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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Oklahoma City considers demolishing its jail … Charleston, West Virginia bans protests at medical centers … Durham City Council meeting interrupted by song.
While flooding rages on in the South and Midwest, parts of the West are finally seeing an end to droughts that have lasted years in some places. In spring of 2018, 99% of New Mexico was languishing under drought conditions, with half the state at a level of severe drought or worse. Now, only 4% of New Mexico is considered under moderate drought or worse, according to the National Weather Service. “The drought outlook continues to look favorable. It’s what you want to see,” said meteorologist Kerry Jones, who also noted that other states are doing better as well, due to the heavy rainfall this winter. For the first time since drought monitoring began, the entire state of Colorado is considered drought free. But experts also cautioned that this does not mean the droughts that have been plaguing Western states are over. “In the western U.S., water resources is a long-term issue. Reservoirs don’t fill in a year and aquifers don’t drain in a year or fill in a year. It takes multiple years that are dry or that are wet in order to change that,” said Arizona state climatologist Nancy Selover. The influx of water in the winter and spring may also pose a problem as the weather heats up, warned meteorologist Marvin Percha. “Because of all the rain we’ve had in the winter, there have been a lot of grasses and what we call fine fuels that have grown, and now with the drier weather, they’re drying out. That’s increased the fire hazard down in the lower deserts,” Percha said. [Albuquerque Journal; Arizona Daily Star]
JAIL REHAB | In Oklahoma City, the city council must now decide whether a jail and police station built in 1935 are too historic to tear down, or too dilapidated to maintain. The question has been around since the 1990s, when people first suggested that new facilities would better serve the city. Marva Ellard is a developer who has proposed saving the building for commercial use after an extensive renovation. “It’s been hard to come up with a path to move forward given constraints the city has maintained on the use of the building...I’m still willing to work on a solution that maintains the building. I think it is an important part of the history of the city and should be valued as such,” Ellard said. But city staff have long complained about the building’s one working elevator, ceilings on some floors that are lower than seven feet, and the likelihood of asbestos in the construction materials. Councilmember JoBeth Hamon, whose ward contains the jail and headquarters, is not certain how she will vote. But she did say “it is in really bad shape, so I also understand the desire of the city to be done with it.” [The Oklahoman; The Journal Record]
ABORTION PROTESTS | The city council in Charleston, West Virginia voted to pass a ban on protests outside of medical centers, a move that is intended to ease the entrance of women into health centers that offer abortions. The measure prohibits protestors from coming within eight feet of people entering health centers, blocking center entrances or exits, and approaching people entering the center with pamphlets or advice without their express consent. Violating the ordinance could result in a misdemeanor charge and a $500 fine. Sharon Lewis, the executive director of a local health center that has called the police numerous times over protestors spoke in favor of the bill. “We’ve been under siege for months by a group of right-wing fanatics; most of them do not live in this city or county. Patients and volunteers are regularly accosted, yelled at, harassed, threatened and videotaped by the anti-abortion extremists that occupy the sidewalks by our building,” said Lewis. But Derrick Evans, who protests at the facility twice a week, said he has a right to protest. “I do not honor local liberal laws. I follow the U.S. Constitution. We will be there [at the health center] on Wednesday. If they want to impede on our U.S. Constitution and freedom of speech, we will see them in court. We’ll take it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if that’s what we have to do,” Evans said. [Charleston Gazette-Mail; WSAZ]
SINGING PROTEST | A Durham City Council hearing about a plan to add 18 new police officers to the city’s force was interrupted by a loud rendition of “I’m Going to Get My Baby Out of Jail,” organized by a group called Durham Beyond Policing. Before the song, Andrea Hudson spoke against the proposal, saying the city should spend that money on more affordable housing and food programs. “If we had all of those things, crime would go down. We do not need more police...Fund food for folks. Fund housing for folks. That’s what we need.” Sheila Huggins from the group Friends of Durham spoke in favor of the police budget request, however. “A study has supported adding personnel to the department. This is not to suggest adding personnel to the department will automatically result in significant crime reduction but it helps … We must also support the community organizations who are working on the root cause of crime such as poverty, racial inequity and reduced economic opportunities,” she said. [Raleigh News & Observer]
DISASTER RELIEF | The House approved a $19 billion disaster relief bill on Monday that had been held up last week during a congressional recess. House Democrats had tried to get the measure, which has already been passed by the Senate, approved under unanimous consent, but that was blocked by different Republican lawmakers. President Trump has said he will sign the measure. It has funding for various states and Puerto Rico dealing with wildfires, flooding and other disasters, as well as an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program through September. [NBC; CNN; Boston 25 News]
NO DECLAWING | New York may become the first state to ban cat declawing, a practice that removes a cat’s claws permanently but has widely been decried as inhumane because it requires amputation of all the cat’s toes. The bill is opposed by the New York State Veterinary Medical Society, which believes that the practice should be allowed as a last resort. "Medical decisions should be left to the sound discretion of fully trained, licensed and state supervised professionals," the group said in a memo. But the bill’s sponsor, Democrat Linda Rosenthal, is undeterred. "New York prides itself on being first. This will have a domino effect,” she said. Both chambers of the legislature are set to take the bill up on Tuesday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not made a comment on whether he will sign it into law if it reaches him. Declawing is already illegal in some cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Denver. [Crain’s New York Business; FOX 8]
Managing Editor Laura Maggi contributed to this report.
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor at Route Fifty.
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