North Carolina feels first bite of mammoth Hurricane Florence

A man walks his dogs before Hurricane Florence comes ashore on Carolina Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Ernest Scheyder

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Coastal North Carolina felt the first bite of Hurricane Florence on Thursday as winds began to rise, a prelude to the slow-moving tempest that forecasters warned would cause catastrophic flooding across a wide swath of the U.S. southeast.

The center of Florence, no longer classified as a major hurricane but still posing a grave threat to life and property, is expected to hit North Carolina’s southern coast Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday, enough time to drop feet of rain, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Businesses and homes in the storm’s path were boarded up and thousands of people had moved to emergency shelters, officials said, urging anyone who remained near the coast to flee. Millions were expected to lose power, perhaps for weeks.

“There is still time to leave,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told “CBS This Morning” on Thursday. “This is an extremely dangerous situation.”

Florence’s maximum sustained winds were clocked on Thursday at 110 miles per hour (175 kph) after it was downgraded to a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the NHC. The storm was about 170 miles (275 km) east of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 miles per hour (63 kph) extended outward up to 195 miles (315 km) from its center and were due to begin raking North Carolina’s Outer Banks barrier islands around 8 a.m. (1200 GMT) before stretching over low-lying areas reaching from Georgia north into Virginia.

The rain posed a greater danger, forecasters warned, with some spots getting as much as 40 inches (1 m) of precipitation, enough to cause devastating flash floods miles from the coast.

In all, an estimated 10 million people live in areas expected to be placed under a hurricane or storm advisory, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. More than one million people had been ordered to evacuate the coastlines of the Carolinas and Virginia.

Besides inundating the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 13 feet (four meters) along the Carolina coast, Florence could dump 20 to 30 inches (51-76 cm) of rain over much of the region.

If it stalls over land, downpours and flooding would be especially severe. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachians, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

 

TEST FOR TRUMP

The storm will be a test of President Donald Trump’s administration less than two months before elections that will determine control of Congress. After facing severe criticism for its handling of last year’s Hurricane Maria, which killed some 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, Trump has vowed a vigorous response.

“We are completely ready for hurricane Florence, as the storm gets even larger and more powerful. Be careful!” Trump said on Twitter.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is in charge of disaster response, has come under investigation over his use of government vehicles, Politico reported on Thursday.

Emergency declarations were in force in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Emergency preparations included activating more than 2,700 National Guard troops, stockpiling food, setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so major roads led away from shore, and securing 16 nuclear power reactors in the Carolinas and Virginia.

Some in Wilmington could not resist getting one last look at their downtown before the storm hit.

“We just thought we’d go out while we still can,” said Amy Baxter, on a walk near the city’s waterfront with her husband, two sons, and dog.

Baxter, a 46-year-old homemaker, and her family plan to ride out Florence at home with board games and playing cards.

“We live in a house that’s more than 100 years old,” Baxter said. “We feel pretty safe.”

(For graphic on forecast rainfall in inches from Hurricane Florence, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZFKSb)

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Scott Malone)

Arizona to mourn Senator John McCain at state capitol

A makeshift memorial stands outside the offices of the late U.S. Senator John McCain in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – The body of John McCain, who endured 5-1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and went on to become a lion of the U.S. Senate and a two-time Republican candidate for president, will lie in state on Wednesday in the Arizona state capitol.

The daylong public viewing of his casket was the start of five days of memorial tributes in Phoenix and Washington for McCain, who died of brain cancer on Saturday at his ranch in Cornville, Arizona. He was 81.

“We are privileged as a state to have called him a fellow Arizonan, and we are honored to have the opportunity to celebrate his life,” Governor Doug Ducey said on Twitter early Wednesday.

McCain parlayed his status as a Vietnam War hero into a decades-long political career. Over the past two years he has stood out as a key rival and critic of U.S. President Donald Trump. The bad blood between the two persisted after McCain’s death, with his family asking Trump not to attend his funeral and the White House waffling on how to mourn a prominent fellow Republican.

