Lobster costs roll higher, beach rentals sell out, skiing ramps up: News from around our 50 states
Montgomery: Police Chief Ernest Finley has resigned after more than six years, with the mayor saying change was needed. The departure of Finley, who came to the capital city after nearly three decades with the Atlanta Police Department, was announced by Mayor Steven Reed on Tuesday. Montgomery has fared better than other cities its size as rates of violent crime rise nationwide, Reed said, and it didn’t suffer damage during civil unrest last year following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Still, he said, “the situation and circumstances” have changed since Finley began in 2015. “I feel it is in the best interest of the men and women of the Montgomery Police Department, as well as the residents of Montgomery, to make a change in leadership,” Reed said in a statement. Finley, who was hired before Reed took office in the city of about 200,000, has not commented publicly on his departure.
Martin Stepetin Sr. holds a signed bill meant to protect the graves of Unangax people sent to World War II internment camps in southeast Alaska, alongside state Rep. Sara Hannan and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, at the bill signing ceremony Tuesday in Juneau. Stepetin, whose grandparents were among those forcibly sent more than a thousand miles away from their Aleutian Islands homes while U.S. and Japanese troops clashed over their villages, pushed for the protections. (Photo: Peter Segall/The Juneau Empire via AP)
Juneau: Gov. Mike Dunleavy has signed legislation aimed at protecting the graves of Unangax people sent to internment camps in southeast Alaska during World War II. “We want their descendants to know it’s not been forgotten,” Dunleavy said at Tuesday’s bill signing. The measure expands the boundaries of Funter Bay State Marine Park to include the Admiralty Island cemetery site and directs that management of the area include protection of the cemetery. The cemetery holds the graves of people who died at Funter Bay during World War II. The U.S. government forced people from their homes in the Aleutian Islands more than 1,000 miles away to internment camps after Japanese troops invaded. According to the National Park Service, many of those taken from their homes were only allowed a suitcase to bring with them. Conditions at the relocation sites were poor, and medical care was “often nonexistent,” according to the agency, which has said 32 people died at the Funter Bay camp. Martin Stepetin Sr., whose grandparents were among those relocated, pushed for protections for the cemetery site, the Juneau Empire reports. He said it felt like a weight had been lifted off him with the bill becoming law.
Phoenix: Citing “significant” concerns, state health officials have barred Phoenix-based Embry Health from ordering more COVID-19 vaccine doses. Among the state’s concerns is the possibility that Embry Health may have administered as many as 370 expired doses, Arizona Department of Health Services spokesperson Steve Elliott confirmed Monday in an email – a contention officials with Embry Health dispute. The provider never administered any expired doses, “not accidentally, and certainly not purposefully,” Embry Health consultant and spokesperson Kevin DeMenna said Tuesday afternoon, adding that patient safety at Embry Health has not been affected. “We needed to do a better job of inputting the data,” DeMenna said. Embry Health has been active throughout the pandemic doing both coronavirus testing and vaccinations, though for now, it “has largely just stopped vaccinating,” he said. Expired doses are not the only problem the state raised with Embry Health. Another is the people the company has used to administer COVID-19 vaccines – state health officials say Embry is using staff who are “not permitted by state or federal regulation to administer vaccine,” such as phlebotomists rather than physicians or nurses.
Little Rock: The state no longer requires students exposed to the coronavirus to quarantine so long as they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday. The Republican governor said the new quarantine policy aligns with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or their only shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. About 40% of Arkansas’ population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and nearly 32% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Hutchinson announced the change as the state saw a jump in its coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The state reported 231 new cases, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 342,726. The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 29 to 204. Arkansas’ COVID-19 deaths rose by three to 5,852 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Sheriff’s deputies from the Homeless Outreach Services Team and Mental Health Team visit Venice Boardwalk on Tuesday in Los Angeles, deployed there by Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva. (Photo: Sarah Reingewirtz/The Orange County Register via AP)
Los Angeles: The sheriff of Los Angeles County dispatched deputies Tuesday to Venice Beach to assess the homelessness problem, a day after he called out city officials for failing to adequately address the growing number of people sleeping outdoors along the famous strand. Venice is the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Police Department, not the sheriff’s department. But Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he was moved to act because of “the failures of local politicians in regard to the homelessness crisis.” He tweeted Monday that he was sending his department’s Homeless Outreach Services Team to the beach, where encampments have proliferated along the popular boardwalk and in surrounding neighborhoods. The sheriff said the goal was to clear the area of homeless encampments by July 4. “What we saw was human misery,” Lt. Geff Deedrick, head of the sheriff’s team, told KNBC-TV. Villaneuva told CBS 2 News that he was not trying to start a turf battle but simply trying to help. City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the district that includes the area, accused Villanueva of making political hay out of a serious problem. “He didn’t call to offer services or housing, which would help,” Bonin said in a tweet Tuesday. “He went on a PR blitz, promising his own notorious brand of justice.”
Skiers enjoy freshly made snow on Aspen Mountain’s opening day of the ski season Nov. 25, 2020, in Aspen, Colo. (Photo: Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times via AP)
Denver: Ski areas experienced a strong rebound this winter despite public health restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic. Skier visits to U.S. resorts totaled 59 million for the season, the fifth-best on record, according to the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association. “What a year it has been,” said Kelly Pawlak, association president and CEO. “From utter uncertainty to a top-10 season in terms of participation, it shows the wide spectrum that our industry bridged this year.” Resorts across the country were forced to close in spring 2020, and many mountain communities were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 early in the pandemic. The U.S. ski industry lost at least $2 billion that winter, and skier visits fell 14% compared with the 2018-19 season. But about seven months later, chairlifts started turning again, and guests embraced a new normal while skiing and snowboarding. They wore masks, rode lifts only with their groups and stood 6 feet apart in lines, or about the length of a typical ski. There was no dine-in service and no large gatherings for apres-ski drinks. Katherine Fuller, a spokeswoman for Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin ski area, said the most recent season was “definitely a hard one for all of us … but people wanted to ski and ride, and it felt kind of at times like one of the few things you could do because it was all outside.”
