Alaska for America, bathtub miracle, glamping opposition: News from around our 50 states – USA TODAY

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Montgomery: Nearly two dozen organizations have sent a letter asking the U.S. House Financial Services Committee to investigate the state’s plan to use $400 million in pandemic relief funds to build two super-size prisons. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, The Sentencing Project and others signed on to a letter arguing that prison construction is an improper use of money from the American Rescue Plan and asking Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters to hold hearings on the matter. “Directing COVID relief funds to a massive prison construction plan that long predates the pandemic is an absurd and inappropriate use of (American Rescue Plan) funds,” the organizations wrote. Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation in October to tap $400 million of the state’s money from the federal plan to help build two super-size prisons. The Republican governor at the time called the construction plan “a major step forward” for the prison system, which faces various federal court orders and a lawsuit from the U.S. Justice Department. Republican legislative leaders and Ivey have said they are confident they can use the pandemic money for prison construction because the American Rescue Plan says states can use the money to replace revenue lost during the pandemic to strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs.
Anchorage: The newly crowned Miss America has made history, becoming both the first Korean American and the first Alaskan to hold the title in the competition’s 100-year history. “I never could have imagined in a million years that I would be Miss America, let alone that I would be Miss Alaska,” a beaming Emma Broyles said Friday. In fact, she was sure they had it wrong. The final two contestants were Broyles and Lauren Bradford, Miss Alabama, and Broyles said she was thinking Bradford was going to make an amazing Miss America. “And then they said Alaska, and I said, ‘No way. Are you sure? Do you want to check that card again?’ ” she said. “I am so, so grateful to everybody back at home who’s been supporting me for so long, and I’m so glad that I’m able to bring home the title of Miss America to the state of Alaska for the first time in history.” Broyles, 20, said her grandparents immigrated to Anchorage from Korea about 50 years ago, before her mother was born. Her mother is a special education teacher at Service High School in Anchorage, the same school Broyles attended. Broyles has chosen the Special Olympics for her social impact initiative. Besides her mother’s position, her older brother, Brendan, has Down syndrome and competes in athletic events with Special Olympics Alaska.
Phoenix: Gov. Doug Ducey has extended an executive order prohibiting state and local governments from requiring people to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The prohibition includes an exception for hospitals and other licensed health care institutions. It’s a small part of a nine-page order signed Wednesday that largely deals with surveillance and monitoring of health care institutions during the pandemic. Ducey in August issued an executive order barring the state and local governments from requiring vaccines, based on an existing public health law. However, after the outbreak worsened again during the fall, the state university system, the city of Tucson and Pima County decided to require their employees to be inoculated. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said in a statement Friday that the city will keep its employee vaccine mandate in place. The city says Ducey has no authority to block its immunization rules. Phoenix also mandated employee vaccinations, but it and at least one university have since paused their mandates after a court blocked the Biden administration’s mandate that federal contractors require employee vaccinations. Ducey’s office did not announce the latest order, which was reported by local news outlets.
Little Rock: The state on Friday reported its first case of the omicron variant as the state’s coronavirus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to increase. The Arkansas Department of Health did not release information about the person’s location, age or gender, nor whether they had been vaccinated. However, department spokeswoman Meg Mirivel said the case was not associated with travel. The variant’s appearance in the state had been expected as it spreads throughout the United States. The variant has been detected in at least 40 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Globally, more than 75 countries have reported confirmed omicron cases. “This was expected, and we expect more cases of the variant to be confirmed in the near future,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson tweeted. “This is not a surprise, but it is a compelling reason to get a booster shot now.” The state reported 1,111 new virus cases, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 542,426. The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by nine to 538. The state reported 17 new COVID-19 deaths. Arkansas ranks 35th in the country for new virus cases per capita, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers.
San Francisco: The California Coastal Commission has approved a plan to poison invasive mice threatening rare seabirds on the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. The agency that regulates California’s coastline voted 5-3 Thursday night to approve a plan to drop about 3,000 pounds of poisoned bait from helicopters onto the rocky islands off the San Francisco coast that are home to hundreds of thousands of breeding birds. The move still requires approval from the regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, officials said. The Farallon Islands refuge is home to an estimated 300,000 breeding seabirds, including the rare ashy storm-petrel. But officials say the population is threatened by mice that arrived on the islands aboard ships more than a century ago. In recent years, the mouse population has exploded, attracting burrowing owls that also prey on the ashy storm-petrel, officials said. “This project is necessary and is the right thing to do to stop the ecosystem carnage done by mice: a human-caused problem,” Gerry McChesney, manager of the wildlife refuge, said at the meeting. The proposal has won both support and condemnation from various conservation groups. Critics contend other wildlife could be poisoned by the rodenticide. Famed animal researcher and conservationist Jane Goodall spoke against the proposal at the hearing. “This poison will inflict pain and suffering on a great many sentient animals,” she said.
Denver: The 110-year prison sentence meted out last week to the truck driver who killed four people when he lost his brakes on Interstate 70 put a renewed spotlight on the state’s mandatory-minimum sentencing laws and on district attorneys’ ability to use such laws to ensure convictions lead to prison time. Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, 26, was sentenced to a prison term twice as long as some Colorado murderers after his convictions triggered provisions in state law that forced District Court Judge Bruce Jones to lay down a minimum 110-year sentence. The judge said during the sentencing hearing that he had no discretion to set a lesser prison term but wished he could. One family member of a man who died in the fiery 28-car pileup in Lakewood said he did not want a life sentence for the truck driver. And the day after the sentencing, First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King – who pursued the convictions that led to the 110-year sentence – said in a statement that she would “welcome” a reconsideration of the prison term. Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence stretched to more than a century because under Colorado law, first-degree assault and attempted first-degree assault are so-called crimes of violence in which prison sentences must run consecutively, not concurrently, when they spring from the same incident.