McCain will be just the third person to lie in state in the Rotunda of the Arizona statehouse over the past 40 years, organizers of the ceremony said. The two others were state Senator Marilyn Jarrett in 2006 and Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens, a Tucson resident, in 1980.

Following a Thursday memorial at a Phoenix church, McCain’s body will be flown to Washington where he will lie in state on Friday at the U.S. Capitol before a Saturday funeral at the Washington National Cathedral.

On Sunday, McCain is to be buried in a private ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he graduated as a U.S. Navy officer in 1958 before going on to become a fighter pilot.

Ducey, a Republican, has said he will wait until after McCain’s burial to name a successor.

His pick will come from McCain’s party, leaving intact the Republican 51-49 majority in the Senate. It was unclear whether any successor would be inclined or able to play the role of public foil to Trump that McCain did, most notably in July 2017 when he cast the vote that blocked a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Arizona Republicans on Tuesday picked a candidate to succeed retiring Senator Jeff Flake, another vocal Trump critic. Their choice, U.S. Representative Martha McSally, is a staunch Trump supporter, as were her two rivals for the nomination. She will face Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in the Nov. 6 general election.

 

(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Water rescues, flooded roads as rains hammer U.S. mid-Atlantic

National Weather Service Rain forecast map for 7-25-18

(Reuters) – Rescuers pulled people from inundated cars on flooded streets near Baltimore on Wednesday as heavy rain soaked the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast for a fifth day, swelling rivers, closing roads and imperiling homes.

Heavy rains fell overnight from central New York state south through eastern North Carolina, where the National Weather Service forecast that a fresh round of downpours could cause more flooding. Eastern Virginia and Pennsylvania were also hard hit.

Emergency workers around Baltimore pulled people from at least three vehicles stuck in floodwater as deep as 3 feet (0.9 meter), Baltimore County’s Police and Fire Department said on Twitter.

“NEVER go into flood waters,” the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center said on Twitter. “It doesn’t take much water to sweep away a person or vehicle, and water can damage or wash away the underlying road — creating unseen hazards.”

Authorities closed highways and roads in parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia because of flooding.

“With the rainfall we have seen over the last week, the ground is very saturated, so any additional rainfall we receive, especially heavy, really has nowhere to go, resulting in flooding,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Fling.

Up to 14 inches (36 cm) of rain has fallen along the U.S. East Coast since Saturday, swelling waterways well above flood levels.

Local news video showed water streaming into homes and businesses in some places and reaching the tops of automobiles as rescue crews worked to save motorists.

“It just happened out of nowhere, and next thing my car was just shut off, and I’m like, ‘What do I do now?'” Zachary Reichert told NBC News after being rescued from his flooded Jeep in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. “I can’t swim in the first place, so I wasn’t jumping into those waters.”

Hersheypark, the Pennsylvania amusement park, said it would be closed on Wednesday after the town surrounding it issued a disaster declaration. It also was closed on Monday.

Airports in New York and Philadelphia reported delays of more than an hour, according to Federal Aviation Administration.

The downpours were expected to continue as at least a chance of rain was in the forecast for the area for several more days.

Separately, parts of northwestern Colorado were drenched with rain on Wednesday morning, where officials warned of flash flooding and debris in an area recently scarred by wildfires.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

Gunman angry at Maryland newspaper kills five in targeted attack

Law enforcement officials survey the scene after a gunman fired through a glass door at the Capital Gazette newspaper and sprayed the newsroom with gunfire, killing at least five people and injuring several others, in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Warren Strobel

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Reuters) – A man who had a long-running feud with an Annapolis newspaper blasted his way through its newsroom with a shotgun on Thursday, killing at least five people in one of the deadliest attacks recorded on a U.S. media outlet, authorities said.

The suspect fired through a glass door, looked for victims and then sprayed the newsroom of the Capital Gazette newspaper group in Annapolis with gunfire, police and a witness said.

Acting police chief of the Anne Arundel County Police Department William Krampf told a news conference that Capital Gazette assistant editor Rob Hiaasen, 59, was among the victims.

