Military lottery, scooter vandals, red tide: News from around our 50 states
The Juneteenth celebration returns to an in-person street festival on Saturday outside the Rosa Parks Museum in downtown Montgomery. (Photo: Rosa Parks Museum)
Montgomery: A downtown street festival Saturday in front of Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum will celebrate Juneteenth with food, songs and reflection. The holiday, gaining more widespread recognition in recent years but long been marked in Black communities, observes the end of slavery in the U.S. “Our goal is to commemorate Juneteenth by celebrating African American freedom with a focus on education and achievement,” said Donna Beisel, assistant director and K-12 coordinator for the museum. Comedienne JOY is Saturday’s emcee, with the band Souled Out Groove as the headline act. Guests will be able to register to vote on site, Beisel said. Past participants have been “overwhelmingly” excited to return to an in-person event this year, she said. The Rosa Parks Museum is kicking off Juneteenth on Thursday evening with a panel discussion on “Montgomery Then and Now,” offering perspectives on how the city’s past is dictating its future, the role of public protests, and how millennials can influence the change. The museum is also partnering with PBS’ “Frontline” for the Un(re)solved AR installation, which will be on display in the museum’s gallery through Saturday. The multiplatform experience examines a federal effort to investigate more than 150 cold case murders related to racism.
Juneau: City leaders have declined a $2 million donation from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. amid concerns from some Assembly members about the public perception of accepting the money. The company, which operates Norwegian Cruise Line, last month announced plans to donate $10 million total to Alaska port communities with tourist economies hit hard by the lack of cruise ship passengers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has purchased an empty waterfront lot in Juneau, where it wants to build a dock, KTOO Public Media reports. City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Member Carole Triem cited the proposed dock as factoring heavily in her decision to vote against accepting the money. “I just think that to accept money from NCL, even though it’s totally separate from the decisions we’d be making about this development project, just is not a good look for us,” she said. Assembly member Wade Bryson said the path for the company getting a dock is already charted out. He said rejecting the donation would be “foolish and fiscally irresponsible.” The Assembly asked the city manager to suggest to the company donating the $2 million directly to an organization instead of the city.
Phoenix: Maricopa County public health officials are redoubling their efforts to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates by using detailed population data to identify communities with barriers to getting vaccinated. Arizona’s most populous county on Wednesday launched a new data dashboard displaying vaccine data across ZIP codes with breakdowns by demographics like sex, age group, race and ethnicity, though getting good data on vaccine uptake among the county’s Hispanic/Latino community remains a challenge. The public release of the upgraded ZIP code dashboard coincides with a countywide promotional campaign targeted at residents who are still on the fence about getting a COVID-19 shot. Health officials believe there are many residents who are willing to get inoculated but haven’t yet, meaning either the vaccine needs to be more easily accessible to them, or they have unanswered questions about it. The goal is to home in on communities that have faced challenges getting vaccinated so that health officials can target vaccine pop-up events and messaging in certain areas to meet needs. The data has led, for example, to vaccine event partnerships with groups like the Arizona Korean Nurses Association and various refugee resettlement organizations.
Little Rock: The state Supreme Court on Thursday allowed part of a lawsuit over the state’s ongoing control of the Little Rock School District to proceed. Justices dismissed part of the lawsuit parents filed challenging the state’s decision to place limits on the Little Rock School Board when the district was returned to local control. The state took over the district in 2015 because of lagging test scores. The Arkansas Board of Education voted in 2019 to return the district to the control of a new school board that was elected last year. But the state placed limits on the board’s authority, including preventing it from recognizing the local teachers union as a bargaining agent. Justices on Thursday said the part of the case challenging the state laws the board used to place the limits on the district’s local control can move forward. The local teachers union went on a one-day strike in 2019 over the state’s control of the district and educators’ loss of collective bargaining rights.
Gerry Huddleston of Santa Rosa, Calif., cools off in the very shallow water of the Russian River on Wednesday at the Veterans Memorial Beach in Healdsburg, Calif. (Photo: Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)
Los Angeles: The state’s power grid operator called for voluntary energy conservation Thursday as the Golden State sweltered under a heat wave that has blanketed the West and brought dangerously high temperatures to many areas. The California Independent System Operator issued a Flex Alert urging people to set their thermostats to 78 degrees or higher and avoid using washing machines, dishwashers and other major appliances. While the electrical supply was tight, CEO Elliot Mainzer said actual blackouts were unlikely. But he said that could change as temperatures spiked and urged people to heed the Flex Alert. “Californians have stepped up many times before when asked to pitch in, and I’m confident they will do so,” Mainzer said. During another heat spell last August, the state saw two days of rotating power outages that affected more than 200,000 people. They were the first such blackouts since 2001. Power officials said the electrical grid has seen upgrades in power storage and transmission since then, including adding about 3,500 megawatts of capacity – in general enough to power some 2.6 million homes. That includes 2,000 megawatts worth of battery storage that could be crucial when solar power generation tails off after dark.
Baker Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, manages his shop in Lakewood, Colo. Phillips violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to make a birthday cake for a transgender woman, Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones ruled Tuesday. (Photo: David Zalubowski/AP)
Denver: A baker who won a partial victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to make a birthday cake for a transgender woman, a state judge has ruled. In Tuesday’s ruling, Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones said Autumn Scardina was denied a cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate her gender transition on her birthday because of her transgender status in violation of the law. While Jack Phillips said he could not make the cake because of its message, Jones said the case was about a refusal to sell a product, not compelled speech. He pointed out that Phillips testified during a trial in March that he did not think someone could change their gender, and he would not celebrate “somebody who thinks that they can.” “The anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others,’ ” Jones wrote. The group representing Phillips, Alliance Defending Freedom, said Wednesday that it would appeal the ruling, which ordered him to pay a $500 fine.
New London: The easing of the pandemic has brought an increase in families seeking mental health aid for children suffering the effects of being isolated from their peers. A Norwich woman whose 9-year-old son was experiencing fits of rage contacted her pediatrician, who reached out to a medical center only to discover that it was overwhelmed with patients awaiting inpatient care. “Right then there were 30 patients, ages 7 and up, who were waiting for inpatient care,” Dr. Richard Lavoie told The Day. “They were staying in hallways, sitting on stretchers and in community rooms, waiting to be placed somewhere.” A poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association and released last month found 48% of adults surveyed said the pandemic has caused mental health problems for one or more of their children, and about a quarter said they had sought professional mental health help for their children because of the pandemic. “It’s about being separated from their peers,” Carrie Pichie, a clinical psychologist and a regional director of ambulatory services for Hartford HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Network, told the newspaper. “Early in the pandemic, not being in school and not being able to participate in sports and other extracurriculars was devastating for many kids. Some find it difficult to reintegrate.”
