Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., on Thursday was named vice chair of the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, prompting fresh calls for her ouster from the Republican caucus. Cheney, a staunch critic of former President Donald Trump, will assist chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., on the Democratic-led panel, which has signaled it will aggressively probe the roles played by Trump and his allies in inciting the attack. “Every member of this committee is dedicated to conducting a non-partisan, professional, and thorough investigation of all the relevant facts reg...
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The Hoskins family, residents of a community outside Colfax known as The Rock, wonder how long they had been eating the eggs of the cancerous birds they raised outside their home. It haunts them.
It’s one of the nightmares they and others in The Rock say they have endured from exposure to the toxins released from a hazardous waste facility less than 2 miles away. Its operating permit is up for renewal, and they pray it will be denied.
“It’s gotten too horrible,” said Susan Hoskins, a lifelong resident of The Rock.
Hoskins’ family has lived in The Rock for six generations. Her daughter, Sliska Larry, raised her own kids there and now her grandkids – ages 3, 4 and 9 – live there.
I would like to live to see my great grandchildren breathe clean air.
– Susan Hoskins, resident of The Rock
Larry told the Illuminator how it was before the chickens died, when her extended family from throughout Central Louisiana would come to The Rock.
“When we’d get together, it was a glorious time. There’s gonna be some food cooking, card playing, dominoes,” Larry said. “If we got something extra, we’d share. If they killed a hog, everybody in the neighborhood gonna have some meat.”
The family would play zydeco music and downhome blues, and cook meals with their homegrown greens, bell peppers and corn. But no longer.
“We can’t do that now because you can’t be outside,” Larry said.
The Rock’s residents say they can’t fish in nearby waters, picnic outside or laze with their children on the lawn watching the clouds roll by. Swing sets are idle, old folks no longer play cards outside or listen to the evening birdsong while sitting on their porches.
Garden beds, once bursting with purple peas, okra, tomatoes, potatoes, watermelons, cantaloupes and cucumbers, are overrun with weeds. The Hoskins’ once bustling chicken coop now houses the family dog. The family relied on their fresh vegetables, fruits, chickens and eggs for everyday sustenance. Now they survive by sharing what they can afford to purchase or donations from area food pantries.
“If one don’t have, we call each other, and then we try to make enough so everybody can eat,” Larry said.
“We relied on our gardens for our basics,” Clay said. “What we could grow in our garden was our free meals. Now we go into the grocery stores and you see the mustard greens, maybe two for $3, and we have to pay for it. Eggs is sky high!”
“Most of the people here are retired, living on Social Security,” Larry said. “A lot of them don’t get food stamps. You gotta pay your bills and buy your food with your money. So what do you do? How are you living?”
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None of the staples of rural Louisiana living are safe, according to neighbors of Clean Harbors Colfax, a facility that disposes old munitions from Camp Minden and expired fireworks from Disney World. Thick pillars of black smoke from the open burn pit are visible from backyards in The Rock.
Clean Harbors opened the open-burn disposal site in 2002 and expanded it in 2015. The Massachusetts company is asking the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) to add a closed-burn structure when it renews its operations permit.
Clean Harbors has not responded to questions from the Illuminator about neighbors’ health concerns.Deborah Clay, left, and Brenda Redmond live in The Rock, where residents say report health problems they believe are linked to the Clean Harbors Colfax hazardous waste facility less than 2 miles from their homes. (Photo by Remi Tallo)
Deborah Clay, who lives in one of seven homes that comprise The Rock, has lost almost all of her hair. She’s lived in the community off Louisiana Highway 71 for more than four decades.
“I used to have beautiful shining hair,” Clay said. “I have memories where sometimes I just sit back and cry about things. I know what I used to look like compared to what I look like now.”
“I know they don’t want me blowing my nose and trying to play cards,” Sanders said. “My nose is always running. I cough, my throat hurts.”
Larry witnessed her sister-in-law’s last breath in Hoskins’ living room, where the family was tending her as she neared death. Rhonda Wells had lived in Colfax for 30 years when she fell victim to cancer.
“It’s a hard feeling to watch somebody that you love, that you grew up with all your life, that’s only 52 years old, aspirate that last time. She was fighting to live,” Larry said.