Wendi Winters, 65, Rebecca Smith, 34, Gerald Fischman, 61, and John McNamara were also killed, he said. Smith was a sales assistant and the others were journalists.

“This was a targeted attack on the Capital Gazette,” Krampf said. “This person was prepared to shoot people. His intent was to cause harm.”

The suspect is Jarrod Ramos, 38, of Laurel, the Capital Gazette and Baltimore Sun reported, citing law enforcement.

Anne Arundel County police said on Twitter that due to investigative reasons, they have not released the name of the suspect in custody, adding that as of Thursday evening, the suspect has not been booked.

Jarrod Ramos, suspected of killing five people at the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., June 28, 2018 is seen in this 2013 Anne Arundel Police Department booking photo obtained from social media. Social media via REUTERS

Jarrod Ramos, suspected of killing five people at the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., June 28, 2018 is seen in this 2013 Anne Arundel Police Department booking photo obtained from social media. Social media via REUTERS

In 2012, Ramos brought a defamation lawsuit against Eric Hartley, formerly a staff writer and columnist with publication The Capital, and Thomas Marquardt, then editor and publisher of The Capital, according to a court filing.

In 2015, Maryland’s second-highest court upheld a ruling in favor of the Capital Gazette and a former reporter who were accused by Ramos of defamation.

According to a legal document, the article contended that Ramos had harassed a woman on Facebook and that he had pleaded guilty to criminal harassment. The court agreed that the contents of the article were accurate and based on public records, the document showed.

Ramos said on Twitter that he had set up an account to defend himself, and wrote in his bio that he was suing people in Anne Arundel County and “making corpses of corrupt careers and corporate entities.”

‘A WAR ZONE’

Phil Davis, a Capital Gazette crime reporter, said he was hiding under his desk along with other newspaper employees when the shooter stopped firing, the Capital Gazette reported on its website.

The newsroom looked “like a war zone,” he told the Baltimore Sun, adding, “I don’t know why he stopped.”

“As much as I’m going to try to articulate how traumatizing it is to be hiding under your desk, you don’t know until you’re there and you feel helpless,” Davis said.

Police officers in the Maryland capital of Annapolis responded within a minute to a 911 call about a shooting in progress and apprehended the suspect who was hiding under a desk, authorities said.

Police are treating the shooting as a local incident, with no links to terrorism, a law enforcement source told Reuters. Krampf did not say why the gunman may have targeted the newspaper or its employees.

Special tactical police gather after a gunman opened fire at the Capital Gazette newspaper, killing at least five people and injuring several others in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Special tactical police gather after a gunman opened fire at the Capital Gazette newspaper, killing at least five people and injuring several others in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

When police found the suspect, his weapon was on the ground and “not in his immediate proximity,” Steve Schuh, Anne Arundel county executive, told cable news station CNN.

Police said they recovered what they thought might have been an explosive device but Krampf later said the suspect had smoke grenades. Investigators were in the process of securing his Maryland residence and obtaining search warrants, he said.

The suspect appeared to have damaged his fingertips to try to avoid detection and was refusing to cooperate with law enforcement, Baltimore TV station WJZ and other local media reported. Krampf did not comment on those reports.

Capital Gazette runs multiple newspapers out of its Annapolis office and the group includes one of the oldest newspapers in the United States, The Gazette, which traces its origins back to 1727.

The company, part of the Tronc Inc <TRNC.O> media group, publishes newspapers in and around Annapolis, home of the U.S. Naval Academy. The papers have thrived by focusing on local news in the shadows of two much larger competitors, the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun.

‘WE’RE PUTTING OUT A PAPER’

Law enforcement in Baltimore and New York City deployed extra officers to the offices of the New York Times and other major media outlets as a precaution, authorities said.

The shooting drew the attention of media groups, including Reporters Without Borders, which said it was deeply disturbed by the events in Annapolis.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said that U.S. President Donald Trump had been briefed on the shooting.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Thank you to all of the First Responders who are currently on the scene,” Trump said in a tweet.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Twitter, “A violent attack on innocent journalists doing their job is an attack on every American.”