Dover: The state Senate voted mostly along party lines Tuesday to give final approval to two Democratic proposals further restricting gun ownership in Delaware. The first measure prohibits the purchase or possession of a firearm by anyone who knows they are the subject of a protection-from-abuse order. The purchase prohibition also applies to anyone who knows they are the subject of an arrest warrant or indictment for any felony or any misdemeanor domestic violence charge. The second bill outlaws so-called ghost guns that can’t be traced by law enforcement officials because they don’t have serial numbers. The bill, similar to a measure that failed to get a floor vote last year, makes it a felony to possess or manufacture an untraceable, undetectable or covert firearm. Anyone who already possesses an unfinished firearm frame or receiver – a component of a gun that houses the firing mechanism – with no serial number would have 90 days to comply with the law, presumably by destroying or surrendering it.
District of Columbia
Washington: An inmate of the D.C. Jail has been elected to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the most local form of government within the nation’s capital, WUSA-TV reports. Joel Caston, 44, asked to be heard not as a teenager convicted of murder in the ’90s but as an author, mentor and man moving forward. “I feel presidential,” Caston said from inside the jail Wednesday. “I feel like the president, a public servant who can deliver.” The seat he won – a district east of Capitol Hill encompassing the jail, Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter, and new, as-yet sparsely population luxury apartments near the Stadium-Armory Metro station – has never before been filled, which voting activists attribute to the transitory nature of the jail and the shelter’s population. “The first thing I’m gonna do is listen,” Caston said, describing how he hopes to learn from fellow commissioners during his first ANC meeting. “I think the main thing missing from these conversations is our humanity. Often times when we are incarcerated, we can lose the sense of a person’s identity.” The D.C. native is equipped with a tablet to attend meetings and email to reach his roughly 1,500 new constituents. A local election statute signed into law late last year by Mayor Muriel Bowser allows incarcerated felons to cast ballots.
Salvatore Cuccia, 21, of Clearwater, waits as a front loader picks up a bag of dead fish Thursday in Dunedin, Fla. Pinellas County had small boats retrieving dead fish in Dunedin and around Clearwater Harbor on Thursday. The fish kill is attributed to the recent Red Tide bloom. (Photo: Chris Urso/Tampa Bay Times via AP)
Tallahassee: Plumes of toxic oceanic bacteria known as red tide have been moving up the western Florida coast, strewing thousands of dead fish on beaches, while state officials tried to reassure Floridians and potential tourists Thursday that the outbreak is being taken seriously but isn’t as bad as it would seem. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday assembled a team of experts in St. Petersburg to describe the work that is underway to better understand and control the latest outbreak. As the state’s economy continues to emerge from the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, images of beaches littered with dead fish could threaten to keep visitors from flocking to seaside communities during the July 4 holiday. The governor said it was important to let “folks know that these places are open.” “The hotels, the restaurants, the beaches are open,” he said. Three years ago, massive blooms of the red tide prompted some beaches to close. The outbreak killed tons of aquatic life, littering coastlines with rotting fish and keeping people off the sand and water. Much of the current outbreak of the red tide bacteria, Karenia brevis, is centered in the Tampa Bay area. Even low concentrations have the potential for killing fish. Higher concentrations could affect some people if they swim in the water or eat contaminated shellfish, including oysters.
Messiah Young speaks during a news conference accompanied by attorney L. Chris Stewart, right, who represents plaintiff Taniyah Pilgrim, background center, in Atlanta on Thursday. Stuck in traffic, Young and Pilgrim were pulled from their car May 30, 2020, by Atlanta police and are suing the city and officers for excessive force. (Photo: Sudhin Thanawala/AP)
Atlanta: Police had no justification for pulling two students from their car and hitting them with stun guns while they were stuck in traffic caused by protests over George Floyd’s death, a lawsuit filed Thursday says. The federal lawsuit by Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young – students at historically Black colleges in Atlanta – accuses police of assault and false arrest and says one officer dangerously escalated the confrontation by falsely claiming the pair had a gun. “Accountability is what relieves pain and brings peace, and unfortunately there has been no accountability,” said Mawuli Mel Davis, an attorney for Young. The suit names the city, nine officers and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as defendants. The mayor’s office said it had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment. Video of the May 2020 confrontation – shared widely online – shows officers shouting at Pilgrim and Young, firing Tasers at them and dragging them from the car. The pair can be heard screaming and asking what they did wrong. They were heading home May 30 during a curfew declared hours earlier by Bottoms when an officer instructed Young, 23, to leave the area, according to the suit. Unaware of the curfew, Young moved forward a few yards to comply with the officer but was again stuck in traffic, the suit says.
Honolulu: The state has loosened some of its pandemic travel rules. The change is expected to drive more tourism to Hawaii and between the islands this summer, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. People can now fly between islands in the state without having to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested for the coronavirus. The new rules began Tuesday. “It was so easy compared to when I went to Alabama and I had to look for my health code. They don’t need it anymore for Hilo,” Big Island resident Fabinita Franco said before leaving Oahu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport after a work trip. “I come from the Philippines, and I don’t have much knowledge of computers. I’m more confident to travel now. I was nervous before.” Anyone who has been vaccinated in Hawaii can also now travel from the U.S. mainland without having to be tested. Unvaccinated travelers and people vaccinated outside Hawaii must still get a negative coronavirus test before arrival to avoid a 10-day quarantine. Sherilyn Kajiwara, a special-projects administrator assigned to the state’s “Safe Travels” program, said some travelers are still failing to get the proper test, and others believe their vaccination status will allow them to bypass quarantine rules. On Tuesday, 1,693 people were in travel quarantine in Hawaii.
