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Federal judges block transgender restrictions in 2 states

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Federal judges on Wednesday temporarily blocked an Arkansas law banning gender confirming treatments for transgender youth and a West Virginia ban on trans athletes in women’s sports, two major victories for LGBTQ advocates against a wave of restrictions approved by Republican legislators.

The ruling in Arkansas prevents the state from enforcing the law that made it the first state to forbid doctors from providing gender confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or sex reassignment surgery to anyone under 18 years old. The law, which was to take effect July 28, also banned doctors from referring the minors to other providers for such treatment.

U.S. District Judge Jay Moody found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed with their challenge and that allowing it to be enforced would hurt transgender youth currently receiving the treatments.

“To pull this care midstream from these patients, or minors, would cause irreparable harm,” Moody said.

The laws were among several restrictions on transgender people’s rights that were enacted in Republican states this year. Tennessee’s governor in May signed a ban on gender confirming treatments similar to Arkansas’. West Virginia was among at least seven states that approved restrictions on transgender athletes.

Moody’s ruling came the same day a federal judge issued an injunction preventing West Virginia from enforcing its transgender athletes restriction on an 11-year-old trans girl who had hoped to compete in middle school cross country.

Becky Pepper-Jackson said she comes from a family of runners and simply wants to compete with her classmates.

“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” she said in a statement released later Wednesday by the LGBTQ interest group Lambda Legal. “It hurt that the State of West Virginia would try to block me from pursuing my dreams. I just want to play.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed the West Virginia lawsuit on behalf of Pepper-Jackson. The ACLU had sued Arkansas over its treatment ban on behalf of four transgender youths and their families, as well as two doctors who provide gender confirming treatments.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin said in his order that it was in the public interest to uphold the girl’s constitutional right to not be treated differently than her peers “because any harm to (her) personal rights is a harm to the share of American rights that we all hold collectively.”

West Virginia’s law, signed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice in April, prohibits transgender athletes from competing in female sports in middle and high schools and colleges. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Education did not immediately response to an email requesting comment on the ruling.

The U.S. Justice Department last month criticized both states’ bans as unconstitutional, filing statements of interest siding with challengers to the restrictions. The DOJ said the laws in both states violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. It also said the West Virginia law violates Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving federal funds.

The ACLU argued that Arkansas’ prohibition would severely harm transgender youth in the state and violate their constitutional rights.

“This ruling sends a clear message to states across the country that gender affirming care is life-saving care, and we won’t let politicians in Arkansas – or anywhere else – take it away,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas.

An attorney for the ACLU had said the ban was forcing some families to consider uprooting from their homes to move to other states where the care was legal.

“This care has given me confidence that I didn’t know I had,” Dylan Brandt, a 15-year-old transgender boy from Greenwood who is one of the plaintiffs, said at at a news conference after the ruling.

Arkansas’ Republican-dominated Legislature overrode GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the measure. Hutchinson vetoed the ban following pleas from pediatricians, social workers and the parents of transgender youths who said it would harm a community already at risk for depression and suicide.

Hutchinson said the ruling indicates the law will be struck down for the same reason he vetoed it.

“The act was too extreme and did not provide any relief for those young people currently undergoing hormone treatment with the consent of their parents and under the care of a physician,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “If the act would have been more limited, such as prohibiting sex reassignment surgery for those under 18, then I suspect the outcome would have been different.”

There are currently no doctors in Arkansas who perform such surgeries on minors.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said she planned to appeal the decision.

“I will aggressively defend Arkansas’s law, which strongly limits permanent, life-altering sex changes to adolescents,” Rutledge said. “I will not sit idly by while radical groups such as the ACLU use our children as pawns for their own social agenda.”

Moody issued the ruling shortly after hearing arguments from the law’s opponents and the state for about an hour and a half.

