePue area’s first Black settler built a cabin at the mouth of the creek in 1829. DePue is about 110 miles southwest of Chicago. Former resident Amy Urbanowski, who is among those pushing for the name change, has received support from the Bureau County Board and a local NAACP branch. She sent the details to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which approves such changes. In the coming weeks, the agency will consider changing the name to Adams, the surname of the Black pioneer. Records of a first name haven’t been located. “Changing the name of the creek is important,” she said, “because it’s good to reflect on how the names of towns and villages are all historically and respectively named after people, not their race.” Urbanowski and others say they’ve heard people refer to the creek by a racial slur over the years. Ladd Village President Frank Cattani said he played on the creek as a child. At an August public meeting about the name change, he used a racial slur several times in describing the waterway, saying that’s how many people still refer to it and insisting that the term “means ‘Black,’ not ‘Black person.’ ”
Portage: A second spill in less than two weeks at a U.S. Steel plant sent an oily sheen onto a Lake Michigan tributary, prompting officials to close some nearby lake access as a precaution. The sheen was detected Thursday morning on Burns Waterway outside the U.S. Steel Midwest plant in Portage, but by 8 p.m. it was no longer present on the tributary, said company spokeswoman Amanda Malkowski. She said an existing boom had contained the sheen in an estimated 120-square-foot area, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reports. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management was investigating, spokesman Barry Sneed said. As a precaution, the Indiana Dunes National Park closed access to the lake Thursday off the neighboring Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, said spokesman Bruce Rowe. The nearby community of Ogden Dunes also shut down access to Lake Michigan from its beach, a town official said. Indiana American Water’s Ogden Dunes water treatment facility remained online, and the spill wasn’t expected to impact its Lake Michigan source water, spokesman Joe Loughmiller said. The water utility had idled that treatment plant for about a week starting in late September after U.S. Steel’s Portage plant discharged iron-tainted wastewater into the Burns Waterway.
Des Moines: A federal judge has extended an order that will prevent state officials from enforcing a law that prohibits school districts from implementing mask requirements until a federal lawsuit challenging the law can be heard. Judge Robert Pratt had earlier issued a temporary restraining order preventing Gov. Kim Reynolds and Department of Education Director Ann Lebo from enforcing the law Reynolds signed in May. The order entered Friday issues a preliminary injunction that continues to prohibit the state from enforcing the law until the court case can be decided. Lawyers for Reynolds and Lebo immediately filed notice of an appeal with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which could reverse Pratt’s order or keep it in place. “We will never stop fighting for the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children and to uphold state laws enacted by our elected legislators,” Reynolds said in a statement. Eleven parents and The Arc of Iowa, a group that defends the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, sued the state Sept. 3. They claim that the law substantially increases the risk of several children with health conditions of contracting COVID-19 and that it violates federal laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Topeka: Amid a shortage of glass beads triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the white lines being painted on the state’s highways this year tend not to reflect light as well as officials would like. Still, the smaller glass beads being used to accomplish that purpose should nevertheless be “adequate” and “safe,” said Tony Menke, bureau chief of construction and materials for the Kansas Department of Transportation. “We’ll just probably need to touch them up sooner rather than later,” he said. The reduced brightness results from a nationwide shortage of glass beads of the type the state embeds in roadways to enhance the reflectivity of pavement striping, Menke said. Those beads, placed on top of white lines to help drivers see at night, reflect light back in the direction of the oncoming car’s headlights. Medical-grade oxygen is required to produce the beads, Menke said. But the current spike in COVID-19 cases and the resulting need for oxygen for patients have reduced the rate at which the beads can be produced, he said. In addition, a nationwide shortage of chemicals used to create traffic line paint may prevent all roads Shawnee County maintains that need striping from getting redone this fall, Niehaus said. “We’ll prioritize and get the most-needed segments completed,” he said.
Frankfort: A judge ruled Friday that the Kentucky Constitution prohibits a part of a new state law enabling donors to get tax credits for supporting private school tuition. Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd said the state cannot implement the “school choice” elements of House Bill 563. The ruling prohibits the creation of any account-granting organizations or education opportunity accounts, nor can the state grant any tax credits for these purposes. Many students could indeed benefit from the legislation’s financial assistance, the judge acknowledged, but he said that points to another constitutional failure. “The very fact that so many children need additional educational assistance, beyond what is presently funded and appropriated for the public schools, is an indication that we, as a state, may well be falling short of the constitutional mandate of ‘an efficient system of common schools,’ ” Shepherd wrote. The law’s opponents objected to using the state tax code to aid private education. Attorneys defending the law argued that tax credits don’t amount to government spending, even if they decrease revenues. Lawyers with the Institute for Justice, which intervened in Kentucky’s suit, said they will appeal. The legislation was passed over Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto this year.