Brenda Redmond said Clean Harbors detonates wastes three times daily – around 8 a.m., noon and 4 p.m. Neighbors blame the blasts for a recent water line rupture.
“I have a two-story house up here. When they bomb, my house shakes,” Redmond said. I lost two windows from the right side of the house. I can’t even pull the window [open].”
She drinks bottled water in fear of contamination.
“When I take a bath, I say, ‘Well, Lord …’” Redmond said. “People say I talk about the Lord all the time, but if you’re not holding on to your Holy Spirit, this situation with Clean Harbors is gonna break you down.”
Parents in The Rock say they fear for their children’s health. Larry says all three of her grandkids have persistent sore throats, runny noses and coughing.
“In Colfax, all [doctors] know is allergies. They give you the [antihistamines], they give you the little pink medicine, amoxicillin. But guess what? Two weeks later, the baby is still sick,” she said. “We’re going back and forth to the doctor, and then after a while they start calling Child Protection Service on you because they figure you’re not taking care of your child.”
Sanders said it’s been a challenge to organize the community to oppose the Clean Harbors permit renewal “because they fear their voices won’t be heard.” But now that the community is at risk of food insecurity, she wonders what it will take to get the right kind of attention to their plight.
“Does it take for 20 people to die at one time, then maybe you’ll step in when you could have did something before that happens?” Sanders asked in a question rhetorically directed at LDEQ. “Y’all turning a blind eye.”
Sliska said the state’s enforcement against Clean Harbors has been a joke. “The more you fine them, the more they burn,” she said.
“I would hate to live a little longer to know that this town died out because of Clean Harbors, that The Rock died out because of Clean Harbors,” Susan Hoskins said. “I would like to live to see my great grandchildren breathe clean air.”
Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: email@example.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.
Defying the guidance of the nation's leading medical organizations, Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Saturday signed into law a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors in the state.
Passed by the Utah House of Representatives on Thursday and the state Senate on Friday, S.B. 16 prohibits gender-affirming surgeries for trans youth and bars hormonal treatment for new patients who were not diagnosed with gender dysphoria before the bill's effective date, May 3.
"This bill effectively bans access to lifesaving medical care for transgender youth in Utah," said Brittney Nystrom, executive director of the ACLU of Utah, after the Senate vote Friday. "It undermines the health and well-being of adolescents, limits the options of doctors, patients, and parents, and violates the constitutional rights of these families."
Nystrom also sent Cox a letter urging him to veto the bill. She wrote that "the ACLU of Utah is deeply concerned about the damaging and potentially catastrophic effects this law will have on people's lives and medical care, and the grave violations of people's constitutional rights it will cause."
Cathryn Oakley, Human Rights Campaign's state legislative director and senior counsel, had also pressured Cox to veto the bill, arguing Friday that "Utah legislators capitulated to extremism and fear-mongering, and by doing so, shamelessly put the lives and well-being of young Utahans at risk—young transgender folks who are simply trying to navigate life as their authentic selves."
"Every parent wants and deserves access to the highest quality healthcare for our kids," Oakley said. "This discriminatory legislation bans care that is age-appropriate and supported by every major medical association, representing more than 1.3 million doctors. Medical decisions are best left to medical experts and parents or guardians, not politicians without an ounce of medical training acting as if they know how to raise and support our children better than we do."
Dr. Jack Turban, an assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco who researches the mental health of transgender and gender diverse youth, also pointed out that the new Utah law contradicts the positions of various medical organizations.
— Jack Turban MD \ud83c\udff3\ufe0f\u200d\u26a7\ufe0f\ud83e\udde0\ud83c\udff3\ufe0f\u200d\ud83c\udf08\ud83e\ude7a (@Jack Turban MD \ud83c\udff3\ufe0f\u200d\u26a7\ufe0f\ud83e\udde0\ud83c\udff3\ufe0f\u200d\ud83c\udf08\ud83e\ude7a) 1674936238
Some LGBTQ+ advocates had hoped Cox would be compelled to block the bill because last March, citing trans youth suicide rates, he vetoed H.B. 11, which banned transgender girls from playing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity. Utah lawmakers swiftly overrode his veto but a state judge in August issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law.