Moscow: The Idaho State Board of Education says higher education institutions no longer have to require entrance exams for admissions. The board formally approved the change during a meeting Wednesday, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reports. TJ Bliss, the board’s chief academic officer, said the plan was developed in collaboration with state universities and their presidents. State universities and colleges can still require entrance exams if they choose, but the statewide requirement is gone. “There’s a growing body of research suggesting that college entrance exam scores don’t predict success and that (grade-point average) and other factors are more important, and our institutions have recognized that,” he said. “There’s a national movement away from college entrance exams, so another compelling argument is competition.” Idaho Superintendent of Public Schools Sherri Ybarra said high school students are still required to take some form of college entrance exam before they can graduate. But board member Debbie Critchfield noted the change would remove a barrier for some would-be college students. “We want to remove barriers, but we also believe in standards,” she said. “We want to make sure that our students don’t remove themselves from going to college because of a policy that doesn’t fit right this minute.”
Chicago: Two of the city’s institutions of higher education have received donations from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott – the largest gifts from a single person in their histories, officials said Tuesday. Kennedy-King College, a branch of City Colleges of Chicago, was given $5 million by Scott. The University of Illinois-Chicago received $40 million from the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. “Ms. Scott’s extremely generous donation will advance the lives of students who are poised to make great contributions to our city, our state and our world,” UIC Chancellor Michael D. Amiridis said. “Her gift is a vote of confidence in the mission of public higher education and in UIC.” Scott has donated $2.7 billion to 286 organizations. Forbes Magazine has reported Kennedy-King College, which serves a largely African American student body, is considered one of the top 10 community colleges in the country as determined by rankings site Academic Influence. “We are dedicated to realizing the full potential of each one of our talented students,” said Kennedy-King College President Greg A. Thomas. Located in Chicago’s South Side Englewood neighborhood, Kennedy-King serves nearly 5,000 students, offering culinary and hospitality, construction technology and creative arts classes.
Indianapolis: Fishers and Noblesville have joined Indianapolis and other cities in rejecting potential payments from several pending state lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The cities said they stand to see more cash from their own lawsuits. If they continue as part of the state attorney general’s suits, they have to drop those other legal actions. “We would not be able to recover that money from the several lawsuits we’ve filed on our own,” said Noblesville city attorney Lindsey Bennett. “And it is unlikely we would recover as much money in the state’s lawsuit.” About half the cities and counties in Indiana have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, distributors and dispensers, seeking to recover funds they’ve spent on police, fire, treatment programs and prevention. A state law signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb this year requires cities and counties that want to pursue their own legal action to “opt out” of the attorney general’s lawsuit by June 30. Fishers and Noblesville have decided to do so – for now. They will still have 60 days to rejoin if city officials change their minds.
A registered nurse from TestIowa reaches into a car to take a nasopharyngeal swab from a patient at a drive-thru coronavirus testing station at Iowa State University Research Park on Nov. 13, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. (Photo: Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune)
Des Moines: The state is ending its coronavirus testing program next month, saying demand has fallen at the state-funded drive-thru and clinic sites. “Demand for testing is at its lowest levels in more than a year since vaccine is now widely available and virus activity has significantly decreased,” Iowa Department of Public Health spokeswoman Sarah Ekstrand said in a statement. She said Iowa is finalizing plans to provide at-home test kits free to residents once the state sites close July 16. Health care providers, pharmacies and other retail testing sites will continue to offer tests, Ekstrand said. In recent weeks Gov. Kim Reynolds has signaled to residents that it’s time to return to normal as virus transmission is low, although the state still posts new deaths weekly. As of Wednesday, 6,109 Iowans had died. Some people are resistant to COVID-19 vaccines, and Fort Dodge infectious disease physician Dr. Megan Srinivas said she’s concerned state actions have signaled to residents that the pandemic is over. “We have several community-based partners that have testing available and more easily accessible than the very limited Test Iowa sites, which is great. However, we need to ensure people realize that these options are there and that testing and pandemic precautions are still extremely critical until we have a much higher vaccination rate,” she said.
Topeka: Residents are using the public-share Bird scooters to make vulgar graffiti. The tires of the scooters can make skidmarks, and some riders are using them to draw penises on Topeka sidewalks – and doing it at a level that the company hasn’t seen elsewhere. “We just haven’t seen that in other markets,” said Adam Davis, government partnership manager for Bird. “I personally don’t know why somebody would find entertainment in destructing property like that.” Non-skid wheels can prevent that vandalism, but Davis said a microchip shortage has more than 50,000 scooters on backorder. Bird is working with a local power-wash company as a short-term solution to the graffiti problems. Davis spoke to the Topeka City Council on Tuesday night to propose long-term solutions addressing concerns raised by members of the governing body. Aside from skidmarks, Topekans and council members alike have complained about scooters blocking sidewalks or being driven recklessly. Bird is preventing rides after 11 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays downtown, limiting speeds there to 10 mph, geofencing high-skidmark areas to slow scooters to 0 mph when in that area, requiring downtown riders to scan driver’s licenses to prove they are 18 or older, and working with police to address problematic riders.
The Grow Kits are one of many initiatives from Black Soil KY. The kits are given to middle and high school students to inform the younger generation about farming and agriculture. (Photo: Photo Credit to Shelly Cellak)
Louisville: Much of the state’s agriculture was built on the backs of Black Americans, yet Black farmers account for less than 600 of the more than 76,000 agriculture operations in Kentucky – a mere 1.4%. In an effort to increase diversity in agriculture, Farm Credit Mid-America is partnering with Black Soil KY to support a variety of agricultural education and diversity initiatives across the commonwealth, including in places like west Louisville, Lexington and Hopkinsville. The new partnership comes with a commitment from Farm Credit Mid-America to donate $200,000 to Black Soil KY. The investment will be paid out over four years. Black Soil KY is an award-winning agribusiness whose mission is to reconnect Black Kentuckians to their legacy and heritage in agriculture. The organization promotes things like self-sufficiency and encouraging healthy living. It also offers programming dedicated to education, economic development and empowerment for Black Kentuckians. The investment and partnership will help Black farmers like Edward Hickerson, from Henderson, who owns Hickerson Veggies LLC. A veteran who served in Iraq, Hickerson uses farming as part of his healing experience. “It’s truly making me a better person, and it brings out the very best of me,” he said.
