Hawaii Headlines

Governor withdraws emergency order for telescope protesters


The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Hawaii’s governor on Tuesday rescinded an emergency proclamation put in place to deal with Native Hawaiian protesters who are blocking a road to prevent the construction of a giant telescope at a mountain summit they consider sacred.

Gov. David Ige said there were no immediate plans to move heavy equipment to Mauna Kea’s summit. He also noted two hurricanes were approaching that could affect the protest area and the rest of the state.

Hurricane Erick, approaching from the east, is forecast to pass south of the Big Island later this week. Following right after is Hurricane Flossie, which appears on track to come close to the islands early next week.

“For the safety of all involved, we want to de-escalate activities,” Ige said at a news conference.

The governor declared an emergency on July 17 to give law enforcement more authority to close areas of the mountain and to use additional National Guard troops to help deliver construction gear.

The protest to stop the Thirty Meter Telescope is in its 16th day.

Law enforcement arrested 38 people, mostly elders, who were blocking the road on July 17, the third day of the protest. Ige said law enforcement on the ground judged it wasn’t in the best interests of everyone’s safety to arrest more people.

“The numbers of protesters there who appeared on the mountain was greater than anticipated,” Ige said.

There were about 1,000 people on the mountain the day of the arrests. On the weekends, there have been more than 2,000 people.

The protest group Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu called the governor’s announcement “a victory that reaffirms our resolve.”

“Governor Ige has admitted that he underestimated our strength, unity, and broad public support. Our numbers continue to grow and his ability to oppose his own people is becoming less and less justifiable,” the statement said.

Ige said the state and county would continue their efforts after the storms pass to allow the telescope to be built. Ige has asked Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim to lead talks to find common ground.

Ige indicated he found it helpful to visit the protest site last week. “I certainly found in instructive for me to be able to speak with and talk with protesters face to face. It gave me an appreciation for their passion and commitment,” he said.

The Thirty Meter Telescope has selected Mauna Kea’s summit for its project because the weather and air conditions there are among the best in the world for viewing the skies.

The Hawaii Supreme Court last year ruled the international consortium behind the telescope lawfully obtained a permit to build the telescope, clearing the way for the project to proceed.

Separately, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources granted the project a two-year extension on a deadline to start construction as specified in a conservation district use permit. The new deadline is Sept. 26, 2021.

The department noted the court case delayed construction for 13 months and the protests are currently delaying construction.

Michigan Headlines

Michigan GOP sues to block redistricting commission

Associated Press
LANSING — Republicans sued Tuesday to block the creation of Michigan’s new, voter-approved redistricting commission, challenging eligibility guidelines that prohibit politicians and others from serving on the panel.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court and praised by a national GOP group whose finance chairman is former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, says the provisions violate potential applicants’ rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.
The 2018 constitutional amendment requires that a commission of four self-identified Democrats, four self-identified Republicans and five unaffiliated members draw congressional and legislative lines instead of the Legislature, starting in 2021. It was a bid to curtail gerrymandering in a state where the GOP has had one of the largest partisan legislative advantages in the country after controlling the once-a-decade process in 2011.
Michigan is among five states where Republicans retained control of the state House even though Democratic candidates won more votes statewide last fall.
Those excluded from serving on the panel include people who currently are or have in the previous six years been elected partisan officials or candidates, their paid consultants or employees, legislative workers, lobbyists and their employees, or political appointees not subject to civil service classification. Also barred from the paid positions are those individuals’ parents, children and spouses.
“In excluding certain categories of citizens from eligibility based on their exercise of core First Amendment rights, including freedom of speech, right of association, and right to petition the government, the State has unconstitutionally conditioned eligibility for a value benefit on their willingness to limit their First Amendment right to petition government,” says the suit, which was brought by 15 Republicans including state Sen. Tom Barrett and various party officials with financial support from Fair Lines America, a nonprofit with ties to the National Republican Redistricting Trust, for which Walker is fundraising. They say there is no “compelling explanation” as to how limiting participation would result in a more impartial panel.
They want a judge to declare the law unconstitutional and prevent Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson from selecting commissioners, which are to be chosen randomly by September 2020 following a multi-step process.
“Voters spoke loud and clear last November that they want an independent, citizen-led commission — not partisan politicians — responsible for drawing district lines,” she said in a statement.
Voters Not Politicians, the group that spearheaded the ballot measure, criticized the suit but called it no surprise that politicians want to hold onto their power.
“Michigan is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, but voters pushed back by overwhelmingly supporting the new redistricting amendment so voters choose their politicians — not the other way around,” said Jamie Lyons-Eddy, the organization’s director of campaigns and programs. “We’re confident that the proposal will survive any and all legal challenges, just as it did from many of these same politicians on the way to the ballot.”
One of the people suing is Tony Daunt, a lobbyist and executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund who also sits on the state GOP committee. His group said at least half a million residents would be “disenfranchised.”
“Michigan residents’ constitutional rights do not end when their son or mother decides to take a new job or to represent their neighborhood at a local political party meeting,” Daunt said.
Michael Li, a redistricting lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice — which opposes gerrymandering — said 13 states now have some form of a redistricting commission for congressional or legislative mapmaking, or both. Of those, 10 restrict who can serve while two others’ panels have elected officials. Just one state outside Michigan — Iowa — prohibits relatives of excluded individuals from participating, he said.
Li said he was not aware of any similar challenge having been filed previously in other states. He called the legal theory “very novel.”
“It varies from state to state, but almost every state has some form of restriction to make sure people aren’t too closely connected to the political process,” said Li, contending that Michigan’s qualification standards are not different from laws that say candidates for office have to be a minimum age to run. “There are always some people who are excluded from participating on government bodies. It doesn’t mean they can’t participate in other ways.”