Republican lawmakers in various states have ramped up efforts to enact anti-trans laws—particularly those targeting youth—over the past few years. As The New York Timesreported Wednesday:
But even by those standards, the start of the 2023 legislative season stands out for the aggressiveness with which lawmakers are pushing into new territory. The bills they have proposed—more than 150 in at least 25 states—include bans on transition care into young adulthood; restrictions on drag shows using definitions that could broadly encompass performances by transgender people; measures that would prevent teachers in many cases from using names or pronouns matching students' gender identities; and requirements that schools out transgender students to their parents.
Legislative researcher Erin Reed, who is transgender, told the Times that the more aggressive proposals could make others seem like compromises.
"I really hope that people don't allow that to happen," Reed said. "Because these bills still target trans people who will then have to suffer the consequences."
In a tweet about Cox's decision Saturday, Reed said that "my heart breaks for Utah trans kids."
\u201cMy heart breaks for Utah trans kids.\n\nThe governor of Utah has signed a gender affirming care ban for trans youth into law. Utah becomes the first state of 2023 to ban gender affirming care and unless it is blocked in court, it would be the only state with such a ban in effect.\u201d
— Erin Reed (@Erin Reed) 1674931607
After the Utah House passed the measure Thursday, the chamber's Democrats expressed their disappointment with what they called "a misguided step by our Legislature and a violation of parents' rights," and said that "we recognize that gender-affirming healthcare is lifesaving, patient-center healthcare."
"With no pathway forward for children in need of care, this legislation will inevitably lead to litigation and a likely injunction," they added. "This is a tremendous waste of taxpayer money, and worse, a terrible message for our Legislature to send to transgender Utahns, their family, and their friends."After the governor signed the bill, the ACLU of Utah tweeted Saturday that "trans kids are kids—they deserve to grow up without constant political attacks on their lives and healthcare; we will defend that right. We see you. We support you."
Official who refused to cooperate with illegal AZ hand-count describes threatening environment in resignation letter
Elections Director Lisa Marra repeatedly explained — to the supervisors, to reporters, and, finally, to a judge — that she would not break the law and release the ballots from her custody, as two Republican supervisors and the county recorder had ordered her to do.
“I believe that is a felony,” Marra testified during a Nov. 4 court hearing challenging the full hand count. The judge later ruled that the full hand count would be illegal.
Now Marra is leaving her post. Her departure after five years running elections in the rural southern Arizona county leaves many residents there concerned about the accuracy and security of future elections. Marra, also president of the Election Officials of Arizona, is known across the nation as a fierce defender of election integrity.
County Democratic Party Chairwoman Elisabeth Tyndall said it was reassuring that a trusted person such as Marra was running elections during the controversies, as she “wasn’t going to just let the election deniers have their way with our votes or our ballots.”
“It is kind of scary what may happen going forward,” Tyndall said, “without having someone as knowledgeable and brave as Lisa in that office.”
Marra resigned through a letter to the county from her attorney, she confirmed to Votebeat on Tuesday. Marra is to be employed by the county for 15 more days.
Marra’s attorney wrote in the letter that her working environment was threatening, both physically and emotionally, and she was publicly disparaged, according to the Washington Post, which first reported on her resignation and the letter.
Marra said Tuesday night that she couldn’t provide a copy of the letter or details about it, since it’s a human resources claim.
“Sad their actions have come to this,” she said, apparently in reference to the Republican supervisors.
Marra is one of many election officials across the state and country who have left their roles in the face of harassment and pressure to defend themselves and their work against unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud. In the last few years in Arizona, longtime elections directors in Pima, Yavapai, and Pinal counties, as well as recorders in Yavapai and Yuma counties, have stepped down.
Marra departs as the supervisors prepare to decide if they should reorganize who is responsible for elections in the county, according to a draft work session agenda obtained by Votebeat. In Arizona, election duties are typically split between recorders, who manage early voting and voter registration, and election directors, who manage most other aspects of election administration.
