Alabama

Montgomery: The state’s infant mortality rate has reached a record low, but racial disparities have persisted, state health officials say. The Alabama Department of Public Health announced the 2018 infant mortality rate was the lowest in Alabama history with 7.0 deaths per 1,000 live births. It is an improvement over the 2017 rate of 7.4 and the 2016 rate of 9.1. However, Alabama’s mortality rate remains higher than the provisional U.S. rate of 5.7. A total of 405 infants born in 2018 in Alabama died before reaching their first birthday. There also remains a racial disparity in infant mortality rates, with the rate for black infants in Alabama at 11.0 in 2018, more than twice the infant mortality rate for white infants at 5.1.

Alaska

Anchorage: Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed a state budget Wednesday that would rely heavily on savings, after a push for deep cuts during his first year in office resulted in fierce public backlash that fueled a recall effort. The new proposal leaves room for discussion on what services the state should provide and how it should pay for them, says Brett Huber, a top adviser to the Republican governor. Dunleavy wants lawmakers to look at formula programs seen as cost drivers, which could include Medicaid and education. Brian Fechter, with the Office of Management and Budget, says the governor’s office currently isn’t planning to introduce legislation proposing specific changes but expects to engage with the Legislature on the issue. Dunleavy told reporters he is not proposing cuts to K-12 education but plans to roll out initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes.

Arizona

Phoenix: Alice Cooper will join the three surviving bandmates with whom he was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 at his 18th annual Christmas Pudding concert at the Celebrity Theatre. The Saturday show also features Johnny Depp, Rob Halford, Debbie Sledge of Sister Sledge, Joe Bonamassa and another celebrated Cooper bandmate, lead guitarist Nita Strauss, to name a few. All proceeds benefit the free music, dance, arts and vocational programs for youth ages 12-20 at Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Teen Center in Phoenix. Before the inaugural Pudding in 2001, Cooper said that “this show is going to be like if you went to a party and everybody got up and did a few songs. And everybody is going to get pudding.” The pudding is provided by acclaimed local chef Mark Tarbell.

Arkansas

Highfill: The airport serving northwest Arkansas and surrounding areas will be renamed the Northwest Arkansas National Airport, airport authority board members decided Wednesday. Previously known as Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, it will retain its XNA airport code, officials said. “The name is a perception thing. It is how people view us,” said Andrew Branch, chief business development officer at XNA. “When we talk to airlines, when we talk to UPS, FedEx in the future, how will we be perceived when they first see our name? Will they think we’re a smaller airport when we say we’re regional?” According to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, passenger boardings are up by nearly 17% so far this year at the airport in Highfill. The airport plans to update its signs and website with the new name, but officials said the cost will be minimal.

California

Sacramento: There’s new hope for an endangered frog that has vanished from half of its habitat. The state Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday approved protections for five of six populations of the foothill yellow-legged frog. The Center for Biological Diversity had sought protection for the stream-dwelling amphibians under California’s Endangered Species Act. The commission voted to list the frogs as endangered in the Southern Sierra, central and southern coasts. Populations in the Northern Sierra and the Feather River will be listed as threatened. The commission determined frogs on the state’s northern coast “do not currently warrant protection,” the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. The tiny, pebbly-skinned frogs were once found from Los Angeles County to the Oregon border, but their populations have shrunk thanks to threats from human encroachment, dams, climate change, pollution, and activities ranging from logging and mining to marijuana growing.

Colorado

Denver: A civilian oversight group says the Denver Sheriff Department hasn’t maintained a required list of deputies found to have credibility issues. It doesn’t know why, but the department now is reviewing thousands of internal affairs cases to create the list, The Denver Post reports. Civilian oversight officials expect to find 40 to 70 deputies with histories of lying, bias or even criminal convictions. The list is important because prosecutors in criminal cases are required to give defense attorneys any evidence that could help the accused. And a judge could rule that testimony provided by a deputy on the list is inadmissible. It’s unclear why the department never created a list, said Denver Department of Public Safety Director Troy Riggs. Denver police began creating a list in 2008.