Baton Rouge: Gov. John Bel Edwards has agreed to turn off federal pandemic unemployment payments at the end of July in exchange for a long-term, modest boost to the state’s jobless benefits, announcing Wednesday that he’s signed a bill that makes the trade. Republican lawmakers and business organizations agreed to support a $28 increase in Louisiana’s maximum weekly unemployment benefits – increasing the payment to a top rate of $275 a week – starting in January. But they added a provision into the legislation that only allowed the benefit hike to take effect if the Democratic governor ended the $300 supplemental federal pandemic unemployment benefit by July 31, weeks earlier than required. Edwards took the deal, becoming one of the first Democratic governors to announce he’ll end the pandemic relief aid weeks ahead of its expiration. After the legislative session wrapped up Thursday, the governor said he already had been weighing shutting down the extra federal benefits in August, ahead of the Sept. 6 federal expiration date. “The 31st of July doesn’t seem like a bad compromise,” he said last week. Edwards said he was trying to find a “reasonable balance” between helping the jobless and assisting businesses that say they’re having trouble finding people to fill their employee ranks.
Portland: The state is offering a cash prize of more than $875,000 to try to convince more residentste to get vaccinated against COVID-19. More than 56% of the state’s total population is fully vaccinated – one of the highest percentages in the country. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday that the state will hold a drawing to give one vaccinated person $1 for every person vaccinated in Maine by July 4. The winner would get $876,655 if the drawing took place the day it was announced. “We know the best way to protect ourselves, our loved ones, our communities is to get vaccinated,” Mills said. “We want to beat out Vermont; we want to beat out Connecticut – New England sibling rivalry.” The state is accepting registrations for the drawing until the end of the day June 30. The state plans to announce the winner July 4. Hundreds had already signed upby Thursday. Mills said the sweepstakes is intended to help the nation meet President Joe Biden’s goal of getting at least one shot of vaccine to 70% of American adults by July 4. She said the drawing is open to everyone 12 and older who has received at least one dose.
The Canadian Forces Snowbirds fly in formation during the OC Air Show on June 15, 2019, in Ocean City, Md. (Photo: MEGAN RAYMOND/SALISBURY DAILY TIMES)
Ocean City: The OC Air Show is returning this weekend, bringing the sounds of sonic booms, dazzling aerobatic maneuvers and high-speed passes to the beach resort. The air show draws thousands of spectators and aviation enthusiasts to Ocean City each summer as various military aircraft, stunt pilots and other acts gather to entertain onlookers. This year marks a return to a more traditional OC Air Show format after event organizers had to overhaul last year’s show because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds – a six-jet demonstration team that executes precise, aerobatic maneuvers at more than 1,000 mph with F-16 Fighting Falcons – will mark the conclusion of the air show this year, performing delta formation. Also on display at this weekend’s show will be the F-22 Raptor, one of the fastest, most maneuverable fighter jets around. The jet’s design and twin engines allow it to reach “supercruise” at 1.5 times the speed of sound without using its afterburners. The F-22 Raptor’s demo team will put the jet’s maneuverability on display, including one stunt in which they execute a somersault in midair. The pilots will take the plane into a straight-up vertical climb before reserving the jet back down and lifting its nose before it hits the ocean, all while using near zero forward speed.
Boston: Some pandemic-era policies that had expired Tuesday – such as allowing restaurants to offer takeout cocktails – were quickly extended Wednesday after Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill approved by state lawmakers. The new law would also let government bodies continue to hold virtual public hearings and extend some protections for tenants facing eviction. Those protections briefly expired after the coronavirus state of emergency, which had been in place for more than a year, was lifted in Massachusetts. The new law would also extend hardship protections to those facing eviction by continuing the court practice of offering temporary continuances to tenants who have filed applications for rental assistance, thereby preventing evictions in cases in which tenants are unable to pay rent due to COVID-19-related financial hardship until April 2022. And the law includes provisions intended to help tenants facing possible eviction understand their legal options. Restaurants, which were among those businesses hardest-hit during the pandemic, would be allowed to continue offering expanded outdoor dining through April of next year. And takeout cocktails would have to be sold at the same price as drinks that are consumed at the restaurant.
Lansing: The state will lift all indoor capacity restrictions and mask requirements next week, 10 days sooner than planned, amid vaccinations and plummeting COVID-19 infections, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday. The state’s main coronavirus order will expire at the end of Monday instead of July 1, bringing to an end 50% occupancy limits inside restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues and at indoor events like weddings and funerals. The move came days after California and New York lifted most of their remaining restrictions, joining other states in opening the way, step by step, for what could a close-to-normal summer. “Today is a day that we have all been looking forward to, as we can safely get back to normal day-to-day activities and put this pandemic behind us,” Whitmer, a Democrat, said in a statement issued 15 months after she first signed emergency orders to control the coronavirus. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the medical experts and health professionals who stood on the front lines to keep us all safe.” About 4.9 million Michiganders 16 and older, or 60% of those residents, have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
St. Paul: The state has reached 3 million residents who’ve had at least one COVID-19 shot, health officials said Wednesday. The state Department of Health said 3,005,706 Minnesotans had received at least their first dose as of Monday, while 2,774,889 had completed the series. The department logged 5,979 new vaccinations Monday. The 3 million milestone came as the state’s other coronavirus metrics continued to improve as well. The department reported fewer than 100 new cases both Tuesday and Wednesday – the first time those numbers have been so low since April 2020. “Our COVID-19 numbers are at their lowest since the earliest days of the pandemic and life is getting back to normal because Minnesotans rolled up their sleeves and the vaccines work,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. He urged Minnesotans to take advantage of incentives such as free drinks being offered by some establishments, community vaccination events, and free or discounted rides to vaccine appointments via Uber and Lyft. The department said 66% of Minnesotans 16 and older and 90% of those 65 and older have now had at least one dose, though the pace has slowed in recent weeks.
Members of the Mississippi Army National Guard leave the floor of the Jackson Convention Complex following the presentation of colors Wednesday in Jackson, Miss. (Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
Jackson: A prominent business leader said Wednesday that the decision to change the state’s flag has removed a “significant impediment” to economic development in Mississippi. Lawmakers voted last year to retire a Confederate-themed state flag as part of the national reckoning over racial injustice. “This, I think, removes a significant impediment and will change perceptions of Mississippi across this country and across the world,” said Anthony Wilson, 2020-21 Mississippi Economic Council chair, at the council’s annual meeting in Jackson. The Mississippi Economic Council was a staunch supporter of the Legislature’s decision to surrender the last state banner in the U.S. that included the Confederate battle emblem – a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. The rebel flag has been used by Ku Klux Klan groups and is widely condemned as racist. During the November 2020 election, voters approved the new state flag with a magnolia and the phrase “In God We Trust.” That flag was officially adopted by the Legislature this year. The flag was displayed prominently at the in-person event at the Jackson Convention Complex, which drew hundreds of business leaders from across the state. Dozens of small state flags lined a red carpet in front of a stage and podium, behind which was displayed another massive state flag.
