Montgomery: Doyle Lee Hamm, an inmate whose lethal injection was halted because medical staff couldn't find a suitable vein for the execution, has died of natural causes almost four years later, his attorney said. Hamm, who was convicted in the slaying of a motel clerk in 1987, died of natural causes on death row, said his longtime attorney, Bernard Harcourt. He was 64. Officials postponed Hamm's execution in February 2018 because workers couldn't find a suitable vein to connect the intravenous line used to send lethal chemicals into his body. Hamm and the state reached an agreement the following month that prevented further execution attempts, but he remained on death row at Holman Prison because of his capital conviction, Harcourt said. Hamm suffered from an aggressive lymphatic cancer for years, Harcourt said. The Holman warden called Hamm's brother to inform him of the prisoner's death Sunday morning, Harcourt said.
Kenai: A popular Kenai Peninsula recreation spot near Cooper Landing will be closed for nearly a year to partially rebuild a road and reinforce parts of the hillside along the Kenai River, U.S. Forest Service officials said. The Russian River Campground Road and campground will be closed to the public from Aug. 1, 2022, to June 1, 2023, the Peninsula Clarion reported. Among the scheduled work will be rebuilding the campground road to make it safer for cars, recreational vehicles and pedestrians, the forest service said in a statement. The shoulder will also be widened, and a new guardrail will be installed. Work to reinforce the hillside along the riverbank will make the area less prone to landslides and surface erosion, and officials said the work is scheduled to be done before the sockeye salmon sport fishing season opens. "Reducing the long-term threat of erosion and landslides is essential to preserving the water quality for healthy salmon spawning and rearing in the Russian and Kenai rivers," the statement said. The service also said residents and visitors should be mindful of the upcoming closure when making recreation plans for the area.
Flagstaff: The city is pausing the construction of buildings in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey because of soaring costs. The Arizona Daily Sun reported officials made the decision earlier this month after determining the project would cost an additional $10 million. The collaboration encompasses demolishing buildings on the USGS campus near Buffalo Park and erecting a new warehouse and lab offices. The city owns the land and buildings but leases it to the USGS. City Capital Improvements manager David Peterson said the Flagstaff City Council approved going through with the project in September but it has been in the planning stages for a decade. In 2016, the projected cost was $20.8 million. Now, it is $32.8 million. Rick Tadder, city management services director, said the project was approved by voters in 2004. He is optimistic that the city and federal officials can step back and find an alternative solution.
Greenwood: A Greenwood organization is holding its annual Christmas light display to raise money for community members. Focus on Greenwood's light display is free to visit, but the group is encouraging people to donate money to the organization, said Richard McKinney, the chairman of Focus on Greenwood. The light display usually generates a few thousand dollars for the organization. That and a fall 5K run are the group's two largest fundraisers. The Trail of Lights has approximately 50 displays and will open Friday and last through the first week of the new year. It is located at Bell Park. On Thursday and Dec. 18, Focus on Greenwood will hold hayrides on the Trail of Lights. Hot chocolate and s'mores will be available on those dates. The Trail of Lights will also offer a live nativity scene Dec. 13, Dec. 14, Dec. 16 and Dec. 17. The nonprofit formed after members of several chapters of national organizations came together to create a group that is more Greenwood-centric. As a local organization, the members have more control over where the group's money goes. It allows them to pour money back into the community.
Oxnard: Officials are using a California naval base to help alleviate congestion at Los Angeles County ports in time for holiday shopping. The Ventura County Star reported Sunday the Port of Hueneme has an agreement with Naval Base Ventura County to use a wharf, two buildings and land inside the base. Base spokesman Drew Verbis said the wharf is typically used by the Navy to tie up war ships. He said the joint-use agreement dates to 2002, but this is the first time in more than a decade that it has been activated. It was activated earlier this month. The goal is to help alleviate port congestion to the south. Ships have been waiting offshore to unload their goods at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Denver Xcel Energy has proposed a tentative agreement to close Colorado's largest coal-fired power plant by 2035, well ahead of its original retirement date of 2070, as regulators consider how the largest utility operating in the state can reduce its carbon emissions. Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy filed the agreement with the state Nov. 24 affecting its Comanche 3 coal-fired unit at the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo, Colorado Public Radio reported. Comanche 3 has faced operational, equipment and financial problems that led to more than 700 days of unplanned shutdowns since 2010 and higher-than-anticipated electricity costs, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission said in a report earlier this year. If approved, Xcel's plan to close it could reduce the utility's carbon dioxide emissions in Colorado by close to 90% this decade, CPR reported. The $1.3 billion unit went into service in 2010 but has been hampered by poor maintenance and oversight, with electricity costs up to 45% higher than projected, according to the state report. Comanche 3 also was Colorado's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data. The plan calls for Comanche 3 to run at half-capacity by 2025 and a third of capacity by 2029.