Jimmy DeButts, an editor at the Capital Gazette, tweeted that he was devastated, heartbroken and numb.

“I’m in no position to speak, just know @capgaznews reporters & editors give all they have every day. There are no 40 hour weeks, no big paydays – just a passion for telling stories from our community,” he wrote.

One of the group’s flagship papers, The Capital, plans to publish a Friday edition, several reporters with the group said. “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow,” reporter Chase Cook wrote on Twitter a few hours after the shooting.

(Reporting by Warren Strobel; additional reporting by Mark Hosenball and Jeff Mason in Washington, Colleen Jenkins in North Carolina, Diana Kruzman, Tea Kvetenadze, Frank McGurty and Peter Szekely in New York, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Richard Chang, Grant McCool, Toni Reinhold)

At least four people killed in Maryland newspaper office shooting: reports

E.B Furgurson talk on the phone as police officers respond to an active shooter inside a city building in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Greg Savoy

(Reuters) – A gunman fired through a glass door at a newspaper in the Maryland capital of Annapolis and sprayed the newsroom with bullets on Thursday, killing at least four people and injuring several others, news reports said.

The suspect has been apprehended and no motive is known for the attack at the Capital Gazette newspaper, local news reports said.

For now, the Annapolis shooting is being treated as a local incident and not one that involves terrorism, a law enforcement official said. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is on the scene assisting local authorities, the official said.

Phil Davis, who identified himself as a courts and crime reporter at the Capital Gazette, tweeted that multiple people had been shot.

Davis said a single shooter “shot multiple people at my office, some of whom are dead.”

“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload,” he tweeted.

President Donald Trump has been briefed on the shooting, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all that are affected,” she said. Trump was aboard Air Force One, returning to Washington from an event in Wisconsin.

Agents from the Baltimore office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were responding to the incident, the bureau tweeted.

Live video images showed people leaving the building, walking through a parking lot with their hands in the air. Scores of police vehicles were on the scene.

Police also went to the offices of the Baltimore Sun as a precaution, that paper reported.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Additional repeorting by Mark Hosenball and Jeff Mason in Washington, DC, Colleen Jenkins in North Carolina; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Phil Berlowitz and Richard Chang)

Battle for control of U.S. Congress advances in seven states

FILE PHOTO: A woman wears a sticker in multiple languages after voting in the primary election at a polling station in Venice, Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A bitterly personal matchup in New York between a convicted felon seeking to reclaim his congressional seat from a former prosecutor is among dozens of key races in seven U.S. states on Tuesday, as voters pick candidates for November elections that will determine control of Congress.

Voters in Colorado, Maryland, South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma and Mississippi will also select competitors for the Nov. 6 elections, when Democrats will seek to wrest control of Congress from U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

Democrats need to flip 23 of 435 seats to gain control of the House of Representatives, which would stymie much of Trump’s agenda while opening up new avenues of investigation into his administration. They would have to net two seats to take the Senate, but face longer odds there, according to analysts.

Residents of New York City’s Staten Island borough will decide whether to give Republican Michael Grimm, fresh off a prison term for tax fraud, a chance to return to his old seat in Congress, three years after he resigned following his guilty plea.

The race has seen the candidates trade personal insults and accusations of lying, with Trump’s presence looming above it all.

Grimm, a bombastic former FBI agent known for once threatening to toss a television reporter off a balcony, has attacked incumbent Republican Representative Dan Donovan, the borough’s former district attorney, for not sufficiently supporting Trump.

Donovan, who earned Trump’s endorsement in May, has responded by calling attention to Grimm’s criminal conviction.

The district is considered within reach for Democrats in November.

“They should have a reality show: ‘The Real Candidates of Staten Island,'” said Douglas Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. “It’s nasty, it’s personal – and it’s enjoyable to watch.”

DEMOCRATIC BATTLES

Voters in upstate New York will pick among seven Democrats in one of this year’s most expensive House campaigns. Republican first-term incumbent John Faso is considered vulnerable in November, and his potential challengers have collectively raised more than $7 million.

