Troll trail, coal train derailment, geyser record: News from around our 50 states
Recycled material is bailed together to be shipped away from the recently renovated RePower South recycling facility in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo: Jake Crandall/ Advertiser)
Montgomery: The state’s Department of Environmental Management isn’t messing around when it comes to recycling. AL.com reports Alabama recycled more than 25% of its generated trash in 2018, setting a new record. Materials Management Section Chief Gavin Adams says Alabama recycled 16% of its total waste, nearly doubling the rate from seven years ago. Operations like Huntsville’s waste-to-energy incinerator added to the overall waste diversion. Alabama’s recycling efforts jump-started in 2008 when then-Gov. Bob Riley signed a law establishing higher fees for landfill usage. The money funded newer and better recycling programs. Alabama is still behind the national recycling and composting average, but its three largest cities – Birmingham, Montgomery and Huntsville – are revamping their recycling programs in 2019, hoping to capture more material before it ends up in a landfill.
Juneau: The city assembly has voted to rename a district with a traditional Native name. The Juneau Empire reports the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted Monday to change the Willoughby District to the Aakw Kwaan Village District. The area was home to a neighborhood known as the “Indian Village” and became a traditional summer village site for Alaska Native people. Officials say renaming the district bordering Willoughby Avenue acknowledges the Aakw Kwaan people settling the area. The new name becomes effective immediately following adoption of the resolution. An Aakw Kwaan spokesperson says they are happy with the change. The deputy city manager says it may take time for residents to adapt, but the city will begin using the new name in ongoing projects.
Phoenix: Keeping your home cool during the summer costs more in Arizona than it does in any other state, according to a recent study. Arizonans pay three times as much as the average U.S. resident for air-conditioning in the summer, finds the study by Sense, a residential energy management company. Sense analyzed 1,600 homes across the country in 2018 to figure out how much people pay to air-condition their homes during the summer months. The average cost of summer utilities in Arizona was $477, according to Sense. New Jersey was the second most expensive state on the list, which Sense attributed to “higher-than-average AC usage and high utility costs.” But the state’s $327 average didn’t even come close to Arizona’s.
Little Rock: A judge who participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the governor’s mansion two years ago has asked the state Supreme Court to allow him to handle execution-related cases again. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen on Monday petitioned the high court, which disqualified him from hearing criminal and civil cases involving capital punishment after he was photographed in April 2017 wearing an anti-death penalty button and surrounded by people holding signs opposing executions. Before the demonstration, Griffen had blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug over the claims that officials misled a medical supply company. Griffen, who is black, said in his filing that no white member of the state’s judiciary has similarly been banned from hearing and deciding an entire category of cases.
Sacramento: Thirteen years after the state began exporting thousands of felons to private prisons across the nation, the last convict has boarded a bus back to California. Corrections Secretary Ralph Diaz called Tuesday a historic day. He says it’s important to get inmates closer to family members to help with their rehabilitation. To make room for returning inmates, California shed nearly 50,000 inmates from its in-state prisons by easing criminal penalties and housing lower-level criminals in county jails. Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger started sending inmates out of state in 2006. It was supposed to be a stopgap alternative to freeing inmates from prisons so crowded that inmates were bunked three-deep in gymnasiums and dayrooms. At its peak, more than 10,000 inmates were housed in prisons in Arizona, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
A hiker takes a photo of Isak Heartstone, a large wooden troll built by Danish artist Thomas Dambo, in his new site on the Trollstigen trail in Breckenridge, Colo. (Photo: Hugh Carey/Summit Daily News via AP)
Breckenridge: A giant wooden troll is ready to greet fans again after being moved and rebuilt in this ski town. The Summit Daily reports the 15-foot troll, named Isak Heartstone, reopened in Breckenridge on Tuesday. He was reconstructed last month near an ice arena in the south end of Breckenridge. The new Trollstigen trail was created to access the site. The troll was originally assembled beside a trail last summer for a festival, but it was dismantled in November after nearby homeowners complained about the crowds. Danish artist Thomas Dambo rebuilt Isak, keeping the original head, heart, hands and feet but giving him a new pose. The troll is now seated on a slope with his hand wrapped around a tree.