Republican Supervisor Peggy Judd submitted a request for a Feb. 7 meeting that will discuss, among other election-related topics, “better practices involving possible re-organization of responsible parties.” Judd told Votebeat she was busy and could not immediately talk on Wednesday morning.
Marra has worked for the county since 2012 and has been elections director since 2017.
As the president of the Election Officials of Arizona, after the 2020 election she became an unofficial spokesperson for election administrators, staunchly defending the accuracy of elections during the state Senate’s review of Maricopa County’s ballots led by the Cyber Ninjas.
She’s known in her county for openly taking constituent questions about the process. Tami Birch, a Bisbee resident, said she doesn’t know what she will do without being able to pick up the phone and call Marra. She considers it a loss not just for the county but for the entire state.
“We are losing one of the most dedicated, follow-the-rules, honest, responsive people that I have ever met in the elections system,” Birch said.
Secretary of State Adrian Fontes said Marra’s departure is a “heavy blow to the voters served by the Cochise County Government.”
Bisbee resident Sheri Van Horsen said county residents were stressed when the supervisors pursued the full hand count and were comforted to know Marra was there.
“This is someone who is sanity in a storm of ridiculousness,” Van Horsen said.
County Supervisor Ann English, the only Democrat on the three-member board, complimented Marra and her commitment to following the law when under pressure.
“She never wavered, no matter what the pressure was from outside,” English said.
English said she doesn’t know how the county will find a proper replacement. Birch agrees.
“I don’t know who could take her place, with all her experience, all the strength of putting her foot down, saying, ‘No, I’m following the statute. No, you can’t do that,’” Birch said.
The monthslong saga in Cochise County started more than a month before the midterms, when Republican Supervisors Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd, and Recorder David Stevens, began talking about hand-counting all ballots in the election after the typical machine count, an effort that election experts said would threaten the accuracy of the election and confuse voters.
The county attorney and secretary of state’s office told the supervisors the full hand count would be illegal. State law requires counties to conduct a partial hand count audit of ballots after every election if political parties participate, but does not allow for all ballots to be audited.
As the administrator of elections, Marra is in charge of this statutorily required partial hand count. While the Recorder David Stevens was supportive of expanding that hand count to all ballots cast, Marra and county attorneys said it was illegal. Butthe supervisors to ask Stevens to conduct the full hand count anyway.
Despite the judge ruling that the full hand count would be illegal, the day after the election, Stevens conducted the first step of a full hand count by selecting which ballots would be hand-counted. Under her statutory duty, Marra did as well, and she completed the official, partial hand count a few days later. As concerns spread that Stevens would attempt to do his own hand count as well, Marra reassured the public that the ballots were locked up.
“Security is safe in the ballot cage in warehouse under camera,” Marra told Votebeat at the time. “He does not have access to that building. Access is strictly limited.”
That’s when Crosby and Judd sued her, personally and in her professional role. The lawsuit claimed that Marra had refused to comply with the supervisors’ orders by not conducting the expanded hand count they ordered, not permitting the recorder and his personnel to access the counting center, and not turning over the ballots to the recorder.
Marra was forced to obtain outside legal counsel to defend herself. Shortly after filing that lawsuit, the supervisors withdrew it, saying that they did not want to interfere with an expected statewide recount. But the suit clearly marked a low point.
“No all day court which is great because I’ve lost so many days dealing with this during a major election,” Marra said on Twitter after the supervisors withdrew the lawsuit. “Fact remains elected officials filed a personal lawsuit against a tenured local Gov’t employee with an impeccable record. Not just in official capacity, sued me personally.”
The supervisors then refused to certify the election results, only voting to finalize them after ordered to do so by a court.
Residents have now started a recall petition for Crosby and are working to gather signatures. At the same time, supervisors at the proposed upcoming work session, which has not yet been posted publicly, plan to discuss not only the reorganization of election administration but also hand-counting ballots.
Even after the hand count drama, Marra appeared to remain committed to the job, saying two days after the lawsuit was withdrawn that the reason why election officials didn’t walk out of the job was because “it’s about every voter and every ballot.”
“Honored every single day to get to do this work,” she wrote. “Especially where it’s needed the most. #Arizona.”
Jen Fifield is a reporter for Votebeat based in Arizona. Contact Jen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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