Hartford: With the state House poised to take up a long-awaited bill that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults, the chamber’s Republican leader on Tuesday called for an investigation into how language was tucked into the legislation that could have intentionally benefited at least one individual. House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the closed-door process that led to the massive, nearly 300-page bill is “tainted,” and the House should not proceed with a vote during the remaining hours of the regular General Assembly session, which was set to adjourn at midnight Wednesday. The bill narrowly passed the Senate early Tuesday after the contentious provision was stripped. “It is so tarnished that the House of Representatives should not be taking up this bill,” Candelora said. “And frankly, there should be an investigation in the governor’s office and in the Democrats offices on how this provision came to be.” Candelora predicted if the Democrats who control the General Assembly decide to bring out the cannabis bill, the debate could last 12 hours, eating up valuable time on the final day of the regular legislative session.
This cottage in Bethany Beach, Del., is listed on Airbnb, but it has been booked through August. (Photo: Picture courtesy of Airbnb)
Rehoboth Beach: Many rental agencies in beach areas are almost completely booked – if not sold out – for the summer. “More units are booked for the duration of the summer than, I think, ever before,” said Grace Masten, broker owner of Sea Grace at North Beach, Realtors. With high demand sweeping the coast and a summer energized by eager vacationers and increased vaccination rates, renters looking to score a last-minute stay might expect to pay more or settle for a place farther from the beach this year. Stuck at home last year and possibly bummed out by canceled summer plans, many people booked their summer 2021 vacations earlier than usual. Typically, rental agencies will see bookings come in over the December holidays, Masten said, but rentals were starting to fill up as early as September, October and November, when much of the country remained closed. “I think if people thought back in September, October that they’d be flying to other resort areas, maybe that would be a little different,” Masten said. “But not really knowing what the future was holding at that point, I think they just made the reservations thinking, ‘You know what, let’s stay close to home.’ ” Other renters have taken advantage of flexible work-from-home schedules to take longer vacations or move their home office to a beach rental.
District of Columbia
Washington: Fewer people are riding Metro than before the pandemic, even as many restrictions are being lifted, but the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s board is considering new ways to boost the transit system’s recovery, WUSA-TV reports. Potential solutions include more frequent all-day service, decreasing wait times to 12 minutes or less on six rail lines and 20 bus lines, and extending rail service to midnight seven days a week this summer, and lowering ticket prices. According to the Washington Post, officials are considering $2 flat rates during weekends and reducing prices for low-income riders. Early in the pandemic, Metro was forced to close stations and reduce hours as ridership on public transit plummeted. The new concepts are meant to address ridership and equity. The board is expected to vote on the ideas Thursday.
The Acosta Bridge is illuminated with rainbow lighting in honor of Pride Month on Monday in downtown Jacksonville, Fla. (Photo: Fred Ortyl/ Jacksonville Transportation Authority via AP)
Jacksonville: The state reversed itself Wednesday and said a downtown bridge can be decorated in rainbow lights to celebrate gay rights, one day after it had ordered them doused. Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said she didn’t know why the Florida Department of Transportation had ordered the state-owned Acosta Bridge returned to its normal blue lighting Tuesday night, but the rainbow colors would be back Wednesday night. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority had planned to use rainbow lighting on the Acosta throughout the week in honor of Pride Month, which commemorates the struggle for gay rights. The state has allowed numerous celebratory lighting displays on the bridge to honor patriotic holidays, celebrate the Jacksonville Jaguars football team and raise disease awareness. It had been the second time this month the state rejected a rainbow lighting display for a bridge. “The bottom line is, (the rainbow) lights will be back” on the Acosta, Fenske said. The state transportation department said Tuesday that its original decision to shut off the rainbow lights was not motivated by anti-gay animus but regulations violated by the display. It said the Jacksonville authority’s permit for lighting the Acosta requires it to maintain a certain color scheme unless it receives state permission for a temporary change.
The Rev. Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader the Martin Luther King Jr., speaks during a voting rights rally Tuesday at Liberty Plaza near the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. (Photo: Brynn Anderson/AP)
Atlanta: Black church leaders in the state vowed Tuesday to keep up their fight for federal voting rights legislation, with one pastor urging President Joe Biden to use his bully pulpit and strike deals with lawmakers to get the bills passed. “We need you to utilize every ounce of influence that you have,” Pastor Lee May, head of the Transforming Faith Church in Decatur, said in a plea to Biden at a rally outside the state Capitol in Atlanta. “We need you to not just say what you’re for but to do something about it.” Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, said the “crown” of her father’s work – the 1965 Voting Rights Act – was under attack. Republican lawmakers in Georgia and other states have approved a slew of new restrictions on voting that experts have blasted as the greatest assault on voting rights in a generation. But a bill in Congress that Democrats view as an antidote to those state measures appears doomed in the narrowly divided Senate. Democrat Joe Manchin over the weekend expressed opposition to it and any effort to end the 60-vote requirement to break a filibuster in the chamber. “I call upon my brothers and sisters of the U.S. Senate to not allow filibuster to become your stumbling block to do what is just and what is right,” King said.
Wailuku: A Maui resident has launched the only Hawaii-based, locally owned ride-share company in the state, officials say. Holoholo CEO Cecil Morton, who’s been in the transportation business for 20 years as owner of SpeediShuttle, told The Maui News his daughter came up with the name, which means “let’s go cruising.” “I just fell in love with the name,” Morton said. “And because we’re all about the community as well as welcoming visitors, I want them to love to use a local brand and support the community in that fashion because there is, of course, a movement these days to support local.” Holoholo – operating on Maui, Lanai, Oahu, Hawaii Island and Kauai – includes a community of drivers and vehicles that riders can request from their smartphones, viewing costs upfront and paying online. Transportation options are in high demand on the islands because of an increase in tourism at a time when many rental car companies have limited availability as a result of shipping their vehicles off the island during the coronavirus pandemic, The Maui News reports. There is already a growing demand for Holoholo from riders and drivers. “Maui requires a good roster of drivers, a big roster, in order to supply the demands, which pre-pandemic there were 200,000 visitors a month,” Morton said.
Idaho Falls: State health officials say the number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases continues to drop, and the vast majority of the infections are occurring in unvaccinated people. Idaho has reported fewer than 200 new cases most days this month, the Post Register reports. In January, the state’s daily average of new cases was closer to 700 daily. “More than 90% of all cases have no record of being vaccinated that we know of,” one of Idaho’s top public health researchers, Dr. Kathryn Turner, said during an Idaho Department of Health and Welfare news conference Tuesday. The rate of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 has also dropped, declining 83% between January and May, said the state’s public health administrator, Elke Shaw-Tulloch. The drop in hospitalizations was particularly noteworthy for people ages 65 and up, who have the highest vaccination rate of all age groups in the state. But Idaho’s vaccination rates continue lagging behind national rates. Just 49% of all Idaho adults have been vaccinated, compared to more than 63% of adults nationally. Vaccinating 70% of all Idaho adults is probably the best-case scenario, state-paid pollsters recently concluded. It may take until late fall to reach that goal, Shaw-Tulloch said. “But it just depends on people’s personal actions,” Shaw-Tulloch said.
A copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Steward is displayed at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. (Photo: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum photo via AP)
Springfield: The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum will mark Juneteenth – the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States – by displaying a rare signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. The copy of the proclamation that’s signed by Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward will be displayed between June 15 and July 6. The original document is kept in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Juneteenth – also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day – falls on June 19. On that day in 1865, more than two years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War, enslaved Blacks in Galveston, Texas, were freed with the arrival of federal troops. Though slavery was not considered fully abolished until the 13th Amendment six months later, Juneteenth has come to symbolize the end of slavery. In May, Illinois became one of several states to make it a state holiday. When the proclamation is displayed in the Treasures Gallery, windows along one side of the museum will feature a display about the history of Black Americans and their fight for full citizenship. The display includes a timeline running from 1787 to 2021, covering slavery in Illinois, a supposedly free state, a riot that targeted Blacks in Springfield, and the first Juneteenth celebration in the city.
Indianapolis: A complaint filed with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties claims immigrants’ lives are at risk in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement at a county jail due to the lack of precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The National Immigrant Justice Center filed the complaint May 28 on behalf of two immigrant women in ICE custody at Clay County Jail in Brazil, Indiana. The complaint seeks an investigation into COVID-19 conditions at the jail. It alleges that immigrants who are tested for the coronavirus are not given their test results; that if they test positive, they are not given medication for pain; and that detainees are not given face masks or hand soap. Guards often don’t wear masks, and there are few to no social distancing measures in place, the complaint also alleges. “ICE continues to put their lives – and those of others detained at the jail – at risk by detaining people in the close quarters where social distancing is largely impossible,” the complaint says, “and withholding information regarding how those in custody can obtain COVID-19 testing.” In a statement, ICE public affairs officer Alethea Smock said testing complies with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A wrecked Iowa Department of Transportation motor vehicle enforcement vehicle sits on display outside the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines during a press conference Tuesday announcing the Iowa Traffic Fatality Reduction Task Force. (Photo: Bryon Houlgrave/Des Moines Register)
Des Moines: State traffic enforcement officials vowed Tuesday to crack down on motorists speeding, driving while drunk or distracted by cellphones in an effort to slow the rising traffic fatality rate. Iowa State Patrol Col. Nathan Fulk said officers have recently reported some of the most dangerous driving behaviors in the 85-year history of the patrol. He said excessive speed and impaired driving skyrocketed last year, pushing traffic fatalities higher than the previous year even as the pandemic reduced traffic volume by 12%. State officials reported nearly 1,500 citations written last year for speeds of 100 mph or more. The 119 fatalities so far this year are ahead of last year’s pace, and officials note traffic deaths often rise in the summer. In response, law enforcement will increase the presence of officers on roads through Saturday, looking for seatbelt violations, impaired driving, excessive speed and distracted driving. A task force of state and local law enforcement and transportation officials has been studying factors behind the increasing traffic fatalities. The group has recommended stepped-up enforcement, education for drivers to reinforce safe driving habits, and a study of road safety issues that could cause problems. The goal is to get traffic fatalities below 300 this year, something that hasn’t occurred in Iowa since 1925.
Brian Hill, left, shows lifeguard trainees how to place a victim onto a backboard. Hill manages the aquatics program for the city of Wichita. (Photo: SUZANNE PEREZ/KMUW)
Wichita: Hiring enough lifeguards to staff the city’s six public swimming pools has proved impossible in a pandemic year. “Usually I’m about 80% staffed by February,” said Brian Hill, Wichita’s aquatics director. “This year, I was about 10% staffed.” Lifeguarding took a hit last summer, with most gyms, water parks and community pools closed. Students who would normally work as guards took the summer off or found other jobs. Training classes were canceled. So were junior lifeguard programs for 11- to 14-year-olds. “That’s our pipeline,” Hill said. “In a lot of ways, we were kind of starting this summer from scratch.” In Johnson County, Roeland Park’s pool is open for limited hours because there aren’t enough guards. Prairie Village cut back its pool hours this summer amid the shortage. So will the city of Shawnee in Johnson County. “So much of it is kids growing up going to the pool every day,” said Joe Hutchinson, a high school swim coach who manages a private pool in east Wichita. “They see their older friends who are lifeguards, and they say, ‘I want to do that next summer,’ and then they start getting ready for that job and getting certified. Since there wasn’t the opportunity to see your friends be lifeguards last summer that new wave of lifeguards that normally fills in those empty spots just isn’t there.”
Louisville Metro Police Department's Dearis Hoard, an officer in Division 4, responds to a domestic violence call at York Towers Apartments on July 29, 2016. (Photo: Scott Utterback/The CJ )
Louisville: Louisville Metro Police have cut the number of detectives assigned to investigate domestic violence cases – even as case numbers have climbed during the pandemic. Officials say officer shortages and rampant gun violence are to blame. The department “recently” implemented changes, it confirmed, including moving three sworn officers from the unit to assist patrol officers; looking to hire three retired investigators as civilians to work domestic violence cases; and hiring four more Victim Services Unit specialists to focus on domestic violence cases. Critics say the changes create a “real risk of victims falling through the cracks.” The numbers show that domestic violence is only getting worse in the city. As of June 2, LMPD records show the department has handled 1,853 fourth-degree assault offenses this year, a charge that stems from domestic violence incidents. That’s a 12.4% increase from the same time frame last year. Advocates and prosecutors have called on police Chief Erika Shields to reconsider the move, describing it as “counterintuitive” and potentially putting victims at greater risk. Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell said in a May 26 letter he was “saddened” and warned reorganizing the domestic violence team at LMPD could hinder his staff’s ability to bring cases to court.