In Colorado, an establishment-backed Democrat and a liberal insurgent are vying to take on incumbent Republican Representative Mike Coffman, whose district favored Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

Jason Crow, an Iraq war veteran backed by the national party, is facing Levi Tillemann, who was endorsed by Our Revolution, a group born out of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid. Tillemann earned attention this month with an anti-gun violence video in which he blasted himself in the face with pepper spray.

South Carolina’s Republican contest for governor is the latest test of Trump’s sway among party voters. The president campaigned on Monday alongside Governor Henry McMaster, who is in a tight nominating battle with businessman John Warren. The winner is likely to prevail in November.

Voters will also pick Senate candidates in states including Utah and Maryland. Analysts say Democrats face a steep climb trying to take that chamber, as they are defending seats in states like Indiana, Montana and North Dakota that supported Trump two years ago.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is expected to earn his party’s Senate nomination in Utah, while Chelsea Manning, who served seven years in military prison for leaking classified data, is a long shot in Maryland’s Democratic nominating contest against incumbent Senator Ben Cardin.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

Thousands evacuate as Storm Alberto powers toward Florida

Flooding is seen in Ellicott City, Maryland, U.S. May 27, 2018, in this still image from video from social media. Todd Marks/via REUTERS

By Jon Herskovitz and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Subtropical Storm Alberto is expected to bring drenching rains to the Florida Panhandle when it makes landfall on Monday, the day after a separate storm triggered a flood that tore through a historic Maryland town and swept away a man who was trying to help rescue people, officials said.

Forecasters said Alberto could bring life-threatening high water to southern coastal states when it slams an area from Mississippi to western Georgia with up to 12 inches (30 cm) of rain and possible tornadoes.

Flooding is seen in Ellicott City, Maryland, U.S. May 27, 2018, in this still image from video from social media. Twitter/@ryguyblake/via REUTERS

Flooding is seen in Ellicott City, Maryland, U.S. May 27, 2018, in this still image from video from social media. Twitter/@ryguyblake/via REUTERS

“Alberto has maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour (105 km per hour) which is about 10 miles (16 km) shy of being a hurricane. This is definitely a dangerous storm,” said David Roth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Authorities in Florida’s Franklin and Taylor counties issued mandatory evacuation orders for thousands of coastal residents. Florida, Alabama and Mississippi are under states of emergency.

The storm was about 110 miles (177 km) southeast of Destin, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico coast as of 8 a.m. EDT (noon GMT) and was heading north at about 6 mph (10 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Alberto, the first named Atlantic storm of 2018, is expected to reach land on the Gulf Coast on Monday afternoon or evening, the center said. The storm spun up days before the formal June 1 start of the hurricane season.

Deadly hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean last year caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, massive power outages and devastation to hundreds of thousands of structures.

After reaching the coast, the storm will bring powerful winds and heavy rains as it moves into the Tennessee Valley on Tuesday and Wednesday, the hurricane center said. The storm, coming on the last day of the Memorial Day weekend, was expected to scramble holiday travel on Monday.

A storm surge warning was in place from the Suwannee River to Navarre, Florida, and a tropical storm warning covered from the Suwannee River to the border of Mississippi and Alabama.

Authorities in Howard County, Maryland, said a 39-year-old man was missing after flash flooding from a separate storm tore through the historic downtown of Ellicott City on Sunday. The man was swept away as he tried to help rescue people from floodwaters.

The area had barely recovered from a devastating flood about two years ago that killed two people and damaged dozens of buildings.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Houston; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Alison Williams and James Dalgleish)

After Parkland shooting, U.S. states shift education funds to school safety despite critics

Adin Chistian (16), student of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, embraces his mother Denyse, next to the crosses and Stars of David placed in front of the fence of the school to commemorate the victims of a shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Hilary Russ and Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Before the ink could dry on Florida Governor Rick Scott’s signature last month, critics cried foul over the bill he signed into law to spend $400 million boosting security at schools across the state following February’s Parkland mass shooting.