Hartford: An appeals court ruled Friday that a local historical society cannot try to impose its conservation rules on a congregational church that dates back to 1700 and is located on the celebrated Lebanon Town Green. The ruling by the state Appellate Court is the latest chapter in years­long legal proceedings over who owns the mile-long green and how to shield it from development that would harm its historic character. As a result of those proceedings, the Lebanon Historical Society has conservation authority over 95% of the green, meaning any construction and property improvements must adhere to its building rules and restrictions. But the First Congregational Church of Lebanon is on the 5% of the green the society does not control. In a lawsuit filed in 2019, the historical society is seeking authority to regulate the remaining 5%, saying it needs to be protected like the rest of the green. The church argued that just because the society controls adjacent property doesn’t mean it has legal standing to try to impose that authority on the property where the church buildings stand. Three judges on the Appellate Court on Friday upheld a lower court ruling in favor of the church, saying the case has implications for property owners statewide. The historical society intends to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, a lawyer said.
Wilmington: A lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of two men who claim they were unjustifiably beaten by officers at Sussex Correctional Institution aims to investigate what the filing describes as an “ongoing and egregious pattern of the use of excessive force” against people housed in the prison. The lawsuit was submitted to U.S. District Court in Wilmington on behalf of William “Bill” Davis and Isaac Montague. Both claim that they were beaten as pretrial detainees and that officers deployed pepper spray directly into their noses and mouths as they were held down in two separate incidents this fall. “Justice? I think they definitely need to be charged criminally because eventually they are going to kill somebody,” said Davis, a resident of Bear and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The lawsuit follows other litigation against the Delaware Department of Correction in which people imprisoned by the state claim that officers engage in violence and other violations of basic rights with impunity. Both Davis and Montague are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware. It is the first time the organization has represented prisoners in recent years and the first such lawsuit since hiring Susan Burke, who took over as the chapter’s legal director earlier this year. “We intend to do a lot of prison litigation,” Burke said.
Washington: A new mural honoring civil rights icon John Lewis now decorates the walls of the barbershop where the late congressman was a regular customer, WUSA-TV reports. The artwork was officially unveiled at HIS grooming Thursday afternoon. Posts on the shop’s Instagram page show that the piece depicts Lewis in the chair getting his head shaved. After Lewis’ death in 2020 of pancreatic cancer, shop owner Jared Scott spoke about the first time Lewis came into his business for a hot shave with a straight razor. “My heart skipped a few beats,” Scott said. “My hands were trembling.” Lewis continued to visit HIS Grooming nearly a dozen times over the course of a year. The art project honoring Lewis has been in the works for a while, but a special event for its unveiling will have D.C. Council members in attendance, as well as U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s delegate to Congress.
Gulf Breeze: A man who was rewarded by the Planters peanut company for being a good Samaritan is continuing to help others in his Panhandle city. Over the previous two Christmas seasons, Mike Esmond donated about $12,000 to pay off utility bills for people in Gulf Breeze who needed some extra help. Then, in March, Planters sent Esmond a check for $104,000 for his good works as part of the company’s “A Nut Above” campaign. Since then, Esmond has continued helping with past-due utility bills, paying off balances for 677 accounts. “In other words, I paid everybody’s past-due account for a while, about March to August, like six months straight,” Esmond said. Last week, he donated funds to pay off 29 accounts, putting his total donations at about $85,000 this year and more than $96,000 over three years. He said he’s continuing his effort in hopes of inspiring others, and it’s been touching to hear how the donations have helped older residents who may need additional assistance. “I’ve had some older, retired people call me crying on the phone because I paid their bills, because they live on Social Security, and they don’t know what’s going on,” Esmond said. The U.S. Army veteran said he was inspired to help with utility bills because of his own experience in the 1980s, when he couldn’t afford to pay his winter gas bill.
Atlanta: Johnny Isakson, an affable Republican politician who rose from the ranks of the Georgia Legislature to become a U.S. senator known as an effective, behind-the-scenes consensus builder, died Sunday. He was 76. Isakson’s son John Isakson said his father died in his sleep before dawn at his home in Atlanta. John Isakson said although his father had Parkinson’s disease, the cause of death was not immediately apparent. “He was a great man, and I will miss him,” John Isakson said. Johnny Isakson, whose real estate business made him a millionaire, spent more than four decades in Georgia political life. In the Senate, he was the architect of a popular tax credit for first-time home buyers that he said would help invigorate the struggling housing market. As chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, he worked to expand programs offering more private health care choices for veterans. Isakson’s famous motto was that “there are two types of people in this world: friends and future friends.” That approach made him exceedingly popular among colleagues. In a farewell Senate speech, he pleaded for bipartisanship at a time of bitter divisions between Republicans and Democrats. He cited his long friendship with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and civil rights hero, as an example of two men willing to put party aside to work on common problems.
Honolulu: A working group tasked by the Legislature to come up with recommendations for a new management plan for the state’s tallest peak and its affiliated telescopes released the first draft of its proposal Friday. Mauna Kea is the proposed site for what would be the world’s largest optical telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope. The giant telescope project has sparked a cultural movement among Native Hawaiians who believe the mountain is sacred. Construction of the massive instrument has been blocked by opponents. The group suggested a new governing entity for the mountain, which is managed by the University of Hawaii. The group recommended the school not have a seat on the board of the new governing body. The university’s lease expires in 2033. “The University of Hawaii was represented at the table during the working group discussions,” said the group’s chairperson, Rep. Mark Nakashima, a Democrat whose Hilo district includes Mauna Kea. “One of the premises of the resolution was that the university failed in some of its duties and responsibilities to the Native Hawaiian population, and so it was not included in the final management structure.” The group could not come to a consensus on whether someone from the astronomy field should participate and recommended any such involvement be in an advisory capacity.
Kuna: Lawmakers are looking at a $400 million tax relief package for the upcoming legislative session that includes a $200 million income tax cut, a top Republican House member said. House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks said Friday that the income tax cut involves lowering the top income tax bracket from 6.5% to 6%. Monks spoke at a legislative district town hall meeting in Kuna with several other lawmakers. Monks said Republican Gov. Brad Little is behind the income tax cut plan, as is the House Revenue and Taxation Committee chairman. “They’re greasing the skids pretty good on this,” Monks said. He said the other $200 million would come from a one-time tax relief package. Republican lawmakers last year passed nearly $400 million in tax relief that Democrats said mainly benefitted the wealthy. Idaho’s budget surplus is estimated at $1.6 billion, much of that attributed to the $5 billion the federal government has sent to Idaho in coronavirus relief money. The Legislature is scheduled to meet in Boise on Jan. 10, and lawmakers will look at setting state agency budgets. Republican Gov. Brad Little earlier this month hinted at possible tax cuts stemming from the projected surplus.