Hartford: A dozen nursing home residents died from COVID-19 in Connecticut over a recent two-week period, which is the largest number since mid-August, new data released Friday showed. There were 125 positive cases of COVID-19 among residents between Nov. 10 and Nov. 23, with 12 deaths, according to state Department of Health data. Sixty-seven staff also tested positive during the same period. Five of those deaths occurred at Candlewood Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center in New Milford, which reported 36 positive cases among its 105 residents and eight positive cases among its staff. A message was left seeking comment with the facility's administrator. The last time there were more than a dozen nursing deaths reported during a two-week period was between Aug. 18 and Aug. 31. At that time, there were 16 deaths from COVID-19 among nursing home residents, 111 positive cases among residents and 94 cases among staff.
Dover: The Capital Holiday Celebration in downtown Dover will feature a month of events including a tree lighting, caroling, visits from Santa, crafts for children, performances by musicians and programs at parks and museums. Organizing the events takes months, with cooperation from city officials, the Dover Public Library, the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Dover Partnership/Main Street Dover. "Since we were prohibited from encouraging gatherings last year due to COVID, the traditional holiday parade became a fun, lighted vehicular parade," said Diane Laird, executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership. The electric light parade, known as "Dashing Through Dover," will trake place on Loockerman Street at 6 p.m. Dec. 11. The tree lighting takes place at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
District of Columbia
Washington: The Festival of Lights kicked off in D.C. with a clear view of the White House on a chilly Sunday night as the National Menorah was lit, brightly celebrating the first night of Hanukkah, WUSA-TV reported. Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, spoke at the ceremony, which had thousands in attendance and a record number of people watching virtually, National Menorah Media stated via a press release. "May this festival of lights bring blessings upon you and your loved ones over these next eight nights. From our family to yours, have a Happy Hanukkah!" Emhoff tweeted the afternoon of the ceremony. He is the first Jewish spouse of an American president or vice president.
Lauderhill: The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has begun a process to revoke a South Florida assisted living home's license after a 69-year-old woman who went missing ended up dead in a car in the parking lot. Yvanne Moise left Victoria's Retirement home in Lauderhill on Sept. 18 and never returned, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported. The state health care agency's recent inspection said the facility lacked a plan required by state law to address Moise's "severe or persistent mental condition." And it did not have updated versions of those plans for seven of its 18 other residents who were also considered "limited mental health residents," the newspaper reported. Moise didn't sign out when she left the home on Sept. 18. The report said she repeatedly told a staff member she was going to leave, and by 8:30 a.m., she was nowhere to be found. The report said an employee watched her walk out the front gate and into the parking lot. Moise didn't listen to the employee's multiple attempts to get her to stay. The employee then went inside to to call the facility's administrator to report that Moise wouldn't come back inside.
Atlanta: More than half of absentee ballot applications rejected in Georgia in advance of the Nov. 2 election were turned down because they came in after a deadline created in Georgia's new voting law. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported 52% of applications were rejected because voters asked for an absentee ballot within the last 11 days before the election, too late to meet the requirements of a voting law passed in March. The deadline was created in Senate Bill 202, which also limited absentee voting by restricting drop boxes and requiring voters to prove they had a driver's license or other state identification when applying. The top reason Georgia election officials rejected absentee ballot applications this fall was that they were submitted too close to Election Day, missing a deadline imposed by the state's new voting law. Republicans in the General Assembly pushed through the new law after a record 1.3 million Georgians mailed in or dropped off ballots in the 2020 presidential election. The newspaper reported about 26% of those who made absentee ballot requests after the deadline cast ballots in person on Election Day.
Honolulu: A Kauai nonprofit now owns the island's last remaining fishpond through a private donation and the Trust for Public Land. The 102-acre Alakoko Fishpond dates at least 600 years. Its owners put the property on the market for $3 million, Hawaii Public Radio reported. The new owner is Mālama Hulēʻia, a nonprofit that has been restoring the fishpond for the last four years. The Trust for Public Land raised funds and secured a donation from Chan Zuckerberg Kauai Community Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation. The trust then bought the property and conveyed it to Mālama Hulē'ia. The deed ensures the fishpond will be used for conservation and Native Hawaiian education, aquaculture, and stewardship. The trust didn't say how much it paid for the property. A trust representative didn't immediately return a phone message from the Associated Press on Friday. Sara Bowen, Mālama Hulēʻia's leader, said the top priority is repairing fishpond's 2,700 feet-long wall with the ultimate goal of having Alakoko again be a source of healthy local food. The fishpond is also known as the Menehune Fishpond.
Boise: Idaho's parole board is scheduled to hold a hearing this week on a request to reduce the death penalty sentence of an inmate with terminal cancer to a sentence of life in prison. Idaho's Commission of Pardons and Parole is scheduled to meet Tuesday to hear the request to commute the sentence of Gerald Ross Pizzuto Jr., who was convicted of a double murder in 1985, the Idaho Statesman reported. The commission agreed to the hearing in May, staying Pizzuto's June 2 execution date. Pizzuto, 65, has been on death row for 35 years after being convicted for the July 1985 slayings of two gold prospectors at a cabin north of McCall. Pizzuto has bladder cancer, diabetes and heart disease and is confined to a wheelchair. He has been in hospice care since 2019, when doctors said he likely wouldn't survive for another year. If the seven-member board grants Pizzuto clemency, Gov. Brad Little must approve the decision.