Baton Rouge: Citing sharp declines in COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations, Louisiana State University announced Friday that it will no longer require proof of vaccinations or negative coronavirus tests to enter Tiger Stadium for football games. Fans still will have to wear masks in any indoor areas of the stadium as required under Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide mask mandate. Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital and a coronavirus adviser to the university, said the state is seeing less than 5% of virus tests returning positive statewide as Louisiana exits its fourth and worst-yet surge of the pandemic. “Because of this success, we are able to lift the vaccine and testing requirements for entry into Tiger Stadium. By balancing mitigation efforts and risk in the ongoing fight to end the pandemic, we can protect our community and safely celebrate the traditions that bring us together,” O’Neal said in the statement released by LSU. Several people who attended football games had said the university’s compliance checks for proof of vaccination or testing had been spotty at best. Meanwhile, Edwards is no longer pursuing efforts to mandate regular virus testing for thousands of state workers who aren’t vaccinated.
Augusta: Maine Preservation has added a historic church and a shuttered ski lodge to its list of most endangered historic places in the state. New entries on the nonprofit organization’s annual list, released Thursday, include First Congregational Church in East Machias and the Sugarloaf Summit Lodge in Carrabassett Valley. The hexagonal Summit Lodge atop Sugarloaf Mountain dates to the 1960s and stood at the terminus of the now-defunct gondola lift. It was open to Appalachian Trail backpackers before it closed altogether in 2009. McCurdy’s Smokehouse in Lubec, the Frank J. Wood Bridge between Topsham and Brunswick, and the Kennebec Arsenal in Augusta remain on the list, which marked its 25th anniversary. “Advocating for the preservation of historic buildings requires an understanding that our work does not happen overnight and oftentimes necessitates a long-term commitment,” said Tara Kelly, executive director of Maine Preservation. Maine Preservation does list some success stories that have been helped by the organization’s work, including Saco Mill No. 4 and the Wood Island Life Saving Station at Kittery Point.
Capitol Heights: Two staff members were fatally shot Friday at an apartment complex for seniors just outside the nation’s capital, and a suspect was taken into custody, police said. The shooting happened shortly after 9 a.m. at Gateway Village in Capitol Heights, Prince George’s County and Capitol Heights police said. Both victims were women – one found in a hallway and another in an office, they said. A resident who identified himself only as Donald said the shooter is his friend and lived in the complex. He said the man was fed up with how residents have been treated. “He told me, ‘Don, nobody is standing up for these seniors. I can’t take it no more. I’ve got to do something.’ And obviously what he chose to do is wrong, but he did something,” the resident said. Gateway Village is one of 310 communities in 25 states run by National Church Residences, which describes itself as “the nation’s largest provider of affordable senior housing and services.” Its website says the apartment complex about a half-mile east of Washington includes studio and one-bedroom units for “seniors age 62+.” A county website describes the property as subsidized government housing for seniors with low incomes. National Church Residences spokeswoman Cindy Young said it’s “extremely heartbroken” that two staff members were killed.
Boston: The city has broken ground on a new memorial to honor the state’s first Black and Indigenous Superior Court judge and all Black veterans. The park in the city’s Roxbury neighborhood is already named after Justice Edward O. Gourdin, but the state on Thursday began the effort to add an 8-foot bronze cast statue of Gourdin and 10 bas-reliefs representing Black soldiers in 10 wars, starting with the American Revolution. Before he became a judge, Gourdin, a Seminole, was an Olympian and a soldier. He won a silver medal in the long jump in the 1924 Paris Olympics and served as commanding officer of the Army’s segregated 372nd Infantry Regiment during World War II. After his discharge, he was a member of the National Guard until 1959, rising to the rank of brigadier general, the first Black soldier to earn the rank in Massachusetts. Gourdin had undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University. Meanwhile, Native American groups marched and rallied on Boston Common on Saturday to observe Indigenous Peoples Day and to call on state leaders to do more to support their communities. Organizers say they want Gov. Charlie Baker to make Indigenous People’s Day a statewide holiday. They also want Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park in Boston’s North End to be renamed.
