Milestone rhino, Bigfoot shooting, jailed for feeding cats: News from around our 50 states


From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

Published 12:59 AM EDT Aug 1, 2019

Alabama

Elmore: A K-9 known as both the best narcotics-sniffing dog in the state and a “knucklehead” was honored at a memorial service Tuesday after he died searching for drugs during a prison sweep. The 5-year-old Belgian Malinois named Jake suddenly became ill July 18 after he came into contact with a powdery synthetic street drug known as flakka during a routine contraband search. He died two days later after developing pneumonia and other complications. Fellow four-legged law enforcement officers yapped in the background at the Staton Kennel Complex in Elmore as Jake received a 21-gun salute, a traditional bugle playing of taps, a commendation from Gov. Kay Ivey and eulogies from law enforcement officials. Officials are still investigating the source of the narcotic at the Staton Correctional Facility.

Alaska

Anchorage: Repairs and upgrades at earthquake-damaged area schools could cost more than $150 million. The Anchorage Daily News reports the Anchorage School District says the new estimate triples the original assessment of damage caused by the Nov. 30 quake. District officials say two schools need more than $20 million to repair and improve seismic performance; six schools may require at least $10 million; and improvement projects at 14 schools could cost at least $1 million each. District Chief Operating Officer Tom Roth says the estimates include immediate repairs needed and optional improvements that would improve the quake-readiness of schools. Roth says the district has spent $8 million to $9 million so far on post-quake repairs to return facilities to working condition.

Arizona

Tusayan: Fees could be going up at a large campground near the Grand Canyon’s popular South Rim entrance. A proposal by the Kaibab National Forest would more than double the overnight fees for single sites from $10 to $24 and at double sites from $20 to $48. The cost for large group sites at Ten X Campground also would go up from $75 per night to $125. Forest officials say the proposed hikes better align with prices at nearby recreation areas. They say additional funding would help maintain and expand the site and also allow them to bring in more seasonal workers. Officials say the campground fees haven’t gone up in more than 25 years. The public has until Oct. 31 to comment on the proposal.

Arkansas

Little Rock: State officials say the four companies providing coverage through the state’s insurance exchange under the federal health care overhaul law are seeking an average rate increase of about 2% for next year. Insurance Commissioner Allen Kerr said Monday that all four insurers cited the elimination of an exchange user fee in their rate requests. The highest average initial rate-hike request for individual plans came from Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield at 2.89% and the lowest from QualChoice Life and Health at 0.51%. The average increase requested by Ambetter from AR Health & Wellness was 1.9%, and the average from QCA Health Plan was 0.56%. The requests are subject to an independent actuarial analysis under state law, and the Insurance Department has until Sept. 18 to approve rates for next year.

California

San Diego: A conservation organization says it has achieved the first successful artificial insemination birth of a southern white rhino in North America, an important step in saving another rhino species from extinction. San Diego Zoo Global says mother Victoria gave birth Sunday to a healthy southern white rhino male calf in the barn at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park after 30 minutes of labor. Victoria was artificially inseminated with frozen semen from southern white rhino Maoto following hormone-induced ovulation. Victoria carried her calf for over a year – 493 days. Mother and calf will remain off exhibit to the public for now to allow them to bond. The calf will eventually be introduced to the other five female rhinos at the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center – including Amani, also pregnant through artificial insemination and due to give birth this fall.

Colorado

Denver: The U.S. Department of Justice has lost track of more than 60 boxes of documents from a 27-year-old criminal investigation into safety and environmental violations at a former nuclear weapons plant, officials said Tuesday. The files were gathered in a two-year grand jury probe of the Rocky Flats plant outside Denver, which manufactured plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads and had a history of fires, leaks and spills. The files have remained secret since the investigation ended with criminal charges in 1992. Seven groups representing environmentalists, ex-nuclear workers, area residents and public health advocates filed a motion in federal court in January asking that the files be made public. Government attorneys are fighting the request. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver told the activists in a July 24 email that it cannot find the files but now say the search is ongoing.