Springfield: Grant money from the state's pheasant wildlife program will support upland game conservation and restoration of prairies and woodlands in northern Illinois. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced this weeks grants of more than $113,000. The money comes from the State Pheasant Fund Special Wildlife Funds Grant Program. It's replenished by proceeds from the sale of habitat stamps. The Logan County-based Quail and Upland Game Alliance will receive $83,362 to complete "wildlife-friendly management work" to pheasant ranges on public and private land. The alliance will put up about $25,300 in matching funds. Work will proceed on land that is not part of the federal Conservation Reserve Program, as well as enrolled acreage. CRP pays farmers to take environmentally sensitive land out of production and use it to grow plants that will improve the environment. A grant of $30,000 was awarded to the Natural Land Institute. The Rockford-based organization's work at Lost Flora Fen on Raccoon Creek in Winnebago County aims to restore 120 acres of native prairie and improve 277 acres of existing prairie and woodland.
South Bend: A legal fight is emerging over the redrawing of local election districts in St. Joseph County. The Democratic-controlled County Council voted last week to hire a law firm for a possible lawsuit against the new election maps approved by the all-Republican county commissioners. Opponents of those new maps argued they wrongly shift most of the county's Black population into one of the three commissioners districts that is confined to the South Bend city limits, the South Bend Tribune reported. Critics said it's an example of "packing" as many racial and ethnic minorities as possible into one district to limit their influence and that the new districts favor Republicans. Commissioners President Andy Kostielney has said he's confident the proposed maps would stand up to any legal challenge. Political tensions over the St. Joseph County redistricting grew this fall after the commissioners spent $35,000 to hire the law firm of Republican former Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma for help drawing the maps. The County Council has set aside $50,000 to pay Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller. Former state Democratic Chairman Kip Tew, who is leading the Ice Miller legal team, said he didn't know how quickly a court challenge to the redistricting could be resolved.
Urbandale An Iowa hospital said it is implementing procedures to ensure it doesn't repeat a mistake made two weekends ago when more than 100 children were given the wrong dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. MercyOne said in a statement that the children under age 12 at a mass vaccination event Nov. 20 in Urbandale should have received the prescribed 10-microgram dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Instead, they received 20 micrograms, still less than the adult dosage of 30 micrograms. The hospital said the higher dosage could include more pronounced side effects such as a sore arm, mild fever, headache and fatigue. The hospital said it is reaching out to parents of the children, and pediatricians are available to answer questions from the families.
Topeka: State Rep. Aaron Coleman, D-Kansas City, was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence Saturday morning in Douglas County, just weeks after the embattled lawmaker was arrested and charged with domestic battery. Coleman was booked into the Douglas County jail at 1 a.m. Saturday, jail records showed, and charged with one count of misdemeanor driving under the influence. The booking report showed Coleman was stopped by the Kansas Highway Patrol at mile marker 203 of Interstate 70, heading westbound. Coleman was released on a $250 bond, jail records showed. He did not answer a phone call seeking comment Sunday night. The event came after Coleman was arrested and charged with misdemeanor domestic battery stemming from an altercation with his brother, where police records showed the 21-year-old lawmaker allegedly hit and spit on his brother and made threatening remarks to his grandfather.
Louisville: Parishioners in Kentucky have accused a Roman Catholic priest of converting church funds for his personal use. Current and former parish council members at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Louisville filed a civil lawsuit in Jefferson County against the Rev. Anthony Ngo, news outlets reported. The lawsuit accused Ngo of violating his fiduciary duties by pocketing the donations. Ngo has refused to share documents with the parish council about the church's funds and donations and instructed a parish accountant to withhold the documents as well, it said. "Donations made by parishioners and others to the parish have been converted by (Ngo) without authority or accountability," the lawsuit said. Ngo has declined comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit. Louisville Archdiocese spokeswoman Cecelia Price said a financial audit was conducted and "no malfeasance was found." Ngo has been pastor for more than two decades and remains assigned to the church. Price said the audit did identify "some procedural and management issues, and financial procedures will be reinforced for good financial management going forward." The lawsuit also said Ngo removed the plaintiffs from their volunteer roles on the parish council out of retaliation.
New Orleans: An environmental group that makes oyster reefs from shells collected at area restaurants now has a new partner so anyone can contribute. "After enjoying oysters at home with family and friends, you can help protect our coast" by bringing shells to a public drop-off, said Kellyn LaCour-Conant, restoration programs director at the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. The organization has created four reefs with shells collected from restaurants since it began the "Restaurants to Reefs" program in 2014. The Green Project, which runs a salvage store and paint recycling project, now has purple oyster collection bins outside, the coalition said in a news release Friday. People can drop off their empty oyster shells from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Another environmental recycler had been doing that. But Glass Half Full had to pause that after Hurricane Ida hit in late August, the news release said. Reefs provide homes and nurseries for hundreds of kinds of marine animals and plants. Each oyster can filter up to 25 gallons of water a day. And the reefs slow down the waves that chew continually at Louisiana's coast. The coalition's recycling program has used more than 5 tons of shells to build 1.3 miles of living shoreline.