Hoffman Estates: Sears plans to sell the sprawling suburban Chicago corporate headquarters that’s been the struggling retailer’s home for three decades. Transformco, Sears’ parent company, confirmed last week that in early 2022 it plans to market the 273-acre corporate headquarters in the northwest suburb of Hoffman Estates. Transformco has been downsizing Sears’ operations and corporate staff for several years. “These changes have reduced our needs for a corporate campus that was built 30 years ago for the needs of a more centralized business,” Transformco spokesman Larry Costello said in a statement. Costello said employees have been operating under a hybrid structure during the pandemic, with a mix of in-office and remote work. He declined to say how many employees are based out of Hoffman Estates or where a future headquarters might be located. The Hoffman Estates campus was home to more than 4,000 Sears employees as recently as 2017, according to company filings. The site features a 2.3 million-square-foot corporate office and 273 acres, including 100 acres of undeveloped land.
Indianapolis: More than half of the state’s population remains unvaccinated against COVID-19, and its largest hospital system is so strained that it has asked the Indiana National Guard for assistance. A new WalletHub report adds another dire distinction to the resume: Indiana is the least safe state in the country during the pandemic – not just one of the worst or the worst in the Midwest but the absolute worst. Indiana ranked 51st on the list of “Safest States During COVID-19,” which includes all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The rankings came from the following data, according to WalletHub: vaccinations, deaths, hospitalizations, transmission rate and positive testing rate. All five categories were averaged together and graded on a 100-point scale, with 100 being the most safe. Indiana received a score of 17.67 out of 100. Hoosiers fared poorly in each individual category. When looking at vaccination rates, Indiana ranks No. 48. For COVID-19 hospitalizations, it ranks No. 46, tied with South Dakota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. As of Thursday, the state reported more than 3,000 hospitalized patients, according to the Indiana State Department of Health’s dashboard. The state’s latest average positivity rate was 13.8%, as of Dec. 10. Nearly 18,000 Hoosiers have died of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.
Des Moines: Property owners who ask to remove their names from online property searches to conceal their address may keep their names confidential under a ruling the state Supreme Court published Friday. Des Moines Register reporter Clark Kauffman filed a complaint with the Iowa Public Information Board against Polk County Assessor Randy Ripperger in 2017 after Ripperger refused to release a list of people who had requested their names be removed from the county’s online search-by-name property search database. The list includes police officers, prosecutors, judges and crime victims who want to make it harder for criminals or harassers to find out where they live. There are more than 3,500 property owners on the list. Kauffman alleged that Ripperger was violating the state’s open records law by refusing to provide the list of names. Kauffman said in a hearing that he sought the disabled name list to determine who opts in to the policy and find out if developers, landlords or slumlords are trying to keep their names from public disclosure. The board, which under Iowa law is empowered to enforce the state’s open records law, found in 2018 that Ripperger had violated the law. An administrative law judge and a state court judge affirmed that conclusion, and Ripperger appealed. The court concluded the list of names fits within an exception the Legislature allowed in the state law.
Topeka: A moratorium on voluntary admissions at Osawatomie State Hospital will be lifted in January to provide more space for adults with long-term mental health issues. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services announced Thursday that the ban, which has been in place since 2015, will end as of Jan. 3. The hospital, one of two state-run hospitals for the seriously mentally ill, stopped taking voluntary admissions after receiving citations for not doing enough to help suicidal patients and routinely housing three patients in rooms meant for two because of capacity issues. The policy caused problems for other mental health providers, law enforcement and health care facilities who struggled to place people with serious mental health issues. The department also has created a new classification for mental health providers called State Institutional Alternative, which allows private psychiatric facilities to accept mentally ill patients who have been approved for admission to state hospitals. Currently, eight hospitals in the state are classified as SIAs, and they have cared for 122 adults and 291 youth since September. The agency is also planning renovations on the Osawatomie campus that will eventually increase capacity to 72 certified beds and 110 licensed beds.
Madisonville: Two babies survived a tornado that ripped the bathtub in which they were sheltering out of the ground and tossed it with them inside, their grandmother said. Clara Lutz told WFIE-TV she put 15-month-old Kaden and 3-month-old Dallas in the bathtub Dec. 10 with a blanket, a pillow and a Bible. Then the house in Hopkins County started shaking. “Next thing I knew, the tub had lifted, and it was out of my hands,” Lutz said. “I couldn’t hold on. I just – oh my God.” Lutz, who had been hit in the back of the head by the water tank from the tub, said she began looking everywhere among the wreckage for the children. Her house was stripped to the foundation. “All I could say was, ‘Lord please bring my babies back safely. Please, I beg thee,’ ” she said. The bathtub was found in her yard, upside down, with the babies underneath. Authorities from the sheriff’s office drove to the end of her driveway and reunited her with the two children, she said. Dallas had a big bump on the back of his head and had to go to Vanderbilt University Medical Center Nashville because his brain was bleeding, but the bleeding stopped before Lutz got to the hospital, she said. Lutz said the parents of the children live on the north end of the county, and their home was nearly untouched by the tornado.
New Orleans: A man convicted in a killing has been exonerated and freed after being locked up for 12 years. Kendall Gordon walked out of the criminal courthouse in New Orleans a free man Thursday, days after local prosecutors asked a judge to void his conviction and release him, news outlets report. Gordon was serving a life sentence in the shooting death of a young woman during a 2009 home invasion and robbery. But the justice advocacy group Innocence Project New Orleans and the District Attorney’s office said DNA collected from the crime scene linked someone else to the crime. Also, a key witness recanted. “Darceleen Comadore consistently described the intruders that entered her home as an older man and a younger man, explicitly pointing out that the younger intruder had been shot and wounded while in her home by his accomplice,” the IPNO said in a news release. “Ms. Comadore believed she recognized the younger wounded intruder and identified him as Kendall Gordon.” However, she changed her story after learning that another man, Jessie Bibbins III, 18, had been shot and killed with the same weapon as the victim in her home. Bibbins was found dead less than 3 miles from the crime scene, wearing clothes matching those worn by the younger intruder, IPNO said.