Connecticut

Hartford: The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is seeking scenic Connecticut photos. For the second year, DEEP is holding the Discover Outdoor Connecticut Photo Contest. Photographers from any state may participate, but all submissions must have been taken in Connecticut. Photographers may enter one photo in each of three categories: wildlife; people enjoying the natural world; and scenic landscapes and flora. Judges will select first-, second- and third-place winners in each category. There’s a separate youth category. Entries must be postmarked by Aug. 16. Entry forms can be found on DEEP’s website. First-place winners will have their photograph published in DEEP’s Connecticut Wildlife magazine. Winners will also receive gift cards.

Delaware

Bowers: The Murderkill River has claimed a nearby bait shop that stood as an icon to the surrounding town’s history as a commercial fishing hotspot. News outlets report Frenchie’s Bait & Tackle partially slid into the river late Monday. The shop’s front end still sits on the shores of Bower Beach, where it was rebuilt after it burned down in the 1990s. Owner and commercial fisherman William “Frenchie” Poulin says it appears the shop’s eroded pilings gave out. The Bowers Beach Maritime Museum says responding authorities turned off the shop’s power and worked to contain any hazardous materials, such as oil. It says a cat that lived at the shop is now homeless. Councilman Bob McDevitt says no one was injured. Poulin previously served as Bower’s mayor and as a councilman.

District of Columbia

Washington: The city’s Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is asking Maryland to release over $50 million the state has withheld for a month amid ongoing funding disputes. The Washington Post reports Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld recently sent a letter to Maryland officials requesting funds be released immediately, warning Metro’s credit rating could take a hit. Maryland was supposed to release $56 million July 1, which was set to go toward new trains and buses. But Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn says Metro has delayed audits and hasn’t provided adequate information about its spending. The newspaper says the dispute may relate to Gov. Larry Hogan’s view that Maryland spends too much on transit rather than roads.

Florida

Redington Beach: Authorities and beachgoers came together to protect and transport five pilot whales trapped in shallow water along the state’s western shore. News outlets report the whales were first spotted Monday morning, and biologists and beachgoers swung into action, covering the whales from the climbing sun as the tide pulled away from shore. Biologists determined the whales were healthy enough for transport, and volunteers teamed up to move the heavy creatures. Three whales were returned to the sea, while two others were taken to a Clearwater Marine Aquarium facility in Tarpon Springs for medical treatment and testing. Aquarium spokeswoman Carlee Wendell says pilot whale mass strandings have happened about a dozen times since 1990. Just this month, dozens of disoriented pilot whales were saved from a mass stranding near a Georgia shore.

Georgia

Savannah: Georgia’s seaports are celebrating another year of record growth, though their chief executive warns business will suffer if the U.S. doesn’t resolve its trade war with China. The Georgia Ports Authority reported Tuesday that its ports at Savannah and Brunswick handled a record 37.5 million tons of cargo in the 2019 fiscal year that ended June 30. That’s a 4.2% increase over the previous year. A whopping 4.5 million container units of imports and exports were shipped through Savannah. Griff Lynch, the port authority’s executive director, said he’s concerned tariffs imposed in the Trump administration’s trade dispute with China, if unresolved, could slow business in the coming year. Lynch said export volumes dipped slightly in June, and “that could very well be linked to the tariffs.”

Hawaii

Honolulu: The governor on Tuesday rescinded an emergency proclamation put in place to deal with Native Hawaiian protesters who are blocking a road to prevent the construction of a giant telescope at a mountain summit they consider sacred. Gov. David Ige said there were no immediate plans to move heavy equipment to Mauna Kea’s summit. He also noted two hurricanes were approaching that could affect the protest area and the rest of the state. Hurricane Erick is forecast to pass south of the Big Island this week. Following right after is Hurricane Flossie, on track to come close to the islands early next week. “For the safety of all involved, we want to deescalate activities,” Ige said. He declared an emergency July 17 to give law enforcement more authority to close areas of the mountain and to use additional National Guard troops to help deliver construction gear.