Baton Rouge: Lawmakers gave final passage Tuesday to a proposal requiring doctors to suggest to women taking the abortion pill that the drug-induced effort to terminate a pregnancy could be stopped midway through the process, a scientifically questionable claim. With a 69-25 vote, the state House agreed to a heavy Senate rewrite of the proposal and sent it to the governor’s desk. Passage came over objections from opponents who said the legislation pushed by anti-abortion organizations could provide inaccurate, possibly dangerous information to women. The bill by Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, is the latest in a long string of anti-abortion measures passed by Louisiana lawmakers seeking to lessen access to the procedure and to try to discourage women from seeking it. The nonsurgical medication abortion, which works during the first nine weeks of pregnancy, involves swallowing mifepristone, which causes an embryo to detach from the uterine wall. A second pill, misoprostol, is used two days later to cause contractions and push the embryo out of the uterus. Amedee’s legislation would require a doctor dispensing the two pills to provide a statement to the woman seeking the drug-induced abortion that says there may be “options available to assist you in continuing your pregnancy.”
A lobster is served waterfront at McLoon’s Lobster Shack in Spruce Head, Maine. Consumers who are headed back to seafood restaurants and markets for the first time in months will find lobster at a premium due to a limited supply. (Photo: Robert F. Bukaty/AP)
Portland: Summer weather has arrived, and New England tourists are hungry for a lobster roll or a whole cooked lobster – but they’re going to have to pay up. Lobster is more expensive than usual this season due to a limited supply, high demand and the reopening of the economy as the nation begins to move past the coronavirus pandemic. Consumers are headed back to seafood restaurants and markets for the first time in months, and the lobsters there to greet them are at a premium. Some Maine stores charged $17 or $18 per pound for live lobster in May – about twice the price from a year prior. Prices are lingering in the $13 or $14 range this month. Lobster is usually expensive in late spring, but this season has seen prices that are higher than typical. The wholesale price for live, 1.25-pound lobsters in the New England market was $9.01 per pound May 1, business publisher Urner Barry reported. That was about $2.70 per pound more than the previous May 1 and the highest price for that date in at least five years, the company reported. The high lobster prices are an indicator that customers are looking to get back out to restaurants and that high-end seafood is in high demand, said John Sackton, an industry analyst and founder of SeafoodNews.com.
Beachgoers make their way down the Ocean City Boardwalk in a June past. (Photo: Staff photo by Joe Lamberti)
Ocean City: A June tradition of graduating high schoolers from across the region flocking to the beach was limited by the pandemic in 2020, but this year, businesses are open, and the community is braced for the huge influx of teenagers getting their first taste of freedom from adult supervision. The celebration in Ocean City, one of the prime destinations for recent grads from the Mid-Atlantic, is a double-edged sword for the city. On the one hand, so-called Senior Week – more like a month – marks the beginning of the tourist season, upon which the city relies for its economic survival. On the other, it is an invasion of thousands of 18-year-old kids hyped up on hormones and hubris that comes with believing in youthful invincibility. Last year’s Senior Week had attracted much smaller crowds than usual, with the COVID-19 pandemic still ramping up and restrictions on businesses in place. This year, seating limits in bars and restaurants have been lifted, along with mask orders for those outside. Inside, those who have been vaccinated may go maskless, according to a directive issued recently by the governor’s office. “We are expecting a big crowd because of pent-up demand,” said Steve Pastusak, chair of the city’s tourism advisory board. “They’re going to be coming out in full force, doing things they couldn’t do last year.”
Boston: The Cape Cod Foundation is holding a virtual forum next week to address the lingering mental health needs of area residents even as the COVID-19 pandemic ebbs. “Mental and Behavioral Health Across Cape Cod” is scheduled for June 17. “For many, social isolation, feelings of uncertainty, emotional and physical loss, and the inability to access care have increased over the past year due to the pandemic,” Kristin O’Malley, president and CEO of the Cape Cod Foundation, said in a release. “In addition, unemployment, loss of housing, and food insecurity have added to the psychological burden of residents across every age and demographic, especially our most vulnerable populations.” Sign-ups are at the foundation’s website.
Port Huron: A popular firework show could return a year after it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. A notice to proceed with the show has been authorized as part of the Blue Water Festival, according to city manager James Freed. The total cost for Port Huron’s firework show is about $8,600. A $5,000 grant from the DTE Foundation for Blue Water Festival 2020 will be used. The city is looking to raise funds to pay the remaining costs. The festival is expected to be held in July. “I think after such a rough and tough year our residents, families and kids deserve to see a terrific fireworks’ show over our beautiful, vibrant and resilient city,” Freed said Wednesday in a release. “Fireworks shows were one of my fondest memories as a kid. We want this generation of kids to have those same memories.” Port Huron had prepaid half of the cost of last year’s firework show before it was canceled.
Crews attempt to remove shipping pallets placed on the street to block traffic at George Floyd Square on Tuesday in Minneapolis. (Photo: Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP)
Minneapolis: City crews returned early Tuesday to an intersection where a memorial to George Floyd was assembled after his death last year and worked to reopen it to traffic by removing debris and makeshift barriers, only to have activists barricade the area again. Workers using front-end loaders and brooms arrived just before 5 a.m. and cleared the intersection where Floyd was killed, informally known as George Floyd Square, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The intersection has been closed to traffic since Floyd’s death May 25, 2020, and some residents and businesses have expressed frustration that it has been closed for so long. Last Thursday, city crews removed concrete barriers that blocked traffic at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, but community activists quickly put up makeshift barriers and resumed chanting the name of the Black man whose killing galvanized the racial justice movement. As soon as workers left the area Tuesday, activists moved back in. Mayor Jacob Frey and other city leaders pledged to reopen the intersection, but activist leaders have said they won’t step aside unless the city meets their 24 demands. Among them: recall the county prosecutor, fire the head of the state’s criminal investigative agency, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on programs to create jobs, combat racism and support affordable housing.
Oxford: Actor Morgan Freeman and a criminal justice professor at the University of Mississippi are donating $1 million to the university to establish a Center for Evidence-Based Policing and Reform, the university announced Tuesday. The center created with the donation from Freeman and professor Linda Keena will be the only one of its kind in Mississippi and one of only a few in the nation, the university said in its news release. The university’s Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies said the center eventually will train police from Mississippi and around the country. It will include training on how police can better engage the community in crime prevention. “Look at the past year in our country – that sums it up,” Freeman said in the news release. “It’s time we are equipping police officers with training and ensuring ‘law enforcement’ is not defined only as a gun and a stick. Policing should be about that phrase ‘To Serve’ found on most law enforcement vehicles.” University leaders plan to build relationships and share data with policing agencies, according to the release. And they plan to use the data to enhance the preparation of students in criminal justice.