Portland: New England’s commercial shrimp fishery will remain shut down because of concerns about the health of the crustacean’s population amid warming ocean temperatures. The cold-water shrimp were once a winter delicacy in Maine and beyond, but the fishing industry has been shut down since 2013. A board of the regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted Friday to keep the fishery shuttered for at least three more years. The shrimp prefer cold water, and their population health is imperiled by the warming of the ocean off New England. The Gulf of Maine, in particular, is warming faster than most of the world’s oceans. Scientists have also said recently that warming waters led to increased predation from a species of squid that feeds on shrimp. The board last voted to extend the existing moratorium on commercial fishing of the shrimp in 2018. The board could have decided to reopen the fishing industry Friday but chose not to do so in the face of discouraging news from scientists. Recent surveys of the shrimp show far less of them than historical averages, and there have been seven consecutive years of low abundance, said Maggie Hunter, a scientist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Warming waters remain a problem, Hunter said.
Baltimore: The state’s Public Service Commission on Friday awarded offshore wind renewable energy credits to two developers who have proposed two projects off Maryland’s coast. The decision will support plans by US Wind Inc. and Skipjack Offshore Energy to build separate projects that would produce more than 1,600 megawatts of energy, the PSC said in a news release. The new proposed projects are in addition to the 368 megawatts of offshore wind already being developed by both companies off Maryland’s shore and whose offshore wind renewable energy credits were approved by the commission in 2017. In the second-round application period that ended in June, US Wind submitted three bids, and Skipjack submitted two bids. The proposals were evaluated on a number of criteria, including impacts to customer electric bills; Maryland’s health, environmental and climate interests, including progress toward lowering the state’s greenhouse gas emissions; and economic development benefits, the PSC said. The second-round projects are both expected to be operational before the end of 2026. They are subject to review by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Worcester: Nurses at St. Vincent Hospital have reached a tentative agreement to end one of the longest nurse strikes in state history. The deal between the Massachusetts Nurses Associates and Tenet Healthcare, the Dallas-based company that owns the Worcester hospital, was announced late Friday. Union members will vote on the proposal at a later date. The hospital said in a statement that 700 nurses will be able to resume their old jobs, and the nurses hired to replace them will also be able to retain their current positions. “We are glad to finally end the strike and put our sole focus back on patient care,” Carolyn Jackson, the hospital’s chief executive, said in a statement. “We will be setting a new tone at Saint Vincent Hospital: We are one team with a common purpose. Not striking nurses versus replacement nurses. Not nurses versus management.” U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, a former Boston mayor and labor leader in Massachusetts, helped broker the accord during an in-person meeting Friday, the union said in a statement. Federal mediators have been working for two weeks with both sides to reach an accord. The nurses walked out in March complaining that staffing levels were too low and that they had too many patients to care for safely.
Lansing: The University of Michigan and Michigan State University will require all students, faculty and staff to receive a COVID-19 booster vaccination for the next semester in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The two universities, with the two largest student enrollments in the state, released statements Friday announcing the requirement, noting the omicron variant being found in the state. MSU said in its release that the deadline to get a booster shot is the beginning of the spring semester Jan. 10, while Michigan’s release said Feb. 4. Both schools already require vaccination against COVID-19 and have set their policies to reflect access and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to receive a booster for anyone who is 18 or older and six months out from the last vaccine in their initial series. In July, both university presidents announced vaccines would be required for the fall semester due to spread of the highly infectious delta variant. The first case of the omicron variant was found in Kent County earlier this month. The CDC says the omicron variant may be even more contagious than the highly spreadable delta variant.
Minneapolis: Hennepin County’s sheriff has pleaded guilty to drunken driving. Dave Hutchinson entered the plea Thursday to the misdemeanor charge and said he has enrolled in an outpatient treatment program to address his issues with alcohol. Hutchinson crashed his SUV on Interstate 94 near Alexandria on Dec. 8 at 2:30 a.m. after attending a state sheriffs conference. Hutchinson’s blood alcohol level was 0.13%. The legal limit to drive is 0.08%. The sheriff said in a statement that the crash was a “wakeup call” for him. He suffered three broken ribs and head and hip injuries when he rolled the SUV. “I understand the seriousness of my actions, for which I take full responsibility,” Hutchinson said. Hutchinson entered his guilty plea to fourth-degree driving while intoxicated via a plea petition. Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson said a plea agreement calls for a stayed jail sentence of 90 days, up to two years of probation, a $500 fine, a chemical-use assessment and a requirement that he follow the assessment’s recommendations. Hutchinson also must abstain from alcohol and nonprescribed controlled substances and submit to random testing. Larson said it’s a standard misdemeanor sentence for anyone with a first-time drunken-driving conviction.
Jackson: Five universities are receiving nearly $10 million from the state to cover tuition for aspiring educators. The Mississippi Teacher Residency Program is part of an effort to address the state’s teacher shortage. There were 3,036 certified teacher vacancies in Mississippi’s public schools from Aug. 21 to Oct. 11, 2021, according to a Department of Education survey. The grants will cover tuition and expenses for up to 240 people seeking a graduate degree in elementary and secondary education and are being paid for with American Rescue Plan relief dollars. The money is being split among Delta State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University. Anyone accepted into the program will receive full scholarships, testing fees, books and mentor stipends. The grant includes training alongside a mentor teacher, testing support, professional development, and a commitment to teaching in a district serving low-income children, racial and ethnic minorities, and children with disabilities.
Columbia: The state treasurer will no longer help schools refinance bond debt unless superintendents promise not to enforce face mask requirements and other COVID-19 safety measures issued by local officials. Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick this month began requiring school districts trying to refinance bond debt to certify that they’ll obey Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s warning against coronavirus-related mandates, Missourinet reports. Schmitt this month threatened to sue school districts and local health departments that require masks. He cited a November ruling from Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green. “These schools received certification forms because their bond deals were scheduled to close after the Attorney General communicated with schools about the court decision and we were made aware of several schools which did not intend to comply with the order,” Treasurer’s Office spokeswoman Mary Compton said in a Friday email. Fitzpatrick’s policy puts more pressure on districts to ditch mask and quarantine requirements. Without help from the Treasurer’s Office, districts face higher interest rates on debts.