Idaho

Jerome: The University of Idaho has bought land for a public visitor center, classrooms and other facilities supporting what officials say will be the world’s largest research dairy. Bill Loftus with the university’s College of Ag and Life Sciences told The Times-News the new property near Jerome represents a significant step for the planned Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment. Work on the CAFE began over a decade ago, and the university plans to have the dairy up and running in 2024. The project spans three sites: a food processing research and training facility at the College of Southern Idaho; the dairy, which will hold 2,000 head of cattle; and the Discovery Complex, which will be built at the newest property and include classrooms, the visitor center, faculty offices and housing.

Illinois

Chicago: The city’s transportation agencies are boosting services to accommodate tens of thousands of people attending Lollapalooza. The Metra commuter train and the CTA subway agencies will expand capacity for one of the nation’s most popular music festivals, which takes place from Thursday through Sunday in Chicago’s Grant Park. The lineup at Lollapalooza this year includes Ariana Grande, Lil Wayne, The Strokes and more than 150 other performers. Over 100,000 people are expected to attend each day. Metra will add trains and adjust schedules on most lines for the four-day event. CTA will add service on rail lines and bus routes. In a statement Friday, CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr. said there will be ample service to get attendees to the festival “easily and comfortably.”

Indiana

Indianapolis: The body of notorious 1930s gangster John Dillinger is expected to be exhumed in September at a local cemetery, but it could be a tough job because his grave is encased in concrete. Digging up the remains more than 85 years after Dillinger was killed by FBI agents also could resolve conspiracy theories that the man some considered a hero during the Great Depression isn’t buried in his marked grave, said Susan Sutton, a historian with the Indiana Historical Society. Among the tales is that his family tricked the FBI into shooting the wrong man. The Indiana State Department of Health approved a permit sought by Dillinger’s nephew to have the body exhumed from Crown Hill Cemetery and reinterred there. Days after his son’s funeral, Dillinger’s father had the casket reburied under a protective cap of concrete and scrap iron topped by four reinforced-concrete slabs, Sutton said.

Iowa

Iowa City: The ousted director of the state Department of Human Services will pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit, alleging he was let go after objecting to a pay arrangement for the governor’s deputy chief of staff, his lawyer said Wednesday. Jerry Foxhoven will file a whistleblower claim with the State Appeal Board, the first step toward pursuing a lawsuit against state government, his attorney Tom Duff said. It’s the latest development stemming from a personnel decision that has put Gov. Kim Reynolds on the defensive and prompted inquiries by state and federal watchdogs. Earlier this month, Reynolds’ spokesman wouldn’t confirm or deny whether Foxhoven’s workplace praise for rapper Tupac Shakur played a role in his being asked to resign, but the governor later said that she’d never heard of the rap icon and that “of course” that wasn’t the reason.

Kansas

Wellington: The National Glass Museum is temporarily closed after the front of the building collapsed. The front of the museum and most of the front brick facade collapsed overnight Friday. KAKE-TV reports the collapse is blamed on heavy rains during the year. The landlord hopes to rebuild and reopen the museum by the end of September. Pam Meyer, president of the National Depress Glass Association, said the building had been leaning for some time. She said the group plans to stay in Wellington. The museum displays American-made glassware from the Great Depression era. None of the museum pieces were damaged.

Kentucky

Cave City: Federal officials are investigating a report that a man fired a gunshot while camping at Mammoth Cave National Park, an incident that another camper says was prompted by an alleged sighting of Bigfoot. Mammoth Cave said law enforcement rangers responded early Sunday to a report of a person with a firearm at one of the park’s backcountry campsites. Brad Ginn told news outlets he and his girlfriend were camping nearby and were awakened about 1 a.m. by a man with his son. The man said they were going to investigate strange noises he kept hearing. Ginn said he heard a gunshot minutes later, and the man returned to say Bigfoot had emerged from the woods, so he fired. Ginn said he and his girlfriend decided to leave and report the incident. Park spokeswoman Molly Schroer said an investigation continues, and the park is safe to visit.

