Loveland valentines, crime scene towels, corn trail: News from around our 50 states


Tommie "Tonea" Stewart (Photo: Contributed)

Montgomery: Retired university dean and actress Tommie “Tonea” Stewart, known for roles in films such as “A Time to Kill” and “Just Mercy,” has been appointed to the state school board, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office announced Tuesday. Ivey appointed Stewart to replace longtime school board member Ella Bell, who died in November. Stewart served as the dean and a professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Alabama State University. Prior to her tenure as dean, she served as chair and a professor in ASU’s Department of Theatre Arts. She has a bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University, a master’s degree from the University of California in Santa Barbara and a doctorate from Florida State University, according to the governor’s office. Her other film and television credits include “Mississippi Burning,” the television movie “The Rosa Parks Story” and the series “American Horror Story.”


Lava flows from a vent on the Shishaldin Volcano, as seen from Cold Bay, Alaska, about 58 miles northeast of Shishaldin. (Photo: Aaron Merculief via AP)

Anchorage: A volcano in the Aleutian Islands spewed ash into flight paths, prompting a warning to pilots by the National Weather Service. Shishaldin Volcano erupted at 5 a.m. Tuesday, the Alaska Volcano Observatory announced, and sent up an initial ash cloud to 19,000 feet. Clouds initially obscured the mountain, but satellite imagery confirmed the ash cloud, U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Hans Schwaiger said. Seismicity diminished for a few hours, but it then increased again. During the increase, the volcano spewed an ash cloud to 25,000 feet, the observatory announced. The later eruption increased the volume of ash. Wind continued to push the ash cloud northeast into the eastern Bering Sea and away from jet airliners flying between North America and Asia.


Phoenix: A legislator says he will propose changing state law to require that state officials only buy coach or economy tickets when flying on the taxpayer’s dime. Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, says he is working on a bill to tighten state travel rules after an audit found Northern Arizona University inappropriately paid for travel expenses incurred by the school’s president, Rita Cheng, and her spouse, including about $30,000 for first-class and business-class tickets to Russia. “If a commanding officer can travel coach,” said Blackman, a U.S. Army veteran, “the president of a university can do the same thing.” Arizona law already requires the state’s public universities to set policies for travel by employees and officials. Northern Arizona University’s guidelines say officials should use “the most beneficial, cost effective and practical mode of travel.”


Water rushes through the levee along the Arkansas River in Dardanelle, Ark., on May 31, 2019. (Photo: Yell County Sheriff’s Department via AP)

Little Rock: A state panel formed after historic flooding last year released a report Tuesday recommending increased oversight of the state’s levees, consolidation of some levee districts and state grants to fund improvements. Gov. Asa Hutchinson created the Arkansas Levee Task Force after flooding along the Arkansas River that affected several of the state’s 92 levees, including one that was breached. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a large dam to control the river flow after intense rain in Kansas and Oklahoma strained aging dams and levees. The panel called for districts to file standardized levee reports that county officials must sign off on to show they are aware of levee structural issues. Under that recommendation, the state Department of Emergency Management will review the reports and compile an annual summary of threat vulnerabilities.


Los Angeles: Members of an elite police crime suppression team are under investigation over allegations that they falsified records and listed some innocent people as gang members, the Los Angeles Police Department said Monday. Ten officers have been assigned to home, while others were taken off patrol, Police Chief Michel Moore told KNX-AM news radio. “What would motivate them?” Moore said. “That is something that we’re looking at very intensely.” The months­long investigation began in early 2019 when a mother in the San Fernando Valley was notified her son had been identified as a gang member, according to an LAPD statement. References to her son as a gang member were removed from the documents, and three officers fell under investigation. The department said Internal Affairs investigators found more inaccuracies on field interview cards that police fill out after stopping and questioning people.


Loveland's valentine re-mailing program was started in 1947 by Ted Thompson. (Photo: From the Loveland Museum/Gallery collection)

Loveland: The city’s Chamber of Commerce and Visit Loveland have unveiled details and plans for the 74th year of the valentine program in the nation’s Sweetheart City. Loveland’s Valentine Re-Mailing Program 2020 kicks off the 74th annual valentine re-mailing program, the largest of its kind. Volunteers hand-stamp the postmark and collector’s envelope artwork on each of approximately 120,000 valentines mailed through Loveland from all 50 states and 110 countries across the world. The 2020 envelope stamp was designed by Corry McDowell. It includes a verse written by Teresa Boynton: “Dan Cupid continues to play his part. Though he doesn’t text or tweet, he knows a Loveland Valentine is a sweeter treat.” To get the special postmark and message, send pre-addressed, pre-stamped valentines in an enclosed, larger first-class envelope to Postmaster – Attention Valentines, 446 E. 29th St., Loveland, CO 80538-9998.