Helena: Federal wildlife officials say two species of rare insects in the Rocky Mountains will need several thousand acres of glaciers and snowfields if they are to survive a warming world that’s threatening them with extinction. The western glacier stonefly and the meltwater lednian stonefly live in streams that flow from melting glaciers and snowfields. Scientists say the insects are not doing well and face continued declines as they lose a projected 80% of their habitat in Glacier National Park by 2030. The stoneflies’ peril underscores the threat climate change poses worldwide to mountaintops that are “biodiversity hot spots” – home to a rich variety of plants, animals and insects about which scientists are still learning. The two species live in and around Glacier National Park in Montana; Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada; and Native American tribal lands in western Montana. More recently, they’ve been found in streams in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in Montana and Wyoming. A new draft recovery plan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggests the possible transplant of some of the insects to new areas, exploring ways to artificially propagate populations and research into the stoneflies’ heat tolerance.
Lincoln: Even in normal times, the state has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, with fewer than 2 million residents and plenty of jobs to go around. But with some workers slow to return to work after COVID-19 shutdowns, the state has hit new depths, recording the country’s lowest-ever state unemployment rate of 1.8% in November. Now Gov. Pete Ricketts, who frequently expounds on the value of work, is confronting an intriguing question: Can a governor force citizens to work, even if they apparently aren’t eager or able to do so? Options he’s trying include requiring people to confer with job coaches before seeking unemployment benefits. “There’s going to be a lot of different things we’re going to have to do to reach each individual and, if they’re not working for whatever reason, get them back into the workforce,” Ricketts said recently. “Jobs help create great financial independence for Nebraskans and their families, giving them the dignity to achieve their dreams,” said the Republican governor, whose family’s estimated $4.5 billion in wealth originated with the creation of online brokerage Ameritrade. Nebraska has about 49,000 job openings listed on a state website and 19,000 working-age residents who are not working. About 4,300 people are receiving unemployment benefits.
Las Vegas: Fireworks that were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic are returning to the Las Vegas Strip on New Year’s Eve, with a theme pointed toward 2022 – Deuces Wild – and the addition of an eighth hotel-top launching place, tourism and elected officials announced Thursday. “Aside from last year, ‘America’s Party’ has been the culminating event of the entire year for more than 20 years,” said Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events, a nonprofit agency created to produce and support big events. Thousands of revelers still congregated on casino-lined Las Vegas Boulevard last year despite the canceled fireworks. There was no mention during a news conference previewing this year’s event of the possible effect of the emergence and spread in recent weeks of the omicron variant of the virus. Fireworks were first held on the Strip on the last night of 2000. The display has helped make New Year’s Eve one of Las Vegas’ biggest events, drawing more than 300,000 revelers, according to tourism officials, and filling the tourism-dependent city’s more than 250,000 hotel rooms. “Being able to host this event again is so special because it allows us to close out the year in a memorable way,” Christenson said in a statement accompanying Thursday’s announcement.
Greenland: The town has resoundingly rejected a proposal to ban the use of voting machines and return to counting ballots by hand. Voters in the town of Greenland on Saturday defeated a citizen petition that would have stopped the use of voting machines in all local, state and federal elections. The vote was 1,077 against to 120 in favor of the proposal. Town Clerk Marge Morgan said turnout was higher than expected, and officials had to print more ballots. Greenland has a little over 4,000 residents, according to the 2020 U.S. census. Similar attempts to ban voting machines are under way in Hampton and Kensington, and a bill calling for a statewide ban was filed in the Legislature. Interest in banning the machines grew following an audit of a legislative race in Windham. The audit was requested after a losing Democratic candidate asked for a recount, which showed that Republican candidates got hundreds more votes than were originally counted. The discrepancy drew the attention of former President Donald Trump and his supporters in their effort to find evidence of his wider, unfounded claim of election fraud from 2020. But the audit showed the cause of the discrepancy yielded not from the AccuVote machine but from a separate letter-folding machine used to send out absentee ballots.
Trenton: Marriage equality may soon be better protected as a bill moves on to votes in the state Senate and Assembly. A 2013 court ruling legalized same-sex marriage in New Jersey, but it has not been cemented in a statute. The New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted almost unanimously to move forward the bill that would codify marriage equality into law. Legislators will consider the bill Monday. If it passes both chambers, it heads to Gov. Phil Murphy for his likely approval. He has vocally supported LGBTQ rights during his tenure. The momentum in Trenton arrives at an important time, said Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Asbury Park-based Garden State Equality. “With a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, we cannot afford to sit by in hopes the justices will leave Obergefell v. Hodges intact,” Fuscarino said, referring to the 2015 ruling that legalized marriage equality at a national level. When marriage equality got the all-clear from New Jersey courts, Amy Quinn and her partner of 10 years, Heather Jensen, were among the first to be wed, exchanging vows on Asbury Park Boardwalk. Nearly a decade later, Quinn is now deputy mayor of Asbury Park, and the fight for marriage equality in New Jersey continues. “I can’t believe we’re still fighting for this, but here we are,” Quinn said.
Santa Fe: Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation Friday to redraw the state’s three congressional districts and divide a conservative stronghold into multiple districts over the objections of Republicans. Lujan Grisham, a former three-term congresswoman, said the new congressional map establishes a “reasonable baseline for competitive federal elections, in which no one party or candidate may claim any undue advantage.” Republicans disagree, calling it a power grab by Democrats who have long dominated state politics. “These maps are far from fair representation, and they are a disservice to constituents,” said Steve Pearce, chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico. Consultants to the Legislature say the new congressional map gives Democrats an advantage in all three districts to varying degrees, based on past voting behavior. Republicans need a net gain of five seats in 2022 to take control of the U.S. House and effectively freeze President Joe Biden’s agenda on everything from climate change to the economy. Democrat-backed redistricting plans for the House and Senate also were on their way to the governor’s office Friday after a final House vote. Both plans embrace recommendations from Native American communities for shoring up Indigenous voting blocs in New Mexico’s northwest corner.