Louisiana

Baton Rouge: More than 260 new laws are taking effect in the state as August begins. Starting Thursday, people must be at least 16 years old to marry. Medical marijuana patients can inhale cannabis. Women seeking abortions via medication are limited to Louisiana’s three abortion clinics, rather than a doctor’s office. Parents who scuffle with referees at children’s sport events face new penalties. Animal shelters can’t take in stray or unwanted animals solely to euthanize them for research facilities or sell animals for research or experimentation. Louisiana agencies can’t deny or revoke an occupational license when someone falls behind on student loan repayments. Anti-hazing laws get tougher, with new provisions aimed at forcing colleges to report allegations more quickly.

Maine

Rockland: The Maine Lobster Festival is underway, with festivalgoers planning to eat hundreds of the state’s beloved arthropods and crown a new sea goddess. The decades-old festival takes place near the Rockland waterfront and offers fare including steamed lobster, lobster bisque, lobster mac and cheese, lobster rolls, lobster wraps and lobster Caesar salad. The festival started Wednesday and ends Sunday. Wednesday’s big event is the 72nd Maine Sea Goddess Coronation. That piece of the festival caused a stir in the community last year when the winner lost her crown a day after her coronation over social media posts showing her holding a marijuana cigarette. New leaders of the festival later apologized to the pageant winner, Taylor Hamlin.

Maryland

Baltimore: Officials in the city are creating unique learning spaces to help students traumatized by violence and poverty. Trauma-sensitive schools offer mental-health clinicians, mindfulness exercises, and abundant “peace corners” with pillows and books where students can retreat and compose themselves. The schools come in response to a growing realization among educators that chronic childhood trauma affects brain development and creates the risk of health problems. The need to address childhood trauma and mental health was underscored in Baltimore in 2015. The death of young black man Freddie Gray in police custody brought renewed attention to poverty, inequity and crime in large swaths of Baltimore. And the city drew national attention when President Donald Trump tweeted that its congressional district is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

Massachusetts

Boston: An archaeological dig in historic Chinatown has been cut short after it turned up a 1980s music cassette, a toy dinosaur and other bric-a-brac. The city’s Archaeology Program tweeted Tuesday that it was wrapping up its three-week excavation because researchers reached the water table, and it was unsafe to dig further. The excavation of a vacant lot near the neighborhood’s distinctive gateway had been expected to last until early autumn. In recent days, researchers have been humorously tweeting some of their “finds,” including a cassette by Boston R&B group New Edition, a dinosaur toy, linoleum flooring, and other items from the 1970s and 1980s. Researchers had hoped to turn up artifacts shedding new light on Boston’s immigrants from China, Syria, Ireland and England who sought new lives in Chinatown from 1840 to 1980.

Michigan

Lansing: A mission to return the Arctic grayling to state waters is nearing a milestone. Juvenile grayling are scheduled to arrive soon at the Oden State Fish Hatchery in Emmet County, where an ultraviolet water disinfection system recently was installed. Fish production manager Ed Eisch of the Department of Natural Resources says the system will prevent fish already in the area from being infected by viruses or bacteria that the newly arrived grayling might bring along. They were collected as eggs in Alaska and have been kept at Michigan State University. The juvenile fish will be reared in isolation at Oden. Once cleared by health testing, they’ll be transferred to Marquette State Fish Hatchery to continue maturing. Grayling are native to Michigan but died out because of logging and overfishing.

Minnesota

Minneapolis: About 200 people protesting Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies blocked traffic near a Twin Cities federal building at Fort Snelling on Tuesday. The Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building houses an immigration court sometimes referred to as “deportation court.” Demonstrators blocked traffic late Tuesday afternoon in protest of ICE policies at the Mexican border, the separation of families and conditions in immigrant detention centers. Police cited about 25 protesters. Some held signs that read “Close the Camps” and “Abolish Ice.” The protest was part of a national movement called #NeverAgainIsNow, which links the Holocaust to America’s treatment of migrants arriving from Central America.

Mississippi

Jackson: The Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza has long been considered the unofficial start of hunting season in the state and draws tens of thousands of outdoor enthusiasts, but this year may prove different. Sportsmen say they’ll boycott the event this weekend, and vendors are dropping out over the organization’s stance on floodwater pumps in the south Delta. Flooding there most of the year has led to damaged homes, loss of crops, business closings and wildlife deaths. At its peak, floodwater covered a reported 550,000 acres of prime farmland and wildlife habitat. Proponents of the pumps say much of the flooding could have been avoided if pumps were installed at the Steele Bayou Control structure to push backwater out. But MWF has publicly opposed the pumps over environmental damage concerns.