Presque Isle: A 37-year-old Maine woman has been rescued by game wardens after falling in Aroostook State Park in Presque Isle, officials said. Wardens said the Caribou woman was hiking with three relatives Saturday when she slipped on a snowy area on the trail to the south peak and slid about 40 feet downhill. The woman suffered a possible broken hip and some facial cuts, and she was unable to walk. The first warden on the scene requested a helicopter, but because of snow and wind, none could respond. A team of seven game wardens, rescue personnel from Presque Isle and volunteers carried the woman off the trail. The woman was taken to a Presque Isle hospital. Her condition was unknown.
College Park: Researchers at three universities in Maryland will study why there are so few women and people of color in leadership roles at universities. They're also hoping to bring more diversity to those top jobs. The Washington Post reported Saturday that the research will be conducted by faculty from the University of Maryland in College Park, the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Morgan State University. The researchers are getting the support of a $3 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Phillip Brian Harper, the foundation's program director for higher learning, noted that each of the three schools has a Black president. "(T)hese institutions already manifest the type of leadership that we are trying to promote within the U.S. academy," he said.
Boston: A woman with a loaded handgun in her carry-on bag was stopped at a security checkpoint at Logan International Airport on the day before Thanksgiving, according to the Transportation Security Administration. The handgun had five rounds in it when it was found in the bag, TSA spokesperson Dan Velez said in a tweet. State police were called and "cited the woman on a state charge," according to the tweet. Her name was not made public. TSA officers have found 16 firearms at security checkpoints in Boston so far this year, he said. Firearms can be transported on a commercial aircraft only if they are unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case and placed in checked baggage, the TSA said. Ammunition, firearm parts, and replica firearms are also prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be checked.
Bay City: Residents complaining about foul odors from a sugar beet processor in Bay City have a lost a key decision at the Michigan Court of Appeals. Michigan Sugar, which turns beets into sugar, is accused of depriving people from enjoying their property because of odors. But the appeals court said Mikkie Morley and Jonathan Morley, who moved into their home in 2016, haven't exhausted the complaint process at state agencies. The court also dismissed a separate negligence claim. "The alleged noxious odors in this case amount to a transitory condition and the Morleys have not alleged that the condition has physically damaged their property," the court said in a 3-0 opinion on Nov. 18. Laura Sheets said her law office has been contacted by hundreds of residents. "You want to sit out on your porch or mow your yard or play with your kids, and it smells unbearably horrible. … Those are real harms," Sheets told the court on Nov. 3. Michigan Sugar's attorney, Brion Doyle, said millions of dollars are being spent to control odors under a previous agreement with state regulators.
Duluth: The Superior National Forest's first full-time tribal liaison said he wants to work with the federal government on proposed expansion of the Lutsen Mountains Ski Area. Juan Martinez started his new role in January, but he didn't move to Minnesota until July. He coordinates communication between the national forest and the three Ojibwe bands in northeastern Minnesota. The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa occupied the nearly 4 million acres that now make up the Superior National Forest long before the federal government acquired it. They maintain rights to hunt, fish, gather and practice their spiritual traditions on the land as part of an 1854 treaty signed with the federal government. Lutsen officials want to expand onto 494 acres of adjacent Forest Service land to build new ski runs, chairlifts and other amenities they said are needed to compete against big ski resorts. The Grand Portage Band has argued the project compromises its treaty rights, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. Martinez and Forest Service officials say all sides should be involved in the discussion.
Pascagoula: State officials are looking for a man who escaped from a hospital bathroom while under police guard and then was recorded on video changing into pilfered clothes. The Jackson County Sheriff's Department told local news outlets that Aceon Ja'shun Hopkins got away after telling a deputy he had to go to the bathroom while a patient at Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula. Hopkins, 20, had been a patient there since he was shot multiple times in Moss Point in November. Police in Meridian were seeking Hopkins to question him regarding two killings in the eastern Mississippi city. Hopkins hasn't been charged in connection with the slayings. WTOK-TV reported Hopkins and his brother were charged with shooting up a Meridian shopping center in February. It's unknown if either was arrested. The Jackson County Sheriff's Department said Hopkins has warrants for other criminal charges, though, including drug charges in Gulfport. Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell said his office is investigating how Hopkins escaped the deputy guarding him.