St. Louis: A federal appeals court panel on Wednesday blocked the state from enforcing a sweeping abortion law that bans the procedure at or after eight weeks of pregnancy. A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard arguments in September in the legal battle over the 2019 law. The measure also would prohibit a woman from having an abortion because the fetus has Down syndrome. Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, called the ruling “a critical victory for Missourians.” “For now, we celebrate our continued ability to provide safe, legal abortion at the last remaining clinic in Missouri,” Rodriguez said in a statement. Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a statement that his son, Stephen, who has a rare genetic condition, autism and epilepsy, “has shown me the inherent beauty and dignity in all life, especially those with special needs. While we’re disappointed in the 8th Circuit’s decision, their decision does provide an avenue for this case to be heard by the Supreme Court, and we plan to seek review in the Supreme Court.” The lawsuit was filed by Reproductive Health Services, which operates the St. Louis abortion clinic, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Bozeman: A man has been given a six-month suspended jail sentence for submitting a voter registration application under the name Miguel Raton, a rough Spanish translation of Mickey Mouse. Michael Winters of Gallatin County pleaded guilty Tuesday to falsifying information on voter registration application in early 2020, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports. District Judge Peter Ohman also fined Winters $250 and ordered him to complete 100 hours of community service. “This was a serious offense, and, obviously, with all that’s going on with elections now and election integrity, this is something that is obviously front and center,” Ohman said Tuesday. But “really what happened here is it demonstrated that the system does work.” Someone who filed a complaint against Winters with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in June 2020 told investigators Winters had talked about how easy it would be to commit voter fraud. Winters received ballots for two elections under the name of Miguel Raton. Elections officials say he did not vote in either of them. Winters told an FBI agent he pinned the ballots to the wall of his shop as “trophies.” The agent took the ballots.
Omaha: State regulators have fined Sprint $50,000 for overcharging all its cellphone customers in the city for several years. The Nebraska Public Service Commission said the overcharges to help pay for 911 emergency services affected more than 77,000 Sprint customers and added up to more than $296,000. Regulators said Sprint charged 50 cents per month for every active phone line when it was supposed to be charging 45 cents per month for the 911 surcharge. Regulators said Sprint also mislabeled the 911 fee as “Omaha City Tax” on customer statements, according to the Omaha World-Herald. Commissioner Crystal Rhoades said the fine is “sending a message that carriers need to be more responsible to the consumer and that such blatant errors will not be tolerated.” Sprint has already issued a credit to current customers who were affected, and it is in the process of sending refund checks to former customers who closed their accounts.
The Reno Arch welcomes people to downtown. (Photo: Andy Barron/rgj)
Reno: The Reno-Sparks area posted a record high for taxable room revenue amid a bounce back in domestic travel as tourism continued its steady recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The $32.4 million in room tax revenue was the “best ever” recorded for the month of April, according to the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. The previous record for April was set in 2019, just before the pandemic, when Washoe County posted $32.2 million in taxable room revenue. The numbers include Reno, Sparks and Incline Village at Lake Tahoe. “The April data is in alignment with national studies showing pent-up travel demand, and consumer sentiment suggests that Reno Tahoe has the outdoor amenities and active nightlife that travelers are craving right now,” said Charles Harris, RSCVA president and CEO. Washoe County managed to beat the previous record for room tax despite its number of cash-occupied rooms – also known as room nights in the travel industry – being down from two years ago. The 243,986 room night numbers were down by 11.4% from the 275,513 seen two years ago. Instead, Washoe managed to make up the difference through an increase in room rates. The average daily rate in April was $132.80, up 13.5% from $116.97 two years ago.
Concord: The U.S. Marshals Service in New Hampshire will be the first in the country to incorporate body-worn cameras into deputy marshals’ uniforms. The Axon Body 3 cameras will arrive in Concord by the end of the summer, WMUR-TV reports. U.S. Marshal Nick Willard said he has been vocal about the need for body cameras. “In my time in service, I have often talked about police transparency,” he said. “I have often talked about the need of body-worn cameras. I have felt the necessity of body-worn cameras.” Willard said he wishes deputies were equipped with cameras last week when six deputies were shot at in Manchester while attempting to serve a warrant. He said he has not encountered resistance from deputies. “They expose bad cops, but they validate good cops,” he said. “They expose bad work, but they validate good work.” Willard added the cameras sometimes change the demeanor of a suspect and can help deescalate a situation. “Now they know they are on a body-worn camera, it may change their behavior,” he said. “They may be less aggressive because it could be used against them in court.”
Trenton: Reinfections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 among fully vaccinated residents were all extremely rare over the first four months of the vaccination campaign, according to a study released Wednesday. Only 0.06% of fully vaccinated New Jerseyans became infected, the state health department study shows. That represents 1,319 “breakthrough cases” among more than 2.2 million fully vaccinated people from Dec. 15 to April 23. “The vaccines we have are not perfect, but they’re pretty close,” Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the state health department’s medical director, said at a briefing. “They’re literally lifesavers.” Of those breakthrough cases, 14 died, but only seven of the deaths were attributed to the coronavirus. In addition, 92 people with breakthrough cases were hospitalized, but only 30 of them were because of COVID-19, Lifshitz said. All of the hospitalizations and deaths were among people 50 and older. Half the deaths were in those 80 years and older, he said. The study “demonstrates overwhelmingly that vaccines work,” state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said. Another study by two researchers at the state’s largest hospital network – Hackensack Meridian Health – found 138 coronavirus cases among 26,000 of its fully vaccinated workers, she said. None became seriously ill.
Santa Fe: In the next academic year, the state’s lottery scholarship program will cover full tuition for eligible in-state students at public and tribal colleges and universities for the first time since 2015, the state Higher Education Department announced. The program will be funded at $63.5 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year, a 30% increase, with the additional money coming from several sources, officials said last week. The scholarships paid full tuition for eligible students from 1996 to 2015 before the program was reduced to levels as low as 60% due to circumstances that included rising tuition rates. For the coming year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appropriated $15.5 million to shore up the scholarships, while $37 million will come from projected lottery ticket sales. The rest of the money will be carried over from last year, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports. “This is what is needed at the tail end of a pandemic,” Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said. Officials are discussing ways to keep the scholarship at the 100% mark beyond next year, Rodriguez said.