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Michigan Headlines

Ex-MSU president gets $2.5M retirement payout

Associated Press
EAST LANSING — The former Michigan State University president accused of lying about her knowledge of allegations against sports doctor Larry Nassar is getting about $2.5 million as part of a retirement package and agreed not to sue the school, it was announced Tuesday.
The East Lansing school said Lou Anna Simon’s retirement is effective Aug. 31. She resigned as president last year amid pressure, returned to a faculty position, and then took an unpaid leave while facing criminal charges. She has denied any cover-up by the university.
Under terms of the retirement , Simon will receive $2.45 million in three annual installments and other benefits. The agreement stipulates she won’t sue the school or file any complaints or grievances related to her employment or termination.
The agreement does not appear to address how the pending criminal case could affect the terms of the agreement other than public recognition of her emeritus status being potentially withheld if she is convicted and that conviction survives all appeals.
University officials did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment on its reasoning for making the payment.
“Our campus community is continuing its healing, and the Board of Trustees feel the retirement of Dr. Simon is best for the university,” said Dianne Byrum, chairwoman of the university’s governing body, in a statement.
Simon said she will continue to support the school, including through philanthropy.
Dr. Samuel Stanley Jr., a medical researcher who has led Stony Brook University in New York for nearly a decade, was named the school’s next president earlier this year and officially starts this week.

New Hampshire

Judge refuses to dismiss challenge to voter law

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A federal judge says a challenge to New Hampshire’s new voter residency law can continue.
Judge Joseph Laplante on Tuesday refused to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two Dartmouth College students.
The new law ends the state’s distinction between “domicile” and “residency” for voting purposes, which means out-of-state college students who vote in New Hampshire would also be subject to residency requirements, such as getting New Hampshire driver’s licenses or registering their cars.
Laplante heard about two hours of arguments on the state’s requests to dismiss the case and to remove Secretary of State William Gardner as a defendant. After denying both motions, Laplante said while he agrees the students have standing to sue, he isn’t saying they have a particularly strong case.

New Hampshire

Officer trying to rescue kitten finds a bobcat instead

STRATHAM, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire police officer says the kitten he was trying to pick up in a parking lot turned out to be a bobcat, which then jumped onto the roof of a Burger King.
Stratham Officer Matt Callahan tells he was on patrol Saturday and saw the “kitten” run under a car. It eventually climbed a tree near the restaurant.
Once Callahan realized he was dealing with a young bobcat, he called state Fish and Game officers.
He also stood in the drive-thru line to alert customers in case the bobcat decided to come down, but it climbed onto the roof and took a catnap.
Callahan says he and the conservation officer climbed up and put the bobcat in a crate. The bobcat was released at a wildlife refuge.