Missouri

Columbia: A spokesman for the University of Missouri’s flagship campus says the school has identified fewer than 10 students whose parents may have taken advantage of a financial aid loophole. At issue is a practice of wealthy parents transferring guardianship of their children to friends or relatives to make it appear they came from poorer backgrounds, making them eligible for more financial aid. The U.S. Education Department is being urged to make changes to close the loophole. University of Missouri spokesman Christian Basi says the school will pull the funding it provides based on need and notify federal authorities if the determination is made that guardianship changes were done solely to take advantage of financial aid. Basi says no one will be kicked out of school, but the university is “extremely disappointed.”

Montana

Billings: The blood supplier of area hospitals says it needs more donors after its daily blood donation count has fallen by more than half. The Billings Gazette reports Vitalant of Montana aims to get between 150 and 200 units of blood each day, but the daily donation has dropped to about 70 units. St. Vincent Healthcare and the Billings Clinic said in a joint statement that the blood supply is “alarmingly low,” so they need more people to donate regularly. Vitalant donor recruitment manager Erin Baker says the supplier has had trouble attracting donors who are ages 24-40. Most of the donors are 50 and older. Baker says a person would ideally donate blood at least three times a year.

Nebraska

Lincoln: A state trooper has cited a driver after pulling over a vehicle that had registration stickers painted onto its license plates. Nebraska State Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas says the vehicle was stopped Monday morning at an Interstate 80 exit in north Lincoln. Trooper Adam Strode spotted the problem, and he ticketed the driver for having fictitious plates and not having valid registration. It’s unclear whether the driver also was the artist whose unsteady hand fashioned two rough red rectangles in the upper right-hand corner of the plates. The number 5 was in the middle, signifying a May expiration for 2020. Thomas says troopers to whom he’s talked told him it was the first time they’d heard of or “seen anything like this.”

Nevada

Las Vegas: Airport officials say a 3.1% jump in the number of passengers for the first half of 2019 puts McCarran International Airport on record pace to top 50 million passengers for the year. The Clark County Department of Aviation reports the 4.5 million arriving and departing travelers at the airport in June followed an all-time-high monthly tally of 4.6 million passengers in May. The airport handled a record-high 49.7 million passengers in 2018. McCarran is one of the 10 busiest airports in the nation based on passenger count. Domestic airlines have handled more than 22.8 million McCarran passengers through June, up 2.9% from the first half of 2018. Southwest Airlines is the busiest carrier at the airport, followed by Delta, Spirit, American and United.

New Hampshire

Henniker: An annual gathering of current and former foster youth has a rap music theme this year. Participants at Thursday’s Youth Voices Summit at New England College in Henniker will attend workshops on topics such as getting a college degree; finding a job; choosing a career; budgeting; self-advocacy; forming healthy relationships; and finding help for substance abuse. This year’s keynote speaker is Ethan Birch, also known as rapper Six 8. He’s been a vocal youth advocate at several national events, including the Future Business Leaders of America State Convention. In addition to providing the keynote address, Ethan will lead an afternoon workshop on positive rap. The event will also include a listening session led by the Office of the Child Advocate and a youth talent show.

New Jersey

Manasquan: The state’s senior U.S. senator wants federal officials to take more aggressive action to protect beachgoers from wind-swept beach umbrellas. Bob Menendez held a news conference to once again call on the Consumer Product Safety Commission to improve its regulations and develop an aggressive campaign to educate beachgoers on the dangers the umbrellas can pose if they’re not properly staked in the sand. But the Democrat stressed that he wasn’t calling for a ban on umbrellas. A woman was speared in the leg by a beach umbrella last summer in the Jersey Shore community of Seaside Heights. CPSC statistics show that more than 31,000 people were treated at hospitals for umbrella-related injuries from 2008-2017.