New York: Despite soaring COVID-19 case numbers, long testing lines and event cancellations, so far New York City hospitals aren’t seeing a repeat of the surges that swamped emergency rooms early in the pandemic. The state reported Saturday that nearly 22,000 people had tested positive for the coronavirus Friday, eclipsing the previous day’s mark for the highest single-day total for new cases since testing became widely available. More than half the positive results were in the city. The Rockettes on Friday canceled remaining performances of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, citing “increasing challenges from the pandemic,” with lines at some testing sites in the city stretched around the block and at-home tests remaining hard to come by or pricier than usual. But new hospitalizations and deaths – so far – are averaging well below their spring 2020 peak and even where they were this time last year, during a winter wave that came as vaccinations were just beginning, city data shows. Mount Sinai Health System’s emergency rooms are seeing about 20% more patients – with all conditions – in recent days, according to Dr. Eric Legome, who oversees two of the network’s seven ERs. But at least so far, “we’re seeing a lot more treat-and-release” COVID-19 patients than in earlier waves, he said.
Raleigh: The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that nonprofit charter schools can’t avoid facing civil fraud claims alleging mismanagement of taxpayer money by arguing they are immune from such lawsuits like a state agency. The justices reversed a 2019 Court of Appeals decision that had dismissed claims against Kinston Charter Academy, which closed abruptly to 190 students and their teachers in 2013. A 2016 lawsuit by then-Attorney General Roy Cooper sought financial damages for the state and monetary penalties against the academy, its CEO and the chair of its board. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that receive state funds on a per-pupil basis and have more flexibility – with instruction and enrollment among them – than traditional K-12 schools. They are overseen by the State Board of Education. Kinston Charter Academy and leaders were accused by Cooper’s office of violating the state’s False Claims Act and deceptive trade laws. State attorneys allege the school provided a bogus upgraded enrollment estimate to state education officials that meant receiving additional funds, even as leaders knew the school would not last the 2013-14 school year.
Bismarck: The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject an appeal by developers of the Dakota Access oil pipeline who are seeking to reinstate a federal permit for the line’s Missouri River crossing. Early this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed part of a lower court order that revoked the permit and required a new environmental review of the pipeline. “Though the dispute over the pipeline garnered national attention, the D.C. Circuit’s decision plowed no new ground,” lawyers for Standing Rock and other Sioux tribes fighting the pipeline wrote in a brief filed Thursday. The tribes argued that the high court should decline the developer’s petition to hear the case because appeals courts are not split on the issues surrounding the dispute, which can lead to the Supreme Court taking the case. The tribes say the D.C. Circuit judges applied a “conventional” review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permitting decisions and “found no abuse of discretion” in the lower court’s order revoking the permit, the Bismarck Tribune reports. The Corps permitted the pipeline’s river crossing, which is just upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and where tribal members fear a leak could occur and harm their water supply.
Columbus: More than 1,000 members of the Ohio National Guard have been ordered into hospitals overwhelmed by patients being treated for COVID-19, the vast majority of them unvaccinated, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Friday. The state is also hiring a staffing agency to help recruit nurses from out of state to assist with patient care, DeWine said. “Twenty-two months of this pandemic has taken its toll on our health care workers,” the Republican governor said, recounting stories of short-staffed hospitals needing workers to return for second shifts after only short breaks. Of the Guard members, 150 are medical workers – mainly nurses and EMTs – who will be assigned beginning Monday to hospitals largely in the Akron, Canton and Cleveland areas, which are seeing the highest hospitalization numbers. Most of those hospitals have stopped elective surgeries, and facilities elsewhere are considering the same, the governor said. The remaining Guard members will serve in as-needed hospital roles in other parts of the state. As of Friday, 4,723 Ohioans were hospitalized with COVID-19 – a figure last seen almost a year ago, the governor said. Nine of every 10 of those patients are unvaccinated.
Oklahoma City: An Oklahoma County grand jury has indicted a top Republican state House leader on multiple felony counts, alleging he misused his power to change state law so his wife could become a tag agent. House Speaker Pro Tempore Terry O’Donnell, the second-highest-ranking member in the chamber, was charged in the indictment Friday with five felonies and three misdemeanors. “He denies any wrongdoing,” said his attorney, Mack Martin. His wife, Teresa O’Donnell, who was also indicted, faces three felonies and one misdemeanor. Court records don’t indicate the name of her attorney. The most severe offense against the couple is conspiracy against the state, which has a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The Catoosa Republican introduced a bill in 2019 that allowed spouses of legislators to serve as tag agents. The Oklahoma Tax Commission appointed his wife to take over the Catoosa Tag Agency on Aug. 1, 2019, three months after Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law. Terry O’Donnell said last year that his wife had no intention of becoming a tag agent when he sponsored the bill. He said she sought the appointment after her mother died unexpectedly from pancreatic cancer. Her mother, Georgia McAfee, had been in charge of the Catoosa Tag Agency for more than 40 years. Teresa O’Donnell had worked there for more than four years before her appointment. Grand jurors alleged the two submitted a fraudulent application to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
Portland: A weeklong strike is underway, affecting a number of grocery stores across the state less than a week before Christmas Day. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, representing many employees at Fred Meyer and QFC stores, confirmed early Friday morning that it is moving ahead with a walkout at stores in Portland, Bend, Newberg and Klamath Falls, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports. The details and specifics of a walkout are complicated. While the UFCW represents roughly 10,000 Fred Meyer employees, not all stores, departments or worker categories are participating in the strike. The union has been in labor negotiations for months with the Kroger-owned supermarket chains. Last weekend, UFCW announced its members had authorized a strike. Union representatives said Fred Meyer has been underpaying certain workers, in violation of contract terms. The grocery chain hasn’t been providing necessary information to the union to refute or verify its concern or to address it through the grievance process, according to the union. Workers are also seeking wage increases. A Fred Meyer statement provided to OPB confirmed that its stores affected by the strike, along with impacted QFC stores, remain open for customers.