Bridgeport: Louis Voros helped create something that has now saved his life, the Connecticut Post reports. Voros, 77, of Fairfield, is a retired mechanical engineer. During his career, he said, he worked on a lot of medical products, including da Vinci Surgical Systems – robotic technology that allows doctors to perform complicated surgeries through a tiny incision. That’s the same device that Dr. Imran Siddiqui, an oncology surgeon at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, used to perform surgery on Voros after he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Though the da Vinci robot has been used for years in a variety of surgeries, Siddiqui is one of the few in the country – and, he said, the only one in Connecticut – who uses the technology to perform complex gastrointestinal surgery. “I worked on a tool that was used on me,” Voros marveled. “And I was lucky because it was able to save me from the cancer.”


Seagulls swarm Rehoboth Beach over a sunny Memorial Day weekend. (Photo: Staff photo by Taylor Goebel)

Rehoboth Beach: The days of throwing Thrasher’s fries at voracious seagulls may soon be over for local beachgoers, as the city is pushing to ban people from feeding the birds. If you’re caught chucking food at the squawking sky beasts, you could be fined anywhere from $5 to $50. Repeat offenders could be slapped with up to a $200 fine. The city already has signs warning folks not to feed seagulls, but several people have ignored them through the years, making a mess on the beach by throwing food up for the birds to catch, Mayor Paul Kuhns says. “You’re sitting there with your family, maybe having a sandwich, and the birds start to prey on you,” Kuhns says. The new ordinance, which hasn’t yet been voted on, cites harm to the gulls and aggressive behavior as reasons for the ban. It includes several rules on animal care and prohibitions.

District of Columbia

Washington: Officials say D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans has announced his resignation as of Jan. 17, WUSA-TV reports. In December, the D.C. Council unanimously voted to recommend Evans be expelled for ethical violations. The vote was the first step for expulsion. The Washington Post reported in December that the council would reconvene to cast a formal vote to remove Evans, who has served on the council for 27 years and currently represents Ward 2. The private law firm of O’Melveny & Myers previously released a 97-page report outlining an alleged 11 ethical violations concerning the longest-serving council member. The report alleges ethical violations dating back to 2014.


The Intracoastal Waterway bisects a residential neighborhood in the Pompano Beach area of South Florida just north of Fort Lauderdale. (Photo: Getty Images)

Orlando: The Sunshine State’s economy will grow in 2020, but it will experience growing pains from a lack of housing and a weak transportation network, according to an economic forecast from the University of Central Florida. The forecast released late last month from the school’s Institute for Economic Forecasting says Florida’s equivalent of gross domestic product – the value of all goods and services – will grow by 2.8% in 2020 and 2021, but it will slow down to 2.4% in 2022. Labor force growth in Florida will average 1.6% annually over the next three years, according to the forecast. It also predicts that Florida’s unemployment rate will drop to 3% this year, with the strongest job growth coming from professional and business services, construction, and leisure and hospitality. New home construction will increase but not quickly enough to make up for the shortage of single-family homes available, according to the forecast.


Atlanta: A bipartisan panel examining the state’s high maternal death rate is recommending that lawmakers extend the amount of time low-income mothers are eligible for Medicaid coverage. It’s one of 19 recommendations contained in a report released this week by the state House study committee on maternal mortality. But the recommendations, some of which would cost millions, could face an uphill battle winning full approval from lawmakers as the state faces budget cuts. The committee was created last year to analyze Georgia’s maternal death rate, which is among the highest of any state in the U.S. The report says the maternal death rate in Georgia is higher among African American women and in rural populations. Women in Georgia who are eligible for Medicaid benefits during pregnancy generally lose those benefits two months after giving birth.


Honolulu: The number of bankruptcies in the state rose for the second straight year in 2019, records show. There were 1,666 bankruptcy cases for the year, up 11.8% from 1,490 in 2018, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The data released last week by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Hawaii shows the 2019 mark was the highest since the state’s 1,702 bankruptcy filings in 2014. The number of 2019 bankruptcies was less than half of the post-recession peak of 3,954 in 2010. The state’s high cost of living is taking a toll on residents, with only a limited number of people benefiting from the rising stock market, said Ed Magauran, a Honolulu bankruptcy attorney. “I don’t think there has been any change in the number of people who have not paid their debt,” Magauran said. “As usual, the bottom 95% continue to suffer.”


