“Protest for prisons, skeleton on board, monarch slump: News from around our 50 states - USA TODAY” plus 1 more

“Protest for prisons, skeleton on board, monarch slump: News from around our 50 states - USA TODAY” plus 1 more


Protest for prisons, skeleton on board, monarch slump: News from around our 50 states - USA TODAY

Posted: 27 Jan 2020 12:01 AM PST

Alabama

Birmingham: The city will pay a $25,000 fine for obstructing the view of a Confederate monument, a judge ordered last week under the direction of the state Supreme Court. Circuit Judge Marshell Jackson Hatcher imposed the fine that had been ordered by the state's high court. Justices in November ruled that Birmingham violated a state law protecting historic monuments and directed the circuit judge to enter an order declaring that Birmingham violated the 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act and to fine the city $25,000. Alabama sued Birmingham in 2017 after municipal officials in the majority-black city erected a wooden box obscuring the inscriptions on a 52-foot-tall obelisk honoring Confederate veterans. The 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act prohibits relocating, removing, altering or renaming public buildings, streets and memorials that have been standing for more than 40 years.

Alaska

Juneau: The Legislature failed to override more than $70 million in vetoes dealing with school construction projects and the state ferry system. Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued the vetoes last summer, after lawmakers had adjourned. The veto override session was announced late Thursday, with no clear indication of sufficient support. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent from Dillingham, said in a statement that Alaskans "deserve to know where their elected officials stand." House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, in response, said the vote "was about nothing more than creating material to use against other members in the next election cycle." Lawmakers attempted to override a $5 million veto of funds for the ferry system and vetoes of funds for school debt reimbursement to municipalities and a construction fund for rural schools. The issues were considered as part of one vote.

Arizona

Phoenix: A 62-year-old man was cited last week after trying to disguise a fake skeleton as a passenger just to use the HOV lane. The Arizona Department of Public Safety says a trooper pulled over the man Thursday after noticing he had placed a fake skeleton in the passenger's front seat. The skeleton was sitting upright, wearing a hat and tied to the front seat. Department spokesman Raul Garcia said troopers cite about 7,000 HOV lane violators every year. Last April, a man was pulled over after driving in the HOV lane with a mannequin wearing a sweatshirt, baseball cap and sunglasses.

Arkansas

Salem: Thieves have stolen the old school bell that hung at the top of the steps at the historic Old Main schoolhouse. Friends of Old Main Board of Directors member Ron Plumlee recently discovered the bell was missing while checking on maintenance at the old schoolhouse. The bolts holding the bell in place were apparently sawed off, Plumlee said. The theft is suspected to have required at least two people because of the bell's size and weight, he said. The bell has been at the top of the steps for at least 70 years. The school was built in 1930 and is now operated by Friends of Old Main as a nonprofit activity center. The bell was brass with an inscription around the top and has many marks from ringing over the years. Anyone with information that might lead to the recovery of the bell or the apprehension of those responsible is asked to contact the Fulton County Sheriff's Office at (870) 895-2601.

California

San Francisco: The western monarch butterfly population wintering along the state's coast remains critically low for the second year in a row, according to an environmental group. The count of the orange-and-black insects by the Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates, recorded about 29,000 butterflies in its annual survey. That's not much different from last year's tally, when an all-time-low 27,000 monarchs were counted. By comparison, about 4.5 million monarch butterflies wintered in forested groves along the California coast in the 1980s. Scientists say the butterflies are at critically low levels in the western United States due to the destruction of their milkweed habitat along their migratory route as housing expands into their territory and use of pesticides and herbicides increases. Researchers also have noted the effect of climate change.

Colorado

Denver: A research center at Colorado State University dedicated to studying the chemical compounds in hemp is expected to open this spring, school officials said Thursday. The announcement comes after the university received a $1.5 million donation from a Golden-based company that makes products out of CBD, a popular cannabis compound with unproven health claims. The money would be used to fund research, cover operating costs and purchase equipment, university officials said. The facility would allow faculty and undergraduate and graduate students to study the formulation of cannabinoids, separation efficiencies, efficacy testing and more, The Denver Post reports. Researchers at the facility would work in partnership with Panacea Life Sciences, a company founded by university alumna Leslie Buttorff that manufactures CBD products for people and pets.