Harrisburg: The state will no longer impose income taxes on public-sector workers and nurses who receive student loan forgiveness from two major programs, the Wolf administration announced Friday. The change affects participants in the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which provides debt relief to teachers, social workers, military members and other public servants, and the Pennsylvania Student Loan Relief for Nurses Program, a recent pandemic-era initiative to forgive up to $7,500 in student loan debt incurred by state-licensed nurses. Most other states and the federal government do not subject student loan forgiveness to taxation, but Pennsylvania lawmakers who pushed for the change said the state Department of Revenue had considered canceled student loans to be taxable income. That meant that a Pennsylvania resident who owed $50,000 in student loans would be subject to a $1,535 state tax bill once that debt was forgiven. “These people have chosen to serve the public, and often in lower-paying fields, because they want to make a difference. They don’t have thousands of dollars lying around to pay a one-time tax bill. So it’s wrong to take what should be a blessing and turn it into just another burden,” Gov. Tom Wolf said at a news conference Friday.
Providence: A major theater canceled its performances of “A Christmas Carol” over the weekend because a cast member was dealing with COVID-19 symptoms. The Trinity Repertory Company made the announcement on its Facebook page about half an hour before Saturday’s matinee show. The Providence theater said the unnamed cast member reported feeling sick at home Saturday morning, and the afternoon performance had to be scrubbed because there wasn’t an understudy who could take on the role. The theater said it was canceling the rest of the weekend’s performances out of an abundance of caution. Officials apologized for the abrupt change and said ticket holders would receive a full refund and complimentary access to an online streaming version of the production. “While we never make the decision to cancel a show lightly, our commitment to the health and safety of our artists, staff, and audiences are extremely important to us and made this decision clear,” the theater said in a statement. “A Christmas Carol” runs through Jan. 2 at Trinity Rep. The online streaming version is available until Jan. 16.
Folly Beach: Three young men on a beach vacation dug up a marked loggerhead turtle nest, causing 71 of the 90 eggs not to hatch, wildlife officials said. The men posted video to Snapchat in September of themselves digging up a nest marked with orange tape and signs on Folly Beach, and the Department of Natural Resources said agents were able to track them down. The three men, all under age 21, met with wildlife agents and admitted what they did. In exchange, the agency said it won’t charge them with a count of unlawful taking of loggerhead turtle eggs for each egg, instead agreeing to two counts for each man who was seen digging up the nest and one count for the person who filmed it. The men will face a fine of up to $2,000 on each charge and community service, the agency said in a statement. Wildlife agents will recommend all three men work with the state Marine Turtle Conservation program so they can find out how much work goes into protecting sea turtles in South Carolina. More than 1,300 volunteers along the coast help protect nests. Female sea turtles don’t lay eggs every year, and their nests are vulnerable if not protected on the beaches. Wildlife agents said 2021 overall was a successful year protecting the turtle eggs, with 5,649 nests recorded.
Custer: Authorities say numerous fire departments worked through the night to put out a fire at a popular 85-year-old lodge in the Black Hills. Two firefighters received minor injuries in the blaze at Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park. No guests of the multistory hotel were hurt, according to the Custer Volunteer Fire Department. Firefighters discovered a “free-burning fire” when they arrived at the lodge Saturday night, authorities said. They encountered heavy smoke and flames extending to the roof. The stone-and-timber lodge was built in 1937, funded in part through Depression-era New Deal programs. A wing of additional rooms was added in 1991. The original Sylvan Lake Hotel was a stopping point for adventurers looking to climb Black Elk Peak, the highest point in America east of the Rockies, according to the lodge’s website. Alarms initially went off in the southeastern part of the building, authorities said. Freezing temperatures, narrow roads covered with ice and snow, and darkness added to the difficulty of dealing with the blaze. About two dozen agencies responded to the fire. Thirty-one cabins are nearby, all within close access to Sylvan Lake. Authorities asked people to steer clear of the area, where Custer firefighters said on social media that a massive cleanup effort is required.
Nashville: The future of Second Avenue, ravaged by a bomb blast nearly a year ago, will feature a life-size mural of the street’s historic buildings, expanded sidewalks and a restored tree canopy. Mayor John Cooper revealed details of the first phase of Second Avenue’s reconstruction Wednesday among a crowd of residents, property owners and first responders. The historic avenue was the site of a bombing on Christmas Day 2020 that crumbled 100-year-old facades and severely damaged dozens of businesses and homes. The bomber, Anthony Quinn Warner, was the only person killed in the explosion. The bombing left Nashville with the task of salvaging as much as possible of the core section of Nashville’s original downtown Market Street, literally brick by brick. In the months since, Cooper’s Second Avenue Task Force and numerous community organizations facilitated nine community workshops to collect input from more than 500 residents on how the street should be rebuilt. The first phase will be funded by a $20 million allocation approved Tuesday by the Metro Council as part of Cooper’s $564 million capital spending plan. The plans focus on creating a “more livable streetscape” with widened sidewalks, increased space for outdoor dining and food kiosks, plant life, and public art.
Houston: A group of attorneys and advocates have pledged to seek clemency for 110 Black soldiers who were convicted in a mutiny and riots at a military camp in the city in 1917. The South Texas College of Law Houston and the NAACP’s local branch have signed an agreement to continue fighting for clemency for the soldiers of the all-Black Third Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment, the Houston Chronicle reports. They plan to ask the secretary of the Army to posthumously grant honorable discharges and urge the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to recommend pardons to President Joe Biden. The soldiers were either executed or given long prison sentences. “We are on a quest to obtain justice for the 24th Infantry Regiment … that organized group of men who died with shameful reputations at the hands of those who had the power of the government, the courts and the power of the media,” said Bishop James Dixon, board president of the NAACP Houston Branch. On Aug. 23, 1917, four months after the U.S. had entered World War I, the regiment mutinied in Houston. It resulted in the largest murder trial in U.S. history, with 110 out of 118 soldiers found guilty. Nineteen were hanged. Law enforcement immediately recorded the events as a deadly, premeditated assault by Black Army soldiers on a white population. Historians and advocates now recognize the riot as part of the regiment’s response to what it believed was a white mob heading for them.