The judge appeared skeptical of the state’s argument that the ban was targeting the procedure, not transgender people. For example, he questioned why a minor born as a male should be allowed to receive testosterone but not one who was born female

“How do you justify giving that to one sex but not the other and not call that sex discrimination?” Moody asked.

Arkansas argued that the state has a legitimate interest in banning the procedures for minors. Republican attorneys general from 17 states asked Moody to uphold the ban.

Several major medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, filed a brief with the court challenging Arkansas’ ban. The state Chamber of Commerce and the Walton Family Foundation, which was founded by relatives of Arkansas-based Walmart’s founder, also asked the court to block the ban.

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News to Know (06/30/2021)

Surfside, FL- In Surfside, Florida, rescue efforts continue six days after the collapse of a 12-story beachfront condo. The official death toll rose by 1 yesterday, with 149 people still unaccounted for.

Pea Ridge, AR- Officials have charged a second suspect in connection with the death of a Pea Ridge, Arkansas, Police Officer. 22-year-old, Shawna Cash, is charged with a number of crimes including capital murder, criminal mischief and aggravated assault. The other suspect 18-year-old Elijah Andazola is also charged with capital murder in connection with the death of Officer Kevin Apple. Authorities say the two ran over Apple, with a car.

Edna, KS- Authorities are investigating the cause of a mattress factory fire in Edna, Kansas. It happened around 9:30 Tuesday morning. Authorities say the factory is a complete loss. The nearby retail facility did not appear to be damaged. No one was hurt in the fire.

Grove, OK- Oklahoma, is taking action aimed at getting people back to work. Starting this week, the sooner state is offering a one-time incentive for Oklahomans returning to work following the end of State Unemployment Benefits. Anyone returning to work at least 32-hours a week is eligible to apply for a 12 hundred dollar payment. For an area that relies heavily on tourism like Grove, Oklahoma, getting more people to work is crucial. The Area Chamber says some Grove, businesses have only a fraction of the employees they need, and hope this incentive will help fix that

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2 charged in death of Arkansas police officer

PEA RIDGE, Ark. – Prosecutors charge two people for the death of an Arkansas police officer.

On June 26, 2021, Rogers Police alerted the Pea Ridge Police Department about a blue SUV suspected of felony fleeing and felony theft.

A bit later, Officers Kevin Apple and Brian Stamps saw a vehicle matching the description.

According to court documents, camera footage shows the suspect vehicle parked at the White Oak Gas Station gas pumps. Officer Apple pulled his patrol car up in front of the suspect vehicle, facing it directly. At the same time, Officer Stamps drove his patrol car directly behind the suspect vehicle.

The officers tried to contact the occupants, but an altercation erupted.

Investigators, looking at the footage, say it appears that Officer Apple got out of his vehicle and tried to verbally engage with the suspects.

The driver then went backwards, hitting one patrol car.

Apple drew his gun and went to the front of the suspect vehicle. The suspect then drove straight forward, pinning Officer Apple between two vehicles killing him. Officer Apple was also drug nearly 150 feet by the vehicle, according to an affidavit.

The vehicle fled, leading a chase to Bella Vista where it crashed. Authorities arrested 22-year-old Shawna Cash of Pine Bluff, who was driving. The passenger, 18-year-old Elijah Andazola, of Bella Vista, took off. Police later found him in a camper trailer.

Prosecutors charged both suspects with capital murder. The jail is holding both without bond. Cash is also facing several other charges.

An affidavit following the incident shows police questioning Cash and Andazola about what happened leading up to Officer Apple’s death. Neither took responsibility for the fatal crash. Andazola said Cash was driving and that he was in shock after the vehicle struck Officer Apple, and Cash said she was just doing what she was told to do and that she tends to “blackout” during stressful situations.

Organizers held a candlelight vigil Saturday night, and a procession for Officer Apple was took place Sunday morning. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has requested the United States flag and the state flag of Arkansas to fly at half-staff in tribute of Officer Apple until his internment.