Hartford: The state is on track to have a paid family medical leave system in place by 2022. Advocates and state lawmakers cheered as Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont signed legislation Tuesday that provides most workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a family member, a new child or their own serious health condition. The program, which begins Jan. 1, 2022, will also cover medical leave needed for organ or bone marrow donations or a qualifying event arising from a family member on active duty. The weekly benefit will be capped at 60 times the minimum wage, or $780 on a $13 minimum wage. It will be $900 once Connecticut’s $15-an-hour minimum wage takes effect in 2023. The program will be funded with a 0.5% payroll tax.
Wilmington: Several five-digit license plates will be up for grabs starting July 9, the DMV announced this week. Low-digit tags are coveted as a sign of prestige in Delaware, sometimes fetching thousands at auction. Typically, the lower the number, the more valuable it is, with some five-digit tags currently on sale online for $750 to $2,000. The state also sometimes makes low-digit tags available to the public. Starting July 9, a limited number of five-digit license plates will be available at the Delaware City, Dover, Wilmington and Georgetown DMV locations on a first-come, first-served basis. Shelley Koon, chief of communications for the DMV, said it does not release a list of what numbers will be available in advance.
District of Columbia
Washington: The nation’s capital apparently is one of the most unsafe cities to drive in, WUSA-TV reports. The insurance company Allstate released its 2019 “Best Drivers” report Tuesday and found that the district is second to last among 200 cities when it comes to safe driving. Only Baltimore was worse. Allstate cited data that found drivers in Washington averaged 4.4 years between claims – compared to 10.57 years for the national average. Allstate also looked at “hard-braking” events per 1,000 miles and found that people in the city average 27.2 times, versus the national average of 19. Several roads in the region also made the list of “riskiest roads,” including the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
Structures still show the devastating effects of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., on May 8. (Photo: Gregg Pachkowski, Gregg Pachkowski/[email protected])
Panama City: A survey of Floridians is reinforcing the belief among victims of Hurricane Michael that they’ve been forgotten as they continue their recovery efforts eight months after the Category 5 storm made landfall. According to the survey of 1,000 Floridians released Wednesday, almost half of respondents said they had no plans to do anything to help victims recover when asked if they would donate money, volunteer time or visit the Panhandle. The survey says 2 in 5 Floridians believe mistakenly that life has returned to normal in the Panhandle. The survey was conducted June 7 to June 11 on behalf of Rebuild 850, a coalition of groups dedicated to rebuilding the Panhandle. The online survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%.
Jekyll Island: The agency that manages Jekyll Island is raising parking fees at the state park by $2. That means beginning July 1 it will cost $8 to drive a vehicle onto the coastal state park. The Jekyll Island Authority’s governing board approved the fee increase during its meeting Tuesday. The parking fee has been $6 for the past seven years. Authority Executive Director Jones Hooks told The Brunswick News the additional fees will help pay for expanded conservation efforts on Jekyll Island. By law, roughly two-thirds of the island must remain undeveloped. Its untamed areas provide habitat for wildlife including nesting sea turtles, shorebirds and alligators. Hooks said parking fees also pay the full cost of landscaping, roads and grounds operations on the island.
Hilo: A memorial has been dedicated to Hawaii Island military members who died during the Korean War, a report says. The Korean War Memorial was dedicated Saturday in a ceremony at Wailoa State Recreation Area in Hilo, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. The memorial honors 52 service members killed in action and five who died of noncombat causes during the conflict. About 200 people attended the dedication of the memorial, held three days prior to the 69th anniversary of the war’s outbreak June 25, 1950. The memorial was the result of 15 years of planning by the Korean War Veterans Association Big Island Chapter No. 231, officials said. The memorial, located next to the recreation area’s Vietnam War Memorial, was paid for by selling “a helluva lot of candy,” said association chapter President Emile Wery.