Coloma: A rural amusement park that was popular for decades in southwestern Michigan is on the auction block. Visitors could pet animals, ride a Ferris wheel or train, and listen to music at Deer Forest in Coloma. The 25-acre site in Berrien County is for sale, along with many buildings that are in rough shape but still standing. “Perhaps residential might make sense for whomever buys it,” said Rick Levin of Rick Levin & Associates, who is handling the sale. “I don’t know if the best use is a zoo and fun park anymore, but we’ve had a lot of people calling with their fond memories of going here.” The suggested opening bid is $450,000, though the property had been valued at $3.2 million, Levin said. The deadline for the sealed bid auction is 4 p.m. EDT Thursday. Cecil Potts founded the park in 1949. By 1989, more than 3.5 million people had visited Deer Forest, The Herald-Palladium reports. It has been closed since 2014. Rachel Edwards of Coloma fondly remembers a small red house known as Santa’s Summer Village. “You’d go inside and imagine it was where Santa went in the summer for vacation. There was even a sleigh you could sit in. … I know it would take a lot of work, but I would love for whomever buys it to reopen it,” Edwards told MLive.com.
Minneapolis: Prosecutors are seeking approval for a more severe penalty than what is outlined in state guidelines if a former suburban police officer is convicted in the shooting death of Daunte Wright. Ex-Brooklyn Center Officer Kim Potter is facing charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Wright, who was shot while he was trying to drive away from officers during a traffic stop in April. The sentencing guidelines for first-degree manslaughter range from 6 to 81/2 years in prison. Potter has pleaded not guilty. She is scheduled to stand trial in December. The prosecutors’ move is similar to one made by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, convicted in George Floyd’s death. In that case, a judge approved Ellison’s request for an upward departure because Floyd was particularly vulnerable and because Chauvin abused his authority as a police officer. Ellison wrote in a court document filed Wednesday that Potter “caused a greater-than-normal danger to the safety of other people” because she fired into a vehicle with a passenger, and two officers were standing close to the vehicle. Potter is recorded on bodycam video an instant after the shooting saying she mistakenly drew her firearm instead of her stun gun.
Winona: Civil rights advocates asked federal appeals court judges Friday to revive a lawsuit they filed against a prosecutor accused of routinely rejecting Black jurors in criminal cases simply because of their race. District Attorney Doug Evans’ jury selection tactics have been under scrutiny for years. His exclusion of Black jurors in one high-profile murder case led to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Curtis Flowers’ conviction in 2019, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh citing a “relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals.” Friday’s arguments at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans involve a lawsuit focused not on a specific case but on the overall practice of using race as a sole reason for rejecting jurors. It was filed in 2019 by leaders of the Attala County branch of the NAACP and four Mississippi voters, including one who was rejected as a jury candidate in Flowers’ case. They asked a federal judge to declare Evans’ policy unconstitutional and issue an injunction preventing him and his staff from making race-based jury strikes. U.S. District Judge Debra Brown, while acknowledging the plaintiffs’ claims may have merit, dismissed the lawsuit in September 2020, saying an injunction would put the federal court in the improper role of conducting an “ongoing audit” of state court proceedings.
Springfield: As some jobs go unfilled, billboards popping up around the city admonish that it’s time to “Get Off Your Butt!” and “Get. To. Work.” The signs that also urge people to “Apply Anywhere” are paid for by a group of business owners, including Brad Parke, who say they’re frustrated. “We don’t know where people are,” said Parke, general manager of Greek Corner Screen Printing and Embroidery. “Obviously they’re not at work. Apparently they’re at home. So that’s where we came up with ‘Get Off Your Butt.’ And then the ‘Apply Anywhere’ is about everyone’s looking for employees. You can’t drive a block through a commercial district without someone having a sign saying ‘Now Hiring.’ ” KYTV reports that the workforce shortage is a major problem in all sectors, affecting the supply chain for all kinds of goods and services, despite the Greene County Commission reporting a record-low unemployment rate at 2.8%. Parke said the billboard company that put up the ad has already been getting feedback. “He said they typically don’t get people calling in about billboards,” Parke said. “But someone called and said, ‘I don’t know who paid for that billboard, but that’s awesome!’ ”
Helena: State-employed public health experts say the state’s health department used “misleading and false” claims in support of an emergency rule that urged schools to consider parental input when adopting rules for wearing masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Montana State News Bureau reports. Eighteen epidemiologists wrote to Adam Meier, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, saying the Aug. 31 rule “threatens the credibility” of the health department and will “negatively impact our ability to communicate with Montanans in the future,” the epidemiologists wrote in a letter Sept. 17. The rule said schools that mandate face coverings in classrooms “should … be able to demonstrate they considered parental concerns in adopting the mandate” and allow students to opt out based on “physical, mental, emotional or psychosocial health concerns, as well as on the basis of religious belief, moral conviction or other fundamental right.” Along with the rule, Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office released a 13-page report citing studies, news stories and social media posts saying there is “no science behind mask mandates for children” and warned of negative effects for some children wearing masks. The epidemiologists’ letter said that ignored “numerous peer-reviewed studies.”