Boise: The co-chairmen of the Legislature’s powerful budget-setting committee said Tuesday that they are backing Gov. Brad Little’s call for “transparent budgeting.” Republican Sen. Steve Bair and Republican Rep. Rick Youngblood said the change is long overdue and will provide a more accurate picture of the state’s budget. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee they co-chair for the next six weeks will be going over state agency budgets that are being trimmed 1% this year and 2% next year. The change means lump-sum transfers of money will have to be broken down into clearly defined line-item entries and show up as expenditures. Previously, those transfers didn’t “show up as true expenditures,” Bair said, noting the last budget that had 7.1% growth. “We actually probably spent significantly more than 7.1% if those transfers would have been in the expense portion of the budget.”


Chicago: A report highlighting persistent problems within the state’s child welfare agency showed 123 children died in the past fiscal year despite having contact with the Department of Children and Family Services. It was the highest number since the fiscal year ending in 2005, when the number was 139 deaths, according to annual reports released each January by the department’s inspector general. The lowest during that time was 84 in the fiscal year ending in 2010. Of the 123 deaths in the fiscal year that ended last June, 24 were ruled homicides, 37 were accidental, 34 were natural, seven were suicide, and 21 were undetermined. The inspector general reviewed cases where children died despite having come in contact with DCFS in the 12 preceding months. “We, Illinois, must do better,” Meryl Paniak, the acting inspector general, said in the report.


Indianapolis: A state House committee rejected a Democratic proposal Tuesday that would have directed $291 million in unexpected state tax revenue toward one-time teacher pay bonuses. The Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee voted 13-7 along party lines against the proposal, going along with arguments from GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb’s budget director that it wouldn’t be the best use of the money. Another legislative committee, meanwhile, advanced bills that would delay any penalties to schools from lower student scores on the state’s new ILEARN standardized test and to end the mandatory use of those test results in teacher evaluations.


St. Lucas: It seems residents are doing their part to boost this tiny northeastern Iowa town’s population. The town of about 150 is experiencing a baby boom, television station KCRG reports. Resident Courtney Schott said 19 babies were born to town residents from August 2018 to October 2019, and several families have announced they’re expecting again. The boom follows about 10 years of more young families settling in the Fayette County community. The trend appears to be bucking what’s happening across the rest of the state. A new National Movers Study found slightly more people left Iowa than came into the state. The study shows 55% of moves were for people leaving the state, which ranks 10th in the nation. The study also found about a quarter of people leaving Iowa are between the ages of 18 and 34.


Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate on July 8, 2019, in Leavenworth, Kan. (Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP)

Topeka: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration Tuesday that he won’t run for Senate in Kansas returned some Republicans to worrying that they can’t block a polarizing conservative from winning the GOP nomination and putting the seat in play. Pompeo’s decision to remain as the nation’s top diplomat, assuming he sticks by it, means the GOP can’t dodge the issue that had prompted top Republicans to woo Pompeo for months. They saw him as the best bet for torpedoing hard-right immigration policy advocate Kris Kobach’s bid for the Senate. Some anti-Kobach Republicans focused quickly on the race’s best-funded candidate so far, GOP Rep. Roger Marshall of western Kansas. But he still faced skepticism about his conservative bona fides and whether he can stop Kobach, particularly absent a one-on-one match.


J.D. Shelburne (Photo: Courtesy of Kentucky Derby Festival)

Frankfort: Country music singer J.D. Shelburne has made the cover of his home state’s visitor’s guide. Shelburne joined Gov. Andy Beshear to unveil this year’s visitor’s guide Wednesday at the Capitol. The state prints 400,000 copies of the guide to share travel tips, stories and regional highlights. It focuses on the pillars of Kentucky tourism – music, bourbon, horses, food and outdoor attractions. “I can’t tell you how proud I am to know that when people first glance at this 2020 Kentucky tourism visitor’s guide, they’re going to see the face of a true Kentucky boy who is proud of where he came from,” Shelburne said. The Taylorsville native capped off the event by singing “My Old Kentucky Home.” He also performed a new song he wrote, “Straight From Kentucky.” Shelburne also is among several Kentucky musicians featured in an all-new digital and social media series by the state’s tourism department called “Sound Travels” premiering in May.