Coeur d’Alene: The state’s 11th grade students scored slightly lower on a college readiness test on average this year than they did last year. The Coeur d’Alene Press reports the SAT results released by the state Department of Education show the average reading score was 496, and the average math score was 480, totaling 976 out of a possible 1,600. The average scores last year were 502 for reading and 486 for math. The Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy had the highest average score in the state with 1,279. Its students averaged 628 in reading and 651 in math. Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra says the SAT is only one indicator of college readiness and does not tell students’ full stories.
Chicago: The Archdiocese of Chicago says the final Mass at a historic city church that has fallen into disrepair will be held next month. St. Adalbert Church has been around for more than 100 years, but church officials have said more than $3 million is needed to repair the building, including its towers. Church officials say the last Mass will be July 14. In a statement, the Archdiocese of Chicago says after that, the building will “no longer be a sacred space and may not be used for worship.” Several proposals are being considered for the future of the building. The parish was founded in the 1870s, and the current church was built in 1912.
A federally endangered whooping crane stands in Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area in Linton, Ind. (Photo: Bob Herndon, AP)
Linton: Designs are being drawn up for new visitors center exhibits about the wildlife habitats of a popular birdwatching site. Organizations and foundations have given $60,000 toward the project at the Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area, in southwestern Indiana near the Greene County city of Linton. That includes $45,000 from the Friends of Goose Pond. The (Bloomington) Herald-Times reports the visitors center that opened in 2016 looks over the preserve’s main pool areas. The new exhibits are expected to highlight the area’s history and restoration work done there and to describe its wildlife. Sandhill cranes, white American pelicans and endangered whooping cranes are among the some 260 bird species that have been documented at Goose Pond. The site draws about 12,000 visitors a year.
Sioux City: Three workers say a pork processor fired them in retaliation for filing complaints about working conditions. The Sioux City Journal reports Luis Aceves, Jose Moreno and Jose Magana filed three separate lawsuits last week against Northwest Iowa Pork in Sioux City. They seek back pay and future wages, lost and future benefits, compensatory damages and punitive damages. The three say they were not provided with protective eyewear and had other workplace complaints. State health workers visited the plant and found no violations. The three were subsequently fired Sept. 13. They say a manager told them they were fired for violating policy and damaging company property.
Lawrence: Higher education leaders say the percentage of Kansas high school graduates attending state universities is falling. The Kansas Board of Regents says 55% of high school graduates enrolled at a state higher education facility in 2010, but that fell to 50.3% in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available. The Lawrence Journal-World reports board officials say that economic growth means more jobs are available for people with high school diplomas but no degree and that rising tuition costs can be a deterrent for students considering higher education. They say shifting demographics in the state may be a factor. Regents suggest that the schools should try to enroll more out-of-state students so their higher tuition rates can offset a decrease in tuition for Kansas students.
Louisville: The Metro Council has passed an ordinance declaring marijuana possession a low priority for officers. Passed Tuesday in a 15-9 vote, the ordinance says small amounts of marijuana on a person 21 years or older will be low priority for Louisville Metro Police. Councilman Mark Fox voted against the ordinance, saying it raises confusion surrounding possession punishment. Councilman Brandon Coan, who co-wrote the ordinance, says it isn’t advocating for marijuana legalization but instead is a simple way to reform the justice system by making it less discriminatory. In a review of more than 21,500 cases of serious marijuana possession charges, African Americans accounted for two-thirds of those charged despite making up less than one-fourth of Louisville’s population.
Baton Rouge: People will need to be at least 16 years old to marry in the state under a new law signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. Louisiana previously had no minimum age for marrying, although people under 18 needed parental consent and under 16 needed judicial permission. Lawmakers passed the hard-fought measure by Baton Rouge Democratic Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb in their session’s final hour. Edwards signed it without fanfare. Starting in August, people under 16 cannot get married, and anyone 16 or 17 can’t marry someone three years or more older. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds will need permission from parents and a judge. Supporters say a minimum age can protect teenagers from sexual predators. Opponents, largely conservative Republicans, argued they didn’t want to keep pregnant teenagers from marrying.