To-go cups filled with margaritas at Tequila Sunrise in Larchmont. (Photo: Submitted)
Albany: With the legislative session almost over, restaurants are urging state lawmakers to make their ability to sell alcohol with takeout orders permanent. Currently, the sales are allowed through monthly extensions of an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The latest one runs through July 4, and it’s unclear whether it would be extended thereafter. Restaurants said offering take-out drinks was a boost to their businesses during the pandemic, when most went months without in-person dining. And even as they’ve reopened as the coronavirus wanes, carry-out drinks remain a popular option for diners. “The ability to sell one or two drinks to a customer to go home with their meal allowed diners to replicate the restaurant experience at home, increased servers’ check averages leading to higher tips and provided valuable revenue to struggling businesses,” the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association said in a memo in support of the bill. Whether the bill, which has been moving through the legislative committee process, will become law is uncertain. The measure is being opposed by the powerful liquor store industry, which has raised concerns about allowing carry-out sales permanently could cut into its revenue.
Asheville: The city has committed $2.1 million toward funding reparations, an initiative it began last summer when it joined a number of U.S. cities that have voted to address their histories of racism and discrimination. The Asheville City Council approved a budget amendment Tuesday to pull the money from city land purchased in the 1970s as part of urban renewal programs that took apart Black communities. The council also adopted a proclamation declaring June 19 as Juneteenth, the date that marks the end of slavery in the U.S. “We must collectively strive to close gaps of immeasurable distance between us and affirm the promise of the Declaration of Independence that all people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Mayor Esther Manheimer said, reading the proclamation. Asheville passed its historic reparations in July 2020, apologizing for the city’s role in slavery, discrimination and denial of liberties to Black residents. The city manager was directed to establish a process for gathering recommendations to address the creation of generational wealth and economic mobility and opportunity in the Black community. The City Council has said the reparations do not require direct payments but would mandate investments in areas where Black residents face disparities.
Bismarck: City leaders have killed a proposal to allow chickens within city limits. The Bismarck Tribune reports the City Commission denied a request Tuesday from the city Planning and Zoning Commission to hold a public hearing on a potential ordinance that would have allowed residents to keep up to four chickens. Mark Splonskowski was the only commissioner who supported holding a hearing. He said other cities allow chickens. “If it’s not intrinsically evil, why not give it a try?” he asked his fellow board members. But Commissioner Steve Marquardt said he was concerned about disposal of chicken feces and the cost of building city coops to house chickens that escape from their owners. He said commissioners had received emails from residents opposing the ordinance. “I think the city of Bismarck needs a lot of things,” Marquardt said. “But chickens are not one of them.” Mayor Steve Bakken said he had liability concerns. His dogs are trained to hunt birds, he said, and putting chickens next door to dogs could pose problems and lead to nuisance complaints.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter gives a Memorial Day speech in Hudson, Ohio. (Photo: Image from HCTV Video)
Hudson: A retired U.S. Army officer whose speech about freed Black slaves honoring fallen Civil War soldiers was censored by organizers of a Memorial Day ceremony will get another chance to deliver it. The American Legion Department of Ohio said it has invited retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter to speak next week at the organization’s Buckeye Boys State, an annual gathering that teaches young men about government. Kemter was speaking at a Memorial Day event hosted by a local American Legion post in northeastern Ohio when his microphone was turned off as he talked about the role Black people played in how Memorial Day began. Two of the event’s organizers later resigned under pressure after Ohio American Legion officials said the decision censoring the speech was premeditated and planned. The organizers of the ceremony in Hudson initially defended their decision, saying the section of the speech that was silenced was not relevant to the program’s theme of honoring the city’s veterans. The Ohio American Legion has temporarily suspended the post. A meeting is planned later this month to discuss its future.
Byron Robinson familiarizes himself with a tablet at the North Fork Correctional Center in Sayre, Okla. (Photo: Lance West/Oklahoma Department of Corrections via AP)
Oklahoma City: Inmates began receiving special computer tablets this week as part of a Department of Corrections plan to provide secure tablets to everyone incarcerated in state prisons. The devices, specially designed by prisons communications company Securus Technologies, will include free content such as prison policies, access to a law library, some books, and educational and self-help materials. Inmates can also pay to receive music, movies, games and television programs, as well as to send and receive messages, including video messages, to and from their families. The tablets do not have unrestricted access to the internet. Usually, inmates wanting to receive educational or vocational training must be escorted to a classroom or program location. But inmates can now receive those services directly on the tablets, said Mike Carpenter, chief of technical services and operations at the Corrections Department. “The education and programming, that’s huge for us,” Carpenter said. On Tuesday, North Fork Correctional Center inmate Byron Robinson, who has been incarcerated since 2005 – the same year YouTube was founded – said the tablet was totally new to him. “I’ve never even touched one of these things until today,” Robinson said. “It’s mindboggling, really, how much this thing can do.”
Portland: The Legislature has approved changes to the lyrics of the state song to remove racist language and make the lyrics more inclusive. House Concurrent Resolution 11, approved Monday by a vote of 47-6, modifies the lyrics, while keeping the same music of “Oregon, My Oregon.” If reflects the “significant cultural, historical, economic and societal evolution in Oregon” since the state song was adopted in 1927, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. The first verse, which referred to Oregon as “conquered and held by free men; fairest and the best,” was replaced with new lyrics emphasizing Oregon’s natural beauty and “rolling rivers.” There are other small changes throughout. In 1919, the Society of Oregon Composers held a contest for poets to submit their compositions “in which the beauties and the merits of the state are extolled,” according to an Oregonian article at the time. The winning entry was written by judge and former state representative J.A. Buchanan of Astoria. Henry Bernard Murtagh composed the music. The new lyrics were proposed by Beaverton resident Amy Shapiro, who said she first hesitated to sing it with her students when she worked as a music teacher and choir director at Portland Jewish Academy 30 years ago.