Baton Rouge: The state’s Board of Regents will consider adopting penalties for public universities that violate minimum admissions standards for incoming freshmen at its meeting Thursday. The proposed amendments to the admissions policy were prompted by former LSU President King Alexander’s decision in 2018 to adopt a “holistic” admissions policy less reliant on ACT and SAT scores. Instead, LSU began placing more emphasis on recommendation letters, personal essays and activities outside the classroom, a move critics said lowered standards and diminished LSU’s stature as a state flagship university. Alexander is taking over as Oregon State’s president later this year. The changes would apply to every university if adopted. Louisiana’s Board of Regents set standards for all of the state’s university boards and their schools. Some exceptions are already allowed, but LSU exceeded that number.


A common loon spreads its wings on Silver Lake in Lee, Maine. (Photo: Robert F. Bukaty, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Falmouth: The state’s annual loon count showed a slight drop in the number of birds, but the population appears strong and steady, Maine Audubon said Monday. Common loons live on Maine’s lakes and ponds and are known for their plaintive call. Volunteers count the birds every July. Maine Audubon said it’s estimating the 2019 loon population below the 45th parallel in Maine to include 3,219 adults and 372 chicks. The 2018 count found 3,269 adults and 406 chicks. The number of adults is more than twice the count from the mid-1980s, and the number of chicks has also trended up over the decades, according to data from Maine Audubon. The 2019 count might have been slightly down from the year before because heavy spring rains flooded some nests, causing some eggs to be lost. Some counters also said they found loons abandoning nests due to high numbers of black flies.


Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announces plans for legislation to tighten ethics laws during a news conference Tuesday in Annapolis, Md., in response to corruption cases against Maryland officials in recent years and recent weeks. (Photo: Brian Witte/AP)

Annapolis: After repeated public corruption cases in recent years, stronger ethics laws should be a priority of the upcoming legislative session, Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday. At a news conference announcing plans for legislation, the Republican governor noted a litany of federal indictments against state lawmakers – the latest just weeks ago. He said the cases illustrate that “a pervasive filter of corruption continues to exist, and it is clear that even tougher and more stringent laws are needed.” The Ethics and Accountability in Government Act of 2020 will include increased penalties for bribery – both for officials and for people who pay or solicit bribes. Hogan also said the legislation would force lawmakers to forfeit their pensions, expand prohibitions of misuse of confidential information by public officials, and empower the State Ethics Commission to directly assess penalties against public officials – authority the commission currently has for lobbyists.


Cambridge: The city has selected a Muslim woman who immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan as a child to be mayor, in an apparent first for Massachusetts. Sumbul Siddiqui, who was in her second term as a city councilor, was selected by her peers. The mayor serves as chair of both the City Council and the School Committee, as well as performing political, ceremonial and community leadership functions, The Boston Globe reports. “At the end of the day, I’m committed to equity, inclusivity. and putting others first. That is exactly what I will strive to do for the next two years as your mayor,” Siddiqui said after being sworn in. She has a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Brown University and a law degree from Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law.


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is among Michigan's best outdoor draws. (Photo: Getty Images)

Detroit: The outdoor scenery in the Wolverine State picked up some national recognition Wednesday. TripSavvy named Michigan an “underappreciated outdoor playground” and the best place in the world for outdoor enthusiasts for its 19 million acres of forest and 3,000 miles of shoreline statewide. The national travel site included the state as one of 19 travel destinations in its “Where to Go in 2020: The Best Places to Travel This Year” list, which includes the top destinations for food, drink, families and more. Attractions across the state were highlighted, including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northern Michigan. For those looking to take a drive along water, TripSavvy writer Emily Hines suggests going north toward the Mackinac Bridge and driving along Lake Michigan on M-119.


Train tracks are filled with corn spilled from a train on a Canadian Pacific line Tuesday in Crystal, Minn. (Photo: Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)

Crystal: Bushels and bushels of corn spilled from a freight train and formed a smooth, yellow path for more than a third of a mile on railroad tracks in a northern Minneapolis suburb. The spill happened in Crystal on the Canadian Pacific line. The Star Tribune reports the corn stretched for about 2,000 feet. Assuming the corn was about 1.5 inches deep the entire way, the Tribune estimates the spill would amount to about 900 bushels. That’s about $3,400 worth of corn based on Tuesday’s prices at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Crews were working to clean up the spilled corn, Canadian Pacific Railway spokesman Andy Cummings said Tuesday.