Bangor: The state is in the midst of an especially bad year for prevalence of a species of moth that can cause an itchy rash in humans. The browntail moth is an invasive European species that has been in Maine for decades. The hairs of their caterpillars cause the rash, and the species can also cause widespread tree defoliation. The Bangor Daily News reports populations have been growing for the past several years, and they have been especially noticeable this summer in the state’s Midcoast region and elsewhere. Scientists say it’s possible the population has been growing because of hot, dry summers followed by warm fall seasons. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Forest Service say residents with questions about the moths can call 211 Maine for help.
Thomas Point Lighthouse, in the Chesapeake Bay off Annapolis, Md. (Photo: Getty Images)
College Park: Some ecologists at the University of Maryland are worried that a large spot of low oxygen in the Chesapeake Bay could harm the state’s seafood industry. News outlets report environmental scientists from Maryland and University of Michigan say they’re predicting a 2-mile swath of low-to-no oxygen in the bay, making it one of the largest so-called dead zones in nearly 20 years. This particularly damaging dead zone is thought to be caused by heavy rains the region experienced this year, which washed wastewater and agricultural runoff into the bay. The wastewater then produces oxygen-stealing algae. The dead zones are especially harmful to key Maryland exports like crabs and oysters, even though other scientists say some smaller marine creatures can withstand the oxygen void.
Boston: Gov. Charlie Baker has unveiled a plan to speed construction projects on Greater Boston’s public transit system after a pair of subway car derailments earlier this month ramped up calls for improvements to the aging system. The Republican said Tuesday that the plan includes a one-time injection of $50 million for additional workers to focus on construction and infrastructure projects. Baker said other steps include exploring the possibility of scheduling more aggressive evening and weekend closures to help speed improvements, as well as increasing the frequency of inspections to help catch and fix problems before they slow down service. Baker said the goal is to transform the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority into a modern, safe, reliable transit system.
Lansing: State officials are raising public awareness of tougher sampling rules they expect to result in more drinking water systems exceeding limits for lead. Samples now have to be taken not only from the first liter drawn from a house with exterior or interior lead plumbing but also from the fifth liter under new regulations enacted after Flint’s crisis. Leisl Clark, director of the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, says the testing change will provide “more precision and more insight into what’s actually happening in the homes.” Clark says 100 communities will send the state samples in coming weeks, and an additional 300 will follow in the fall. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week signed a midyear spending bill that includes $3 million to help implement the rules.
Brainerd: Federal officials are weighing impassioned testimony from farmers, ranchers, hunters and wildlife advocates at the only public hearing in the country on the government’s latest attempt to take gray wolves off the endangered and threatened species list. The proposal would return management of the predators to the states, potentially subjecting them to hunting and trapping. In most states it’s currently illegal to kill a wolf unless it’s threatening a human. Federal officials said at the hearing Tuesday night in Brainerd that they want to lift the protections because they no longer consider the animals endangered, Minnesota Public Radio reports. Gray wolves, once hunted to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states, have made a dramatic recovery since they were protected in 1974. There are now more than 6,000 gray wolves in nine states. Minnesota has the most at more than 2,650.
Moss Point, Miss., resident Harold Biggs, 75, stands in the former bedroom he renovated especially for his daughter, who he says received insufficient mental health care from the state. (Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
Jackson: The federal government is putting the state’s mental health system on trial. Since June 4, a judge has been hearing arguments and testimony that Mississippi puts too many mentally ill people in state hospitals and doesn’t offer enough community-based treatment. In 2014, the most recent year with figures available, Mississippi had the nation’s highest per capita number of people in government psychiatric hospitals. Mississippi has closed some hospital beds since then. Federal officials have warned Mississippi since 2011 that its lack of community treatment options was a problem. Federal officials say Mississippi violates a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said “unjustified” confinement in a mental hospital is illegal. State officials say they’re making progress in expanding community treatment, but the federal government is making exorbitant demands that exceed its authority.