Connecticut

Killingly: The heated debate over whether to bring back the town high school’s Native American-themed mascot left the school without an official athletic nickname days before the football team plays in a state championship game Saturday. The nine-member Killingly Board of Education on Wednesday night voted to rescind Killingly High School’s new Red Hawks mascot but stopped short of reinstating the former Redmen name, the Norwich Bulletin reports. The vote came at the end of more than two hours of sometimes contentious public comments. The issue returned after several Republican candidates ran on a platform of restoring the Redmen name. The previous school board had effectively voted to drop it last June. In October, the same board approved the new name after it was overwhelmingly approved by students.

Delaware

Wilmington: A bitter, drawn-out labor dispute between the city and its fire union has resurfaced over the city’s proposal for a new shift schedule that would require firefighters to work 13 additional days a year. Mayor Mike Purzycki’s administration says the change would eliminate the need for rolling bypass, the controversial practice of shutting down an engine to save on overtime cost. The International Association of Firefighters Local 1590, which represents Wilmington firefighters, objects to the change, contending the city will cut the days off that firefighters need to recuperate from long shifts and traumatic emergency scenes. “There are days we see our friends get hurt, or we do CPR on somebody who’s been married for 60 years, or we’ve pulled kids out of burning buildings that died in our arms,” said Local 1590 President Joe Leonetti. “That’s something we live with every day.”

District of Columbia

Washington: D.C. Council member Robert White is spearheading an effort demanding Mayor Muriel Bowser quicken the pace of testing and fixing lead in playground rubber, WUSA-TV reports. The little rubber pieces children play on and with may actually be poisonous. First exposed by parent-commissioned tests in May, elevated levels of lead were found inside the recycled tire pieces making up play mats. Children exposed to lead face developmental and hormonal problems. For White, the danger is personal. “My daughter attends a school where they found elevated levels of lead in the playground she uses,” White said. He led several council members in writing a letter to Bowser demanding she speed up the testing and find a solution.

Florida

Tallahassee: The state has been accepted to the Electronic Registration Information Center, a multistate network created by the PEW Charitable Trusts to improve the accuracy of voter registration systems. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office announced the news this week, as part of the state’s ongoing efforts to root out election security and fraud problems prior to the upcoming 2020 elections. In August, the state had asked to join the multistate network, which uses “a sophisticated and secure data-matching tool” to compare official data on eligible voters to keep voter rolls up to date. Databases include voter and motor vehicle registrations, U.S. Postal Service addresses and Social Security death records.

Georgia

Atlanta: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is putting up nearly $1.5 million to help control the state’s wild hog population. Georgia Public Broadcasting reports the funding is part of a program called the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program. A state resource conservationist with the department says money will go to controlling the population and educating people about the impact the animals have on natural resources and wildlife. Wild hogs are an aggressive invasive species that threatens everything from farms to endangered sea turtles in Georgia. Some of the funding will also go to restoration efforts. The Georgia Association of Conservation Districts says feral swine caused an estimated $150 million in damages to crops and natural resources in the state last year.

Hawaii

Honolulu: A pilot project to test the use of artificial turf on road median strips on Oahu has had mixed results, officials say. The artificial turf has worked well in some of Oahu’s nine city council districts, while others have experienced problems, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. Honolulu launched the $1 million pilot project to install artificial turf in nine medians, roundabouts and other traffic spaces in February 2016, officials say. Some of the 3-year-old turf has been damaged, while the turf on one median has become encircled with weeds due to errors made during installation. But the artificial grass on another median looks so realistic that a resident used a riding mower to cut it, an official says. Honolulu Councilwoman Kymberly Pine hopes the project will lead to reduced water use and landscaping maintenance but says the cost benefits have yet to be determined.

Idaho

Boise: The Ada County Sheriff’s Office is asking a judge to hold the Idaho Department of Correction in contempt for failing to quickly remove state inmates from the county jail. Sheriff Steve Bartlett says county taxpayers are paying for inmates who have been sentenced to prison but continue to be held at the jail facility, which is designed to hold low-level offenders or people waiting for trial or sentencing. He wants the judge to enforce a decades-old court order that requires IDOC to remove inmates from the Ada County Jail within seven days of learning the inmates have been sentenced to state custody. “The Ada County Jail has 1,116 beds – and we’ve been right up to the edge of our capacity for several years now. Jails should be at 85% capacity or less to ensure staff can manage the population at peak efficiency and safety,” Bartlett says.