O’Fallon: A swath of southern Missouri is seeing a big rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations at just the wrong time, as tourists eager to get out after being cooped up for a year make their way to popular destinations such as Branson and Lake of the Ozarks. Data from the state health department’s COVID-19 dashboard Wednesday showed 206 people hospitalized with the virus in southwestern Missouri – nearly double the 111 hospitalizations from that region at the start of May. The number of people in intensive care units in the region has tripled, from 22 a month and a half ago to 65 now. Meanwhile, statewide hospitalizations have remained steady since March. Health experts cite two factors driving the surge: the presence of the faster-spreading Delta variant and a reluctance among residents to get vaccinated. While 52.6% of Americans have initiated vaccination, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most southern Missouri counties are well short of 40%. Branson sits in Taney and Stone counties, where the vaccination rates as of Wednesday were 27.4% and 28.4%, respectively. Miller County, at Lake of the Ozarks, had a vaccination rate of 22.9%. “We think that with the Delta variant here, those that aren’t vaccinated are just sitting ducks,” said Steve Edwards, CEO of CoxHealth.
Helena: Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Wednesday that he will contribute his salary from the first quarter of 2021 to a Hardin facility treating substance abuse in southeast Montana. Gianforte, a multimillionaire, said last year that he would donate his entire governor’s salary – roughly $120,000 annually – to various philanthropies in the state. One Health Bighorn, a federally qualified health center, is the first to receive a portion of the governor’s salary. The facility provides a variety of medical services, including substance abuse treatment. “We face a drug epidemic in our state, and while there’s no silver bullet to end it, we can combat it by promoting treatment and recovery for Montanans struggling with addiction,” Gianforte said in a statement. The contribution will be used to support the facility’s peer support program as well as medication-assisted treatment for individuals with opioid and meth use disorders, according to a statement from the governor’s office. Gianforte has prioritized combatting drug addiction since assuming office in January, establishing a new fund to support substance abuse prevention and treatment programs across the state.
Lincoln: State offices will close Friday amid a new federal law establishing Juneteenth as a recognized government holiday. Gov. Pete Ricketts ordered the closure to comply with a state law that grants the same paid holiday benefits to state employees. State employees will receive a paid day of leave. Exceptions may include law enforcement, security, military and state employees engaged in other essential functions. The governor’s office said in a press release that all workers should receive official instruction from their agency director or personnel representative. Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865.
A small group of men in tactical gear arrive to a Reno Black Lives Matter peace vigil with Joey Gilbert, center on phone, a local lawyer who sued the state over the use of chloroquine for the coronavirus. They said they don’t believe the police did enough to protect the city and were at the peace vigil “in support” June 7, 2020. (Photo: Anjeanette Damon/Reno Gazette Journal)
Carson City: A northern Nevada attorney who has questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election and was outside the U.S. Capitol the day it was violently stormed has announced he’s running for governor. Republican Joey Gilbert told an applauding audience at the Ahern Hotel in Las Vegas over the weekend that he planned to challenge Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in Nevada’s 2022 gubernatorial race, according to a video of the event posted on Facebook. Gilbert’s assistant Andrea Wexelblatt confirmed his campaign announcement to the Associated Press. Gilbert, a former professional boxer, said in his remarks Saturday that he believed Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election and was “still our president.” “Let me say this: If election integrity is not the No. 1 issue of these guys running, then they’re either lost, confused or too stupid to be running,” he said, referencing other Republicans who intend to run. He positioned voter fraud allegations at the center of his campaign, falsely claimed COVID-19 vaccines were unproven and urged people not to take them. He also referred to the coronavirus as a “plandemic,” using a term that suggests the pandemic was intentionally created.
Exeter: Exeter School District has opened an investigation into the reported use of markers to identify unvaccinated students at a high school prom, just one of multiple issues related to schooling that have sparked condemnation and anger. School administrators running the prom reportedly tagged students’ hands with a marker to identify if they were vaccinated to facilitate contact tracing at the event last month. On Tuesday, parents of Exeter High School students and administrators met at a contentious public forum to talk about the school’s pandemic response, including the contact tracing at prom, mask requirements and critical race theory proposed to be taught in schools. Superintendent David Ryan said at the forum with some 200 attendees that the decision to mark students was “not a good look.” Board member Travis Thompson said the contact tracing should have been implemented differently but was an essential COVID-19 safeguard. The school said in a statement that the students were notified about the contact tracing before they registered for prom. The contact tracing program was an effort to include all students at prom, regardless of their vaccination status, the school said.
Trenton: The Garden State is the best state in America to live in, according to a recent analysis by the personal finance website WalletHub. The report evaluated states based on five equally weighted categories: affordability, economy, education and health, quality of life, and safety. Of all 50 states, New Jersey placed No. 1 in safety, fifth in education and health and seventh for quality of life. The state did not rank as high in the other two categories: It took 32nd place for its economy and came in second-to-last for affordability. Following New Jersey, the study rated Massachusetts and New York the second- and third-best states to live in, respectively. Idaho and Minnesota rounded out the top five. The total ratings for each state were calculated based on 52 “indicators of livability,” which were then divided among the five broader categories. For example, the report calculated affordability by analyzing cost of living, property taxes, housing affordability, household income and homeownership rates. The report supplemented its numbers with advice from three experts on how states can improve their livability, especially given recent speculation about pandemic-related population shifts.
Demonstrators secure a rope around the centerpiece of a solid stone obelisk before tearing it down in Santa Fe, N.M., on Oct. 12, 2020. The obelisk honors Hispanic soldiers who fought and died for the Union in battles with Confederate soldiers and Indigenous tribes. (Photo: Cedar Attanasio/AP)
Santa Fe: A Hispanic fraternal order is suing the mayor over damage to a historical monument by activists last year and the city’s proposal to permanently remove it. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in state district court, the Union Protectiva de Santa Fe argues that the 152-year-old stone obelisk is a legally protected historical site under state law and that its removal dishonors Hispanic veterans. A group of about 40 mostly white activists tore down the stone obelisk last year after other statues and monuments across the U.S. were toppled over concerns about racism. In Santa Fe, inscriptions at the base of the monument honored Union soldiers who died fighting Indigenous tribes and Confederate soldiers. One inscription that described Indigenous people as “savage” was chiseled out in 1974 and never repaired. The lawsuit asks a judge to prevent the city from spending any time or money on modifications to the historic downtown park until the stone obelisk is restored. That would hobble Mayor Alan Webber’s plans to have the monument permanently removed and replaced with something that city officials deem more culturally inclusive. A proposal for a commission to take on that task is being considered by the City Council next month, with an estimated budget of $265,000.