St. Louis: Missourians looking for physicians to certify them to buy medical marijuana when it becomes available next year are running into resistance from doctors who are reluctant to prescribe the substance. Instead, would-be users are turning to pop-up and specialty clinics advertising certification for about $200 or less. The head of the Missouri Medical Cannabis Industry Association says most doctors are uninformed on the use of marijuana as medicine. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports Missouri is the 33rd state to legalize marijuana for medical use. In other states, most marijuana patients have been certified by a small number of independent physicians or marijuana-specific clinics. To qualify for medical marijuana, a patient must have one of several conditions including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, migraines or PTSD.
Helena: Two conservation groups have filed a lawsuit to block a wildfire mitigation project in Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. The Independent Record reports Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed the lawsuit last week, claiming the U.S. Forest Service erred in its environmental analysis for the Ten Mile-South Helena Project. The project approved last year calls for thinning, logging and burning on more than 27 square miles over 15 years. The Forest Service did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment. Helena Hunters and Anglers and the Montana Wildlife Federation filed a lawsuit in March seeking to stop the project because of concerns about its effect on big game habitat.
Lincoln: Officials are laying the groundwork for the state’s voter-approved Medicaid expansion program, but many people who will eventually qualify now face a long and difficult wait. About 90,000 low-income Nebraska residents who will get new Medicaid coverage must wait until the expansion’s launch date of October 2020, nearly two years after voters approved the expansion. Officials with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services say they understand the situation is hard for people, including many who suffer from chronic health problems. However, they say they’re working as fast as possible, and the expansion is a monumental task. Some lawmakers who support Medicaid expansion say state officials proposed a needlessly complex system with burdensome requirements.
Las Vegas: Officials are celebrating the launch of the city’s new ride-sharing service to compete against Uber and Lyft. The Las Vegas Review reports the Regional Transportation Commission commemorated the launch of the Trip to Strip app at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Trip to Strip operates with Ford vans that fit up to 11 passengers and feature a limousine-style interior with leather seats, free Wi-Fi access and space for luggage. Regional Transportation Commission spokeswoman Monika Bertaki says Trip to Strip does not raise its prices during busy times, unlike ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. Commission CEO Tina Quigley says the commission will determine whether the service can be extended beyond the Strip based on areas of popular commute.
Concord: Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has vetoed a bill that would have required all the motor vehicles purchased or leased by the state to achieve zero emissions by 2039. In a veto message Tuesday, Sununu says the state is already making great strides toward that goal but should not set arbitrary deadlines that will unnecessarily drive up taxpayer costs. He says the bill would have had a $28 million impact in higher vehicle costs. Democrats responded that Sununu has no interest in bringing the state closer to a clean energy future. The bill passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority, but support fell short of that threshold in the House.
A beach badge checker looks at a beachgoer's badge in Asbury Park in 2010. (Photo: MARY FRANK)
Asbury Park: Community members have raised more than $21,000 to help families in need enjoy a day at the beach. The Asbury Park Beach Community Fund is nearing its goal of $25,000, which will pay for seasonal beach badges for families that can’t otherwise afford them. That’s nearly 10 times the goal Asbury Park resident Lisa Cramp set when she first started a GoFundMe campaign last summer, after watching the migration of families onto the beach after lifeguards left for the day. Concerned about the dangerous situation of families swimming in potentially rough and unguarded waters, Cramp asked her neighbors why they didn’t go to the beach while lifeguards were watching. Their answer: the cost. “They said, ‘I can’t afford $70’ ” for a seasonal beach badge, Cramp said. “I felt really bad they were on the beach unsafely because they couldn’t afford it.”
Silver City: Officials with the Gila National Forest say the first phase of a cleanup project at the Royal John Mine and Mill is nearly complete. Past lead and zinc mining activities left an estimated 90,000 cubic yards of tailings and waste rock material along the upper reaches of Cold Springs Creek. The contaminated material is being consolidated into one spot, where it will be permanently capped. Officials say this will limit the potential for the contaminants to reach the surrounding environment. The area will be cordoned off with a steel rail fence and seeded with native grasses. The work is expected to be finished in late July. The second phase will involve closing the mine’s adits and shafts. The contract for that work is scheduled to be awarded later this summer.