St. Louis: Bus service will be reduced in St. Louis along more than three dozen routes this week because of a significant worker shortage. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Metro Transit has about 150 openings it is struggling to fill, with most of those jobs being driver positions. Typically, the agency employs about 2,300 people. "Our employment crisis is at such a depth that we had to reduce service temporarily while we try to increase our employment," said Taulby Roach, the president and CEO of Bi-State Development, the agency that oversees Metro Transit. "We had to make a hard decision about what we could reasonably sustain." Officials are trying to find more workers by organizing job fairs, offering $2,000 hiring bonuses and trying to bring back some retired operators, but they've had only limited success with those efforts. Roach said that Metro is "literally begging for employees." So starting Monday, Metro Transit will reduce service along 38 bus routes and suspend service entirely on six other lines. Roach said Metro has "never had a circumstance where we were literally begging for employees" as is now the case.
Helena: Strong winds, with occasional gusts of up to 100 mph, made travel difficult along the Rocky Mountain Front in northern Montana, and record high temperatures were seen in some areas, the National Weather Service said Sunday. Southwest winds of 40 to 70 mph were forecast along the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, which is along the western edge of Glacier National Park. Motorists were warned the wind would cause difficult travel conditions on Interstate 15 from Great Falls to the Canadian border, along Montana Highway 200 from Great Falls to Simms; U.S. Highway 89 from Monarch to Babb; U.S. Highway 2 from Cut Bank to Marias Pass and U.S. Highway 87 from Great Falls to Lewistown. Isolated power outages, downed trees and property damage were possible, the weather service said. A wind gust of 102 mph was recorded at Deep Creek, an area southwest of Browning, on Sunday morning, while East Glacier recorded a gust of 85 mph, the weather service said. A high wind warning was also in effect for the rest of north-central Montana, east of the Continental Divide, where wind gusts could reach 50 to 70 mph. Temperatures Sunday and Sunday night were forecast to be about 20 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, with records expected in several locations, the weather service said. Helena reached 65 at midday Sunday, eclipsing the record of 56 set in 2014. Bozeman, Dillon, Chinook and Havre also set record high temperatures on Sunday. Chinook reached 66, breaking the record of 62.
North Platte: Chadron State College freshman Ashley Tolstedt became the first female Scout to earn an Eagle Rank last weekend in the Overland Trails Council, which stretches from Ogallala to Cozad and from the South Dakota to Kansas borders. "I'm proud that I am," the 18-year-old said, "but I think (the honor) should be worth the same that it's worth to anyone else who earns it. I don't think me being the first girl should mean that much." The North Platte Telegraph reported Tolstedt received her Eagle rank pin and neckerchief during a short ceremony in the St. Patrick's school gymnasium on Nov. 21. She officially earned the honor Oct. 1. Tolstedt also received a bronze Eagle Palm pin during the ceremony for the five additional merit badges she received over the required 21. Her required community service project was refurbishing the stage in St. Patrick's High School. Girls between the ages of 11 to 17 were allowed to join the Boy Scouts in 2019, but before that, Tolstedt would unofficially tag along when her younger brother, Billy, became a Cub Scout in 2012.
Las Vegas: Fire crews were able to repair an ammonia leak at a Las Vegas food processing plant before it turned into a more serious incident. Las Vegas Fire & Rescue officials said in a news release they received several 9-1-1 calls Saturday shortly before 10 p.m. about an odor coming from the downtown processing plant. A hazardous materials response team, along with Desert Gold Food Company technicians, responded. Although the odor was gone, they did find a source of a leak. Fire officials said there were no injuries and the leak was fixed relatively quickly. The plant was closed at the time reports started coming in. A few nearby businesses were evacuated as a precaution. Desert Gold Food Company is a local food service distributor.
Concord: The New Hampshire Department of Education is offering competitive grants to public schools and public charter schools to set up robotics teams and participate in contests. "Robotics is a great way to reinforce academic concepts while also fostering curiosity among children, promoting teamwork and improving critical technology skills," said Frank Edelblut, commissioner of education. "These grants will provide more New Hampshire students with the opportunity to embrace STEM concepts and learn through imaginative play and engineering." The estimated budget for each proposal is $2,000 to $15,000. Applications will be scored by independent peer reviewers. To be eligible, schools must have an established partnership with at least one sponsor. Proposals must include participation in at least one competitive event. The deadline for applications is Dec. 10.
Long Branch: Gov. Phil Murphy received his Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot Sunday at Monmouth Medical Center, his office posted to Twitter. Murphy urged everyone 18 and older to schedule shots if six months have passed since their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna shots, or two months after receiving one dose of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, especially as families gather and travel for the holidays. "The best way to strengthen your protection against COVID-19 is to get your booster shot - that's why, today, I got mine," Murphy tweeted. "I encourage everyone who's eligible to get theirs too." Murphy, 64, first lady Tammy Murphy and three of their children posed for a picture holding up their vaccination cards. The family joined more than 1.2 million people who work, live or study in New Jersey who received a third dose or booster of the vaccine, according to state data. Close to 6.2 million New Jersey residents are fully vaccinated, meaning they received two shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson.