Senior Minister the Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis rings New York’s Liberty Bell after a construction crew lowered it from Middle Collegiate Church’s bell tower on Wednesday in the East Village neighborhood of New York. The bell was discovered intact in the historic church after it was gutted by a six-alarm fire in December 2020. (Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)
New York: A bell that rang at some of the most historic moments in American history was taken down and moved Wednesday from a belfry where it survived a blaze last year that gutted a church. New York’s Liberty Bell will be kept temporarily at the New-York Historical Society, displayed as part of an exhibition, according to leadership at Middle Collegiate Church. The Manhattan church was destroyed in December when a fire started in the building next to it and spread, sending flames shooting through its roof. The survival of the bell was gratifying news to the congregation, which has pledged to rebuild. New York’s Liberty Bell has sounded for many milestone moments, such as marking the country’s founding in 1776, as well as presidential inaugurations.
Raleigh: Republicans in the state Senate pushed a trio of election measures through their chamber Wednesday, including one that would prohibit counting mail-in absentee ballots that aren’t received by local officials by Election Day. But unlike other GOP-led legislatures in battleground states that have passed voting restrictions this year, North Carolina has a Democratic governor who could veto the measures, leaving Republicans powerless to override Gov. Roy Cooper if Democrats continue to stay united in opposition. The measures passed the Senate on a party-line vote and now go to the House, where Republicans also have been weighing absentee changes. Current law allows ballot envelopes postmarked by the day of the election to count if received within a three-day grace period. Although that idea was backed unanimously in separate legislation a dozen years ago, Republicans now say the wait for ballots to trickle in delays the finality of results, and moving up the deadline will help lead to earlier outcomes the public wants. “The bill will build confidence in our election system,” sponsoring Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke County, said during the debate. “Everyone saw how long it took North Carolina to declare winners in the (2020) presidential election and our U.S. Senate election.”
Bismarck: Burleigh and Morton counties have joined the city of Mandan in banning the private use of fireworks during the July Fourth holiday season due to the widespread drought in the state. Rural fire chiefs in both counties recommended the bans because of extremely dry conditions. North Dakota has experienced some of the driest winter and spring months this year. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows more than two-thirds of the state is in extreme and exceptional drought. Morton County officials said setting off fireworks could cause fires “that could threaten the health, well-being and safety of citizens, and the cost of response may be far in excess of current resources.” If the county receives a significant amount of rain in the coming weeks, it might reassess the ban, the Bismarck Tribune reports. Public or commercial fireworks displays that have received permits from the appropriate agencies are still allowed. Violating the private fireworks ban is a Class B misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.
Columbus: A downtown Greyhound bus station that has been the scene of hundreds of emergency calls this year alone is a public nuisance, the city and its police department declared in a lawsuit Thursday. City Attorney Zach Klein and the Columbus Division of Police filed the complaint against the bus carrier, seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against the “crime-plagued” property. “The continued violence occurring at this property has plagued our city’s downtown residents, businesses, and visitors for too long,” Klein said in a statement. The lawsuit comes as Columbus police report having received more than 300 calls for service to the bus station so far in 2021, with concerns ranging from narcotics and overdoses to guns, stabbings, and a shooting last month. In four months, there were approximately four overdoses at the station, in addition to about 11 narcotics complaints, the statement said. The police department said the property, located in a highly populated part of downtown, has been on its radar for several years. The public safety concerns also stem from the station being in close proximity to a day care center and a number of restaurants and hotels.
Don Knight, right, attorney for Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip, speaks at a news conference Wednesday in Oklahoma City. State Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, is at left. (Photo: Sue Ogrocki/AP)
Oklahoma City: Thirty-four state lawmakers, including 28 Republicans, called Wednesday for reopening the investigation that led to the conviction of death row inmate Richard Glossip. Republican Rep. Kevin McDugle, a death penalty supporter, said new evidence found by Glossip’s attorney, Don Knight, should prompt another investigation into the 1997 beating death of motel owner Barry Van Treese in Oklahoma City in what prosecutors called a murder-for-hire. Justin Sneed, the man who admitted beating Van Treese to death, was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in return for his testimony that he killed Van Treese after Glossip promised to pay him $10,000. In a letter to Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, the lawmakers said new evidence that Sneed framed Glossip to avoid a death penalty could show Glossip is innocent. A spokesperson for Stitt said the letter had not been received. Oklahoma has executed no one since 2015, when three consecutive executions were flawed. Glossip was hours away from execution that year when prison officials realized they received the wrong lethal drug. Separately, lawyers for Glossip and several other death row inmates are challenging the state’s lethal injection protocols in a case in federal court in Oklahoma City.
Portland: With the state and federal eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of June, Oregon lawmakers are hastily working on an amendment to keep financially struggling tenants housed and avoid mass evictions next month. The proposed “Safe Harbor” amendment on Senate Bill 278 would “pause” rental evictions for 60 days for tenants unable to pay their July or August rent if they provide proof to their landlord that they’ve applied for rental assistance through Oregon Housing and Community Services. “We have had this unequal recession and unequal recovery, and there is still a subset of folks that need a little extra time and help,” Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, said during a committee meeting Monday. “And we have resources, in a magnitude that we have never seen before, to help those folks.” Oregon has had an eviction moratorium in place since April 2020. In addition, last month state lawmakers voted to extend the grace period for past-due rent during the moratorium, allowing tenants to have until Feb. 28, 2022, to pay back rent. But a year into the pandemic, people are still facing financial hardships. In May, 53% of Oregon renters who responded to a survey said it was “very likely” or “somewhat likely” they would be evicted from their home, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found.