Connecticut

New Haven: The state Department of Motor Vehicles will soon allow a nonbinary gender designation on driver's licenses. Starting Monday, three gender options will be available for state-issued license and identification cards – male, female and nonbinary, denoted by the letter X, according to the New Haven Register. "We want to be sure that we're fair for everyone, to respect people's gender identity," Deputy Commissioner Tony Guerrera said. Connecticut will be one of 12 states that allow nonbinary gender identification on driver's licenses, he said. The move was one of the department's top priorities when Guerrera and Commissioner Sibongile Magubane were appointed, he said. State Sen. Matt Lesser said Saturday that it would be important for people who identify as nonbinary and revenue-neutral for everyone else.

Delaware

Lewes: The public needs to keep a safe distance from the seals that will be present along beaches and other waterways through April, according to the state's official marine mammal and sea turtle stranding response organization. The MERR Institute recommends the public stay at least 150 feet from seals and always keep pets on a leash and at a safe distance because seals are wild animals that can bite if they feel threatened. It is common at this time of the year to see seals on area beaches, docks and other locations where they can rest, the Delaware State News reports. Four species of seals may visit Delaware. Oftentimes these animals are healthy, but at other times they may be suffering from illness or injury and in need of veterinary care, officials said. Anyone who encounters a seal is asked to contact MERR as soon as possible at (302) 228-5029. More information can be found on MERR's website.

District of Columbia

Washington: The public is invited to the coronation ceremony for the newly crowned Miss Black D.C. USA this Saturday, WUSA-TV reports. The pageant's new titleholder, Amini Bonane, is a Harvard graduate student who says one of the reasons she competed for the crown was to expand her platform on mentoring and efforts to find missing women of color. She has a campaign called Find My Sister that's dedicated to raising awareness. Her coronation ceremony will be coupled with a charity fundraiser for the cause. According to Black and Missing in America Inc., nearly 40% of missing people are persons of color. Bonane's coronation ceremony and charity fundraiser will be held Saturday from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Mayor Muriel Bowser and other D.C. government officials and professionals are expected to attend the evening of networking, performances and philanthropy.

Florida

Miami: Eighty Burmese pythons were caught during a 10-day pre-Super Bowl hunt, designed to raise awareness about the invasive species decimating the Everglades. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Saturday that 80 pythons were caught during the competition. Pro grand prize winner Mike Kimmel won an ATV for capturing eight pythons, and rookie grand prize winner Kristian Hernandez removed six pythons and also won an ATV. Pro grand prize winner Tom Rahill won $2,000 for bagging a 62-pound python. Several other cash prizes were also awarded. The game's organizing committee worked with Florida to promote the Python Bowl. The pythons, which can grow to 20 feet, are descended from pets released starting five decades ago. Wildlife officials estimate the population may exceed 100,000. The big serpents have been devouring native mammal and bird populations.

Georgia

Athens: Hundreds of people have shown their support for an armless street artist whose artwork, supplies and donation box were stolen near the University of Georgia. Nearly $42,000 had been raised online as of late Sunday for Michael Davenport, who is known in Athens for sketching the university's bulldog mascot. He holds a pen in his mouth to create his art because he lost his arms as a child. Davenport, 53, said his belongings were stolen Jan. 15 when he took a break to use the restroom at a nearby business. Athens-Clarke police said detectives were looking to identify the suspect, seen on surveillance video in what appears to be a gold-colored minivan. Stephen Frazier, the general manager at Budget Host Inn in Athens, said he set up the online fundraising account in Davenport's name. Davenport told WAGA-TV he plans to use the money for a truck to carry his supplies and for medical treatment for his leg, injured in an attack last year.

Hawaii

Honolulu: The Honolulu Medical Examiner's Office has identified the remains of two people found in a burnt-out home where a man allegedly shot and killed two Honolulu police officers and attacked a neighbor before setting the house ablaze last weekend. Officials on Friday released a statement identifying the homeowner, Lois Ann Cain, 77, as one of the two people found in the house that was destroyed by fire in an upscale neighborhood near Waikiki Beach. A tenant, Jaroslav "Jerry" Hanel, is accused of shooting police who were responding to the home after he allegedly attacked and stabbed a woman who also lived in the house. Cain was in the process of evicting Hanel when the violence erupted Sunday. The medical examiner also identified the second set of remains but withheld a name pending notification of next of kin.

Idaho

Boise: The number of residents who have signed up for Medicaid under the state's voter-approved expanded coverage has passed 60,000. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare posted updated numbers Thursday. The agency estimates 91,000 residents meet requirements. Coverage started Jan. 1, but enrollment is year-round. Those who sign up for Medicaid will be covered for doctor visits that occurred earlier in the same month. Voters authorized Medicaid expansion in 2018 with an initiative that passed with 61% of the vote after years of inaction by state lawmakers. But legislators in 2019 added restrictions requiring five waivers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Waivers are required when states want to deviate from Medicaid rules. Federal officials have yet to approve any of Idaho's requested waivers.