Lincoln: A contract agreement has been reached between the state and its public employees that will provide significant pay hikes, particularly to those working in some health care and high-demand jobs, the Nebraska governor’s office announced Friday. State leaders and the Nebraska Association of Public Employees reached an agreement in principle, meaning it has not yet been ratified. The new contract would include $47 million in new compensation, officials said. The union represents more than 8,000 public employees in agencies throughout the state. “The agreement represents a substantial increase in pay for our members working within 24/7 facilities and across state government,” NAPE Executive Director Justin Hubly said. The new agreement would amend the 2021-23 contract to give covered state employees at 24-hour-a-day facilities a $3-per-hour pay increase. Also, starting Nov. 1, it provides a 20% increase pay line adjustment for jobs classified as high demand and a 30% increase pay line adjustment for health care workers identified as critical. The agreement also would increase overtime pay at 24/7 facilities and provide for an additional 2% cost-of-living adjustment July 1.
Las Vegas: Amid a shortage of school bus drivers, 15 high schools in and around the city will start having students ride regularly scheduled public transit to and from campus this week. Clark County School District officials announced last week that the “Ride On” program starts Monday with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. Officials promised safe and timely transportation, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Students will board RTC buses at stops near their homes to ride existing routes, along with regular riders, to stops near school, officials said. The RTC said 200 security officers patrol bus stops and transit centers, and each bus has 12 cameras that police can monitor live. Parents have complained since school began Aug. 9 about frequent bus delays and unpredictable service causing some students to miss classes. The sprawling district with 366 schools usually operates almost 1,600 bus routes but has about 240 school bus driver vacancies. Last month, officials canceled some high school sports games due to transportation issues.
Concord: Gov. Chris Sununu asked the Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday to “follow through on their promise” to purchase millions of heavy-duty rubber gloves procured by a New Hampshire company in response to a pandemic-related request for personal protective equipment. In a letter to Secretary Denis McDonough, Sununu said the secretary’s office reached out in October 2020 to the company, Gigunda Group, “to locate, procure and ultimately provide funding” for 500 million gloves. The company has helped the VA with other PPE requests, including $7.4 million worth of nasal swabs. “At that time, locating 10 million or 20 million nitrile gloves was a big deal,” Sununu wrote. “Gigunda was tasked with searching the globe to locate a supplier that could provide 500 million gloves and with capability to provide as many as 2.5 billion over time.” Since then, Sununu said he learned the VA’s procurement arm claims no such request was made. “This is unacceptable,” he wrote. “Over 20 million nitrile gloves have been sitting in Gigunda’s TSA secure facility since May, and yet the VA has chosen to ignore and deny the existence of this successful partnership,” he wrote.
Deal: A coalition of environmental and fishing groups says the state should drop a plan to double the amount of money it spends on beach replenishment, asserting that money could be better spent on more effective ways to protect the state from climate change. Standing on a beach in Deal, a Monmouth County shore town due to get new sand as part of a $26 million replenishment project next month, the groups on Thursday decried New Jersey’s plan to increase the amount of money it spends on shore protection from $25 million to $50 million a year. They say that money would be better spent on measures to address repetitive flooding in the northern and central parts of the state along the Raritan and other rivers that often sustain catastrophic damage during storms like Tropical Storm Ida. “Given what just happened with Ida, if the state has an extra $25 million to spend on resiliency or preparing for climate change impacts, should we really be spending it putting sand on the beach in front of wealthy peoples’ second homes?” asked Mike Castellano, chairman of the Jersey Shore chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. Twenty-one groups signed a statement urging the state to reject a bill already passed by the state Senate but awaiting action in the Assembly that would double shore protection funding.