New Hampshire

GOP govs of Vermont and New Hampshire seek trade approval

WOODSTOCK, Vt. (AP) — Vermont’s Republican Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday he thinks the proposed new trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico will benefit Vermont and the region and he urged Congress to approve it.
Scott made the comments a day after he wrote an opinion piece with his GOP colleague, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, urging Congress to put partisan differences aside and pass and the U.S. Mexico-Canada Agreement.
The agreement would replace the quarter-century old North American Free Trade Agreement.
Scott said he was critical of the Trump administration when officials were negotiating the new trade deal, but he thinks the final deal is best for the region.
“When they finalized the agreement, the USMCA, with Mexico and then with Canada, it seems as though it’s a fair agreement,” Scott said. “I think it actually tips the scales in favor of Vermont and the U.S. in general over the other countries, but… they have accepted it.”
Trade with Canada has always been critical to Vermont, New Hampshire and the rest of New England.
Last year at a meeting in Stowe of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, Scott and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant signed a resolution highlighting the benefits of cross border trade. In it, the governors and premiers acknowledged the economic interdependence across the region and contribution of cross-border trade to their states’ and provinces’ economic prosperity.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Congressional Democrats and the Trump administration appear to be making progress toward a deal that would clear the way for Congress to approve the USMCA. Democrats want the agreement to include stronger protections for workers and the environment and to protect people from high drug prices, but they appear to be nearing an agreement.
In their op-ed piece, Scott and Sununu said the USMCA was critical to helping Vermont, New Hampshire and all of New England, which rely heavily on trade with Canada.
The new agreement will expand the economic relationship between New England and Canada. “It brings a much needed 21st Century update to our economic trade,” they wrote.
Scott, who has been a frequent critic of President Donald Trump, said he viewed himself as “the umpire who makes the calls.”
“Sometimes I’m critical of the administration,” Scott said, “but… I think this is an opportunity for us to come together and to finalize this and not politicize this and take it up in Congress and pass it.”

New Hampshire

Massachusetts RMV knew of backlog years before deadly crash

BOSTON (AP) — Officials within the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles grappled for years without success to clear chronic backlogs in the processing of notifications sent by other states of infractions by Massachusetts drivers, according to testimony on Tuesday at an oversight hearing prompted by a crash that killed seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire.
Members of the Legislature’s transportation committee sought to learn why information that Volodymyr Zhukovskyy had been arrested for drunken driving in Connecticut weeks before the June 21 crash — which could have triggered a suspension of his commercial driver’s license — was not acted upon by the Massachusetts agency.
Registry officials acknowledge that tens of thousands of such out-of-state notices have gone unprocessed for years, instead left to pile up in boxes stored in a state office.
“In the midst of all this, seven families experienced an unimaginable tragedy and they didn’t deserve explanations or excuses,” said Erin Devaney, in explaining Tuesday her decision to resign as head of the agency days after the New Hampshire crash exposed the lapses. “They deserved to have someone being accountable and acknowledge that the service that the registry of motor vehicles provided was unacceptable in this instance.”
Devaney testified that when she was appointed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to lead the agency in 2015, no system existed for processing out-of-state notices. The following year she assigned the task to the Merit Rating Board, which historically has been responsible for reviewing in-state violations by Massachusetts drivers and imposing any insurance surcharges warranted.
While some progress was subsequently made in addressing the backlog, glitches during the installation of a new computer system at the registry in March 2018 prompted a decision to focus on the handling of in-state violations at the expense of out-of-state notices because the board could not “fix it all at the same time,” Devaney said.
Brie-Anne Dwyer, an auditor with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which oversees the registry, testified that she told registry officials in March that she had discovered within the new computer system an “open queue” containing 12,899 unprocessed out-of-state notifications.
In an internal memo made public by the legislative committee, Dwyer said she asked Thomas Bowes, head of the Merit Rating Board, who was responsible for entering the information and that Bowes responded “nobody,” explaining his department had not been given sufficient staff resources to address the backlog amid the ongoing computer issues.
Asked hypothetically by one lawmaker if correcting the reporting issues promptly might have prevented the loss of life in the New Hampshire crash, Dwyer responded: “It’s possible.”
Registry officials have said an internal review prompted by the deadly crash has resulted in license suspensions for more than 1,600 Massachusetts motorists.
Zhukovskyy, 23, of West Springfield, Massachusetts, has pleaded not guilty to negligent homicide in connection with the crash. The seven who died in the collision with a pickup truck hauling a flatbed trailer were members of the Jarheads, a New England motorcycle club that includes Marines and their spouses.
The legislative panel heard testimony for more than seven hours Tuesday after its initial attempt to hold the hearing on July 22 was quickly suspended when the Baker administration declined to make certain officials available to testify, citing a desire not to interfere with an ongoing, independent audit of the registry.
On Monday, however, Baker told reporters that he expected any officials asked to appear before the committee to do so, and without any limitations on their testimony. Some Democrats have criticized Baker, claiming he failed to properly oversee the critical state agency.
Democratic Rep. William Strauss, the House chair of the committee, called the crash a “terrible tragedy” while acknowledging that the hearing would not alone resolve the complex issues involved.
“No one witness, no single document answers all the questions,” Strauss said.