A Wawa convenience store in Philadelphia. The chain is dedicating Thursday, June 10, 2021, as “Mare of Easttown Day,” an homage to the HBO show that highlighted Pennsylvanians’ love for its coffee and hoagies. (Photo: Matt Rourke/AP)
Philadelphia: For all the love Wawa has gotten thanks to the HBO hit TV show “Mare of Easttown,” the popular convenience store chain is giving a little back. To celebrate its newest store opening in Delaware County – where the Kate Winslet-led crime drama is set – Wawa is dedicating Thursday as “Mare of Easttown Day,” an homage to the show that introduced the world to the coffee and hoagies Pennsylvanians have loved for years. Customers of the relocated Upper Darby store will get to enjoy that coffee Thursday free of charge, and the first 100 customers will get a “Wawa Delco” T-shirt. British actress Winslet plays Mare Sheehan, a detective sergeant in Easttown – a fictional town just outside Philadelphia – who is investigating the murder of a teen mother while looking into the disappearance of another young girl. As Mare, the Oscar winner eats hoagies and drinks Wawa coffee, all in a close-to-perfect Delco accent. To turn into Mare, Winslet worked alongside Chester County Detective Christine Bleiler, who also served as a police technical adviser on the drama. Bleiler will be at the Wawa store Thursday ordering the very first limited-edition “Mare of Easttown Spicy Cheesesteak,” which the store called a nod to how spicy the show is. Local police and fire officials will also be honored at the event, and Wawa will donate money each to the charities of their choice, as well as $10,000 to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Newport: Salve Regina University will require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus next fall. The Catholic school in Newport announced Tuesday that all students, faculty and staff will be required to submit proof of immunization to the school no later than Aug. 1. Salve Regina joins Brown University, the University of Rhode Island, Providence College and several other schools in the state that will require students to be inoculated before participating in on-campus classes and activities in the fall. “We did not arrive at this decision lightly,” the school posted on its website. “In reviewing the American College Health Association and CDC recommendations for higher education institutions and in discussion with state health officials, it became clear that this additional safeguard was required to more fully protect our Salve Regina community and those with whom our members interact.” People with valid medical or religious reasons for not receiving the vaccine may request an exemption, the school said. Salve Regina has about 2,700 students.
Columbia: The state House on Wednesday put its final touches on a nearly $11 billion budget, spending more money than anticipated after the economic problems from the COVID-19 pandemic weren’t as bad as feared. The spending plan for the year starting in July includes raises for teachers, law enforcement officers and nearly every state employee. It fixes buildings at colleges and helps art centers and festivals hurt by social distancing. But it won’t include – at least for now – million-dollar drawings for people vaccinated against COVID-19. Nor it will have a $1,200 pandemic bonus for state employees making less than $50,000. House members took time during Tuesday’s debate to add a provision to the budget keeping public schools from requiring masks. And they put in a ban on colleges requiring students to take coronavirus tests or only allowing students who have been vaccinated to forgo masks. The Senate decided Tuesday that it would not agree with the House changes to the budget, so a conference committee will meet next week to finalize the plan. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, removed a proposal to offer a $1 million prize for vaccinated residents and said he will bring it back up later using federal pandemic aid. The House did agree to a 3% raise for state employees, an increase over the 2% offered in the Senate’s budget.
Sioux Falls: The state health department has reclassified several hundred COVID-19 hospitalizations, reducing the number of patients who have been reported as having received hospital care for the disease caused by the coronavirus. That, in turn, has reduced the overall case hospitalization rate to below 6%, a big shift. In the early weeks of the pandemic, 1 out of every 10 cases resulted in a patient receiving hospital care. But as health providers got better at treating the disease, fewer people ended up in the hospital. Besides falling hospital rates, South Dakota has also seen a sharp reduction in the number of serious illnesses caused by COVID-19. For the first time in months, the number of people who were receiving intensive care fell to the single digits this week. As of Tuesday, only six COVID-19 patients in the entire state were occupying an intensive care unit bed. Meanwhile, the state has gone nearly two weeks without recording a new coronavirus death among its long-term care residents. By almost every measure, the pandemic in South Dakota has relented. The seven-day average for new cases is at its lowest since the opening weeks of the disease hitting the state in March 2020.
Students walk away from the Robinson Hall dormitory on the Rhodes College campus in Memphis, Tenn. (Photo: Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal)
Memphis: Rhodes College students will go back to in-person learning for the fall semester, but for those without their COVID-19 shots, it will cost them. Rhodes sent an email to students Tuesday saying the liberal arts college will charge unvaccinated students a $1,500 health and safety fee per semester to cover the costs of mandatory coronavirus testing. “Aligned with our long-standing practice and policy requiring health forms and vaccinations, the college fully intends to require the COVID-19 vaccination immediately upon FDA approval,” the email said. “This will be required for students, faculty, staff, vendors and campus partners.” Until the vaccines get official approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the college strongly recommends full inoculation for anyone who goes to campus, and flu vaccines are required for the fall. Those who do not get vaccines must pay the fee to cover the costs of the student’s weekly virus testing. Vice President for Student Life Meghan Harte Weyant, who also leads health and safety efforts, said the college invested in weekly asymptomatic testing for the spring semester, which led to a safer campus. Students can submit requests for medical or religious vaccine exemptions to Student Accessibility Services by Aug. 2.
Flanked by state Rep. Chris Paddie, left, and state Sen. Kelly Hancock, right, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks about two energy-related bills he signed Tuesday in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Eric Gay/AP)
Austin: Despite experts who say the state’s power grid remains vulnerable, Gov. Greg Abbott declared Tuesday that new reforms “fix all of the flaws” that caused February’s deadly winter blackout that left more than 4 million people without power in subfreezing weather. He was joined by fellow Republicans who defended it as a good deal for consumers, even though they gave no direct financial relief to families who were stuck with high energy bills or lost income as the lights and heat stayed off for days. Signing into law two sweeping overhauls in response to one of the largest power outages in U.S. history, Abbott asserted he and the GOP-controlled Legislature had delivered following one of the worst crises in his six years as governor. But even members of his own party say there is work still to be done. More than 4 million people lost power when temperatures plunged into single digits, icing power generators and buckling the state’s electric grid. State officials say they have confirmed at least 151 deaths blamed on the freeze and resulting outages, but the real toll is believed to be higher. “Bottom line is that everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas,” Abbott said. Energy experts disagree, saying that although lawmakers made significant changes that include mandates to “weatherize” power plants for extreme temperatures and new processes to avert communication failures, the reforms do not go far enough to assure a similar catastrophe won’t happen again.