Santa Fe: After a four-year hiatus, state election regulators have resumed spot-checks on campaign finance disclosures by politicians, election candidates and political committees, with 10 accounts referred to New Mexico’s fledgling State Ethics Commission and state prosecutors for possible enforcement action. The random sampling of campaign finance disclosures from the 2020 general election cycle taps into a newly deployed electronic campaign finance reporting system at the Secretary of State’s Office that reconciles an intricate web of campaign contributions, transfers and expenditures. State law requires an annual sampling of 10% of accounts, triggering a review of roughly 110 accounts. Results were published Friday. Regulators attributed the hiatus in part to scarce resources. Alleged violations included groups receiving contributions from unidentified sources and failing to register as political committees. In addition to the 10 referrals, six committees or candidates are currently working to resolve discrepancies with the secretary of state’s office. The agency focuses on education and voluntary compliance.
New York: The city will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors white and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children. Starting in the next school year, the nation’s largest school system will stop giving 4-year-olds a screening test used to identify gifted and talented students, according to an outline of the plan released by the city’s education department Friday. The program currently admits only 2,500 pupils a year out of 65,000 kindergartners citywide. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the change will help tens of thousands get advanced instruction, instead of just a select few. “The era of judging 4-year-olds based on a single test is over,” he said in a statement. “Every New York City child deserves to reach their full potential, and this new, equitable model gives them that chance.” The city will instead train all kindergarten teachers to provide accelerated learning in which students use more advanced skills such as robotics, computer coding, community organizing or advocacy on projects while staying in their regular classrooms. The city will also screen students going into third grade to determine if they would benefit from accelerated learning in various subjects while staying in their classrooms.
Raleigh: A county governing board has formally apologized for the mob lynching of a Black boy unlawfully taken from a jail in 1921, saying it suspected some prominent local officials allowed the killing to take place. A report issued Tuesday by the Chatham County Board of Commissioners found no investigation ever was conducted to find out who killed Eugene Daniel, 16, but evidence suggests a county commissioner, the county sheriff, the county coroner and the county jail keeper at the time all were complicit in the death. “The lynching of Eugene Daniel is a painful part of Chatham County’s history, and while our apology can’t change what happened, we feel it is an important step in helping his family and our entire community heal,” Chatham County Commissioner Karen Howard said, according to local news reports. News accounts from the time reported Daniel was accused of trespassing inside a home where a white woman said she saw a Black man standing in her bedroom. Daniel was killed by a mob of residents near Moore’s Bridge outside Pittsboro, about 35 miles west of the capital. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, it is unknown exactly how many people were lynched in North Carolina, but researchers say there could have been as many as 300 such killings from 1882 to 1968.
Fargo: A lawmaker from southeastern North Dakota who’s accused of misdemeanor theft in Bottineau County said Saturday that he’s surprised by the charge and believes it’s fabricated. Republican Sen. Jason Heitkamp, of Wahpeton, said he was in Bottineau last week to retrieve some of his belongings from his former girlfriend and did not steal anything. He said he had been served with a summons but had not seen a copy of the complaint. “I have literally not seen the charges or what I am being accused of, so I can’t say much,” he said. “I’ll be open and honest with everybody, but I don’t know what’s happening. I have no reason to steal anything because I have everything I need.” Heitkamp, 56, recently completed his first year in the Legislature. He is a member of the judiciary and political subdivisions standing committees and the human services and water topics overview interim committees. He previously served on the Richland County Commission, Bottineau City Council and Prairie Rose City Council. Heitkamp said he did not yet have an attorney. His first court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 2. “I will be exonerated from it,” Heitkamp said. “I am not guilty. Just say it out.”
Cleveland: The former director of a county jail where federal authorities described conditions as “inhumane” was sentenced Friday to serve nine months in that same jail. A Cuyahoga County sheriff’s deputy handcuffed Kenneth Mills in a Cleveland courtroom, as Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove chastized him while delivering the sentence. “What you’ve done is unthinkable and callous,” Cosgrove told Mills. “I don’t know how you can look at yourself in a mirror.” Conditions worsened during Mills’ four-year tenure, prosecutors said, with inmates living in unsanitary conditions with little or no medical care and inedible food while locked in their cells for periods of 24 hours or more. Prosecutors said Mills fronted a money-making plan to have the jail in downtown Cleveland serve as a regional corrections facility that would charge suburbs and Cleveland to house their prisoners. The regionalization plan led to severe overcrowding and forced corrections officers to work in intolerable conditions, prosecutors said. Mills, 56, was convicted in September on misdemeanor counts of dereliction of duty for having caused unsafe conditions in the jail and falsification for having lied to Cuyahoga County Council when he said he had not blocked the hiring of badly needed jail nurses despite evidence to the contrary.