New Mexico

Albuquerque: The mother of a Navajo girl who was kidnapped and killed in 2016 urged tribal officials and children’s advocates Tuesday to take advantage of tools and funding under a law that expands access to the nation’s Amber Alert system. Pamela Foster spoke during a training at Isleta Pueblo, south of Albuquerque, for tribes seeking to implement the alert system. Despite a 2007 pilot project, it was not in place on the Navajo Nation when her daughter Ashlynne Mike was abducted near Shiprock. Her disappearance was a catalyst for the state to fully implement Amber Alerts. “I want you to know there was nothing worse than finding out there were no Amber Alert systems on the reservation at the time when we needed it most. No roadway digital signs, no text alerts,” Foster said.

New York

Albany: State ethics officials are threatening to fine a woman up to $75,000 for unregistered lobbying after she rented billboards to criticize state laws on molestation and share her own story of abuse. Kat Sullivan, a nurse who says she was assaulted by a teacher at a private school upstate two decades ago, was part of the successful push that got lawmakers in Albany to relax the statute of limitations on molestation. Sullivan got the billboard idea from the film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” about a woman who used billboards to seek justice for her daughter’s unsolved murder. Sullivan also set up a website and hired a pilot to fly a plane around Albany carrying a banner supporting the legislation. Then she received a letter saying she could be fined for violating a law requiring individuals to register as lobbyists if they spend more than $5,000 on efforts to influence the Legislature.

North Carolina

Hillsborough: Officials are looking for an emu on the loose that was last spotted jumping on the hood of a car before running away. News outlets report that officials say the emu, nicknamed “Eno,” was sighted over the weekend. Orange County Animal Services spokesperson Tenille Fox says it’s believed to be in the Hillsborough area. An Orange County government Twitter account posted an emu’s mugshot Friday with the word “wanted” in red letters. Officials say it’s been on the run for about five weeks. They don’t know where the flightless bird escaped from. Fox says people shouldn’t try to catch it but instead should call animal services. Fox says owning emus is legal in Orange County. She says they’re often kept on farms and don’t usually run away.

North Dakota

Bismarck: A landowners group has sued the state over a new law related to compensation for the use of cavities in underground rock formations. The Bismarck Tribune reports the Northwest Landowners Association filed its lawsuit Monday challenging the law that takes effect Thursday. The group says the new law amounts to the unconstitutional taking of private property rights. Gov. Doug Burgum in April signed the legislation that sought to clarify issues surrounding the cavities known as “pore space,” which may be used to inject saltwater from oil and gas production or for enhanced oil recovery. Under the new law, some landowners cannot be compensated for their pore space. Burgum has said the law clarifies legal issues related to underground injection, which should boost the state’s energy industry.

Ohio

Garfield Heights: A judge wants to take a second look at a 10-day jail sentence given to a 79-year-old woman for refusing to stop feeding stray cats in her suburban Cleveland neighborhood. Cleveland.com reports that Garfield Heights Municipal Court Judge Jennifer Weiler wants to hear the case herself after a jail sentence handed down to Nancy Segula by a city magistrate last week was widely criticized. Segula acknowledges repeatedly violating a city ordinance making it illegal for people to feed dogs and cats that aren’t their own. She was sentenced to jail after her fourth appearance in court for the violations. She says she lost her husband and her own cats in 2017, and she began feeding the cats because she’s lonely.

Oklahoma

Welch: Authorities are starting a new search for two 16-year-old girls missing and presumed dead for nearly 20 years. Craig County District Attorney’s spokeswoman Michelle Lowry says the search for Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible is being held near the Picher area, where authorities have said the girls’ bodies are believed to have been dumped. The girls disappeared Dec. 30, 1999, from Freeman’s home in nearby Welch. Freeman’s parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman, were found fatally shot in the burned home. In April 2018, authorities charged 68-year-old Ronnie Dean Busick with four counts of first-degree murder in the case and said two other suspects are dead. Busick has denied involvement in the case and is undergoing a mental competency evaluation.