Albuquerque: Three state watchdog offices have dismissed a nonprofit group's complaints accusing New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas of ethics violations in connection with a proposed merger involving the state's largest utility company. The actions were taken by the state Ethics Commission, the State Auditor's Office and the New Mexico Supreme Court's disciplinary board on complaints filed by New Energy Economy, the Albuquerque Journal reported. The complaints alleged a conflict of interest was created when Avangrid, the company seeking to merge with Public Service Co. of New Mexico, hired an attorney to promote the merger. The attorney, Marcus Real Jr., has previously represented Balderas in some matters and early in their careers they briefly worked together. "We were always confident that these complaints would be fairly reviewed and found to be baseless," Balderas said. NEE Executive Director Mariel Nanasi said she had "no comment" on the complaint dismissals.
New York City: The city's health commissioner said he is "strongly recommending" that everyone wear masks in indoor public settings as scientists work to learn more about the newly identified omicron variant of the coronavirus.Dr. Dave Chokshi said he was recommending that all New Yorkers wear masks "at all times when indoors and in a public setting like at your grocery or in a building lobby, offices and retail stores." The guidance was in line with the recommendation issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas where the virus is surging. Much is still not known about the omicron variant, which was identified last week by researchers in South Africa, including whether it is more contagious than other coronavirus variants, or more able to evade the protection of vaccines. Cases of the omicron variant have been found in countries including Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, but no cases have yet been detected in the United States.
Winston-Salem: The U.S. Geological Survey has reported another minor earthquake that took place near Winston-Salem. The Winston-Salem Journal reported that Saturday's quake was the seventh seismic event to occur in Forsyth and Surry counties in the past six days. The National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, reported that no injuries or structural damage has resulted from any of the seven earthquakes. Saturday's 1.9 magnitude quake occurred shortly before 8 a.m. about 3.1 miles southwest of Winston-Salem. USGS said that the other minor earthquakes occurred last Wednesday and Nov. 21 near Winston-Salem and near Mount Airy. "Right now, these events are very minor," said Jana Pursley, a geophysicist with the USGS.
Bismarck: North Dakota wants to extend the state's abandoned well plugging program by tapping into $4 billion made available in the federal infrastructure bill for the purpose of cleaning up old oil and gas sites across the nation. The Bismarck Tribune reported funding could potentially come North Dakota's way each year over the next decade to continue the work the Oil and Gas Division started in 2020 to clean up hundreds of wells. North Dakota spent tens of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid plugging more than 300 abandoned wells and reclaiming the sites over the past two years. The cleanup work is ongoing. State officials billed the program as a way to keep oil workers employed when the pandemic prompted a downturn in their industry, as well as a means to address the growing number of wells producers had abandoned. State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said the state initially overestimated how quickly it could complete reclamation work during colder fall and winter weather. He said the additional funds available through the infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this month could help North Dakota address the unfinished work.
Dayton: The Dayton Board of Zoning Appeals has approved the city's request to demolish a 129-year-old historic building that once was the site of the Wright brothers' first bicycle shop. The city wants to tear down the site because the building has deteriorated to a point where it can no longer be maintained and redeveloped, the Dayton Daily News has reported. Public safety concerns have also been raised by some who fear the building could collapse. Although agreeing that most of the building should be demolished, the Dayton Landmarks Commission rejected the demolition request in September. The panel instead recommended the city re-advertise the property and encourage its renovation in a way that preserves the historic facade. Preservation groups had also opposed the city's plan. They argued that keeping the building's facade and incorporating it into a redevelopment project would make the project eligible for historic tax credits. The city appealed the landmarks commission's decision to the zoning appeals board, claiming it erred in its application of architectural design standards. The board voted 5-1 last week to reverse the commission's decision and gave the city permission to raze the property. The shop was built in 1892 to serve as the Wright brothers' first bicycle shop. Soon thereafter, Gem City Ice Cream Co. bought the property and housed it until 1975 until it was sold to another company.
Stillwater: A complaint has prompted a federal investigation of Oklahoma's Public Health Lab in Stillwater, health officials said. Interim Health Commissioner Keith Reed said he did not have details about what the complaint entailed, saying those are considered confidential and are often made anonymously. The investigation of the lab was first reported Nov. 19 by The Frontier. After the story was published, the Health Department released a statement acknowledging that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had conducted a review of the Public Health Lab and the lab had made changes to address the agency's findings, including modernizing lab security, reviewing and adjusting staff training protocols, ensuring proper temperature control, storage and transportation of samples and resolving reporting on COVID-19 sequencing results. Reed declined to provide more details about the changes.
Portland: As Oregon prepares to take in approximately 1,200 Afghan refugees in the next 12 months, state lawmakers are asking the Legislature's emergency board for an additional $18 million to expand services and capacity. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported a letter - issued last week by state Rep. Khanh Pham and state Sen. Kayse Jama - outlined the need for the state to invest in everything from housing assistance and case management to legal services for newly arrived Afghans. Although dozens of refugees have already arrived in Oregon, 570 more are expected by the end of February. There are five resettlement agencies operating in Portland and Salem that are working to identify long-term housing while providing culturally specific education - including language and job training, schooling for families with children and legal aid. The $18 million requested by the two Democratic lawmakers is composede of $5.3 million to support the Department of Human Services' emergency management unit, $3.7 million to bolster case management and community outreach, $6 million for housing assistance and $2.9 million for legal services.