Tom Ridge, who has served as secretary of homeland security, Pennsylvania governor and U.S. congressman, speaks in Erie, Pa., on Jan. 3, 2020. Ridge suffered a stroke Wednesday at his home in suburban Washington, D.C., a longtime aide said. (Photo: Christopher Millette/Erie Times-News)
Harrisburg: Former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge suffered a stroke Wednesday, a longtime aide to the former Pennsylvania governor said. Ridge was taken by ambulance from his Bethesda, Maryland, home to a hospital for treatment, spokesman Steve Aaron said. Ridge was conscious upon arrival at the hospital and underwent a procedure that removed a blood clot, Aaron said. He described Ridge as being in critical but stable condition. Ridge, 75, was Pennsylvania’s Republican governor from 1995 to 2001, when he joined the administration of President George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 to become the country’s first homeland security secretary. At the Department of Homeland Security, Ridge headed a sprawling department that was composed of 22 agencies and some 180,000 employees. His efforts there included establishing a system of color-coded terror alerts, and his advocacy for “disaster kits” in 2003 triggered a run on duct tape and plastic sheeting. More recently he has led Ridge Global, a firm that consults on cyber security, international security and risk management.
Providence: The state is working on a COVID-19 vaccination incentive program to benefit charities, rather than individuals, Gov. Daniel McKee said Thursday. While some states, including neighboring Massachusetts, are offering a chance to win $1 million lottery prizes and college scholarships to people who get their shots, McKee said he would rather more than a handful of people benefit. “Would you rather give $1 million to one person or spread $1 million out over thousands of people and to help them? And we know that many of the charities have suffered a great deal,” the Democratic governor said at a news conference. “I think the idea is to help as many people as we can.” McKee said under his plan, charities would receive money when the state reaches certain vaccination rate milestones, such as 75%, 80%, 85% and 90%. The total budget for the incentive program would be about $1 million, he said. As of Thursday, almost 607,000 people in the state, or about 56% of the total population, have been fully vaccinated, according to state Department of Health data. About 75% of residents 18 and over are at least partially vaccinated, McKee said. The state is lifting some of its last remaining pandemic-related capacity restrictions Friday, including on nightclubs and live performances.
The state’s electric chair in Columbia, S.C. A newly revised state law would let condemned inmates choose between the electric chair or a newly formed firing squad, but the latter option still doesn’t exist yet. (Photo: Kinard Lisbon/South Carolina Department of Corrections via AP)
Columbia: The state Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked the planned executions of two inmates by electrocution, saying they cannot be put to death until they truly have the choice of a firing squad option set out in the state’s newly revised capital punishment law. The high court halted this month’s scheduled executions of Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens, writing that corrections officials need to put together a firing squad so that inmates can really choose between that or the electric chair. The state’s plans, the court wrote in an unanimous order, are on hold “due to the statutory right of inmates to elect the manner of their execution.” The executions were scheduled less than a month after the passage of a new law compelling the condemned to choose between electrocution or a firing squad if lethal injection drugs aren’t available. The statute is aimed at restarting executions after an involuntary 10-year pause that the state attributes to an inability to procure the drugs. Prisons officials previously said they still can’t get hold of lethal injection drugs and have yet to put together a firing squad, leaving the 109-year-old electric chair as the only option.
Sioux Falls: The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is looking for people to help it sell medical marijuana. While cannabis officially becomes legal in South Dakota for medical use in less than three weeks, officials with the state Department of Health say they are still months away from issuing cards to qualifying patients and licenses to prospective cultivators and distributors. But on Native American lands in South Dakota, like the Flandreau Santee Sioux reservation, there’s no need to wait for the state. The tribe, headquartered in Moody County, published job openings for dispensing associates, known in the cannabis industry as “budtenders,” who will work in both Flandreau and Sioux Falls, according to multiple listings posted online Monday. While the tribe isn’t discussing its cannabis plans publicly, officials indicated during the 2021 legislative session that they were readying to begin marijuana sales this summer. A task force of lawmakers studying marijuana this summer also have a formal invitation from the tribe to tour a cultivation and dispensing facility located on the reservation, and this spring the tribe spent $5 million on premier commercial property in Sioux Falls.
Nashville: Some lawmakers are taking aim at the Tennessee Department of Health and the state’s top health official for encouraging minors to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Several Republican lawmakers questioned state Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey during a joint Government Operations Committee meeting Wednesday, lodging complaints and threatening to dissolve or “reconstitute” the department’s responsibilities in response to its efforts to vaccinate Tennesseans against the deadly disease. Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, accused the agency of “peer pressuring” teenagers and young adults to get a vaccine with or without their parents’ permission. At issue are some of the ways the department is encouraging residents to get the vaccine, such as using flyers and advertisements featuring children and phrases like “Give COVID-19 vaccines a shot” or “Tennesseans 12+ eligible for vaccines.” “It looks like the Department of Health is marketing to children, and it looks like you’re advocating,” state Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, told Piercey. With only about 35% of residents fully vaccinated, Tennessee has one of the nation’s lowest rates. “I think there is a sense we’re hiding in dark alleys and whispering to kids, ‘Hey, come get vaccinated,’ ” Piercey told lawmakers Wednesday. “We are not doing that.”
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference on details of his plan for Texas to build a border wall and provide $250 million in state funds as a “down payment” Wednesday in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman)
Austin: Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that he will use $250 million in state money and crowdsourced financing to build more barriers along the U.S. border with Mexico, part of an emerging proposal that also extends his political fight over immigration with Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration. But questions remain over how far Abbott can go for a project whose total cost, length and timeline are unclear and could face legal challenges from the federal government. Over a dozen Republican members of the Texas House and Senate joined Abbott for a press conference announcing his intentions to hire a project manager to continue constructing some version of a wall announced last week, echoing former President Donald Trump’s unfinished campaign promise to fortify the southern U.S. border, of which 1,200 miles is in Texas. Abbott also said he is asking the federal government to return land obtained for the wall and return it to private citizens who can allow Texas to finish the job. State Sen. Jane Nelson, chair of the state Senate Finance Committee, said the $250 million in state money – which Abbott called a down payment – was being allocated as authorized under emergency orders. A letter released later by Abbott’s office said it would come from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s budget.