Illinois

Chicago: Two Chicago Park District workers escaped without serious injury after the salt truck they were navigating along an icy lakefront bike path slid into Lake Michigan. The pickup truck hit a slick spot and slipped backward into the water on Chicago’s Near North Side about 7:20 a.m. Wednesday, said Dep. District Chief Jason Lach of the Chicago Fire Department Marine Dive Operations. It slid halfway into the water before getting caught on a breakwall. The two occupants were able to escape the sinking vehicle and crawl to safety, and both are in good condition. Light snow blanketed the Chicago area early Wednesday, with temperatures at about 17 degrees, the National Weather Service said. The snow and cold left a heavy ice buildup along the bike path. “They were out there salting the area, and the truck slid in,” Park District spokeswoman Michelle Lemons told the Chicago Tribune.

Indiana

West Lafayette: Purdue is looking for pets to volunteer as participants in a national study looking at the general health and wellness of dogs. The Dog Aging Project is a collaboration by more than 40 scientists and researchers across the U.S. and will be looking at dogs of all breeds, mixes and ages. Purdue’s Audrey Ruple, an assistant professor of One Health Epidemiology in the College of Health and Human Sciences and one of the researchers leading the study, is hoping to recruit dogs from across Indiana. A veterinary epidemiologist specializing in dogs as a model of human health, Ruple says the goal of the study is to examine factors that maximize the health and longevity of dogs, which can be linked to the health and longevity of humans. The Dog Aging Project will follow participating dogs to watch how different environmental and biological factors can affect longevity for the next 10 years, though the schedule could extend beyond that time.

Iowa

Des Moines: As of Thursday, felons who discharge their sentence from a prison in the state or complete their parole will be given a nearly completed application to restore their voting rights. Each felon in Iowa must apply individually to the governor’s office to have their voting rights restored – one of the most restrictive processes in the country. But that process is becoming simpler. Iowa Department of Corrections Director Beth Skinner said her department was rolling out a system to auto-complete 12 of the 14 questions on the voting rights restoration application. An officer will then work with the inmate to complete the last two questions as part of their discharge from the correctional system, Skinner said. “It’s going to be all auto-populated for them so they don’t have to go back and look for old offenses and dates,” she said.

Kansas

Topeka: The State Board of Education has voted to encourage school districts to pass strict vaping bans. The policy approved unanimously this week calls for prohibiting students and staff from using, possessing or promoting any tobacco products, including vape pens, while they’re on school property, in school vehicles or at activities, The Kansas City Star reports. The board also wants districts to bar parents, volunteers, contractors and vendors from using any tobacco products and e-cigarettes “in any district facility, in school vehicles, at school-sponsored activities, programs or events, and on school owned property at all times.” Kathy Busch, the board’s chairwoman, called the policy recommendation “quite inclusive and definitive.” Many school districts have sued leading e-cigarette maker Juul, including those in Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Olathe.

Kentucky

Frankfort: The state’s’s embattled education commissioner resigned Thursday, handing new Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear what he wanted in reshaping the management in the education system to reflect his opposition to charter schools. The state’s newly reorganized state school board accepted Wayne Lewis’ immediate resignation at a special meeting. Beshear set Lewis’ removal in motion Tuesday when he disbanded the Kentucky Board of Education and then recreated it with 11 new members on his first day in office, fulfilling a campaign pledge. During his run for governor, Beshear said he hoped the reorganization would lead to Lewis’ removal. The new board’s chairman, David Karem, called it an “amicable resolution” to Lewis’ status and said his departure was consistent with the goals of the the state’s 30-year-old education reform law.

Louisiana

New Orleans: A state law that automatically transfers 15-year-old suspects to adult court if they are indicted by a grand jury for certain violent crimes was upheld Wednesday by the Louisiana Supreme Court. The 4-3 ruling came in the case of a suspect who had just turned 15 when he was accused of raping a child. A lower court ruled that transferring him from juvenile to a regular criminal court following his indictment – without a hearing on whether he should be transferred – was an unconstitutional violation of due process. The lower court cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding that juveniles should be treated differently from adults in sentencing, according to the ruling. The lower court said a transfer to regular criminal court for adults imposes “a significant deprivation of liberty” and warrants protection under the Constitution’s due process clause and that the transfer shouldn’t take place until a court has determined the suspect wouldn’t benefit from juvenile court programs. The high court disagreed.