York: "Spruce'd Up! A Celebration of Trees" holiday tree decoration display and winter shopping market returns to PeoplesBank Park in York this holiday season. Admission is free and the event runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every weekend through Dec. 19. The event was created last year as a way to hold a safe, socially distanced outdoor event during the pandemic. Each tree is sponsored by either an area business or nonprofit and will be decorated with a theme. Event attendees can vote for their favorite trees and the top three winners will receive cash donations to a nonprofit of their choice.York Revolution has partnered with Downtown Inc. to bring some York County artisans and vendors to the event space this year a pop-up shop offering local goods. Spruce'd Up will also feature unique promotions throughout the duration of the event, including a visit from Santa Claus, a gingerbread house decorating competition, Christmas caroling and more.
Providence: Rhode Island's education department has awarded grants to eight districts to support homeless students. Gov. Dan McKee and Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said the department awarded more than $336,000 in McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act Education for Homeless Children and Youth sub-grants to eight school districts. The districts are: Central Falls, Middletown, Newport, North Kingstown, Providence, Warwick, West Warwick and Woonsocket. "It is critical that we support our most vulnerable students in Rhode Island's recovery," McKee said in a statement. "These funds are specifically geared to help students and families experiencing homelessness and will make a positive difference in many lives during a time of great need." Infante-Green said that students experiencing homelessness were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and it is their duty to ensure these students are provided the support needed to get ahead. The latest round of sub-grants is part of the third year of a three-year award that each of the selected districts received, totaling more than $970,000. The money comes from a federal grant administered by the state. The municipalities each received between $40,000 and $44,000.
Greenwood: Police responding to a fire alarm and the sound of gunshots at an assisted living facility said a resident had placed several rounds of ammunition in a toaster. The ammunition discharged on Sunday night, making employees believe a shooter was on the property, police in Greenwood said. Greenwood is about 70 miles northwest of Columbia. A small fire in the resident's room was extinguished. The resident was found unconscious and taken to a hospital to be treated for apparent smoke inhalation. No other injuries were reported, police said. Police did not say why they believe the ammunition was in the toaster.
Sioux Falls: Big cats are back on display at the Great Plains Zoo after a snow leopard died of COVID-19. The animals, including tigers and snow leopards, have tested negative for the virus and were to return to their exhibits on Wednesday, zoo officials said. On Oct. 6, the zoo reported that a tiger tested positive for the virus . Shortly after, other big cats at the zoo began exhibiting similar symptoms, zoo officials said. A day later. a snow leopard died. Necropsy results on the snow leopard confirmed she had died from pneumonia induced by the virus, zoo officials said. The Argus Leader reported the zoo's veterinary staff has run consistent lab tests on the big cats throughout their illness. Lab tests confirm all of the zoo's big cat collection is clear of the virus and can once again be in the exhibit space and seen by the public.
Nashville: The Metro Nashville Board of Education recently declined to update the district's policy regarding student-athlete eligibility to align with a new state law banning transgender athletes from participating in girls sports. At least six board members met during a governance committee meeting earlier this month to review a variety of policy updates and recommended the entire board should vote to defer the policy. The policy has to do with who is allowed to play on which sports teams in the district, which has a policy promising athletic opportunities to students of both sexes and that "no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, be treated differently from another person, or otherwise be discriminated against in any athletic program of the school." But it hasn't been updated since Tennessee lawmakers passed a state law in the spring requiring transgender students to compete in school sports according to their sex at birth. The law bans transgender middle and high school students from participating in sports under their gender identity. Metro Nashville Public Schools' updated policy would have added that students participating in interscholastic athletics "must meet the eligibility requirements set forth by the state and the governing body of the sport" if it had been approved.
Austin: The remains of more than 30 people who were exhumed from East Austin's historically segregated Oakwood Cemetery were reburied this month and will be memorialized in the coming weeks. The bodies were discovered underneath the cemetery's chapel in 2017 as employees were working on a restoration project. After the discovery, an academic partnership between the University of Connecticut and the University of Texas began to understand the lives of the people buried at Oakwood. On Nov. 15, city officials began to sort out what the best location would be to rebury the remains. The first phase of the process required archaeologists monitoring the selected area west of the chapel to confirm that the city wasn't going to disturb any unmarked burials on the site. After that confirmation, the reburial process was completed Nov. 17. The remains, which date to the mid- to late 1800s, were originally set to be reburied in 2020, but the timeline was delayed when archaeologists at the University of Connecticut approached the city with a pro bono offer to conduct DNA analysis, said Kim McKnight, Austin Parks and Recreation Department director. The archaeologists completed the DNA extraction, allowing for the return of the bodies, but the DNA analysis is ongoing and is expected to continue for 24 to 36 months. Osteological analysis showed the people to be racially diverse - including people from Anglo American, African American, Mexican American and indigenous descent. People who believe they might be related to the people reinterred will later be able to submit saliva samples to the University of Connecticut to see if there are genetic matches.