School officials, local sheriffs and Democrats opposed different provisions, including one to provide $67 million to arm teachers. Educators, in particular, voiced concerns that the state will strip money from core education funding to pay for the new school resource officers and beefed up buildings.

“We are a very lean state,” said Florida state Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat who voted against the bill. “If we’re spending money somewhere, we’re taking it from somewhere else.”

In the wake of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people, at least 10 U.S. states have introduced measures to increase funding for hardening of school buildings and campuses, add resource officers and increase mental health services, according to Reuters’ tally.

Many of the proposals outlined the need for bulletproof windows, panic buttons and armored shelters to be installed in classrooms. Some legislation called for state police or sheriff’s departments to provide officers to patrol public schools.

Altogether, more than 100 legislative bills to address school safety, not all of which have funding components, have been introduced in 27 states since the Feb. 14 shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, according to data provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But states do not usually have extra money on hand or room to raise taxes. So to pay for the measures, states are mostly shifting money away from other projects, dipping into reserves or contemplating borrowing.

“I would characterize these proposals and the bills that were passed, for example Florida and Wisconsin, as primarily shifting funding from other priorities,” said Kathryn White, senior policy analyst at the National Association of State Budget Officers.

Calls for more gun control and more safety measures have come during peak budget season for nearly all states, whose legislatures spend the spring in debates that shape the coming year’s budget starting July 1.

STATE BY STATE

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker called a special legislative session last month, when lawmakers agreed to create a $100 million school safety grant program.

The money will come out of the state’s general fund. But the spending, coupled with tax cuts and other pending legislation, will leave that fund with reserves of roughly $185 million – enough to run state government for less than four days in the event of a fiscal emergency, according to Jon Peacock, director of the think tank Wisconsin Budget Project.

“That is far less of a cushion than a fiscally responsible state should set aside,” Peacock said.

Funding the safety measures also means that some economic development programs for rural counties did not get funded and a one-time sales tax holiday was scaled back, he said.

In Maine, lawmakers are considering borrowing $20 million by issuing 10-year general obligation bonds to fund loans to school districts for security enhancements.

New Jersey lawmakers are also looking to borrow. On March 26, state senators tacked an extra $250 million for school security onto an existing bill for $500 million of bonds to expand county vocational colleges. The legislature has not yet voted on the measure.

Maryland, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Indiana are also increasing – or trying to increase – funding for school security measures since Parkland.

In Florida, the legislature passed safety spending while approving an increase of only $0.47 per pupil in funding used to cover teacher pay raises, school bus fuel and other operational expenses for education.

“We see $400-plus million in school safety, which we absolutely applaud, but you can’t do that at the expense of your core education program,” Broward County schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said shortly before Scott signed the budget.

Stoneman Douglas is among the schools Runcie, who also heads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, oversees.

To be sure, some state and local governments have been adding money for school safety measures for years, particularly after 20 children and six adults were killed in a shooting in Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Some critics, particularly Democrats, say measures that only beef up infrastructure or do not create recurring funds fall short of the mark.

Dan Rossmiller, government relations director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said in a memo to lawmakers in March that individual districts also need money for prevention and intervention, including education services for expelled students and anti-bullying programs, and other purposes.

“Funding for only ‘hardening’ school facilities, while welcome, is likely not going to be sufficient to address the full range of locally identified needs,” he said.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ and Laila Kearney; Editing by Daniel Bases and Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. top court rejects challenge to California gun waiting period

Firearms are shown for sale at the AO Sword gun store in El Cajon, California, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a blow to gun rights activists, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away a challenge to California’s 10-day waiting period for firearms purchases that is intended to guard against impulsive violence and suicides.

The court’s action underscored its continued reluctance to step into the national debate over gun control roiled by a series of mass shootings including one at a Florida school last week. One of the court’s most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas, dissented from the decision to reject the case and accused his colleagues of showing contempt toward constitutional protections for gun rights.

The gun rights groups and individual gun owners who challenged the law had argued that it violated their right to keep and bear arms under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. The challengers did not seek to invalidate California’s waiting period for everyone, just for people who already owned guns and passed a background check.