Illinois

Chicago: Marijuana was stolen last week from a box placed at Chicago's Midway International Airport for travelers who dispose of their marijuana before they board a plane, police said Friday. The "marijuana amnesty boxes" were placed at Midway and O'Hare International Airport after it became legal this year to possess marijuana in Illinois. The boxes, owned by the Department of Aviation and serviced by the police, were installed so air travelers can be in compliance with federal law as well as the local laws at their destination. Police officers regularly empty the boxes, file a report for the items inside and dispose of any surrendered marijuana. "Tampering with them, or attempting to remove anything placed inside, is a crime," said Chicago police spokesman Antony Gugliemi, who added that an investigation is underway.

Indiana

Taswell: The state's newest nature preserve features dramatic limestone outcrops and a cave inhabited by rare animals adapted to life in total darkness. The Natural Resources Commission recently approved the creation of the Patoka Hills Nature Preserve, which spans nearly 27 acres in southern Indiana's Crawford County. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources said the new preserve contains one of Indiana's finest paleontological sites in a small cave that the agency calls "highly significant." Staff from the Indiana State Museum have been excavating inside that cave since 1987, and their discoveries have shed light on Indiana's past climate, plants and animals during the latter part of the last ice age. The DNR said the cave is also home to a springtail insect and a cave millipede, both of which lack eyes and pigmentation and are rare worldwide.

Iowa

Council Bluffs: Leaders in western Iowa say lingering floodwaters and damage from last year's Missouri River flooding have led them to again cancel Loessfest. The Council Bluffs City Council said Friday in a news release that restoration work on Tom Hanafan River's Edge Park, which connects to neighboring Omaha, Nebraska, via the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, can't begin until after the spring thaw. There isn't enough time between the thaw and the Memorial Day weekend event to get the work done, the council said. Loessfest was established in 2013 and has become the community's traditional kick-off to summer. Last year, Loessfest was initially postponed to Labor Day weekend, then canceled altogether due to ongoing flooding. Other locations were considered before canceling this year's festival, officials said. But it was ultimately decided that a critical component of Loessfest was its easy proximity to Omaha.

Kansas

Wichita: Local police are looking into using genetic genealogy databases to help solve cold murder and rape cases. Capt. Jeff Weible said the department isn't ready to decide whether it will use the technique, which has revolutionized cold-case investigations across the U.S. while also raising legal and privacy concerns. But to help find out how the technique could be used, the department co-hosted a two-day training conference on it last week. The Wichita Eagle reports it drew more than 60 people from law enforcement agencies and other organizations across the state and nation to downtown Wichita. The conference's co-host, Gene by Gene, is allowing law enforcement agencies to submit DNA samples and lab data files from certain kinds of cold cases. Gene by Gene then queries its DNA database, Family Tree DNA, for any matches that investigators can use to track down suspects or identify remains.

Kentucky

Frankfort: State colleges and universities will ask for their first funding increase since the 2007-08 budget, lawmakers have been told. Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, said public colleges will seek a 6.2% increase next fiscal year and an 8.8% increase in the 2022 fiscal year over current base funding levels. Thompson said he is not sure whether the budget Gov. Andy Beshear presents to the General Assembly on Tuesday will include the request but is optimistic. Kentucky has cut higher education funding in each two-year budget since 2008, leaving colleges and universities to increase tuition rates. Thompson told legislators that after more than a decade of higher education cuts, "we are down to the point where we are cutting into the bone."

Louisiana

New Orleans: Dozens of protesters marched from the site of the partially collapsed Hard Rock Hotel on the edge of the French Quarter to City Hall on Friday, demanding that something be done about the hotel and that the two bodies still inside be recovered. The Hard Rock Hotel was under construction when it partially collapsed Oct. 12, sending plumes of dust into the air, killing three people and injuring dozens. The bodies of two of the three workers who died are still inside what is left of the building, which city officials have decided to take down through implosion in March. People in the city were outraged last week when a tarp at the site shifted, exposing the remains of one of the workers who died. The tarp has since been replaced, but it sparked cries for greater accountability. City Council member Jason Williams addressed the crowd, specifically questioning why a worker who had been in the building when it collapsed was later deported.

Maine

Portland: Maine home sales surged at the end of 2019, which was a record-breaking year for real estate in the state. The Pine Tree State set records for sales volume and median sales price, the Portland Press Herald reports. Home buyers finished strong at the end of the year, as December sales increased 23% compared with the same month the previous year. Total sales for 2019 reached 18,140 homes, which was a 1.5% increase from the previous year, according to the Maine Association of Realtors. The median sales price increase 4.7% from the previous record of $215,000 to $225,000, the association said. One of the factors helping spur the increase in price is a lack of inventory in Maine. Houses also aren't staying on the market very long.