Oklahoma City: An advocacy group filed two initiative petitions related to marijuana Thursday, one of which creates the framework to allow cannabis sales without a doctor’s recommendation. The other makes changes to current medical marijuana laws. If the petitions withstand any legal challenges, Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action would have 90 days to gather 178,000 signatures for each proposal. If enough signatures are collected, the proposed constitutional amendments would appear on a statewide ballot. The recreational petition would let anyone 21 or older grow, purchase, transport, receive, prepare and consume marijuana and marijuana products. The proposed amendment sets limits on amounts over which a business license would be required. Recreational cannabis would be taxed at no more than 15%, compared to the current 7% excise tax on medical marijuana. If the petition passes, the tax on medical marijuana would be phased out over a year. Anyone serving time for a marijuana-related conviction could ask the court for resentencing or dismissal, according to the proposed ballot initiative. The second petition filed Thursday proposed replacing the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with a standalone agency, the Oklahoma State Cannabis Commission.
Portland: A judge has rejected a request by 33 Oregon State Police troopers to temporarily halt a mandate that requires them to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18. Retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice Jack Landau said in an opinion Thursday that based on case law, “the police power of the state includes the authority to enact public health laws that may have the effect of curtailing individual rights,” The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. Landau, who is presiding over the troopers’ lawsuit in Jefferson County Circuit Court, also said Gov. Kate Brown is acting within her legislatively granted authority in issuing the mandate. Brown has required vaccinations for the state’s executive branch employees, including the troopers, and for hundreds of thousands of health care workers and K-12 educators and volunteers. Religious or medical exemptions can be requested. At least eight lawsuits have been filed. Thursday’s ruling is the second that denies plaintiffs’ request to temporarily stop the mandates. On Tuesday, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that arguments made by a group of 25 health care workers, firefighters and paramedics who are opposed to vaccination have “little-to-no likelihood of success” if hashed out in further court proceedings.
Philadelphia: A state court ruling will allow a plywood box to remain – for the moment – over a statue of Christopher Columbus that the city has been trying to remove from a south Philadelphia park since the explorer became a focus amid nationwide demonstrations against racial injustice. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the Commonwealth Court ruling late Saturday night vacated a decision earlier in the day by a Common Pleas Court judge to allow immediate removal of the box covering the statue on Marconi Plaza. City representative Kevin Lessard said Saturday night that removal of the covering during the holiday weekend “would pose a serious public safety risk.” He earlier said officials would stop any attempt to remove the covering prior to the state court hearing. Attorney George Bochetto, who represents supporters of the 144-year-old statue, had vowed that it would be visible by the time a scheduled Sunday parade concluded at the plaza. In Philadelphia, a city with a deep Italian heritage, supporters say they consider Columbus an emblem of that heritage. Mayor Jim Kenney said Columbus was venerated for centuries as an explorer but had a “much more infamous” history, enslaving Indigenous people and imposing punishments such as severing limbs or even death.
Pawtucket: Protesters are planning to gather near the newly erected statue of one of the state’s earliest English settlers Monday to demand that it be taken down. Members of the Narragansett Indian tribe, Native Green, NCAAP Providence and Black Lives Matter Rhode Island are expected to gather at the Rev. William Blackstone statue in Pawtucket on Indigenous Peoples Day. “A big Band-Aid has been taken off of many things in this country and exposed things that were so ugly, so now is the time for healing,” Bella Noka, a Narragansett elder, told WPRI-TV. “But you don’t try to put that dirty, nasty Band-Aid back on the wound that’s healing, and that’s what they did with this statue.” Blackstone – after whom the Blackstone Valley region is named – settled the area in the 1630s at a time when the Indigenous population was brutally oppressed. The 14-foot statue was put up in August by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council Inc. on a private plot of land. The council said it is trying to spur conversation and understanding.
Myrtle Beach: Horry County will likely become the latest government in the state to ban digging deep holes in the sand at the beach. The County Council unanimously gave key approval earlier this month banning digging holes deeper than 2 feet on beaches. It faces one final vote later this month, The Sun News reports. Supporters said deep holes are dangerous to people walking on the beach who may not see them and fall down and also are a hazard to sea turtles. A number of other South Carolina beach governments have passed similar bans on digging holes, including Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island Kiawah Island and Surfside Beach.