Jackson: Trustees over the second-largest school district in the state have voted to close an elementary school and consolidate two middle schools. The Jackson Public Schools board of trustees approved the plan Tuesday night, news outlets report. The change was needed to save money amid decreasing enrollment, a teacher shortage and a limited amount of funding to update old buildings, Superintendent Errick Greene says. Jackson City Councilman De’Keither Stamps voiced opposition to the plan, fearing the closure could continue a string of disinvestment in his south Jackson ward. The closure of the elementary school is the fifth such closure in the district in less than two years. Jackson is home to five of the six charter schools in the state, and Jackson Public Schools paid $2.6 million for nearly 1,000 students to attend charter schools for the 2017-18 school year.


Lake Ozark: A legislator from around the Lake of the Ozarks wants to allow riverboat gambling there. State Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark, filed a resolution Friday that would ask voters to add the Osage River to the list of waterways where casinos are permitted. Miller says he’s long thought it’s wrong that the state Constitution allows riverboat gambling solely on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. It’s been that way ever since Missourians voted to revive gambling on the two big rivers in 1992. This isn’t his first time talking about the concept: Miller says he consulted on the Netflix show “Ozark,” which centers on the Byrde family’s efforts to launder money for a Mexican drug cartel in Osage Beach. Season 2 focuses on their efforts to open a riverboat casino at Lake of the Ozarks.


Open land off Fox Farm Road on the edge of Great Falls, Mont., abuts the Missouri River. A group hopes the city will take an interest in conserving the open space and public access. (Photo: Missouri River Open Lands)

Great Falls: With the city’s help, a group of residents hopes to conserve 72 acres of undeveloped prairie grassland on the southern edge of the city that’s owned by the state of Montana and valued at more than $1 million. It’s one of the last remaining undeveloped parcels along the Missouri River and still publicly accessible, says Alan Rollo of Missouri River Open Lands, a group that has formed to save the property as open space. There is a one-time opportunity to preserve the open land along with public access to it and the river, preserving it for recreational uses and wildlife, according to the group. Last year, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation solicited ideas from the public for conservation uses of the property. Activities on school trust land must earn income for public schools and universities, says Andy Burgoyne, the DNRC’s Central Land Office Trust Program manager.


Lincoln: State lawmakers kicked off their 2020 session Wednesday by proposing more than 120 new laws, including a constitutional amendment that would abolish the state income tax and a ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure. The 60-day session kicked off with many senators saying they expected to focus on the state’s property taxes, but some quickly signaled it would likely veer into contentious social issues as well. The abortion bill would ban dilation and evacuation abortions, which opponents refer to as “dismemberment abortion.” Federal courts have blocked similar laws in other states, and the proposal’s backers in Nebraska said they hope the U.S. Supreme Court will address the issue if the measure passes and is challenged in court. “I didn’t know this was occurring in Nebraska,” said Sen. Suzanne Geist, of Lincoln, who introduced the bill.


Discarded broken sleds at Spooner Summit. (Photo: Take Care Tahoe)

Stateline: Volunteers joined state and federal officials to collect nearly 2,000 pounds of trash from a popular sledding area at Lake Tahoe last week in what has become an annual New Year’s cleanup. The Tahoe Daily Tribune reports Take Care Tahoe gathered the debris from Spooner Summit on Jan. 2 with the help of Nevada Department of Transportation, U.S. Forest Service and Nevada State Parks. Tahoe Fund CEO Amy Berry says the area is not under management during the winter, so no dumpsters can be set up at the site. Some of the 1,920 pounds of debris collected included broken sleds, lost snow clothes, dirty baby diapers, and food wrappers and waste. Nevada DOT spokeswoman Meg Ragonese says in addition to damaging the environment, the debris has the potential to blow onto area highways, where it can become a safety risk for passing motorists.

New Hampshire

Concord: State lawmakers aren’t ready to prohibit companies from using fingerprints, DNA and other biometric information for purposes beyond what customers could reasonably expect. The Senate voted Wednesday to further study a bill the House passed last year that would have allowed individuals to file complaints against companies under the state’s Consumer Protection Act. It would have defined biometric information as “an individual’s physiological, biological, or behavioral characteristics,” including images of the iris, retina, face and fingerprints; voice recordings; and sleep, health or exercise data that contains identifying information. The bill faced opposition from the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association and others who argued that the definition of biometric information was too broad and that the standard for compliance was too subjective.

New Jersey

Bayonne: A woman angry about long lines at a Motor Vehicle Commission office smashed computer equipment, assaulted two staffers and kicked police officers as they tried to arrest her, authorities said. Shawna Joseph, 28, of Jersey City, was told to leave the office in Bayonne about 2 p.m. Tuesday after she became irate over the length of the line of customers, authorities said. She then returned about two hours later and caused another disturbance. When she was confronted during the second visit, Joseph pushed the office manager and began breaking computer equipment, authorities said, eventually causing $23,000 in damage overall. Joseph was later found to have a PCP-laced marijuana cigarette in her possession, authorities said. She was charged with criminal mischief, drug possession, aggravated assault and hindering apprehension.