St. George: A committee created to consider a name change for Dixie State University voted Monday to choose a replacement that does not include the regional term many consider offensive because of its association with the Deep South and slavery. Dixie State University has been studying the impact of changing its name for nearly a year following a national outcry against racial injustice after the death of George Floyd. While several hurdles remain, the committee’s decision makes it likely that whatever name is ultimately recommended to the Legislature will not include the controversial term that has spurred months of protest and debate. The University Board of Trustees formed a committee in March to review options for the institution’s name under a process outlined in a bill Gov. Spencer Cox signed earlier this year. The committee collected feedback from a public survey, as well as students, university employees and community members before voting to ditch the Dixie name. The committee will reconvene next week to discuss specific names that performed well in focus groups and then choose one to recommend to the university’s Board of Trustees later this month. The name will then go to the Utah Board of Higher Education, which has until Nov. 1 to vote on whether to recommend the name to a legislative committee.
The U.S. border crossing post at the Canadian border between Vermont and Quebec at Beecher Falls, Vt. (Photo: WILSON RING/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Montpelier: The state’s congressional delegation has sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to work with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to allow additional travel between the United States and Canada. In the letter, dated Monday, Sens. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and Bernie Sanders, an independent, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch also urged the president to work with Trudeau toward fully reopening the international border, which has been closed to most nonessential travel since March 2020. “Families throughout Vermont, especially those in our border communities, have gone well over a year without seeing loved ones across the border,” the letter said. “While negative economic and health impacts of this global pandemic are far from over, enabling more people to reconnect, work, and resume daily routines when it is safe to do so will go a long way to addressing these dual crises.”
Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe greets supporters at an election night event Tuesday in McLean, Va., after winning the Democratic primary. McAuliffe, who previously served in the job from 2014 to 2018, will face Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin in the general election this fall. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Richmond: Terry McAuliffe, a longtime fixture of Democratic politics, handily won his party’s nomination for governor in his quest for a second term, setting up what’s expected to be a hotly contested general election against a wealthy businessman and political newcomer, GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin. In his victory speech Tuesday night, McAuliffe made the case that Youngkin is too conservative for a state that’s long been trending blue. “Let me be crystal clear: Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican,” said McAuliffe, who defeated four challengers to win the primary. Youngkin shot back, describing Virginia as a state that over the past two Democratic governorships has gotten less safe and more expensive while not offering enough economic opportunities. “We need a new kind of leader to bring a new day to Virginia,” Youngkin said in a statement. A longtime Democratic Party fundraiser and a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, McAuliffe held office from 2014 to 2018. Like all Virginia governors, he was prohibited from seeking a consecutive term. He jumped into the race in December after deciding in 2019 against a run for president. Virginia is the only state in the nation with an open race for governor this year, and the contest is expected to draw outsized national attention.
Seattle: A collection agency must return about $475,000 it collected improperly from up to 5,000 consumers after state Attorney General Bob Ferguson prevailed in a lawsuit alleging unlawful debt-collection practices. Ferguson’s office says Machol & Johannes must also forgive as much as $250,000 in fees and costs for hundreds of people and pay $414,000 to the attorney general’s office to cover investigation costs, The Seattle Times reports. Ferguson filed the lawsuit against Denver-based Machol & Johannes in King County Superior Court in 2020, after a King County Superior Court judge notified his office that the company had filed improper wage-garnishment applications. The agency violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act and Collection Agency Act by unlawfully assessing fees and failing to provide consumers with information about legally required garnishment exemptions, according to the lawsuit. Machol & Johannes did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the newspaper. Eligible consumers do not need to contact the Attorney General’s Office or Machol & Johannes to receive restitution or debt relief. Refunds and relief of costs and fees will be determined by data contained in Machol & Johannes’ records.
Charleston: The state’s coal mine cleanup fund has no known backup plan if it goes insolvent, according to a new legislative audit. The report released Monday said that mine reclamation program within the state’s Department of Environmental Protection is at risk of insolvency due to the risk of bond revenues not raising enough to guarantee the fund’s future. Among several recommendations, the auditor calls on the department to not approve applications for permit renewals for companies that have not paid taxes for the special reclamation fund. Its review found that 70 mining companies that filed coal reclamation tax returns were delinquent on $5.3 million in total funds. Reclamation of shuttered coal mine sites is crucial to preventing environmental pollution and returning the land to its habitat. Contaminants can seep into waterways and harm wildlife if not properly handled after a mine closes. “West Virginia’s coal mining reclamation program will continue to require hundreds of millions of dollars to reclaim permit sites in accordance with federal regulations,” the audit said. “The program has no known contingency plans if the reclamation funds were to become insolvent.” Insolvency could also pose a dramatic hit to the state budget, and mismanagement of the funds could lead to federal control over the program, according to the audit.
Madison: With progress stalled, the state is relaunching a multimedia public awareness campaign to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations. State health officials announced Tuesday that the “You Stop the Spread” campaign will ramp up with more ads on television, radio, billboards, transit, newspapers and social media platforms. Some ads will feature leaders of groups that in April received $6.2 million in grants to boost vaccinations among marginalized or underserved populations. Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said the ads will also address myths about the vaccines, such as that they alter people’s DNA, cause infertility or make people get COVID-19. Racial and geographic disparities in COVID-19 vaccination persist, with the statewide rate about 45% lower among Blacks than whites. In addition to the multimedia campaign, the state health department is working with medical providers, community groups and health departments to keep providing a variety of immunization opportunities, Willems Van Dijk said. Thirteen states reportedly have already reached President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% by July 4, but Wisconsin likely won’t get there until mid-July, Willems Van Dijk said.
Casper: A legislative committee has voted to pursue legislation that would significantly change the way statewide elections are run as early as next year, including a bill that would create a ranked-choice system and another bill that would institute an open primary. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivision voted Monday to draft the two bills after initially discussing legislation that would require a runoff if a candidate did not receive a certain portion of the vote, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. But many were unsure if that approach would be feasible by next year’s election. The effort to change the primary elections is gaining support because of the effort to unseat Republican Rep. Liz Cheney and the size of the last gubernatorial election. Republican Gov. Mark Gordon received less than 50% of the vote during the 2018 election but won after several candidates split the electorate. Critics worry about a similar result in the Republican House primary, which already has nine candidates. “Liz Cheney’s vote to hold the president accountable for his actions has really been the catalyst for Wyoming to say, ‘We need to address this issue as immediately as possible,’ ” said Republican state Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, who also is chair of the committee.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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