Bipartisan support for red flag laws wanes as GOP blocks bills

Lee Wagner, a Marine Corps veteran and suicide intervention specialist, has spent the past six years helping fellow veterans process the trauma of their combat experiences, with an eye toward preventing them from taking their own lives. Like many of his peers, Wagner is a gun owner. In recent months, Wagner has pushed Pennsylvania state lawmakers to pass a bipartisan-backed extreme risk protection order bill. So-called red flag laws temporarily remove firearms from those who may be a harm to themselves or others, and they are lauded by public health experts, law enforcement officials and gun s...

Census prompts push for more Indigenous school lessons

Many American Indians and Alaska Natives say the dramatic increase in their numbers recorded in last year’s census supports their long-standing argument that Indigenous history should get more attention in public school classrooms. Even before the latest tally, there was a growing movement to infuse more Indigenous material into school curriculums — not only to connect students to their roots, but also to ensure that all students know about the contributions of Indigenous peoples and to encourage respect for the sovereign rights of tribes. Tribes also hope that the addition of millions of peop...

Small states cry foul on federal rental relief redistribution

States with small populations say a federal plan to take back unspent emergency rental aid and redistribute it elsewhere is unfair, potentially depriving them and their residents of millions of dollars to address broad affordable housing challenges. Last December’s federal law appropriating $25 billion for emergency rental assistance scattered the money to some 500 grantees across all 50 states—but it also authorized the U.S. Treasury Department to recapture unused funds beginning Sept. 30. Under the law, the Treasury can take back money from grantees that failed to spend or allocate at least ...

Afghans steered to states with ‘help wanted’ signs, pro-immigrant bent

While a handful of state leaders have raised objections, most states are welcoming families fleeing Afghanistan. Those attitudes are influencing where the U.S. government, working with local nonprofits, resettles the 95,000 Afghan evacuees expected this year and next. California, New York, Oregon and Utah, along with some local governments, have used their own money to help refugees, viewing them as a boon to businesses struggling to find entry-level employees. Hawaii, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming aren’t slated to receive any Afghans. The Republican governors of South Dakota and Wyo...

Rural states with early vaccine success hit a wall

When COVID-19 vaccines rolled out earlier this year, Alaska, West Virginia and several other rural states quickly jumped ahead of the pack, vaccinating residents at rates that outpaced other states. Those less populous states outhustled bigger ones using innovative distribution schemes such as flying vaccines on small airplanes to remote areas, tapping into existing rural health systems and eschewing the county-by-county model that slowed larger states’ distribution. During that period, Alaska’s rural doctors were hailed as heroes. In February, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, cro...

Lawmakers rethink mask policies as more children are sent into quarantine

Misty Russell, a mother of three, had just moved to Greenville, South Carolina, and was ecstatic for her 8-year-old daughter to attend school in-person in a new state and school district. But, after visiting her daughter’s elementary school in August, she noticed most adults did not have on a mask, and her excitement turned into anger and fear, she said. And last week, her daughter’s class was exposed to COVID-19, forcing the child and her classmates to quarantine and transition to virtual learning. “The school’s job is to provide a safe environment for your kids to go to school ... which they...

In-person workers are slow to return to jobs, data shows

Donald Trinks is seeing both sides of the labor problem in his restaurant: less business from travelers and not enough workers to capitalize on the business he has left. More people want to eat in his restaurant, Bart’s Drive-In in Windsor, Connecticut, but Trinks has to close on Wednesday and Thursday nights because he can’t find enough workers. At the same time, his catering business is down because business travel has evaporated with the surge of the coronavirus delta variant. “We do a lot of business catering, and there’s a lot less business meetings and people coming in from out of state,...

Finally, new federal cash will bolster public health ranks

Daniel Daltry, Vermont’s chief of disease investigation, knows exactly what his department is going to do with the extra $1 million it’s slated to receive from the federal government every year for the next five years: “We’re going to hire 10 more of me,” he said. “That way, when the next crisis hits, those 10 people will be able to hire and train 10 more people under them.” With 624,000 residents, Vermont will receive the minimum state allocation from a $1 billion fund included in this year’s American Rescue Plan Act, the most recent COVID-19 relief package. Nationwide, the funds are designed...

Rural hospitals can’t find the nurses they need to fight COVID

On any given day, Mary Ellen Pratt, CEO of St. James Parish Hospital in rural Lutcher, Louisiana, doesn’t know how she’s going to staff the 25-bed hospital she manages. With the continued surge of the COVID-19 delta variant, she’s had to redirect resources. Her small team, including managers, has doubled up on duties, shifts and hours to care for intensive care patients, she said. “We’re having to postpone elective surgeries that require hospitalizations because we can’t take care of those patients in the hospital,” Pratt said. “The staff working in outpatient services have been redeployed to ...

Expired driver’s licenses open lane for cybercriminals

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, many states issued emergency declarations allowing driver’s licenses to remain valid past expiration dates. But those extensions mostly have ended, and drivers now need to make sure their licenses are renewed. Scammers are exploiting that shift, cybersecurity experts say. Driver’s license phishing scams designed to steal people’s identities have been popping up across the U.S., according to state motor vehicle agencies. Fraudsters send out texts or emails falsely warning that the target’s license needs to be updated, is missing information or is expir...

You’ve been vaccinated. Now prove it

Broadway on Sunday officially opened its first play since the start of the pandemic 18 months ago: the drama “Pass Over,” about the precarious lives and hopes of two young Black men in Chicago. To get inside the August Wilson Theatre, patrons needed more than their tickets. They also had to present a federal card or use an app on their phone and an ID to prove that they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. The extra credentials stem from an order issued earlier this month by New York City Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio requiring anyone eating inside restaurants, working out in gyms or attendi...

As rural America shrinks, political power shifts

As states turn to drawing new state legislative and congressional districts after census numbers come out Aug. 12, they’re likely to find that rural, generally conservative areas have shrunk in the past 10 years and stand to lose power in statehouses and Congress. A Stateline analysis of recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates shows rural areas lost 226,000 people, a decline of about .5%, between 2010 and 2020, while cities and suburbs grew by about 21 million people, or 8%. Only Hawaii, where retirees and remote workers are moving to rural islands, and Montana, which is drawing remote workers fro...

The pandemic has devastated the mental health of public health workers

Even as front-line health workers have been celebrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, many others working to track the virus, stem its spread and help Americans avoid infection have found themselves under siege. Those public health workers have been vilified by a portion of the public and attacked by some political leaders and media figures. They have been fired or forced from office. They have been subjected to protests — some on their own front lawns — as well as curses, threats and even, on at least one occasion, racist taunts. All that while working endless hours, sometimes in unfamiliar ro...

Abortion, race, gender: State Republicans wage culture wars

Not since the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 has there been a year in which states approved so many abortion restrictions. Since January, there have been a record 97 new laws limiting abortion enacted in 19 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports abortion rights. While a handful of states also enacted laws designed to protect and expand access to abortion and other health care for pregnant women, the state restrictions far outnumbered them. As a result, the gap between women’s access to abortion in some states as oppo...

States braced for a wave of COVID lawsuits. It never arrived

In a legislative flurry, 30 states instituted liability protections in late 2020 and early 2021 designed to protect businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits, out of fear that companies would be sued for exposing workers, clients or vendors to the swiftly spreading, deadly disease. Those lawsuits haven’t materialized. Proponents of the new laws say that’s because the statutes have scared off potential litigation. But critics say the actions have created a solution in search of a problem, because most employees who sue do so under existing workplace safety regulations, such as those enforced by the fed...

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