Maryland

Annapolis: Lawmakers hope to repeal "archaic" provisions in the state's spousal defense for sex crimes and sodomy laws with the reintroduction of legislation this session. Lawmakers on Thursday expect to hear a Senate bill that would repeal the use of marriage as a defense to prosecution of some sex crimes, and last week the House introduced a bill that would repeal the crimes of sodomy and unnatural or perverted sexual practice. Under current state law, a person may not be prosecuted for first- or second-degree rape or third- or fourth-degree sexual offenses if the victim is the legal spouse of the assailant at the time of the offense. The bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, told Capital News Service she thinks current law treats a spouse as property. "It's really disrespectful, it's wrong, and it's antiquated," Lee said.

Massachusetts

Boston: Lawmakers are planning to hold a public hearing this week for a sweeping bill filed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker that would overhaul the state's health care system. Baker said the bill would cut down the hidden costs that currently blindside consumers and would require walk-in clinics to treat low-income patients on Medicaid. He said the bill would also hold drug companies accountable for excessive prices and unjustified price increases, as well as support distressed community hospitals and community health centers. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at the Statehouse. When he unveiled the legislation in October, Baker said it would "address the challenges associated with supporting an aging population, individuals with a chronic illness, or those in need of behavioral health services." The proposal would outlaw "surprise" bills for emergency room care and rein in certain hospital fees.

Michigan

Ganges Township: The owners of a home along Lake Michigan decided to demolish it before nature did the job. Relentless waves and high water have scoured the lakeshore, destroying or threatening properties that have been in families for generations. Helen Curtis-Foster and family members decided to bring their house down in Allegan County's Ganges Township, between Saugatuck and South Haven. The house was just feet away from the edge of a collapsing dune. "We really felt we were in the fight against time," Curtis-Foster told MLive.com. "It was getting scary." The demolition was completed last week, leaving only a cement pad. The job cost less than $20,000, Curtis-Foster said, compared to hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to move the house or recover the pieces if it collapsed into the lake. The family plans to put a gazebo on the site.

Minnesota

Robbinsdale: A man scaled a fence at a hospital last month and shut off oxygen to the entire facility, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in Hennepin County. No charges have been filed in the Dec. 27 incident at North Memorial Hospital, and the search warrant affidavit filed Friday makes no mention of injuries. But the Star Tribune reports the document says the situation could have been deadly under different circumstances. Hospital spokeswoman Katy Sullivan says hospital officials quickly identified the issue and resolved it without harm to patients. According to the affidavit, after the oxygen was shut off, engineers detected a pressure drop in the hospital's oxygen levels and discovered the vandalism. A 39-year-old man has been identified as a possible suspect. He was also seen inside the hospital the previous month unplugging computers and televisions.

Mississippi

Jackson: Protesters outside the Capitol on Friday condemned conditions in state prisons where inmates have died violently in the past month. People with relatives in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman said at a rally that some prison cells have no working lights or toilets, and inmates are given sparse meals sometimes served with cockroaches on the trays. "Parchman is a prison farm plantation," said Jaribu Hill, a longtime Mississippi human-rights attorney. "Shut it down!" A few hundred protesters responded: "Shut it down! Shut it down!" Their voices echoed in downtown Jackson, but many of the state's top policymakers were not in town to hear it. Most members of the Legislature left the Capitol on Thursday and won't return until Monday. At least 10 inmates have died in Mississippi prisons since late December – most of them at Parchman. The rally Friday was organized by Team Roc, the charity affiliated with entertainment mogul Jay-Z's company Roc Nation.

Missouri

Columbia: The University of Missouri is tracking all new students on campus this semester through a cellphone app to learn whether they're attending class. It's a test expansion of a program the university has used for four years to track class attendance of freshmen student athletes and athletes in academic trouble. Supporters of the program say it helps attendance, which in turn improves students' academic performance. Critics worry the university could someday add uses for the program that will violate student privacy, The Kansas City Star reports. The expanded use of the program began Tuesday on a test basis. Faculty volunteered to use the program in their classes, but students won't have a choice about participating. Every student in the program will be told attendance is being monitored, said Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies. The university will help students who don't have a phone participate.