St. George: Mayor Michele Randall spoke at the 4th annual Menorah Lighting ceremony Sunday night to help promote religious freedom in St. George. About 100 attendees showed up for the event at the city's Town Square Park downtown, celebrating the first of eight days of Hanukkah. Locals who are part of the Jewish community joined in singing, dancing, and traditional holiday foods. The Menorah Lighting ceremony was one of 15,000 public Menorahs worldwide as part of the world's largest Hanukah observance. Rabbi Mendy Cohen, who is part of the Chabad Jewish Center, organized this event and had visitors from as far away as New York. "It's beautiful to see everyone come together from all walks of life all with the same message of unity, the message of light, the message of religious freedom," Cohen said. Last year's Menorah Lighting ceremony was virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The St. George Fire Department came to do the "chocolate drop" where firefighters threw candy from the top of the fire truck for children to collect. "I think it's awesome that our community is so diverse, and our Jewish community is growing, which is exciting to see," Randall said.
Danville: Students at Danville Middle and High School will soon be deciding on the school's new nickname, after the school board voted in March to end the use of "Indians" following hours of testimony from students, teachers, alumni and community members. A committee of students, parents, community members and staff narrowed 34 submissions from the wider community down to the four: Trailblazers, Bears, Mountaineers or Bobcats, the Caledonian Record reported. Students will be voting on the new name Friday. Adult participation in the voting process was discussed, said Middle and High School Principal David Schilling. "There were several students on the committee and everybody really felt that it that the students are the ones who are going to be living with… and that it really should be a student decision," he said. In response to a petition opposing the decision to change the name, the school board voted 4-1 in June reaffirming the policy to prohibit the representation of the school by any race or ethnic group as a mascot.
Richmond: The Virginia Department of Health will be monitoring sewage in various parts of the state to predict future outbreaks of COVID-19. The Danville Register & Bee reported Saturday that VDH is deploying up to 25 wastewater monitoring sites across the commonwealth. That's according to a recent report from the University of Virginia's Biocomplexity Institute, which collaborates with state health officials. The report does not state where those monitoring sites will be. But VDH has been polling utilities to assess their willingness to participate in a sampling program. Testing sewage can help health officials gauge COVID-19 infection in a community because people who are sick shed the virus in bodily waste, even if they're not showing symptoms. Combined with other programs that monitor COVID-19 infection in communities, the goal is to provide warnings before a surge begins.
Seattle: King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, a Republican, said he will run for Washington's 8th Congressional District House seat, seeking an office once held by his mother. Dunn told The Seattle Times he will challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Kim Schrier.The announcement sets up a potential top-tier challenge for the congressional seat that had been held by Republicans since the district was created in 1983 until Schrier won it for Democrats in 2018. Dunn, 50, has been a member of the county council since 2005. Schrier, 53, is a pediatrician in her second term in Congress. Dunn's mother, the late Jennifer Dunn, was the 8th District representative from 1993 to 2005.
Huntington: Negotiations are set to resume for striking maintenance and service workers at Cabell Huntington Hospital. Representatives for the hospital and more than 900 members of the the Service Employees International Union District 1999 are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Tuesday, the hospital said. Union members went on strike in early November after their contract with the hospital expired. Hospital human resources director Molly Frick said union members are being asked to begin paying health insurance premiums. Under the hospital's latest offer, it would have contributed more than 90% of health care costs for employees and their dependents. The offer also included 3% average annual wage increases, increased shift differentials, an enhanced uniform allowance and continued automatic annual contributions to eligible employees' retirement accounts. A temporary restraining order against striking workers will remain in place through Dec. 10. It prohibits certain activities outside the hospital.
Milwaukee: A survey of Midwest farm bankers found Wisconsin farmland values are up 10% from the same period in 2020. Wisconsin Public Radio reported the rise in land values is driven by strong commodity prices, and demand from nonfarm buyers. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago surveyed 151 bankers in their district, which includes Iowa and parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. The bankers reported the value of good quality farmland across the region had increased by 6% from the second quarter to the third quarter of this year. Compared to the third quarter of 2020, bankers reported that land values were up 18%. In Wisconsin, surveyed bankers reported land values were up 1% from the previous quarter and 10% from the same time last year. David Oppedahl, senior business economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said the value of land started increasing last fall as the agriculture industry recovered from the initial shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cheyenne: The Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne received a $40,000 gift from the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins, Colorado. "For us, it's an affirmation of our commitment to mission," said the Rev. Rodger McDaniel of Highlands Presbyterian, who added that the gift gave them another reason to be thankful this year. "And then the idea that at some point, we will be in the same position that Westminster is in finding another congregation with a mission commitment to give the gift to pass along the gift ... it's really an exciting opportunity." More than 25 years ago, a parishioner at a church in Waterloo, Iowa, gifted his church money to be used "for nonlocal mission giving," with the stipulation that the church share the gift with other Presbyterian churches in $40,000 increments.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 50 States