Maine

Blue Hill: There’s no Tinder for waterfowl, but that didn’t stop a bird owner from trying to find a match for a mourning duckling. One of Chris Morris’ ducks, Yellow Duck, lost its mate to a hungry bobcat a couple of weeks ago at Morris’ yard in Blue Hill. Morris, a 31-year-old special education teacher, drew up a singles ad for Yellow Duck and placed it on a community bulletin board at a local grocery store. The ad declares: “Duck seeking duck. Lonesome runner duck seeks companion. Partner recently deceased.” It also includes an email address dedicated to the dating search and states, “serious replies only.” The Bangor Daily News reports farm owner Sadie Greene might have just the duck to mend Yellow Duck’s broken heart. Greene and Morris are arranging a meeting for the ducks Sunday. Yellow Duck’s favorite food is slugs, and they might be on the menu for the big date, Morris said.

Maryland

Baltimore: The state would invest millions of dollars to fight violent crime and would strengthen penalties for repeat gun-violence offenders and witness intimidation, under a package of initiatives announced Wednesday by Gov. Larry Hogan. Hogan’s proposed state budget would pay for 25 new prosecutors and support staff for the attorney general to prosecute violent crimes. He also announced an additional $21 million for the city of Baltimore and the state’s attorney’s office. He made the announcement in Baltimore, where there have been more than 300 homicides each year for five years straight. The Republican governor is proposing a new strategy to reduce youth violence in the city. He also said he plans to push for legislation to publish sentencing records of judges in violent crime cases to hold them more accountable for their sentencing decisions.

Massachusetts

Boston: Local lawmakers imposed new limits on police in immigration matters Wednesday in response to revelations the department has been closely coordinating with federal authorities for years despite a sanctuary city policy. The City Council approved changes to the city’s 5-year-old Trust Act, which limits the role city officials play in enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh said the changes, which his office developed along with City Councilor Josh Zakim, are meant to reassure residents that Boston police remain focused on public safety, not civil immigration enforcement. Marcos Charles, who heads U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Boston office, says laws like Boston’s Trust Act make communities less safe. But the American Civil Liberties Union says city leaders should have gone further in their new restrictions.

Michigan

Escanaba: A 59-year-old man who told his lawyer he wanted to rob an Upper Peninsula business so he could return to prison could be locked up for the rest of his life. Mark Wilson, of Portage, was sentenced Monday to at least 25 years in prison, a sentence that was enhanced because of past convictions. It means he won’t be eligible for parole until he’s in his 80s. “Somewhere along the road, your honor, I just seemed to have lost the ability to function normally with society,” Wilson told a Delta County judge. “I would like to say to the people that I apologize in the most sincere manner for my behavior” last July. The Daily Press reports that Wilson gave a note to a Hardee’s employee in Escanaba, indicating that he was robbing the restaurant. Police say he then stayed in the restroom until officers arrived.

Minnesota

Duluth: The city is the latest to consider banning conversion therapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation. A proposal to ban the practice was introduced at a City Council meeting this week, with member Gary Anderson citing a lack of action by the Legislature, where a proposed statewide conversion therapy ban failed earlier this year. Minneapolis recently became the first Minnesota city to ban conversion therapy. Opponents to similar bans argue such ordinances violate freedom of religion or speech. Duluth’s ban would apply to minors and be enforced through fines. Jamie Conniff, a family medicine physician in Duluth who is gay, says he often works with young LGBT patients, many of whom he says “struggle against the message something’s wrong with them.” The Duluth council could vote on the ban next week.

Mississippi

Gulfport: A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a military family who says they were sickened by toxic mold at Keesler Air Force Base. U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr.’s ruling dismissed one of 14 lawsuits filed against Hunt Southern Group and Hunt MH Property Management, the owner and property manager of housing at the base in Biloxi, The Sun Herald reports. The family failed to established through expert medical witnesses that their illnesses were specifically caused by the housing’s mold, he noted, adding that experts only said that mold could generally cause the family’s illnesses. The family has complained of chest pain, rhinitis, fatigue, headaches, rashes, dermatitis, vomiting and more. Court-ordered medical examinations concluded mold exposure wasn’t behind the family’s sickness.