Montana

Missoula: The University of Montana is working to learn from criticism after four white students won an essay contest about Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, the school said. A majority of the 1,000 comments posted on social media were critical of selecting only white students, The Missoulian reports. The contest sought submissions from students, faculty and staff on how they had worked to implement King's legacy at the university. Only six submissions were received, all from white students, the university said. The university deleted the photos and names of the contest winners out of concern they could be targets of harassment, the school said. Many commenters noted the lack of people of color entering the contest may have indicated they did not believe it was a productive use of their time or energy. African-American Studies program head Tobin Miller Shearer and Murray Pierce, special assistant to the provost and adviser to the Black Student Union, speculated that many of the union members were likely busy planning the Black Solidarity Summit, the group's upcoming keystone event.

Nebraska

Omaha: The mayor wants voters to decide whether they're willing to raise their property taxes to fund a long-term plan for improving city streets – often the objects of residents' wrath and complaints. Mayor Jean Stothert announced Thursday that she will ask the City Council to put a $200 million bond issue on the May 12 ballot. It would cost owners $35 more a year in property taxes for every $100,000 in valuation. "We can stop the deterioration of our infrastructure," Stothert said. "But it will take all of us to agree that it's worth the expense." The city spends $41 million a year on street repairs, she said, but needs to be spending at least $75 million a year. The $200 million in bond funding would cover only part of what's needed, and Omaha would need a series of voter-approved bond issues to keep the initiative going, Stothert said. Councilman Pete Festersen said he thinks the street repairs need to be part of a comprehensive plan that improves public transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

Nevada

Elko: The Silver Dollar Club, an iconic bar dating to the Prohibition era in one of the city's oldest buildings, is closing after 86 years of stories and songs rooted in the Wild West days. Sam Horvitz, the club proprietor, told the Elko Daily Free Press he's closing Jan. 30. "I've been waiting to buy the building for years now," Horvitz posted Jan. 3 on his Facebook page, "and my faith and patience have finally run out." The brick building was Elko's first bank, founded in 1880. Henderson Bank moved in 1929 to a four-story building across the railroad tracks, and the old bank became a grocery store. Local historian Jan Petersen, director of the nearby Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum, said the building became a "soft drink" parlor during the Prohibition era of the 1920s. Robert "Doby Doc" Caudill, anticipating constitutional approval for the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition in December 1933, opened the Silver Dollar Club a month earlier, in November 1933.

New Hampshire

Langdon: A meeting house originally built in the early 1800s has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Georgian-style Langdon Meeting House was a two-story space that served both town and church functions. In order to comply with New Hampshire's Toleration Act of 1819, which called for physical and financial separation of religious and government public spaces, the town sold 10 feet at the west end of the building and the second-story gallery space to the Universalist Society of Langdon in 1851. That year, a renovation partitioned the spaces and added a three-story Greek Revival steeple over the church entrance that included a belfry with louvered shutters and a 5-foot weathervane. Langdon residents have held their annual town meeting on the first floor from 1803 to the present, the longest-running record in the country.

New Jersey

Trenton: A former top aide to Gov. Phil Murphy alerted him to allegedly inappropriate behavior by his former campaign manager, including "rank misogyny" and retaliation, according to documents released Sunday. The campaign manager, Brendan Gill, who is now one of Murphy's closest advisers, also notified Murphy directly that he apologized to that aide for losing his temper and using "language and tone" he regretted, according to an email. The documents appear to contradict Murphy's own words in an interview last year. When asked if he was personally aware of any incident of sexual harassment or complaints of a toxic work environment during the campaign, Murphy said: "Not that I know of. No." Murphy was included on at least two emails that showed Gill had acted inappropriately. The campaign said it conducted an investigation and found that the behavior happened only once with the woman who made the allegation, Julie Roginsky, who left the campaign in July 2017.

New Mexico

Albuquerque: Trappers now have to complete an education course, and new restrictions will be imposed on setting wildlife traps and snares around designated trailheads and on select tracts of public lands in New Mexico, under a measure adopted by the state Game Commission. State wildlife managers suggested they tried to strike a balance, but trappers argued that the changes will be burdensome, requiring them in some instances to walk a mile roundtrip to set a trap. Environmentalists also were displeased with the decision, calling the practice inhumane and indiscriminate. They had pushed for the commission to end trapping all together, saying pets and endangered species such as the Mexican gray wolf have been inadvertently caught. Trapping and snaring triggered emotionally charged debates during last year's legislative session.

New York

New York: Some 85,000 artifacts that tell the story of the Chinese migration to the United States may have been lost in a fire that struck a building in the heart of Manhattan's Chinatown, a museum official said Friday. The president of the Museum of Chinese in America told The New York Times most of the thousands of historic and artistic items in its collection were probably lost in the fire that started Thursday night and tore through a building where the museum's acquisitions were stored. "One hundred percent of the museum's collection, other than what is on view," said Nancy Yao Maasbach, the president of the museum. She said the collection was one of a kind, and she was "just distraught" after receiving the news. The fire started in a former school that more recently housed a senior center, the Chen Dance Center and a number of community groups. The museum is nearby and stored its collection in the structure that was hit by fire.