Salt Lake City: The family of a women’s rights activist from Uganda sued the National Park Service this month after she was decapitated last year by a gate at Arches National Park. The gate had been left unlatched against federal policy for two weeks before it struck Esther Nakajjigo in June 2020, according to the lawsuit filed in Denver. She and her husband were newlyweds traveling in the well-known park when the wind caught the gate as they drove out, Fox13-KSTU in Salt Lake City reports. The lawsuit does not specify the amount of damages being sought, but Nakajjigo’s family has previously filed a $270 million notice of claim. The gate sliced through the side of the couple’s rented car, striking Nakajjigo in the head and neck and killing her, the lawsuit said. Her husband Ludo Michaud witnessed his wife’s death, something he has called the “worst thing I hope I will ever see.” Nakajjigo, 25, was born in Kampala, Uganda, and used her university tuition money to start a nonprofit community health care center for girls and young women when she was a teenager. She earned numerous humanitarian awards and created a popular reality television series aimed at empowering young mothers. She was attending a social-entrepreneurship program in Colorado at the time of her death.
Negro Brook flows through Townshend State Park in Townshend, Vt. The town is divided on whether and what to rename the brook. (Photo: Brattleboro Reformer via AP)
Townshend: A state board on Thursday rejected a proposal to rename a brook that has an outdated, racialized name to the name of a Black woman who was an early settler of the town. But board members expressed a willingness to consider another name or Susanna Toby’s married name, the Brattleboro Reformer reports. The Vermont Board of Libraries responded to a petition asking for Negro Brook, which is located in Townshend State Park, to be renamed after Toby. Renaming the brook after Susanna Toby is controversial because the last name could be considered pejorative, the newspaper reports. Toby has been used as a racial slur, according to testimony at an earlier hearing. One petitioner, Evan Litwin of Burlington, said conversations about name changes are happening all over the United States. “Times have changed in what folks find acceptable,” Litwin said. “If one person is offended, and we’re not just talking about one person, then why can’t we just rename the brook to something that isn’t offensive to anyone?” The Board of Libraries has jurisdiction over changing the name of the brook because it is on state land, the newspaper reports. Earlier this month, the town’s Select Board voted to support renaming the brook after Toby but also to bring the question before voters next March.
Reston: People should stop feeding birds while scientists determine why hundreds have been blinded and killed in the capital region since late May, a federal agency said. Wildlife managers in Washington, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia have received an increasing number of reports about sick and dying birds in recent weeks, according to a statement from the U.S. Geological Survey on behalf of conservation groups in the area. The agency said birds have experienced “eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs.” Some have tremors, keep their heads tilted or have trouble balancing, The Washington Post reports. A definitive cause of death has yet to be determined. Birds can transmit diseases to one another when they congregate at feeders and baths. Environmental agencies recommend basic precautions including avoiding the handling of birds but wearing disposable gloves if necessary, keeping pets away from birds, and cleaning feeders with bleach. Megan Kirchgessner, a veterinarian with Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources, told the Post that at least 325 reports of sick birds have been collected. She said the condition appears to affect only young blue jays and grackles, not other species or animals.
Nurse Jose Picart administers Staff Sgt. Travis Snyder’s first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, south of Seattle, on Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP)
Olympia: Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced a new COVID-19 vaccine incentive lottery for the state’s military, family members and veterans because the federal government wasn’t sharing individual vaccine status of those groups with the state, and there were concerns they would be left out of a previously announced lottery. A lottery that started last week has already had two drawings for $250,000 prizes and also includes giveaways for college tuition assistance, airline tickets and game systems, among other prizes. A final drawing in that lottery will be for a $1 million prize July 13. Washington is among several states that created lotteries in hopes of increasing the pace of vaccination. The governor’s office believes the state is the first with a separate lottery for those who have been vaccinated at military locations. “I’m really happy to say we have found a way to honor our active military duty and our veterans in this regard,” Inslee said. Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Inslee, said the Department of Defense will be involved in circulating a form for military members to fill out. Starting July 20, there will be one drawing a week for three weeks, with cash prizes of $100,000 for the first two weeks and a $250,000 prize for the final week. There will also be $250 Amazon gift cards and $100 state park gift cards up for grabs.
Charleston: The U.S. Department of Justice has slammed a new state law that bans transgender athletes from competing in female sports, asserting in a court filing Thursday that the ban violates federal law. The department filed what is known as a statement of interest in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, its West Virginia chapter and LGBTQ interest group Lambda Legal challenging the ban. The DOJ said the law violates Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving federal funds, as well as the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. “The United States has a significant interest in ensuring that all students, including students who are transgender, can participate in an educational environment free of unlawful discrimination and that the proper legal standards are applied to claims under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause,” the filing said. “A state law that limits or denies a particular class of people’s ability to participate in public, federally funded educational programs and activities solely because their gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth violates both Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause,” the filing said. The West Virginia law “does exactly this,” the department said.
Madison: Gov. Tony Evers promised to sign bills banning chokeholds and making other policing changes passed by the Assembly on Wednesday, while also calling on lawmakers to go further to make law enforcement more accountable and transparent. Evers said he would sign four bills that passed with bipartisan support. The Assembly failed to vote on a fifth bill as scheduled that would set a statewide use of force policy for police and extend protections for officers who report abuses. It was stalled due to objections from the Milwaukee police union and despite winning broad bipartisan support in the Senate. The measure was the only one out of a dozen policing measures that failed to pass the Assembly on a day when lawmakers praised bipartisan efforts to address concerns about racial justice and how law enforcement interacts with minority populations. Evers promised to sign the bill that bans chokeholds, except in self-defense, and another measure that requires the reporting of incidents when use of force was used. He also said he would sign measures requiring the posting of use-of-force policies online and creating a community policing grant program.
Gillette: Two bats from Devils Tower National Monument have been found with the state’s first confirmed cases of a deadly fungal disease. White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in North America since the fungus first appeared in New York in 2006. Testing showed signs of the fungus in bats from southeastern Wyoming in 2018. The recent confirmation at northeastern Wyoming’s Devils Tower, the first U.S. national monument, is “disheartening and frustrating,” park resources management chief Russ Cash said. “Bats are such an important piece of our ecosystem and our well-being as humans. Bats devour unbelievable amounts of insects and pests that are a nuisance,” Cash said in a statement Tuesday. The positive test results were no surprise. Biologists confirmed the disease in the Black Hills in South Dakota in 2018 and a dead bat in southeastern Montana’s Fallon County in April, the Gillette News Record reports. The disease has appeared in at least 37 states and seven Canadian provinces. The fungus spreads mainly between bats, but climbers and cavers can spread it too. They should clean and disinfect shoes, clothes and gear before and after visiting bat habitat and avoid reusing potentially exposed items in places free of the fungus, National Park Service officials said.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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