Missouri

Patton: A southeast Missouri school district was flooded with complaints over the latest school-sponsored raccoon hunt, a tradition that dates back 37 years. The Banner Press reports more than 2,200 people across the country signed an online petition to end last weekend’s hunt, for which 94 raccoons were brought in. FFA adviser Sarah Burgfeld says she and other officials in the Meadow Heights district received so many phone calls and emails that she filed a harassment complaint with the Bollinger County Sheriff’s Department, citing name-calling and vulgarity. She says the event generally raises $500 to $600, although that’s not the focus. She says hunting provides “multi-generational, traditional bonding.” Jack Coomer, president of Castor River Coon Hunters, says the raccoons either went home with the hunters or were given to a man who utilizes them for food and their pelts.

Montana

Hamilton: An animal shelter is caring for 39 huskies found on a property in western Montana. Bitter Root Humane Association operations manager Cyra Saltzman says the dogs, including two litters of puppies, were rounded up the Monday before Thanksgiving on land northeast of Hamilton. Saltzman tells the Ravalli Republic some of the dogs are more socialized, while others were wild. The shelter first learned of the huskies when a spay and neuter group called to report someone had dropped off a dog that needed its leg amputated because it appeared to have been shot. A second report came from a landowner reporting three dogs running free. Eventually Saltzman and others found a property where a large number of huskies were running free. Saltzman said she could not talk about the dogs’ former owner. The youngest puppies are in foster care and not yet available for adoption, Saltzman says.

Nebraska

Shelton: A fire Wednesday morning destroyed a historic church near this central Nebraska city. The fire at the Zion Lutheran Church was reported just after 7 a.m., and firefighters who arrived minutes later found the structure was engulfed in flames. Shelton Fire Chief Jason Wiehn said the church was destroyed. Fighting the fire was complicated by a lack of water, which forced trucks to return to Shelton and Ravenna to fill up with more water, he said. The church, which was built in the early 1900s, was about 10 miles northwest of Shelton. Church member Rick Pope told KSNB-TV the fire was visible miles away at his home. “I live about 5 miles away and could see a glow,” he said. “My son called me about that same time, and we came up and watched it burn down.” The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined.

Nevada

Reno: The city is either buying or saying goodbye to the Space Whale, which has been a centerpiece of downtown’s City Plaza since 2017. Principal artist Matt Schultz says he has offered the city the two life-sized, stained glass whale sculptures at the price of $500,000. It’s uncertain if the city is going to bite. “The city doesn’t have an appetite to lease it anymore,” says Alexis Hill, the city’s arts, culture and special events manager. “It was always a temporary piece. It would be really sad to see it go, but the (Reno Arts and Culture Commission) is really excited to have a new piece if we don’t proceed with the Space Whale’s purchase.” The city, which has leased and purchased several other Burning Man sculptural installations, leased the whale for a total of $64,000, paid for through the city’s room tax. That contract ended in August. But “everyone wants the Space Whale to stay,” Schultz says.

New Hampshire

Charlestown: The Episcopal Church of New Hampshire is launching a new training program to make becoming a priest easier. The diocese will offer a certificate program that requires students to attend nine in-person weekend trainings, according to church officials. In addition to the training sessions, students will complete an online curriculum, provided by the Iona center. Traditionally, becoming a priest requires three years of training at seminary school, New Hampshire Public Radio reports. “This really makes it easier for people to answer that call, whether that call to ministry comes in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s – we even have people doing this post-retirement,” says Tina Pickering, who works in ministry development for the church.

New Jersey

Trenton: The process of placing marijuana legalization on the 2020 ballot is officially underway. The Assembly Oversight Committee on Thursday held a public hearing on the constitutional amendment that, if placed on the ballot and passed, would make New Jersey the 12th state to legalize weed for recreational purposes. “We have people whose lives are being ruined because the law prohibits the use of marijuana,” said Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, D-Middlesex, who chairs the committee. “We’re not doing this responsibly.” Both houses are scheduled to vote on the ballot bill Monday. If three-fifths of all members approve the legal weed ballot measure, it will be placed on the November 2020 ballot. Otherwise, both houses would have to approve the ballot bill again.