Albany: The state is going to restrict the use of solitary confinement in its prisons, despite failing to pass legislation that would have prohibited putting a prisoner in isolation for more than 15 consecutive days. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, all Democrats, said last week that they’ve agreed to “dramatically reduce” the use of solitary confinement by implementing changes administratively. The deal would prohibit certain “vulnerable” prisoners from being put in solitary, including pregnant women and adolescents. In a news release, they said they would “ultimately” cap the amount of time prisoners can spend in solitary confinement at 30 days. It says the agreement would increase training on implicit bias and de-escalation techniques.
A west wind blows the Currituck Sound waters onto the dock and road at the Audubon wildlife sanctuary in Corolla, N.C. (Photo: Jeff Hampton/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
Corolla: Upgrades to a wildlife sanctuary on the Outer Banks are expected to attract groups of scientists to carry out long-term research. The Virginian-Pilot reports North Carolina officials gathered Friday to announce the $8.4 million project at the Donal C. O’Brien Jr. Sanctuary and Audubon Center in Corolla. Scientists say recent environmental changes are affecting the landscape near Corolla’s beach homes. Visiting researchers are expected to collect information and perform experiments to understand how the sanctuary can withstand those changes. The renovation plan includes lifting several buildings to sit above the marshy grounds. The sanctuary will also get a new meeting hall and new boardwalks. The land is home to 170 species of birds and 350 different types of plants. Audubon North Carolina has managed the sanctuary since 2009.
Fargo: The state’s sole abortion clinic filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday over two state laws it believes forces doctors to lie, including one measure passed this year requiring physicians to tell women that they may reverse a so-called medication abortion if they have second thoughts. The complaint from the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic and the American Medical Association also targets an existing law requiring doctors to tell patients that abortion terminates “the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” The suit says the laws violate the constitutional rights of doctors by forcing them to “convey false information and non-medical statements” to patients. It asks a judge to block enforcement. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said earlier when asked about the possibility of a lawsuit that he will be required to defend the current laws.
Columbus: The state’s elections chief is enlisting the help of community and social service groups to find voters who are at risk of being removed from registration rolls. In an order issued Wednesday, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose required county election boards to send his office names for a “registration reset list” he plans to share with organizations that work closely with populations vulnerable to removal. The order maintains Ohio’s stringent “supplemental process” for removing inactive voters from the rolls that’s been unsuccessfully challenged in court. LaRose says he’s legally compelled to carry out the process but hopes engaging advocacy groups will help ensure Ohio balances the need to maintain accurate voter rolls with the rights of registered voters to sit out elections.
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt announces Wednesday that Kings of Leon will headline the grand opening weekend of Scissortail Park in September. (Photo: Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman via AP)
Oklahoma City: Grammy-winning rockers Kings of Leon will help the city debut its new downtown park with a free concert. Mayor David Holt announced Wednesday that the band whose members once lived in Oklahoma City will perform Sept. 27 as headliners in a three-day opening event at Scissortail Park. Kings of Leon tweeted that fans in their home state should expect “a show to remember.” Scissortail Park will eventually cover 70 acres and include a lake and sports facilities. It’s also home to a clone of the “Survivor Tree” that lived through the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The clone will eventually be transplanted to replace the original American elm once it dies. The $132 million park is a centerpiece of Oklahoma City’s downtown revitalization, including a new convention center and streetcar system.
People demonstrating to raise awareness of climate change block streets in downtown Portland, Ore., on June 21. (Photo: Steven Dubois/AP)
A diesel truck that belongs to a self-employed logger is parked in Salem, Ore., on June 20. (Photo: Gillian Flaccus/AP)
Portland: The divide between the state’s liberal urban centers and its conservative rural areas makes it ripe for the political crisis unfolding over sweeping climate legislation. Eleven Republican senators are entering the seventh day of a walkout to deny the supermajority Democrats the quorum needed to vote on a cap-and-trade bill that would be the second of its kind in the U.S. The stalemate has drawn international attention to Oregon, in part because right-wing militias have rallied to the Republican cause. Experts say the standoff was inevitable given the state’s political makeup. Big cities lean left, but about 40% of Oregon residents – mostly in rural areas – vote Republican.