New Mexico

Glorieta Mesa: An effort to trim the density of pinon and juniper trees near Canoncito is drawing criticism from some residents. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports state officials say the Ojo de la Vaca Meadow Restoration Project is designed to “encourage the growth of desirable understory vegetation.” The project also aims to improve forage for livestock and habitat for wildlife. But residents say the tree-thinning project is doing more harm than good. Stephen Dubinsky says the trees anchor the soil and prevent erosion. State Land Office spokeswoman Angie Poss says the state treated more than 48,000 acres last year in a range of projects similar to the work near Canoncito that are meant to improve the health of the land.

New York

Republican U.S. Rep. Christopher Collins, center, leaves federal court, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, in New York. (Photo: Mary Altaffer, AP)

New York: An ex-U.S. congressman is humbled and remorseful after pleading guilty to conspiracy in an insider trading scheme and should face no time behind bars, his lawyers argued in court papers Tuesday. The presentence submission on behalf of Christopher Collins was filed in Manhattan federal court, where the Republican is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 17. Collins pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to law enforcement officials. The lawyers said the 69-year-old Collins, who was one of the earliest supporters of President Donald Trump, should not go to prison because of his contrition, advanced age and good charitable works and because there’s no chance he’ll commit more crimes.

North Carolina

Raleigh: The top elected statewide leaders have agreed to rework lease terms on some state property that a group will turn into a park honoring the contributions of African Americans to North Carolina. The Council of State – comprised of Gov. Roy Cooper, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and eight other elected officials – voted Tuesday to amend the lease. Less money will have to be raised than previously mandated for Freedom Park, to be located between the Legislative Building and the Executive Mansion in Raleigh. The 2012 lease required a nonprofit to raise at least $5 million in public and private funds in seven years, with $1.5 million of that set aside for perpetual mainteance, according to a document presented to council members. The altered lease now directs $3.2 million be raised by early 2022, with the park completion set for 2025.

North Dakota

Bismarck: A new tourism marketing campaign is promoting what the sparsely populated state has plenty of: elbow room. Among the least-visited states in the nation, North Dakota’s tourism agency on Tuesday unveiled a $2.9 million campaign touting the state’s wide-open spaces and outdoor recreational opportunities. Tourism Division Director Sara Otte Coleman said the state’s slogan is now, “Don’t follow the crowds – follow your curiosity.” “What that means is you won’t be bumper-to-bumper at a national park,” Otte Coleman said. Tourism officials confirmed last week that the agency has renewed its contract with Hollywood actor Josh Duhamel to promote tourism in his home state. The star of several “Transformers” movies will be paid $175,000 to be the face of North Dakota’s tourism campaign for the next two years, taking his total haul for the tourism contract to more than $1 million.


Cincinnati Bengals fans cheer on the team during an NFL game against the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 29 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. (Photo: Kareem Elgazzar)

Columbus: Petitioners are again asking the State Medical Board of Ohio to consider adding anxiety and autism spectrum disorders to the list of conditions that qualify for a doctor to recommend medical marijuana for patients. The conditions suggested in the second round of petitions the board received also include a football-related ailment: being a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals or the Cleveland Browns, both teams coming off disappointing seasons. Don’t expect that proposal to make it very far as a board committee reviews the petitions next month. Board members consider information from medical experts and scientific evidence before deciding whether to add a condition to the list. The list already includes conditions such as AIDS, cancer, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. Last year, the board rejected petitions to add anxiety and autism spectrum disorders.


The Oklahoma City Thunder unveiled their special uniform design that honors the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building at the Oklahoma City National Museum on July 23, 2019. (Photo: Doug Hoke, /The Oklahoman via USA TODAY Network)

Oklahoma City: The Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night will debut its new “City” uniforms, designed to pay homage to those affected by the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, on national television. A striking combination of charcoal and bronze, they’ll also include numerous details that will be familiar to Oklahomans, such as the Survivor Tree on the waistbands and the Gates of Time on the side panels. The Thunder and the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum collaborated on the uniforms.