New Mexico

Santa Fe: Records show state agricultural officials are approving fewer licenses for the use of cyanide bombs – a device deployed by ranchers to kill coyotes. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports records show state-issued licenses for cyanide bombs has declined from 86 in 2015 and 2016 to 54 in 2019. That’s a 37% reduction. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week reauthorized the use of devices known as cyanide bombs targeting coyotes. Ranchers say they still need the devices, also known as M-44s, to kill hungry coyotes, which can cost the industry thousands of dollars a year in livestock losses. Environmentalists say the devices are a horrible way to kill coyotes and point to collateral damage inflicted on dogs and other animals. They say M-44s also present a risk for humans – even killing a Utah man last year.

New York

Albany: The state is prohibiting the aerial spraying of an agricultural pesticide that can harm the nervous systems of infants and young children. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’s directing the state Department of Environmental Conservation to ban nearly all uses of the pesticide by December 2020. But New York will allow the spraying of the pesticide on apple tree trunks until July 2021. Environmental group Friends of the Earth says the pesticide also poses the risk of acute poisoning and neurological damage in farm workers. Lawmakers approved a bill this spring to prohibit the pesticide. Environmental groups have since pushed Cuomo to act to ban the pesticide, chlorpyrifos, used on golf courses and crops including corn, soybeans and broccoli. Apple farmers have argued that chlorpyrifos is the only pesticide available for use against pests such as the rosy apple aphid.

North Carolina

Raleigh: The state has made little progress providing every child “an opportunity to receive a sound basic education” since the state Supreme Court declared the constitutional mandate in 1997, according to a report released this week addressing public education shortfalls and student achievement. The findings from California-based WestEd stem from a trial judge’s order last year seeking an outside group to recommend a pathway to comply fully with the so-called Leandro decision – named after one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging funding for poor school systems. Some proposals in the report suggest it could cost several billion dollars over eight years to comply. It’s difficult for a judge to force the General Assembly to spend the money, however, because legislators appropriate state funds.

North Dakota

Fargo: A group of women who farm or work in agriculture recently attended a unique, one-day class at North Dakota State University to learn about the ins and outs of farm commodities, Minnesota Public Radio News reports. As more women around the country get involved in the day-to-day business of managing farms, they’ll need these skills to help decide when to sell crops for the optimum return. In the university’s commodity trading lab, the class learns about the futures market, where traders buy and sell contracts to deliver corn or soybeans in the future. The actual grain never changes hands. But the prices set on the futures market directly affect the cash price, what farmers get when they haul grain to the elevator.

Ohio

Toledo: Two birding groups filed a federal lawsuit trying to block a planned wind farm in Lake Erie, saying the project poses a danger to birds that fly through the area. The groups said the proposed six-turbine wind farm for just off the shore of Cleveland “would pose substantial collision risks to the enormous numbers of birds that use the area throughout the year, including large concentrations of migrating songbirds.” The U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have failed to evaluate the environmental impacts of the project and alternatives as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the federal Clean Water Act, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday. The Energy Department and the Army Corps declined to comment. If approved, the wind farm would be the first offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes, The Blade reports.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City: Scissortail Park, the city’s new downtown green space and gathering place, is planning its inaugural holiday celebration, the Sugar Plum Promenade, from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The sprawling new park is getting in on the festive fun with a holiday train, free photos with Santa, hot chocolate, s’mores, children’s crafts, strolling performers, costumed characters and more. Admission is free, although some activities have small fees. For more information, go to scissortailpark.org.

Oregon

Salem: Some 200 hand-blown glass ornaments have been hidden in the Willamette National Forest to kick off the Willamette Valley Visitors Association’s second annual ornament hunt, which officially began Nov. 29 and will last until Jan. 1. Becca Barnhart, the marketing and public relations manager for the visitors association, says 40 of the 200 ornaments had been found and claimed as of Tuesday. Ornaments were hidden along approximately 1,700 miles of trails. People who find an ornament can also register to win one of three grand prizes: dinner, an activity or an overnight stay in the Willamette Valley. Those who find one are encouraged to use the hashtags #FindYourOrnament” #FindYourTrail and #IwonderWV on social media. More information is available online.