North Carolina

Bakersville: The "world's worst cat" is available for adoption at the Mitchell County Animal Rescue organization. The shelter about 55 miles northeast of Asheville is waiving adoption fees in the hope that someone will take the cat named Perdita off its hands. The group says on its Facebook page, "We thought she was sick. Turns out she's just a jerk." A tongue-in-cheek profile of the foul-tempered feline says her dislikes include "dogs, children, the Dixie Chicks, Disney movies, Christmas and last but NOT least … HUGS." It says she likes lurking, pretending to be sick and "staring into your soul until you feel as if you may never be cheerful again … She's single and ready to be socially awkward with a socially awkward human who understands personal space." Her Facebook post has drawn thousands of "likes" – and a follow-up post indicated more than 50 applications to adopt her had already been submitted.

North Dakota

Fargo: State officials say it's time for property owners in flood-prone areas of the Red River Valley to think about buying flood insurance. The push comes as early signs suggest a heightened risk of flooding this spring. The Red River Basin in eastern North Dakota has seen record precipitation totals for the fall and winter period starting Sept. 1, National Weather Service spokesman Greg Gust said Friday after the agency released its first flood outlook of the season. This year's flood could be a top five event, although it's still too early to predict hard numbers, and "much is left to be determined," Gust said. The state Water Commission and Department of Emergency Services have scheduled flood preparation meetings this week in Fargo, Grand Forks and Jamestown that will focus on insuring homes and other structures.

Ohio

Columbus: The state prison system wants to replace or renovate some of its high-security prisons in the near future, saying its current facilities for violent inmates are "functionally obsolete" and creating security risks for the agency, the Associated Press has learned. More low-security inmates are now being housed at community facilities instead of prisons at the same time more violent inmates are being housed in state prisons, and for longer terms, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said in its capital budget request to Gov. Mike DeWine. "Furthermore, this population is particularly violent and disruptive while in prison and requires unique programming needs," the agency said in its budget documents. The agency wants approval for a two-year design study of its options, with construction possible by mid-2023.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City: Leaders in this conservative state say they are looking for more legislative progress for LGBTQ people this year after notable strides in 2019. Tulsa and Oklahoma City updated their personnel policies to ban discrimination against city employees based on gender identity or expression, The Oklahoman reports. Norman went further and became the first in the state to amend its civil rights ordinance to ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment or public accommodations. Oklahoma City also elected its first openly gay council member, and the mayor declared the city's first official Pride Week to celebrate LBGTQ accomplishments. Allie Shinn, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, an advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, said 2019 was a "landmark year." A top priority in the upcoming legislative session is pushing for a ban on the widely discredited practice of "conversion therapy."

Oregon

Portland: U.S. Justice Department lawyers said Friday that they've found the Portland Police Bureau in substantial compliance with 190 reforms required as part of a city settlement adopted six years ago. The settlement came after a federal investigation determined officers used excessive force against people with mental illness. Now that a community oversight group is staffed and has met regularly for more than a year, the Justice Department said the city meets the settlement's accountability requirements. The bureau also has instituted needed changes to its use-of-force policies, training, crisis intervention tactics and employee information system developed to identify officers with excessive complaints or uses of force, the Justice Department said in court documents. The community oversight group will discuss the Justice Department's findings at a Tuesday meeting, according to the group's co-chair Lakayana Drury.

Pennsylvania

Mount Carbon: A 44-acre community with fewer than 90 residents may soon end up absorbed by an adjacent city because there isn't enough citizen interest to keep its government functioning. No one except the newly elected mayor of Mount Carbon showed up this month for a reorganizational meeting, The Morning Call of Allentown reports. The Schuylkill County borough's fate has hung in the balance since last year, when all three council members quit and the borough secretary resigned. Retired railroad worker John Raess was elected mayor in November with two write-in votes. The newspaper said it is possible Mount Carbon might end up as part of the 15,000-resident city of Pottsville, a merger both communities would have to OK. Merging with Pottsville would mean higher taxes for Mount Carbon's residents.