You can read the full affidavit court document below, or, click here.

Redacted Affidavit of Probable Cause for Bond – Shawna Rhae Cash

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News to Know (06/29/2021)

Surfside, FL- The frantic search for survivors of last week’s condo building collapse in Surfside, Florida has entered its 6th day. Last night, officials said they are still in “search and rescue” mode, despite not finding anyone alive since Thursday morning, hours after part of the 12-story building fell.

Southwest, MO- Southwest Missouri is seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases. Experts say current hospitalization numbers resemble what they saw during their first surge last fall. They say the biggest difference this time around is the age of those being hospitalized, and are seeing younger people need hospitalization. This increase in numbers started in early June, and with the 4th of July coming up, they recommend smaller sized gatherings.

Pea Ridge, AR- Authorities have arrested 2 suspects in the death of Arkansas Police Officer, Kevin Apple. He was a 23-year police veteran, and served with the Pea Ridge Police Department for 3-years. At around 11:30 Saturday morning, Rogers PD alerted the Pea Ridge Police Department about a car they had been following. Pea Ridge officers spotted the car at the White Oak gas station. When approached, police say the suspects rammed their car into a Pea Ridge police car. In doing so Police say the suspects ran over Officer Kevin Apple, then drove away. One suspect 18-year-old Elijah Andazola is charged with capital murder.

Washington, DC- If you’re planning on hitting the road for the 4th of July holiday, you may want to fuel up now. Gas prices are on the rise again. Gasbuddy.com reports the national average is now $3.09 a gallon and is expected to climb even higher as the summer goes on.

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News to Know (06/28/2021)

Surfside, FL- Crews at the site of the Surfside, Florida condo collapse are continuing their efforts to find any survivors who may be buried in the rubble. More bodies were recovered over the weekend. While teams from Israel and Mexico arrived to assist. In 2018 an engineering firm documented more than 9 million dollars in needed repairs to the building. The cause of the collapse is still under investigation.

Pea Ridge, AR- A Northwest Arkansas officer has been killed in the line of duty. A Pea Ridge Police Officer is dead after being run over. Police have confirmed Officer Kevin Apple died while on duty. Rogers PD alerted the Pea Ridge Police Department about a car they had been following.  Around noon Saturday Pea Ridge Officers spotted the car at the White Oak gas station.
once police approached the vehicle, suspects rammed their car into a Pea Ridge Police car, ran over Officer Kevin Apple, then drove away. With the help of serval surrounding departments, police were able to catch the two suspects.

Carthage, MO- Patients were evacuated from Mercy Hospital in Carthage last night. Patients are back in place after smoke was reported in the building. Officials say an air handler motor over heated causing smoke to enter the building near the administration portion of the building. Patients could smell smoke in their side of the building, and mercy officials evacuated the building as a precaution. Officials began allowing patients back into the building just before 9 p.m. and say that no one was hurt during the incident.

Washington, DC- 10 states ended their Enhanced Unemployment benefits over the weekend. That includes some of the 4-States.  Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah stopped the 300 dollar Federal Supplemental benefit. The move impacts about 2.5 million people. 12 other states ended their extra benefits during the last 2 weeks. Enhanced benefits are scheduled to expire in September for any state which hasn’t opted out of them.

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Arkansas to opt out of federal supplemental unemployment program

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson directs the Division of Workforce Services to end the State’s participation in the federal supplemental unemployment assistance after June 26, 2021.

“The programs were implemented to assist  the unemployed during the pandemic when businesses were laying off employees and jobs were scarce,” Governor Hutchinson said. “As we emerge from COVID-19, retail and service companies, restaurants, and industry are attempting to return to prepandemic unemployment levels, but employees are as scarce today as jobs were a year ago. The $300 federal supplement helped thousands of Arkansans make it through this tough time, so it served a good purpose. Now we need Arkansans back on the job so that we can get our economy back to full speed.”