Pennsylvania

Bloomsburg: A farm that supplies vaccine manufacturers is donating nearly 100,000 surplus eggs to a central Pennsylvania food bank that’s scrambling to get them to needy families. The Bloomsburg Press Enterprise reports the eggs are too small or too large for the drug-making process, so they are going to help families in Columbia and Montour counties. A charity picked up about 8,000 dozen eggs this week, driving them away in a box truck. Only about 100 were broken in the one-hour journey. Volunteers had stockpiled hundreds of egg cartons to prepare for the donation. The eggs don’t need to be refrigerated and can last about two weeks. The food bank expects to distribute them to food pantries, fire halls and churches, expecting that holiday baking will provide a demand for the eggs. It’s the third year the farm has made the donation – two years ago it amounted to 320,000 eggs.

Rhode Island

Providence: The state Board of Elections is advancing a proposal that would allow candidates to use campaign funds to pay for child care expenses, as federal candidates now can. The board voted to put the proposal out for public comment. Lawyer Raymond Marcaccio told the board on Monday that this plan would only cover child care costs that are incurred because a parent is running for office, The Providence Journal reports. Marcaccio said the proposed language is similar to that used by the Federal Election Commission. The Rhode Island Senate approved similar legislation in June, but the bill did not make it through the House. “It’s obvious that this is necessary,” said Stephen Erickson, the board commissioner. “Child-care expenditures can be an impediment to somebody holding office or running for office, and so this seem eminently reasonable.”

South Carolina

Columbia: One of the state’s most liberal lawmakers and one of its most conservative are joining together to revive the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 1970s proposal banning any discrimination based on sex is being revived in several state capitols across the U.S. It is just one state away from the 38 needed before it can become the 28th amendment to the Constitution. But there is another hurdle: a ratification deadline. Congress extended an initial 1979 deadline to 1982. Supporters acknowledge they will likely need the current Congress to grant another extension. Barring that, they will have to go to court. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, introduced a resolution in January to ratify the amendment in South Carolina. She was joined Wednesday by state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who served as former Gov. Mark Sanford’s chief of staff.

South Dakota

Pierre: A new “Hemp. We’re On It.” website is taking aim at Gov. Kristi Noem’s opposition to legalizing industrial hemp. The Libertarian Party of South Dakota created the website onhemp.org and “Hemp. We’re On It.” logo, both of which mirror Noem’s recent anti-meth campaign “Meth. We’re On It” and website onmeth.com that went viral in November. “Misinformation” about industrial hemp is “everyone’s problem,” and it remains illegal in South Dakota due to Noem’s “misguided stances,” the Libertarian Party says on its website. “But we can approach this problem from different angles, so one person doesn’t prevent our counties, towns and neighborhoods from benefiting from this versatile crop.” South Dakota is one of three states that haven’t legalized industrial hemp.

Tennessee

Knoxville: Knox County has voted against creating new rules for Bible Release Time and similar programs, despite concerns about what happens when some students are pulled from their classrooms for religious studies. With a 5-4 vote Wednesday night, the Knox County Board of Education decided not to create more standards for these programs, news outlets report. Tennessee law already lets parents pull their children from school for religious studies. A pilot program was allowed in Knox County on the condition that it was conducted off school property and not funded by taxpayer money. Board members were voting on additional protocols that would formalize the program. Proposals included setting specific dates and times when students could be taken out to minimize classroom disruptions, and requiring the religious institutions to have liability insurance and perform background checks on people interacting with children.

Texas

Austin: The percentage of the state’s youngest children without health insurance has increased since 2016, according to a report released Wednesday. In 2018, 8.3% of Texas children under age 6 – a total of 198,014 – were uninsured. The rate has grown by 1 percentage point, or about 23,000 children, since 2016, according to a report by Georgetown University Health Policy Institute. The data mirrors growth seen in the uninsured rates among all Texans. Texas has the second-highest rate of uninsured young children, behind Alaska. Nationally, more than 1 million children under the age of 6, or 4.3%, lack health insurance. About 19% of the country’s uninsured young children are in Texas, even though the state’s share of the nation’s population of young children is about half that percentage.

Utah

St. George: The population of Washington County has risen more than 30% since 2010 – adding 42,435 people – making it the county with the most rapid rate of growth in the state, according to a new report from the University of Utah. The university’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute based its analysis on census data, tracking Utah’s population growth since 2010. Other parts of the state, like Utah County, saw higher numbers of population growth, but not as high of a rate increase. All counties in the state are projected to grow over the next 50 years. The institute has predicted Washington County would grow to more than 500,000 residents by 2065, a 229% increase over the next 50 years. The county is projected to become the fourth-most-populous county in the state, beating out Weber County, according to the report.