Black Hawk: Residents of a neighborhood where a sinkhole appeared last year say they are tired of waiting for answers and, in some cases, feel abandoned by politicians who received their votes in previous elections. “This was our nest egg,” Valerie Smith said. “We planned to sell, and now that’s our house, our business. We’re ready to retire, and we don’t know what to do.” Smith and her husband, Cole, still live in their home on Prairie Violet Lane in Hideaway Hills, where a sinkhole exposed an abandoned gypsum mine April 27, 2020. About 40 people from 15 homes were forced to evacuate. Since the sinkhole opened, two law firms representing more than 100 residents filed lawsuits and performed tests and studies. One law firm is trying to receive class-action certification, the Rapid City Journal reports. Smith said residents haven’t heard from local or state government officials, which only adds to the deepening frustration in Hideaway Hills. “I wish our Gov. Kristi Noem would do something for us,” she said. “It wouldn’t take that much to fix our neighborhood versus worrying about big fireworks displays. Why don’t you take the millions (of tax dollars) and fix neighborhoods for the people that actually voted for you?”
Pigeon Forge: Country star Dolly Parton and her Smoky Mountain businesses have raised $700,000 to help residents affected by catastrophic flooding in Middle Tennessee. According to a Wednesday news release, Parton chose United Way of Humphreys County to receive and distribute the donation at the suggestion of her friend and fellow country music legend Loretta Lynn. A foreman at Lynn’s ranch was among those who died in the flood. Parton said she was compelled to help out after the support the Smokies received following the 2016 Sevier County wildfires. “I hope that this money can be put to good use to help the people of Middle Tennessee with what they need during their recovery,” Parton said in a statement. During the Aug. 21 flood, more than 500 homes and 50 businesses were damaged after up to 17 inches of rain fell in less than 24 hours over a weekend in the rural community.
Austin: The state Senate on Friday approved newly drawn district maps that would keep Republicans dominant in the state’s congressional representation, even amid rapidly shifting demographics. Next the maps will go to the GOP-dominated Texas House of Representatives, where they are expected to be approved before reaching Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed into law. Minority rights groups and Democrats say the Republican mapmakers are ignoring demographic trends. More than 9 in 10 of the 4 million people who moved to Texas over the past decade are people of color. Texas is now home to more than 29 million people, the latest census figures show. America’s largest red state is second in population to California, which is home to nearly 40 million. That growth led to Texas gaining two more seats in Congress, for a total of 38 representatives. Republicans currently have 23 of Texas’ congressional seats, while Democrats have 13. Under the proposed maps, the number of Hispanic-majority districts would shrink from eight to seven. There would also be no districts with a majority of Black residents. State Senator Joan Huffman, a Republican and the chair of the Senate’s redistricting committee, said the maps were drawn fairly and “blind to race.”
Salt Lake City: President Joe Biden on Friday restored two sprawling national monuments in southern Utah, reversing a decision by President Donald Trump that opened for mining and other development hundreds of thousands of acres of rugged lands sacred to Native Americans and home to ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs. The Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments encompass more than 3.2 million acres and were created by Democratic administrations under a century-old law that allows presidents to protect sites considered historic, geographically or culturally important. “This may be the easiest thing I’ve ever done so far as president – I mean it,” a smiling Biden said at a White House ceremony attended by Democratic lawmakers, tribal leaders and environmentalists. Restoring the monuments’ boundaries and protections restores their integrity, upholds efforts to honor the federal trust responsibility to tribal nations, and conserves the lands and waters for future generations, Biden said. Bears Ears in particular was an important site to protect, Biden said, noting that the 1.3 million-acre site is the first national monument to be established at the request of federally recognized tribes. It is “a place of healing … a place of reverence and a sacred homeland to hundreds of generations of native peoples,” Biden said.
Royalton: A federal judge heard arguments Friday about whether a private institution, Vermont Law School, has a right to conceal two large murals against the artist’s wishes because some members of the school community find them racially offensive. Artist Samuel Kerson painted the murals – “Vermont, The Underground Railroad” and “Vermont and the Fugitive Slave” – for the school on two walls inside a building in 1994. Last year the school said it would paint over them and, when the artist objected, said it would instead cover the murals with acoustic tiles. “Despite its beneficent intentions, the mural has not aged well,” the school said in a court filing in response to a lawsuit filed by Kerson. “Its depiction of African Americans strikes some viewers as caricatured and offensive, and the mural has become a source of discord and distraction at Vermont Law School – an institution whose explicit mission it is to educate students in a diverse community.” Lawyers for Kerson, who lives in Quebec, argued in court papers that the artwork is protected by the Visual Rights Act that safeguards artists’ works from “distortion, mutilation, or other modification … which would be prejudicial to (their) honor or reputation.”