Keizer: The city is joining Salem in prohibiting camping on sidewalks and public rights of way, a move advocates say will make it more difficult for the homeless to stay warm and dry. Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, says the new ban creates “enormous complications for the homeless population because there’s really no safe place for them to go.” “There were very few safe places for them before,” Jones says. “But the worst part of it is that this is happening during the winter.” The ordinance – effective immediately – passed in a unanimous vote during Monday night’s City Council meeting. It comes just weeks after nearby Salem passed a similar camping ban leading to a clearing of a homeless camp outside of the ARCHES Project, a social services provider in downtown Salem.


Philadelphia: A local nonprofit hoping to open a safe injection location with onsite overdose treatment is seeking a final judgment to make its operation legal and head off threats of punishment from the U.S. attorney. The nonprofit Safehouse filed a motion Monday asking U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh to issue a declaratory judgement that would not prohibit the organization’s proposed overdose prevention model as a matter of law, WHYY reports. U.S. Attorney William McSwain sued the organization in February to stop it from opening the safe injection site. McHugh was asked by the federal government to decide simply whether the so-called crackhouse statute written in the 1980s as part of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act would apply to Safehouse. McHugh determined the organization’s plans did not violate the statute because the Safehouse’s ultimate aim is to reduce drug use, not facilitate it.

Rhode Island

Museum-goers view the facade of The Breakers mansion in Newport, R.I. (Photo: Jennifer McDermott, AP)

Newport: The nonprofit that oversees several of the city’s famous mansions hosted more than 1 million tours in 2019, the organization announced Wednesday. It was the fourth consecutive year that the Preservation Society of Newport County has hosted more than 1 million tours. The visitors came from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. The number of tours includes people who visited more than one of the society’s 11 historic properties, the society said. The society also hosted its 40 millionth tour since its founding in 1945. The Newport mansions comprise the only museum organization in New England outside of Boston that regularly reaches 1 million annual admissions, the organization said. The Preservation Society of Newport County’s properties include The Breakers, The Elms and Rosecliff.

South Carolina

Charleston: Students at two Charleston County elementary schools will have the opportunity to collect data and help scientists at NASA and NOAA who are analyzing data for an international climate change study. A $2,500 Department of Health and Environmental Control grant will help fund the project for students at James B. Edwards Elementary and Mount Pleasant Academy, The Post and Courier of Charleston reports. The “Champions of the Environment” grant program aims to help kindergarten through 12th grade students be environmental stewards in their communities, said Amanda Ley, the grant program coordinator. It’s designed to support student-led projects that focus on pollution or waste reduction, water or energy efficiency, or preservation of natural areas. Charleston’s awardees will tackle two projects: restoring a salt marsh habitat and contributing relevant data to an international database for global analysis of climate change.

South Dakota

Rapid City: The president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe is asking for federal help in dealing with methamphetamine use on the reservation that he says has contributed to homicides. In a proclamation declaring a state of emergency, Julian Bear Runner says families on the Pine Ridge Reservation are living in a constant state of crisis and trauma due to drug use. Bear Runner is requesting immediate assistance from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Drug Task Force to help the tribe with meth prevention and intervention efforts. Bear Runner wrote in his declaration that the reservation has had several homicides in the past few weeks that were directly related to meth use. FBI spokesman Kevin Smith tells the Rapid City Journal he can’t comment on Bear Runner’s statement about the homicides being linked to meth since they are under investigation.


Nashville: A fungal disease that kills sassafras trees is spreading, and the state Agriculture Department is seeking the public’s help to stop it. Earlier this year, laurel wilt disease was detected in trees in Montgomery, Cheatham, Dickson and Williamson counties. More recently, it has been detected in Robertson and Hamblen counties, according to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Laurel wilt is most likely in Tennessee due to human movement of contaminated wood, according to the department, and the best way to prevent its spread is to avoid moving firewood or untreated timber around the state. Laurel wilt is transmitted by the wood-boring redbay ambrosia beetle and can affect a range of plants, including sassafras and spicebush. Signs of laurel wilt include browning leaves, leaf loss and staining of the inner bark.


Christopher Ragsdale (Photo: Wichita Falls Police Department via AP)

Wichita Falls: A man accused of choking and headbutting his girlfriend because she complained about the smell of his flatulence has been jailed on an assault charge, police said. Officers in Wichita Falls responded to a home Sunday afternoon following a report that Christopher Ragsdale had assaulted his girlfriend, police said in a probable cause affidavit. “She told Christopher that his fart smelled horrible and he got mad and grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to the ground,” the affidavit said, adding that the woman told police that Ragsdale choked and headbutted her. The incident occurred at a friend’s house, and that friend called police, the affidavit said. Ragsdale remained jailed Wednesday on a complaint of assault family violence. Jail records do not list an attorney who might speak on his behalf.