New Hampshire

Annual Youth Voices Summit has a rap music theme

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

Iowa Headlines

Prosecutors dismiss cases tied to Iowa officer who resigned

IOWA CITY (AP) — Several pending criminal cases brought by an Iowa police officer with a history of misconduct will be dropped because he is no longer a credible witness, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Since Friday, the Cedar County attorney’s office has dismissed charges against four defendants who were arrested by Officer Robert Smith over the last year “in the interest of justice,” court records show. Cedar County Attorney Jeffrey Renander said that more will be dismissed in coming days.
“We’re doing this because we no longer believe that we can obtain a conviction in any criminal case where Robert Smith is the primary or only witness for the state,” he said.
Smith resigned last week as an officer in the town of Durant, two weeks after dash-camera video was made public showing him striking a motorcyclist during a 2017 traffic stop. Smith was a 30-year trooper for the Iowa State Patrol at the time of that incident , in which he was criticized for using unnecessary force and filing a false eluding charge. He resigned from the patrol last year before his hiring in Durant.
Renander had previously continued to prosecute cases brought by Smith even though he had been aware of misconduct allegations related to the 2017 case. His office had notified defendants that Smith was the subject of a sealed “Giglio file” that detailed prior issues that their attorneys could review at the courthouse.
Smith’s past came to the public’s attention because the county sheriff took the unusual step of refusing to jail suspects arrested by Smith or his Durant colleagues.
The dismissed cases included two people who faced drug charges in separate incidents after they were pulled over by Smith for “defective muffler violations,” the passenger of a car whose driver had asked Smith for directions and a woman who was forcibly arrested by Smith outside a bar.
“I’m very excited. I think justice is served,” said Rashaud Lamar Lee, 31, of Iowa City, who said the officer used force against him during a May arrest.
A woman driving Lee had asked the officer for help finding a gas station. Smith ran their license plate and found the driver had a no-contact order out against Lee. The driver and Lee said that the order had been dropped.
But Smith claimed the order was still valid and that Lee gave him a false name, tried to dispose of a bag of marijuana during the arrest and had been drinking a bottle of whiskey found in the car.
Lee said the charges were false but could have sent him to prison because he was on probation for a previous theft case. He said Smith “threw me on the ground” and put his knee into his back during the arrest, and that he’s considering a lawsuit.
The dismissals came after the defense lawyer for an Illinois woman arrested outside a tavern had requested a court hearing to delve into Smith’s prior conduct. The lawyer, Eric Tindal, alleged that Smith had been subjected to more than two dozen internal affairs investigations while working at the patrol.
The woman had been taken to the ground by Smith after allegedly refusing his requests to produce identification. Smith reported finding marijuana during a later search of her car. Prosecutors agreed to suppress Smith’s testimony and dropped the charges.

Iowa Headlines

Reward raised to $50K for info on cousins’ slayings

EVANSDALE (AP) — A reward has been doubled to $50,000 for information leading to an arrest in the slayings of two Iowa cousins.
Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers said Tuesday the increase was possible because of a donation from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. Waterloo Police Department investigator Brice Lippert coordinates the Crime Stoppers program, and he says the Crime Stoppers reward is separate from another reward being offered for a conviction in the case.
Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins were 10 and 8 when they disappeared in Evansdale on July 13, 2012. Their abandoned bikes were later located on a trail near Meyers Lake in Evansdale. Hunters found their bodies at Seven Bridges Park in rural Bremer County, about 25 miles from where they disappeared, on Dec. 5, 2012.