Rhode Island

Providence: A lawmaker proposed letting legislators and other officials tint their windshields to shield them from unhappy constituents. Rep. Anastasia Williams, a Providence Democrat, introduced a bill Thursday that would carve out an exception for the state's lawmakers and officials to travel around behind tinted glass, The Boston Globe reports. The bill would allow members of the General Assembly, state and municipal police officers, firefighters and state judges to be exempt from state law that says most car windows must allow 70% of the light in. "We have a lot of disgruntled individuals," Williams said. "In the court system, law enforcement, and the General Assembly, we tend to get a bum rap, and we can face retaliation when we least expect it. When folks are on personal time, we are targeted."

South Carolina

Isle of Palms: The owner of an island home is suing Airbnb, claiming it only reimbursed him for a "fraction" of the damages that a guest who threw a big party did to his home. In a federal lawsuit filed this week, Scott Shaw said the party left his home smelling of a mixture of marijuana, cigarettes, beer and vomit. Blood and vomit were found on the walls, towels and bedding, the lawsuit states. Shaw says he believes he is owed about $150,000 in both property and punitive damages. He did not say what the company paid him. He said Airbnb claims in its marketing materials that it guarantees up to $1 million reimbursement for property damage. "Airbnb's 'host guarantee' is nothing close to any type of 'guarantee' and in fact it is false, misleading and deceptive," the lawsuit says. The company says it plans to "vigorously defend against these allegations." Shaw says aside from the smell, the guests also left holes in the walls and broke a staircase railing, door and countertop, among other things.

South Dakota

Pierre: Gov. Kristi Noem says she has "concerns" about a bill in the House that would make it illegal for physicians to administer gender-change treatments to children under 16. But she declined Friday to offer full support or disapproval. The bill would allow for physicians who perform surgeries, administer hormone therapy or prescribe puberty-blocking medication to minors to be prosecuted with a misdemeanor. The Republican-dominated House will debate the bill this week. "When you take public policy and try to fill parenting gaps with more government, you have to be very careful about the precedent you're setting," Noem told reporters. Democrats and LGBT activists say the bill targets transgender children and could lead to an increase in suicides. Supporters, including many Republicans in the House, say the bill would prevent children from receiving ideologically motivated treatment that harms them.

Tennessee

Nashville: The state has become the latest to assure continued taxpayer funding of faith-based foster care and adoption agencies even if those organizations exclude LGBT families and others based on religious beliefs. Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill Friday without fanfare or an official announcement, making it the first law to be implemented in Tennessee this year. Previously, Lee said he endorsed the law because he believed defending religious liberty "is very important." The Republican has often cited his Christian faith throughout his first term as governor. The protections afforded to religious agencies have sparked criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which has raised legal concerns surrounding the proposal because it authorized the use of a "religious test to participate in a government program."

Texas

Houston: The mayor and others say they will work to provide assistance to residents whose homes were damaged after a massive explosion at a warehouse that killed two workers and injured 20 others. Mayor Sylvester Turner on Saturday walked through the impacted neighborhoods in northwest Houston and spoke with residents who were cleaning up after Friday's explosion. Cleanup and repair efforts continued Sunday. The explosion happened about 4:30 a.m. Friday inside a building at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, which makes valves and provides thermal-spray coatings for equipment in various industries, authorities said. Employees Frank Flores and Gerardo Castorena were killed. More than 200 homes in surrounding neighborhoods were damaged as the force of the blast shattered windows, knocked down ceilings, bent garage doors and moved some homes off their foundations.

Utah

Salt Lake City: The state's unemployment rate is now the lowest ever recorded at 2.3%, which also ties for lowest among U.S. states, state officials said Friday. The milestone comes in December data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. "The job market is humming along at a feverish pace and is absorbing as much labor as possible," said Mark Knold, chief economist at the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Utah was also a leader in job creation for 2019, up about 3%. The fastest growth by percentage occurred in construction, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality services. Washington County had the biggest job growth, followed by Rich and Iron counties. The national unemployment rate was 3.5% in December. Utah tied Vermont and South Carolina for the lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

Vermont

Montpelier: A bill in the state would take vanity license plates into new territory with the introduction of emojis. State Rep. Rebecca White, a Democrat from Windsor, introduced the proposal to let drivers add one of six available emojis to their license plate, MyNBC5 reports. Her bill went before the Committee on Transportation last week. The symbols would not replace letters or numbers assigned by the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, nor those selected by a vehicle's owner. At this point, it's unclear what the new plates would would look like or what emojis would be allowed. Of the state's current vanity plates, the most expensive for cars and trucks is the state conservation series, which carry a $26 annual fee.