In his dissent, Thomas scolded his colleagues. “If a lower court treated another right so cavalierly, I have little doubt this court would intervene,” Thomas wrote. “But as evidenced by our continued inaction in this area, the Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this court.”

The Supreme Court has not taken up a major firearms case since issuing important gun rulings in 2008 and 2010.

The United States has among the most lenient gun control laws in the world. With the U.S. Congress deeply divided over gun control, it has fallen to states and localities to impose firearms restrictions. Democratic-governed California has some of the broadest firearms measures of any state.

A series of mass shootings including one in which a gunman killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida high school on Feb. 14 have added to the long-simmering U.S. debate over gun control and the availability of firearms.

In another gun case, the high court on Tuesday also declined to take up a National Rifle Association challenge to California’s refusal to lower its fees on firearms sales and instead use a surplus generated by the fees to fund efforts to track down illegal weapons.

Thomas said he suspected that the Supreme Court would readily hear cases involving potentially unconstitutional waiting periods if they involved abortion, racist publications or police traffic stops.

“The right to keep and bear arms is apparently this court’s constitutional orphan. And the lower courts seem to have gotten the message,” Thomas added.

Lead plaintiff Jeff Silvester, the Calguns Foundation and its executive director Brandon Combs, and the Second Amendment Foundation in 2011 challenged the 10-day waiting period between the purchase of a firearm and its actual delivery to the buyer, saying it violated the Second Amendment for individuals who already lawfully own a firearm or are licensed to carry one.

The waiting period gives a gun buyer inclined to use it for an impulsive purpose a “cooling off” period before obtaining it, which has been shown in studies to reduce handgun suicides and homicides, the state said in a legal filing. The waiting period also gives officials time to run background checks and ensure that weapons being sold are not stolen or being purchased for someone prohibited from gun ownership, the state said.

The states of California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Illinois, Minnesota, Florida, Iowa, Maryland and New Jersey as well as Washington, D.C., have waiting periods that vary in duration and type of firearm, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gun control advocacy group.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s law in 2016, reversing a federal trial court that had ruled it unconstitutional.

Last year, the Supreme Court left in place a California law that bars permits to carry a concealed gun in public places unless the applicant can show “good cause” for having it.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Shooting near U.S. National Security Agency, several injuried

: An aerial view of the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, U.S. January 29, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo

By Makini Brice

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) – Several people were injured during a Wednesday morning shooting at the U.S. National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the agency said.

The incident occurred about 7 a.m. ET (1200 GMT) when a vehicle tried to enter the U.S. Army installation that houses the agency without authorization, the agency said in a statement. It said shots were fired but that none of the injuries appeared to have been caused by gunshots.

The statement did not make clear whether the shots had been fired by a suspect or by law enforcement and officials at the NSA and Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the incident, did not respond to questions about who fired weapons.

“Weapons were discharged in the course of the incident, which remains under investigation,” the agency said in a statement. “The situation is under control and there is no ongoing security of safety threat.”

It said several people were taken to hospitals from the facility about 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Washington.

Police earlier had searched a black sport utility vehicle with what appeared to bullet holes in its windshield, according to video from the scene. Items apparently removed from the vehicle were strewn on the ground and checked by a police dog.

Earlier media reports said that as many as three people had been wounded at the base, which is the home of the NSA, as well as the U.S. Cyber Command and Defense Information School.

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service is one of the U.S. government’s main spy agencies. The secretive agency focuses on using technological tools, including the monitoring of internet traffic, to monitor the government’s adversaries.

A White House spokeswoman said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the shooting.

Fort Meade is located just off a major Washington-area highway and motorists occasionally unintentionally take the exit that leads them to its gates, which are manned by armed guards.

In March 2015, two people tried to drive their sports utility vehicle through the NSA’s heavily guarded gate. Officers shot at the vehicle when they refused to stop, killing one of the occupants. The people in the vehicle may have taken a wrong turn after partying and taking drugs, according to news reports.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)