Vermont

Montpelier: City officials say they hope the ice rink on the Statehouse lawn will be open for the holidays. The Times Argus reports that preparations for installing the rink have been underway this week. A newly designed rink opened last year after complaints about the wooden railing around a previous rink. Assistant City Manager Cameron Niedermayer said she expected the preparations to be completed by the end of the week. She said the rink will then be filled with water. When it opens to the public depends on when the water freezes. The rink will be open seven days a week and have motion-activated lighting to allow for night skating. The new rink was funded last year by a $15,000 state recreation grant, $25,000 from the Montpelier Recreation Department and a pledge from the National Life Group.

Virginia

Richmond: Gov. Ralph Northam is pushing for tuition-free community college for low- and middle-income students who pursue degrees in high-demand fields. Northam announced Thursday that his budget proposal for the upcoming legislative session includes $145 million for the initiative. Northam calls the program his “G3” initiative, which stands for “Get Skilled. Get a Job. Give Back.” He campaigned heavily on the idea when he ran for governor in 2017. The plan targets industries that include health care and information technology. Passing a two-year state spending plan will be a top priority for the General Assembly during the 2020 session. During last month’s legislative elections, voters gave Democrats full control of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation. The governor is expected to share full details of his budget plan next week.

Washington

Seattle: The City Council has unanimously approved a $34 million contribution to a new Ocean Pavilion at the Seattle Aquarium, which could cost up to $120 million total. KOMO reports the new pavilion would include a giant, glass-bottomed shark tank at the entrance to greet visitors and and people who pass by. The aquarium describes the new 48,000-square-foot exhibit like a giant martini glass with up to five different species of sharks from the Coral Triangle, an area in the Pacific Ocean near Indonesia with endangered sea life. The 325,000-gallon tank and exhibit to be known as the Coral Canyon will be filled with big sharks, big sting rays and other sea life – all to draw attention to endangered sea life.

West Virginia

Glen Jean: Visitor center hours have changed for the season at New River Gorge National River, the National Park Service says. Sandstone Visitor Center was closed Monday and will remain closed through the spring. Canyon Rim Visitor Center in Lansing will remain open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but will be closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day. All other park facilities are open through the winter, including campgrounds, parking lots, boat launches, roads and most trails, the park said in a news release. The park is normally open 24 hours a day, but some areas may be closed temporarily due to hazardous conditions such as snow or ice. Long-term and most temporary closures are posted on the park’s webpage under “Alerts,” or on social media platforms.

Wisconsin

Milwaukee: Tiny bubbles will get the beer festival treatment at All Fizzed Up, the state’s first hard seltzer event, March 28 at Turner Hall Ballroom. At least 25 hard seltzer companies will be represented, and hard seltzer enthusiasts will be able to sample more than 100 flavor varieties. In addition to sipping, All Fizzed Up will have food available for purchase. A DJ will spin music while you sip. Handcrafted cocktails, assorted wines, beers and ciders also will be available. VIP tickets are $65.50 and include admission one hour earlier, along with 15 3-ounce sample tickets. General admission tickets cost $45.50 with 7:30 p.m. admission. General admission tickets include 10 3-ounce sample tickets. Attendees also receive a commemorative pint glass and keepsake photo.

Wyoming

Daniel: Two sheriff’s deputies channeled their inner cowboy and lassoed a deer flailing in a frigid pond after it fell through thin ice, authorities said Wednesday. Sublette County sheriff’s Deputies Justin Hays and Joshua Peterson responded to a report Tuesday afternoon that a deer had fallen into a pond near the small ranching town of Daniel in southwestern Wyoming. Because the ice was too thin to walk on, they lassoed the deer and pulled it to shore. They left the deer on a nearby driveway where it could warm up, and it was gone a few hours later, sheriff’s officials said. Peterson stood at one end of the pond with a lasso and drove the deer toward Hays at the other end, Sgt. Travis Bingham said. Peterson’s body camera captured video of Hays as he swung the lasso around his head before looping it easily around the deer.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

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