Oregon

Portland: A real estate investor has donated undeveloped land to Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Sanctuary. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports Marty Kehoe and his family have donated Pittock Place. The 22-acre plot borders Forest Park, a public park west of downtown. Audubon officials say the property is one of the largest, most ecologically valuable parcels on the periphery of the park. The land is worth an estimated $14 million and was slated for development of 32 multimillion-dollar homes. Officials say donors raised $200,000 to pay the property’s remaining mortgage, which was Kehoe’s only stipulation. The City of Portland contributed $350,000 to purchase a conservation easement. The city is also expected to provide $150,000 for restoration services including invasive plant removal and water quality protection.

Pennsylvania

Harrisburg: Pennsylvanians who prefer not to be identified as male or female will soon have a gender-neutral option on their state-issued driver’s licenses. The state joins more than 10 others that have rolled out plans to give residents options. The Daily Item of Sunbury reports Pennsylvania Department of Transportation expects to have the new procedure in place by the middle of next year. It will let motorists use “X” as a third option to indicate gender. A department spokeswoman says the agency is able to make the change on its own and doesn’t need authorization from the Republican-controlled Legislature. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday that the department made the decision, but it’s consistent with his opinions about equity and fairness.

Rhode Island

Providence: The Providence Teachers Union has declared its commitment to work with the state to reform the city’s schools. The report from the union came less than a week after state Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green was given sweeping authority to turn around Providence Public Schools. The union’s document details several reform recommendations, including addressing chronic teacher absenteeism, increasing the number of educators of color and integrating community members into everyday work at schools. Infante-Green responded to the union in a statement saying she welcomes the commitment from teachers. The Department of Education sought control of Providence schools after a searing report last month from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy labeled it among the worst public school systems in the nation.

South Carolina

Lexington: The state Department of Education has been granted $8 million to buy new school buses thanks to a settlement involving Volkswagen. State leaders including Gov. Henry McMaster made the announcement Tuesday in Lexington. The money will be used to buy 78 school buses that run on propane. The state has been criticized as having one of the worst school bus fleets in the country. Lawmakers set aside $19 million from lottery profits this year for school buses. Charleston’s transit system received money for two electric buses and charging stations. Anderson received money for a bus fueled by compressed natural gas. South Carolina will receive nearly $34 million from the 2016 emissions settlement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached with Volkswagen.

South Dakota

Sioux Falls: The American Civil Liberties Union is creating a new position in the state focusing on indigenous issues. ACLU director of campaigns Sabrina King says the position will be modeled on the organization’s indigenous justice program in Montana. King will supervise the new South Dakota position. The ACLU has long wanted to build on its work on indigenous issues in the state. The idea took on new urgency after South Dakota this year passed laws aimed at potential Keystone XL protests. The laws allow for tougher penalties for so-called riot boosting, defined in part as encouraging violence during a riot. The ACLU is challenging the law in federal court.

Tennessee

Nashville: The state is providing access to federal grant programs to help communities and volunteer fire departments become better equipped for wildfires. The state Department of Agriculture will accept applications for Hazard Mitigation Assistance program grants from Aug. 5 through Sept. 20. Eligible communities must have crafted or be in the process of crafting a Community Wildfire Prevention Plan. The grants offer full reimbursement up to $20,000 for communities to implement wildfire prevention efforts and education projects. A program to help fire departments serving 10,000 or fewer people will open Aug. 5 and end Sept. 13. The Volunteer Fire Assistance Program offers 50% reimbursement for wildland fire equipment and supplies from $1,000 to $6,000.

Texas

Houston: Officials have approved a settlement in a federal lawsuit over the bail system in Harris County that ensures that most people accused of misdemeanor offenses don’t languish in jail. The bail system in the state’s most populous county had been deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge following a 2016 lawsuit alleging poor misdemeanor defendants remained jailed because of their poverty. Harris County commissioners approved the settlement by a 3-2 vote Tuesday, with the two Republicans on the court voting against it. The settlement ensures most people charged with misdemeanor offenses would be released within hours of arrest and would get help to ensure they attend future court appearances. The judge handling the lawsuit could give final approval at an Aug. 21 court hearing.

