Are Chicago's Party Buses 'Rolling Cemeteries'?


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Also in our State and Local Daily Digest: Massachusetts to dismiss 21,587 drug convictions; 27 million SoCal trees threatened by beetle; Florida senator apologizes for racist remarks

PARTY BUSES | “Party buses are supposed to be for celebrations—not potential rolling cemeteries where armed, sometimes fatal violence can break out at a moment’s notice thanks to the potent mix of guns and alcohol,” said Emma Mitts, Chicago License Committee chair, before the city moved to require the vehicles to hire licensed security guards, install video cameras and take steps to ensure no passenger is illegally carrying a firearm. In the past two years, local party buses have played host to 10 shootings, one homicide and the discovery of three semi-automatic weapons on board one last week. Unfortunately, Illinois state law still permits concealed carry on party buses, so any actions taken by drivers are questionable legally. [Chicago Sun-Times]

CRIMINAL JUSTICE | Massachusetts is on track to dismiss 21,587 drug convictions linked to a state chemist who for years falsified evidence. The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said the situation marks the largest dismissal of wrongful convictions as a result of one case in U.S. history. The chemist, Annie Dookhan, pleaded guilty to 27 counts in 2013, was sentenced to three to five years in prison and reportedly granted parole last year. Among other admissions, Dookhan said she declared drug samples positive that she did not test. [Vice News]

TREES | An unprecedented die-off is taking place among the trees of Southern California, and the big picture doesn’t look promising. A number of menaces threaten the foliage of the region, but just a single critter, the polyphagous shot hole borer beetle, has the potential to kill as many as 27 million trees in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to an estimate from Greg McPherson, a supervisory research forester with the U.S. Forest Service. That’s roughly 38 percent of the trees in that region. If that prediction holds true, the cost of removing and replacing the dead trees alone could be as high as $36 billion. [Los Angeles Times]

APOLOGIES | Florida state Sen. Frank Artiles, standing on the Senate chamber floor, apologized to his colleagues Wednesday for insulting some of them in a private conversation using curse words and a racial slur. The comments in question were made during a conversation with two other lawmakers Monday night at the members-only Governors Club. Artiles, a Republican, directed a specific apology to state Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Democrat who he had called a “bitch.” The state senator is also said to have referred to Senate President Joe Negron as a “pussy” and said that “niggas” in the GOP caucus elected Negron to his leadership post. The episode has prompted calls for Artiles resignation. [Miami Herald]

RELIGION | The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on Wednesday on a case that started out as an issue about recycled rubber and playgrounds, but has transformed into a constitutional debate about the separation of church and state. A church-affiliated preschool in Columbia, Missouri applied for a grant from the state to rubberize the surface of its playground. The state—under former Gov. Jay Nixon—denied the church’s application on constitutional grounds. The church sued claiming the rule that bars state funds from going to religious groups is discriminatory. But, in the time between the original lawsuit and the Wednesday arguments, the current Gov. Eric Greitens announced that religious groups should be allowed to apply for and receive these state grants. And, on Tuesday, the entire Missouri attorney general’s office recused itself from the case. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

EDUCATION | Montana state employees are set to receives raises, after the Senate gave initial approval along with $2 million in university system professor buyouts. The 1 percent raises would take effect in February 2018 and a second 1 percent raise in February 2019, if approved by the House and governor. [Billings Gazette]