Harrisburg: Voters would be able to cast their ballots in primaries even if they aren’t Democrats or Republicans and have easier absentee ballot deadlines under election law changes being considered by the Legislature. The Senate voted 42 to 8 on Tuesday for a bill that would let unaffiliated voters decide which major party primary they want to cast their ballot in. The Senate also voted 30-20 to end straight ticket voting that lets people cast all their votes for a single party. The House subsequently teed up a bill with a set of election rule changes. The House bill would prohibit the administration from decertifying voting machines in most counties without reporting details to the General Assembly six months beforehand.
Providence: A bill intended to update the state’s parentage laws faces new concerns in court. Family Court Judge Michael Forte weighed in Tuesday with concerns about the Uniform Parentage Act that won widespread support in the state Senate when it passed June 6. The Providence Journal reports that Forte approached the House requesting a study on the bill. Bill supporters say it would spell out how parents who have children using donor insemination or surrogacy in Rhode Island can establish parentage. The state is currently one of the few without any statutory guidance on parentage created through assisted reproductive technology. Democratic Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee has been a lead sponsor of the proposed law for three years and believes the judge is a “roadblock” to the legislation’s success.
Folly Beach: The city has begun removing more than a dozen abandoned boats in its waterways. On Monday, crews started removing 14 boats and one large piece of marine debris out of the water. WCSC-TV reports the $110,000 project is expected to take two months, with some removals being as easy as towing a boat to shore, while others will require a lot more time and need more equipment. Last month, the contract for the work was awarded to Mainstream. City officials expect the work to be done by mid-August. The City of Charleston is also set to remove five abandoned boats in its waterways, costing a total of $50,000. That work will also be done over the next few months.
The State Theatre, which plans to open next spring, announces the news Wednesday in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Photo: Erin Bormett / Argus Leader)
Sioux Falls: T. Denny Sanford and the city are coming to the rescue of the State Theatre. The South Dakota billionaire and philanthropist and Mayor Paul TenHaken announced at a press conference Wednesday that together they’re dedicating $5 million to fund the restoration of the historic cinema downtown. Sanford will provide $3.5 million, while TenHaken is committed to setting aside $1.5 million in city dollars for the project. “They share my vision that this iconic gathering place be open every day for everybody in the community,” State Theatre President John Swedeen said of the city and Sanford. The gifts will directly support the completion of the main level auditorium. Because of them, Swedeen said the theater will be able to open as early as next spring, with the first movie shown slated to be “Gone With the Wind.”
Nashville: A state law barring ministers ordained online from officiating at marriage ceremonies is being challenged in federal court. The Universal Life Church Monastery is suing to block the law from taking effect July 1, saying it violates the freedoms of speech and religion enshrined in the state and federal constitutions. The Times Free Press reports that the civil complaint says the law discriminates by allowing only “favored” religions that appoint ministers through non-internet channels. The attorney general’s office says it will defend the state’s position. The bill’s sponsors said in April that it clarifies legal questions. The Universal Life Church describes itself as a non-denominational spiritual organization that has ordained 20 million ministers who fill out a form online.
Galveston: Residential property groups will be allowed to remove seaweed from some Southeast Texas beaches but must abide by guidelines to protect the environment. The Galveston County Daily News reports Galveston Park Board trustees agreed Tuesday to let homeowner associations clear some beaches amid excessive seaweed this summer. Associations will be allowed to use the board’s federal permit and must abide by certain conditions to protect the sand and make sure sea turtles are not harmed. The board last summer revoked allowing third-party contractors to operate heavy equipment for seaweed removal after an environmental group objected. Tuesday’s agreement means homeowner associations can remove seaweed using mechanized equipment when a certain percentage of beach is covered.
Salt Lake City: An invasive mussel that has taken up residence in Lake Powell on the Colorado River is threatening the state’s push to develop a $1.8 billion pipeline to deliver water to fast-growing areas. The Salt Lake Tribune reports the Army Corps of Engineers has asked the state provide a plan on how it will prevent the pipeline from transporting quagga mussels from the lake on the Arizona-Utah border. The 140-mile pipeline aims to transport water to Washington and Kane counties in southern Utah. The project requires a permit from the Corps. The Corps has given the state until July 13 to produce a plan that addresses the mussel problem and a dozen other issues. The state has not yet finalized a plan.