Utah

Salt Lake City: The state’s decision to award a smaller number of medical marijuana grower licenses than allowed by law is being challenged by six companies that say the state granted licenses to unqualified cultivators and had inappropriate interactions with applicants, among other claims. Chris Hughes, director of the state’s Division of Purchasing, confirmed that six rejected applicants met Friday’s appeal deadline. The administrative appeal could further delay the rollout of medical marijuana for the state because state law says licenses cannot be finalized until protests are resolved. Utah’s Department of Agriculture and Food selected eight companies to grow medical marijuana for its program set to open next year. Although the new law allows Utah to award up to 10 licenses at the start of the program, state officials say they chose to only hand out eight to avoid an oversupply of cannabis.

Vermont

Castleton: Castleton University has received accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Learning for the newest extension of its nursing program. The school took over the registered nurse bachelor’s degree program previously offered by Southern Vermont College in Bennington, which closed after the spring semester. The Rutland Herald reports the new program will be in the Vermont Mill Building in Bennington. It used to be home to the radiology and X-ray programs and is being renovated before the fall semester. More than 30 students are enrolled; 25 are from Southern Vermont College. School officials say the nursing shortage is ongoing, and 3,800 nursing positions will be vacant in the next five years. Castleton nursing educators say there’s a plan in the works for a potential master’s program.

Virginia

Norfolk: A video rental store that is believed to be among the last of its size on the East Coast is set to close this month. The Virginian-Pilot reports the Naro Expanded Video Archival Library in Norfolk will close by the end of August. The store has more than 42,000 video titles and outlasted a vast number of video rental businesses that have already closed across the country. But like them, it fell victim to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Naro Video converted from a business to a nonprofit in 2016 and partially relied on fundraisers. One raised $45,000 from 440 people in less than two days. That likely kept it going for another two years. But such efforts couldn’t provide sustainability over the long term.

Washington

Seatac: Democrats have elected the first female speaker of the state House. With the selection of state Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma, Washington becomes the eighth state to have a woman in the top spot in the House and is now the second state to have a gay speaker of the House, joining Oregon. “I’m really proud to be the first woman, the first out lesbian serving in this position,” Jenkins said at a news conference after the vote. “I believe very, very strongly that the diversity of our caucus really more and more is representing the diversity of our state and helps us make better decisions for the people of this state. I’m proud to be a part of carrying that forward.”

West Virginia

Huntington: People recovering from substance abuse disorder can get rides to appointments under a forthcoming project in the area. The Herald-Dispatch reports the Appalachian Regional Commission has provided more than $215,000 for the one-year pilot program. ARC federal co-chair Tim Thomas says it will start in October in the Huntington region. Thomas says those recovering from substance abuse disorder often do not have an active driver’s license or own a vehicle. Rides will be given for recovery and treatment appointments, probation meetings, mandatory court appearances, job interviews or to a new job. Other program sponsors include the Appalachian Transportation Institute, the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the Office of Drug Control Policy and the West Virginia Governor’s Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention.

Wisconsin

Madison: Gov. Tony Evers is pushing to toughen state rules to reduce nitrate contamination in ground and surface water as concerns grow about pollution across the state. Evers announced Wednesday that he is directing the state Department of Natural Resources to establish nitrate performance standards for soil most likely to be contaminated. Environmental group Clean Wisconsin praised the news, saying creating new rules for how nitrates are applied to farm fields is an important step for protecting rural drinking water across the state. Evers is directing state agencies to start the process of creating a rule that will govern the level of nitrates that will be allowable. Studies have shown that agricultural sources such as manure and commercial fertilizer are the most common sources of nitrate pollution.

Wyoming

Cheyenne: Cheyenne Frontier Days officials report a slight increase in attendance at night shows this year, while rodeo attendance saw a slight drop. The annual western and rodeo event ended Sunday. KGAB-AM reports that officials say in a news release that overall attendance increased slightly this year compared to 2018. Total night show attendance this year was 120,518, compared to 115,214 last year. Rodeo attendance this year was pegged at 97,373 in 2019 compared to an official attendance of 101,462 in 2018. The official attendance for the three 2019 CFD pancake breakfasts was pegged at 22,713, while 50,998 visited the Indian Village.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

 

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