The governors of Montana and South Carolina already have opted out of the federal pandemic unemployment assistance programs.

Governor Hutchinson’s letter to Dr. Charisse Childers, Director of Division of Workforce Services, can be found HERE.

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State grades given as Biden pushes $2.3 trillion infrastructure package

The topics are,

  • Roads and bridges,
  • Public transportation,
  • Resilient infrastructure,
  • Drinking water,
  • Housing,
  • Broadband,
  • Caregiving,
  • Child care,
  • Manufacturing,
  • Home energy,
  • Clean energy jobs,
  • and Veterans health.

The White House published each state’s summaries online. The administration pulled information from an array of private and public data.

State Grades

They gave most states a letter grade on their infrastructure. The highest grade went to Utah, which notched a C-plus. The lowest grade, D-minus, went to the territory of Puerto Rico. Missouri has a C-minus and Kansas has a C.

The Debate

The administration is banking that the data will confirm the everyday experiences of Americans as they bump over potholes, get trapped in traffic jams and wait for buses that almost never correspond to published schedules. There is already a receptive audience to the sales pitch, and the strategy is that public support can overcome any congressional misgivings.

“We don’t have a lot of work to do to persuade the American people that U.S. infrastructure needs major improvement,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Fox News Channel’s “Fox News Sunday” ahead of the reports’ release. “The American people already know it.”

Republican lawmakers say just a fraction of the spending goes to traditional infrastructure, as $400 billion would expand Medicaid support for caregivers. Another portion would fund electric vehicle charging stations.

Republican lawmakers also object to Biden’s plan to fund the package by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, increasing the global minimum tax and other tax changes. They argue those taxes will drive companies out of the U.S.

“This is a massive social welfare spending program combined with a massive tax increase on small-business job creators,” Sen Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “I can’t think of a worse thing to do.”

Wicker was among four Republicans on the White House guest list for Biden’s Monday meeting, along with Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Reps. Garret Graves of Louisiana and Don Young of Alaska. Democrats on the list were Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Alex Padilla of California and Reps. Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey and David Price of North Carolina.

“I’m prepared to negotiate as to the extent of my infrastructure project, as well as how we pay for it,” Biden said. “It’s going to get down to what we call ‘infrastructure.’”

You can find the White House’s state-by-state infrastructure reports here: Fact sheets by state.

You can also find the White House’s fact sheet on the infrastructure plan here.

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WATCH: Van pulling a trailer bursts into flames

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Authorities in Arkansas dealt with an unusual vehicle fire last week.

Fayetteville police say a white van pulling a trailer burst into flames while on the move. One officer tried to contain the blaze with a fire extinguisher while waiting for fire crews to arrive. Officials say weather conditions were favorable. Had it been windy and dry, the flames may have spread.

There were no injuries reported in this incident. Fire department officials say the van likely overheated.

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Vernon County man wanted for his mother’s murder found dead in Arkansas

VERNON COUNTY, Mo. – An Arkansas resident finds the body of Aaron Goodwin, the sole suspect in his mother’s murder in southwest Missouri.

According to the Vernon County, Missouri Sheriff’s Office, Aaron’s body was in a wooded area outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Nearly five months ago, authorities named him the sole suspect in the murder of his mother, Connie Goodwin. The prosecutor’s office also filed a charge of Abandonment of a Corpse.

On October 28, 2020, law enforcement found Connie’s decapitated body in her Vernon County home. The Sheriff’s Office says the Hot Springs Police Department found her head in the back of a truck later that day. (Previous story: Vernon County homicide victim identified, son wanted)

Investigators, based on information received, believed Aaron may have committed suicide in a wooded area. But until they found him, authorities considered him at large.

“Because his body had not been found, we continued to follow up on leads from Kansas and Missouri and requested the assistance of a federal agency in searching for him,” says Vernon County Sheriff Jason Mosher.

Investigators are still trying to piece together what may have caused Aaron to commit such a crime.