Salt Lake City: A local group is hoping to welcome Afghan refugees to America through playing soccer. Refugee Soccer organizes teams of those who’ve settled in Utah. It gathers equipment and helps place players on mainstream soccer clubs. “Really the mission is to bridge the gap between mainstream and refugee communities,” Executive Director Adam Miles told KSL NewsRadio. Miles is now leading a group of 10 volunteers to a military base in New Mexico after Christmas to play soccer with Afghans who fled the country this summer and are waiting for placement in homes around the country. Miles and his team will head there after Christmas and stay through the first of the year. “Three weeks of concentrated, intense (soccer) clinics, and getting to know these kids and building some relationships,” Miles said. He said soccer allows them to build those relationships. “It’s creating that bridge between people that don’t look like them, don’t speak their language and probably don’t practice their religion but are connecting over the world’s sport – the beautiful game of soccer,” he said. The group also has another big challenge. Miles said many kids fled Afghanistan with nothing. “They fled for their lives … a lot of these kids don’t have shoes.” So Refugee Soccer is trying to collect 500 to 800 pairs of shoes and cleats for the kids to wear.
Burlington: The mayor says he hopes to double housing production over the next five years as part of an effort to end chronic homelessness in the city. Mayor Miro Weinberger released a 10-point action plan Thursday to fulfill what he calls the “promise of housing as a human right.” “The path to making good on the promise that decent, stable housing is a human right is to build a lot more homes throughout the city and throughout the region,” Weinberger said. “This will require community change and understanding from us all. Our goal should not simply be to reduce homelessness; it must be to end it.” reports Weinberger said the number of people in Chittenden County experiencing chronic homelessness has risen from 35 in 2018 to more than 160 now. The mayor’s action plan includes investing $5 million in COVID-19 relief funds to build new, permanently affordable housing. That would include at least $1 million for initiatives to better serve the chronically homeless population. The plan would also set a goal of creating 1,250 new homes by the end of 2026, with a quarter of those permanently affordable.
Fairfax: Police say four bodies discovered at two different locations in the state are the work of a serial killer who used a shopping cart to transport his victims’ bodies after meeting them on dating sites. At a press conference Friday, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis dubbed the suspect, 35-year-old Anthony Robinson, of Washington, D.C., the “shopping cart killer” and said police are working to determine if there are other victims. Davis said Robinson, who was taken into custody in Rockingham County last month, has lived in multiple locations, including New York and Maryland, in recent years. Police in Harrisonburg arrested Robinson last month and charged him with two counts of murder after finding two bodies in a vacant lot in the city. “The good thing is he’s in custody. The challenge that remains is identifying other victims,” Davis said. One body found in Fairfax County has not yet been identified. The three victims who have been identified all went missing in the past few months. Police say they are trying to research Robinson’s life going back many years to see if there might be more victims. “That’s what worries us,” Davis said. “He didn’t suddenly turn into who he is three months ago.”
Seattle: Voters have retained socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a controversial lawmaker and longtime foe of hometown tech giant Amazon. Sawant had faced a recall effort. King County Elections on Friday officially certified the Dec. 7 recall election, showing Sawant narrowly prevailing with 50.4% voting “no” on the recall question and 49.6% people casting “yes” ballots. Sawant, a 48-year-old economics professor, is the longest-tenured councilmember in Seattle. By surviving the recall, she gave a boost to the beleaguered left wing in liberal Seattle, which was bruised in last month’s general election when business-friendly candidates won the mayor’s office and a council seat. Sawant has had an outsized influence on the tone and direction of Seattle politics since she launched her political career under the banner of the Socialist Alternative party in 2012, when she ran unsuccessfully for state representative. Sawant was elected to the City Council the following year, and her threat to run a voter initiative drive for an immediate $15 minimum wage has been credited with pressuring business leaders and then-Mayor Ed Murray to reach a deal raising the wage to $15 over a few years. Seattle was the first major city in the U.S. to adopt such a measure.
Parkersburg: A former city councilor who is charged with breaching the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot has pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts. Eric Barber, 43, admitted to entering the Capitol and stealing a portable charger from a C-SPAN media station during a remote hearing Thursday, the Parkersburg News and Sentinel reports. “When I entered the Capitol building, I knew we weren’t supposed to be there,” he said after the judge asked if the charges were accurate. The criminal complaint alleged photos and security video showed Barber inside the Capitol wearing a green, combat-style helmet and a green, military-style field jacket. It said that video recorded Barber saying, “They’re giving us the building,” and that he took selfies in the Capitol Rotunda. It also claims he stole a portable power station from a C-SPAN media stand. Barber was elected to the Parkersburg City Council in 2016 as a Democrat. He changed his registration to independent a year later, then changed it again to Republican before losing his reelection bid last November. As part of the plea agreement, other misdemeanor counts will be dismissed. Barber’s sentencing was set for March 31.
Milwaukee: The city will soon have a change in leadership. The U.S. Senate on Thursday evening confirmed the nomination of Mayor Tom Barrett to become ambassador to the small European country of Luxembourg. Barrett, who was elected mayor in 2004, did not say when he plans to step down. Common Council President Cavalier Johnson will become acting mayor until a special election can be held to fill the remainder of Barrett’s term, which ends in 2024. Johnson is one of seven candidates who have filed papers to run for the permanent position. Others include Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas, Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic and former Ald. Bob Donovan. After his nomination was confirmed, Barrett thanked President Joe Biden, who nominated him, and U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson. “I’m not running from something; I’m running to something,” Barrett said in a virtual press conference after the vote. “And I think we all recognize that there are different chapters in life, and I’m very, very eager now to start this next chapter.”
Jackson: Residents south of the town are sounding the alarm over the possibility that dozens of high-end commercial campsites, roads and related infrastructure could be carved into the lower flanks of Munger Mountain. A Wyoming-owned 640-acre section of land that raises money for the state’s school trust account and is exempted from local zoning regulations could host the development. At the direction of legislators seeking to wring more money out of state lands in exorbitantly priced Jackson Hole, the Office of State Lands and Investments has identified the site as a potential moneymaker and plans to issue an open-ended request for proposals, Jason Crowder, the office’s deputy director, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. That board, which has the final say, consists of five state officials: Gov. Mark Gordon, Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, Auditor Kristi Racines, Treasurer Curt Meier and State Superintendent Jillian Balow. Although a request for proposals was once expected out by September, Crowder is now assigning no time frame for its release. But a luxury “glamour camping” company, Under Canvas, has already expressed an interest in building another of its safari-inspired glamping compounds on the Munger parcel. That the concept is being met with firm resistance.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports


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