Ogden: The president of Weber State University says a $10 million scholarship initiative will soon be accessible for students encountering financial difficulties. President Brad Mortensen made the announcement Tuesday in Ogden at his inauguration ceremony as the university’s 13th president, the Standard-Examiner reports. The scholarship called “CATapult” was designed to provide an energetic boost of momentum to students who are near completion but have encountered exhaustion and adversity, university officials said. About 1,000 students halfway toward their degrees were short on tuition and fees in fall 2018, representing about 3.5% of 28,247 students enrolled that semester, officials said. University officials expect that percentage to increase as enrollment increases.


This hobbit-themed home tucked into the hillside in Middletown Springs, Vt., is available for rent through Airbnb. (Photo: Cynthia Clayton)

Rutland: A bill introduced in the Legislature would gives towns the authority to regulate short-term rentals in the age of online rental services like Airbnb and Vacation Rentals by Owner. Republican Rep. Jim Harrison of Chittenden introduced the bill Tuesday, the Rutland Herald reports. Many towns have taken steps to regulate short-term rentals through ordinances or zoning bylaws, Harrison said. “There’s some confusion as to what authority towns have in this arena,” he said. Under the proposal, short-term rentals are defined as “a furnished house, condominium, or other dwelling room or self-contained dwelling unit rented to the transient, traveling, or vacationing public for a period of fewer than 30 consecutive days and for more than 14 days per calendar year.”


Hampton Roads: An estimated 25,000 seabirds lost their nesting site of 40 years when it was paved over during a tunnel expansion project in coastal Virginia, state Department of Transportation officials say. Crews finished paving the entire south island of the nearly $4 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel last month, a Transportation Department spokeswoman told the Virginian-Pilot, and in doing so did away with a large bird colony’s nesting area while those birds were migrating south for the winter. A new island for the birds will not be constructed, the department confirmed. And officials said they won’t know how it will affect the population until the animals return in the spring. Transportation officials did work with researchers and federal agencies to establish another place for them to live, but those efforts were largely abandoned after the Trump administration came out with an interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 2017.


Seattle: Amtrak officials say a landslide blocking the tracks has temporarily stopped train service between Seattle and Portland. The slide was reported Tuesday on the tracks between Tacoma and Lacey, Washington. Amtrak said it would provide alternate bus transportation for passengers between Portland and Seattle. Officials said regular train service will resume at 8 a.m. Thursday. Rain from the past few days has brought many rivers to flood stage and increased landslide risk. And the Cascade Mountains have been seeing plenty of snow, the Seattle Times reports. About a dozen trees toppled because of heavy snow at Stevens Pass on Monday, closing Highway 2 from Monday afternoon into early Tuesday between the summit and Coles Corner.

West Virginia

Wheeling: A high school has won a video contest aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of prescription painkiller abuse. Wheeling Central Catholic High School was selected as the winner of the public service announcement contest sponsored by Bill Powell, the U.S. attorney for the state’s northern district. Eight schools participated in the contest that was open to all high schools in the district’s 32 counties. Powell and other law enforcement partners judged the videos, which promoted drug-free high schools, Powell said in a news release. The winning entry will be shared with media outlets across the district.


The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office handed out towels at a forensic science seminar in November. After being put on sale for $20 each, the leftover towels sold out within a day. (Photo: Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office)

Milwaukee: Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s beach towels featuring yellow crime scene tape and an outline of a body quickly sold out Wednesday. Within 24 hours of the office’s Facebook post about selling the towels, which also feature the office’s logo, a steady stream of people stopped at the medical examiner’s office to snap them up for $20 apiece. The towels were given out in November to more than 200 attendees of the office’s annual forensic science seminar in Milwaukee, says Karen Domagalski, operations manager of the medical examiner’s office. There were about 75 left over from the conference, so the medical examiner decided to sell the towels. Despite a cash-only sales policy and requirement that they be picked up in person, they sold out by 10 a.m. Wednesday. Domagalski says there are no plans to create more of the towels.


Cheyenne: Deputies who work in a county jail are now required to wear body cameras, making it the first program of its kind in the state, Sweetwater County sheriff’s officials said. Sweetwater County Detention Center uniformed deputies on all shifts must record any contact with an inmate or when they are in an inmate zone, with some privacy exceptions, according to a statement by the sheriff’s office. The recordings will be saved and available for official review. Sheriff’s officials said the cameras instill a higher level of professionalism and public trust. Misconduct complaints have plummeted since patrol deputies started wearing body cameras in 2016, and officials hope to replicate the success in the jail.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

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