Protest for prisons, skeleton on board, monarch slump: News from around our 50 states – USA TODAY

Alabama

A man walks past a Confederate monument in a park in downtown Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 15, 2019.

Birmingham: The city will pay a $25,000 fine for obstructing the view of a Confederate monument, a judge ordered last week under the direction of the state Supreme Court. Circuit Judge Marshell Jackson Hatcher imposed the fine that had been ordered by the state’s high court. Justices in November ruled that Birmingham violated a state law protecting historic monuments and directed the circuit judge to enter an order declaring that Birmingham violated the 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act and to fine the city $25,000. Alabama sued Birmingham in 2017 after municipal officials in the majority-black city erected a wooden box obscuring the inscriptions on a 52-foot-tall obelisk honoring Confederate veterans. The 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act prohibits relocating, removing, altering or renaming public buildings, streets and memorials that have been standing for more than 40 years.

Alaska

Juneau: The Legislature failed to override more than $70 million in vetoes dealing with school construction projects and the state ferry system. Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued the vetoes last summer, after lawmakers had adjourned. The veto override session was announced late Thursday, with no clear indication of sufficient support. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent from Dillingham, said in a statement that Alaskans “deserve to know where their elected officials stand.” House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, in response, said the vote “was about nothing more than creating material to use against other members in the next election cycle.” Lawmakers attempted to override a $5 million veto of funds for the ferry system and vetoes of funds for school debt reimbursement to municipalities and a construction fund for rural schools. The issues were considered as part of one vote.

Arizona

This dummy skeleton was found strapped to the passenger seat during a traffic stop for an HOV lane violation in Phoenix.

Phoenix: A 62-year-old man was cited last week after trying to disguise a fake skeleton as a passenger just to use the HOV lane. The Arizona Department of Public Safety says a trooper pulled over the man Thursday after noticing he had placed a fake skeleton in the passenger’s front seat. The skeleton was sitting upright, wearing a hat and tied to the front seat. Department spokesman Raul Garcia said troopers cite about 7,000 HOV lane violators every year. Last April, a man was pulled over after driving in the HOV lane with a mannequin wearing a sweatshirt, baseball cap and sunglasses.

Arkansas

Thieves recently stole the historic school bell from Salem's Old Main building.

Salem: Thieves have stolen the old school bell that hung at the top of the steps at the historic Old Main schoolhouse. Friends of Old Main Board of Directors member Ron Plumlee recently discovered the bell was missing while checking on maintenance at the old schoolhouse. The bolts holding the bell in place were apparently sawed off, Plumlee said. The theft is suspected to have required at least two people because of the bell’s size and weight, he said. The bell has been at the top of the steps for at least 70 years. The school was built in 1930 and is now operated by Friends of Old Main as a nonprofit activity center. The bell was brass with an inscription around the top and has many marks from ringing over the years. Anyone with information that might lead to the recovery of the bell or the apprehension of those responsible is asked to contact the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office at (870) 895-2601.

California

A monarch butterfly alights on a flower in Vista, Calif., in 2015.

San Francisco: The western monarch butterfly population wintering along the state’s coast remains critically low for the second year in a row, according to an environmental group. The count of the orange-and-black insects by the Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates, recorded about 29,000 butterflies in its annual survey. That’s not much different from last year’s tally, when an all-time-low 27,000 monarchs were counted. By comparison, about 4.5 million monarch butterflies wintered in forested groves along the California coast in the 1980s. Scientists say the butterflies are at critically low levels in the western United States due to the destruction of their milkweed habitat along their migratory route as housing expands into their territory and use of pesticides and herbicides increases. Researchers also have noted the effect of climate change.

Colorado

Denver: A research center at Colorado State University dedicated to studying the chemical compounds in hemp is expected to open this spring, school officials said Thursday. The announcement comes after the university received a $1.5 million donation from a Golden-based company that makes products out of CBD, a popular cannabis compound with unproven health claims. The money would be used to fund research, cover operating costs and purchase equipment, university officials said. The facility would allow faculty and undergraduate and graduate students to study the formulation of cannabinoids, separation efficiencies, efficacy testing and more, The Denver Post reports. Researchers at the facility would work in partnership with Panacea Life Sciences, a company founded by university alumna Leslie Buttorff that manufactures CBD products for people and pets.

Connecticut

New Haven: The state Department of Motor Vehicles will soon allow a nonbinary gender designation on driver’s licenses. Starting Monday, three gender options will be available for state-issued license and identification cards – male, female and nonbinary, denoted by the letter X, according to the New Haven Register. “We want to be sure that we’re fair for everyone, to respect people’s gender identity,” Deputy Commissioner Tony Guerrera said. Connecticut will be one of 12 states that allow nonbinary gender identification on driver’s licenses, he said. The move was one of the department’s top priorities when Guerrera and Commissioner Sibongile Magubane were appointed, he said. State Sen. Matt Lesser said Saturday that it would be important for people who identify as nonbinary and revenue-neutral for everyone else.

Delaware

Seal sightings usually hit their peak in Delaware in February.

Lewes: The public needs to keep a safe distance from the seals that will be present along beaches and other waterways through April, according to the state’s official marine mammal and sea turtle stranding response organization. The MERR Institute recommends the public stay at least 150 feet from seals and always keep pets on a leash and at a safe distance because seals are wild animals that can bite if they feel threatened. It is common at this time of the year to see seals on area beaches, docks and other locations where they can rest, the Delaware State News reports. Four species of seals may visit Delaware. Oftentimes these animals are healthy, but at other times they may be suffering from illness or injury and in need of veterinary care, officials said. Anyone who encounters a seal is asked to contact MERR as soon as possible at (302) 228-5029. More information can be found on MERR’s website.

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