Montpelier: The Vermont Humanities Council says communities around the state will be holding readings in late June and early July of the 1852 Independence Day speech of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Organizers say in the fiery speech Douglass, a former slave, took exception to being asked to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The communities holding readings include Montpelier, Norwich, Randolph, Tunbridge, Waterbury, Wells River and Worcester. Copies of the speech will be provided, and community members are invited to join the reading. A full list of the planned readings is available on the Vermont Humanities Council website.
Coal spills from train cars in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Chesapeake, Va., on Wednesday. (Photo: Chris Lowie/US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Suffolk: A coal train derailed into the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge early Tuesday. The derailment is still being cleaned up and has raised concerns about the impact on various forms of wildlife, including endangered species. The Virginian-Pilot reports 36 cars full of coal went off the tracks. Refuge manager Chris Lowie said the Norfolk Southern train is “literally right in the middle of the swamp.” The coal that was being transported is a fine material, almost like sand. The refuge is home to endangered species such as long-eared bats and red-cockaded woodpeckers. But the coal will most likely affect aquatic species such as snakes and turtles. Norfolk Southern did not immediately respond to requests for comment by phone or email.
Seattle: The city is supplementing its police ranks by hiring unarmed, noncommissioned officers. The Seattle Times reports the 12 officers hired for the community service officer program will respond to noncriminal calls and help connect residents with city services. Officials say the city hopes the new supplemental staff, including two supervisors, will allow police officers to focus on criminal activity. The community service officers will not have the authority to enforce laws, and their uniforms and patrol cars will have distinct markings. Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan’s $5.9 billion budget passed by the city council in November earmarked about $1.3 million in 2019 and $1.67 million in 2020 for the program. The program previously operated for 33 years until it was defunded in 2004.
Charleston: The state will start taking applications for school clothing vouchers next week. The program administered by the Department of Health and Human Resources’ Division of Family Assistance helped more than 98,000 children enrolled in West Virginia schools last year. Each child whose family meets income guidelines will receive a $200 voucher for use toward the purchase of school clothing or materials to make clothes. The monthly income for a family of four may not exceed $2,146. Applications were sent in June to families who obtained vouchers last year and currently receive Medicaid or food stamps. The application deadline is July 31. Families with school-aged children receiving WV Works cash assistance will automatically receive allowance vouchers by mid-July. Children in foster care will be issued a check.
Madison: The administration of Gov. Tony Evers has hired a consultant to advise it on the flat-panel display industry – the sector in which Foxconn Technology Group’s Wisconsin factory will operate. The state Department of Administration has contracted with Display Supply Chain Consultants LLC, says Bob O’Brien, the firm’s president and co-founder. A former executive with Corning Inc., a leading manufacturer of the ultra-thin glass used in displays, O’Brien is among a relatively small number of people in the U.S. with extensive knowledge of the display industry, which is concentrated in Asia. He says Evers’ administration reached out to his firm and signed a consulting contract with it three or four weeks ago.
Steamboat Geyser emits a small jet of steam in Yellowstone National Park. (Photo: Rachel Leathe, AP)
Yellowstone National Park: Steamboat Geyser set a record this month for the shortest recorded interval between eruptions, at just over three days. The Billings Gazette reports the June 15 eruption at 4:40 p.m. came just three days, three hours and 48 minutes after a major eruption June 12. Sunday’s eruption marked the sixth in June and the 24th this year for the world’s tallest active geyser. The National Park Service says Steamboat’s major eruptions shoot water more than 300 feet into the air. Steamboat lay dormant from October 1991 to May 2000 and from February 2007 to July 2013. Its March 15, 2018, eruption ended just over 3 1/2 years of dormancy. The geyser is known to have erupted 56 times since then. The longest interval between eruptions since May 3 is just over seven days.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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