Virginia

Richmond: With a newly empowered Democratic majority at the General Assembly, abortion-rights advocates say the state has a chance to roll back decades of restrictions and become a "safe haven" for women in neighboring conservative states. Abortion-rights groups laid out their legislative priorities last week, emphasizing a measure to undo Republican-backed laws including a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, as well a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling. A Senate committee passed that bill Thursday morning, a day after a House committee advanced that chamber's version. The bills, which are part of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's legislative agenda, would also roll back the requirement that an abortion be provided by a physician, allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform them, and undo strict building code requirements on facilities where abortions are performed.

Washington

Seattle: Seattle Public Schools has agreed to pay almost half a million dollars to resolve a claim involving a former student who said he was hospitalized after his elementary school released him to the wrong parent in 2010. The former student, then 8, was picked up by his father following an "incident" at the school and "seriously assaulted," according to the settlement authorization document, which was unanimously approved by the Seattle School Board this week. The father was criminally charged and convicted after the incident, the document said. The former student and his mother filed a claim against the district in March, The Seattle Times reports. The district said the mother and former student will drop the claim in exchange for a $475,000 settlement, pending approval by King County Superior Court.

West Virginia

Huntington: Marshall University is investigating three separate incidents of "hate graffiti" on its campus. A statement from the school said its police department is trying to identify who wrote the graffiti. Disciplinary action up to expulsion or dismissal could be taken if the incidents are linked back to a student or employee, the school said. The college didn't specify what exactly was written but said two of the markings were found Thursday, and one was reported earlier this month. All three were found in restrooms on the Huntington campus. School staffers have since removed the graffiti. "This hate speech is against everything we stand for. We will do everything we can to identify the perpetrators," President Jerome Gilbert said.

Wisconsin

Three Lakes: A school district in northern Wisconsin has refurbished an old photography dark room into a place where the basic needs of its students are met. Teachers at the Three Lakes School District raised money to furnish the room with a washer and dryer to help students who might not have access to one at home. WJFW-TV reports special education teacher Nicole Lewis makes sure the room is stocked with personal essentials such as shampoo, soap, deodorant and toothbrushes. "Not many students, or adults for that matter, are able to concentrate and learn if those basic needs aren't met," Lewis said. "I think it's one of those things that's a necessity in a school." The room is also stocked with spare clothing.

Wyoming

Jackson: Grand Teton National Park stayed near its highest visitation levels in 2019, while Yellowstone National Park had its slowest tourism year since 2014, officials said. Grand Teton's 2019 attendance trailed only 2018 for tourists visiting the park, The Jackson Hole News and Guide reports. A Grand Teton park spokeswoman credited increased visits during historically slow shoulder seasons, the periods between peak and off-peak seasons. Grand Teton attracted 3.4 million recreational visitors, a category excluding people who only passed through, such as commercial truckers, officials said. July was Grand Teton's busiest month, with 776,000 visitors, while February, November and December saw fewer than 50,000 recreational visits each, officials said. Yellowstone, also in Wyoming, attracted slightly more than 4 million recreational visitors last year, a 2.3% decrease since 2018 and 5.6% decrease from the all-time high in 2016.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/50-states/2020/01/27/protest-prisons-skeleton-board-monarch-slump-news-around-states/41072781/

Explosion, fire damage Nanticoke home - Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

Posted: 20 Oct 2019 12:00 AM PDT

NANTICOKE — An explosion and fire caused extensive damage to a home in the 100 block of West Church Street in the city Sunday evening.

Fire Captain Mark Boncal said there was a strong odor of natural gas in the area prior to the blast at about 6:20 p.m.

A property manager who was in the basement at the time of the blast escaped and refused medical treatment, Boncal said.

No other injuries were reported.

The blast originated in the basement, Boncal said, and is under investigation. A Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal has been contacted.

"UGI did respond to the incident in Nanticoke. Our crews shut off the natural gas supply to the property," UGI Utilities spokesman Joe Swope said in an email Sunday night.

"Initial leak surveys have found no indication of a gas leak on UGI facilities. We are cooperating with officials on the investigation," Swope added.

Neighbors who gathered at the scene, but declined to give their names, said they smelled gas, heard the explosion and saw the chimney falling down.

Another neighbor, Lori Maute, desrcribed the sound.

"We live around the corner, we heard a boom, them immediately after the house shook," Maute said.

Allentown blast

Sunday's incident in Nanticoke comes hours after an early-morning explosion and fire damaged 10 row houses in Allentown, about 70 miles away.

According to the Associated Press, that incident blew the front off one row house and caused a fire that spread to nine others. One person was taken to a hospital for an injury described as minor and a firefighter was treated for a shoulder injury.

The cause of the Allentown blaze is under investigation, and arriving crews didn't detect any odor of natural gas there, the AP reported.

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