Richmond: Negotiations broke down Friday between members of the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission after Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on which proposed maps they should use as a starting point. The meeting ended after Democratic citizen co-chair Greta Harris left. The impasse came just two days before the commission was supposed to turn in maps for Virginia’s state House and Senate districts. “At this point, I don’t feel as though all members on the commission are sincere in their willingness to compromise and create fair maps for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Harris said before leaving. A number of other members also left, effectively ending the meeting because it lacked a quorum. Others wanted to push on. Harris said in an email that she did not resign from the commission and had only left the meeting. The commission is tasked with dividing the state’s voters into new legislative and congressional districts, while also trying to ensure that Black and minority voters are given a fair shot to elect candidates of their choice. The 16-member commission is evenly split between Democratic and Republican appointees. And it was already struggling to break a partisan divide before Friday’s impasse.
Everett: Residents who sued the Snohomish County Auditor seeking an audit of the 2020 election because of alleged but undocumented “electronic manipulation” of ballots could square off with lawyers for the state Democratic Party. On Wednesday, state party lawyers filed motions to intervene in the lawsuits filed by Republican voters in eight counties including Snohomish, King, Pierce, Thurston, Clark, Whatcom, Lincoln and Franklin, The Daily Herald reports. They want all the cases tossed out. “This lawsuit is entirely unfounded and appears to be little more than a coordinated political attack on the integrity of Washington elections,” lawyers for the Democrats wrote in a motion filed in the Snohomish County case. “Plaintiffs stand before the Court with nothing but speculation, fueled by conspiracy theories, asking for breathtaking and entirely unwarranted ‘relief.’ ” The lead plaintiff in all the suits is Washington Election Integrity Coalition United, whose leader, Tamborine Borrelli of Gig Harbor, traveled the state in search of residents willing to join in. The original lawsuits allege auditors used uncertified voting equipment and manipulated thousands of ballots in an unspecified statewide race. Each lawsuit seeks a “full forensic audit” conducted like one in Arizona that found no evidence of fraud.
Charleston: The death toll continues to surge from the coronavirus pandemic, according to state health data released Friday. There were at least 115 new COVID-19 deaths reported during the first seven days of October, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard. That follows a September toll of about 600 deaths – more than the four previous months combined. The state is on pace to surpass 4,000 total deaths from the pandemic this week. On Sept. 21, state officials warned that a surge in deaths from the delta variant of the virus would last up to six weeks. But there are signs in other areas that the surge is slowing down. According to health data, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped to 839 Friday, the lowest total in a month. There were 238 people in hospital intensive care units, down from a record 296 on Sept. 29. And the 157 COVID-19 patients on ventilators was the lowest since Sept. 19. Active cases statewide have gone up slightly in the past few days after dipping to 11,331 on Tuesday, the lowest since late August. Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday that improvement in the numbers “leads us to absolutely believe wholeheartedly that we have passed through the eye of the storm.”
Madison: Federal prosecutors announced Friday that they won’t file charges against a white police officer who shot Jacob Blake last year – a shooting that sparked protests that led to the deaths of two men. Officer Rusten Sheskey shot Blake, who is Black, during a domestic disturbance in Kenosha in August 2020. The shooting left Blake paralyzed from the waist down and sparked several nights of protests, some of which turned violent. An Illinois man shot three people, killing two of them, during one of the demonstrations. State prosecutors decided not to file charges against Sheskey earlier this year after video showed that Blake, who was wanted on a felony warrant, was armed with a knife. The U.S. Department of Justice launched its own investigation days after the shooting. The agency announced Friday that a team of prosecutors from its Civil Rights Division and the U.S. attorney’s office in Milwaukee reviewed police reports, witness statements, dispatch logs and videos of the incident and determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Sheskey willfully used excessive force or violated Blake’s federal rights. Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, called the decision “unconscionable” and said it “definitely steps on every civil right we can imagine this country owes every African American descendant.”
Casper: The intensive care unit in the state’s biggest hospital was at full capacity Friday, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. While not all ICU patients were dealing with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus contributed to the strain, according to the paper.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports