/ Modified aug 15, 2020 1:50 p.m.

News roundup: Local responses to a tough economy, school district cancels classes, heat wave bakes SW

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Saturday, Aug. 15.

Cases 192,654 | Deaths 4,492 | Diagnostic tests 1,075,748

On Saturday, Aug. 15, the state reported 933 new cases of novel coronavirus and 69 additional deaths. Arizona schools are expected to offer onsite learning spaces by Monday, though according to state data no county meets the guidelines for fully reopening for in-class learning.

Arizona secretary of state wants Trump investigated over attack on USPS


Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs wants President Donald Trump investigated for his actions withholding money from the U.S. Postal Service.

Hobbs sent a letter to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asking the state’s Election Integrity Unit to investigate Trump’s claims because she said it is a violation of Arizona law to “knowingly delay the delivery of a ballot.”

“I think this is a perfect opportunity for the Election Integrity Unit to do what it was designed to do, to help ensure the integrity to help ensure the voters that there is integrity there in all aspects,” Hobbs said in an interview.

Learn more here.

Arizona district cancels classes after teachers revolt


PHOENIX — An Arizona school district that had planned to resume in-person classes against the advice of public health officials is now backing off after teachers refused to show up.

The J.O. Combs Unified School District in Pinal County announced that classes will be canceled on Monday, and it’s unclear when they’ll resume. Superintendent Gregory Wyman said in a letter to parents that the district received “an overwhelming response from staff” who feared for their health and safety. He said so many people would be absent Monday that schools can’t open.

Learn more here.

As Congress stalls on another stimulus bill, a look back at the last round of federal aid

The Buzz

Congress has yet to pass another major stimulus relief package to help citizens and local governments weather the continuing pandemic. This week, The Buzz explores how some of the first federal stimulus money was spent by speaking with the city manager and community groups. The show also spoke with an economist to understand the economic outlook for southern Arizona.

Listen to the full episode here.

Online learning, flying during the pandemic, OSIRIS-REx update

Arizona 360

Vail Unified School District Superintendent John Carruth discusses how the district is supporting staff and students during the pandemic. Arizona 360 also sees how one teacher at Mesquite Elementary handled the first day of class. Plus, University of Arizona College of Law professor Tara Sklar explains what liability risk schools face this year.

Tony Paniagua reports on how the Tucson International Airport has made new investments designed to keep travelers safe from COVID-19, as well as how a sharp drop in air travel during the pandemic has hurt its bottom line.

With more than 20 years as Pima County’s top prosecutor, attorney Barbara LaWall discusses her impact on the office with Lorraine Rivera.

Watch the full episode here.

Arizona plans to use federal unemployment supplement, but not add to it


Arizona will use $300 dollars from the federal government to increase payments to the nearly 400,000 Arizona residents receiving unemployment, the governor said in a statement Friday

Last weekend, President Donald Trump authorized states to request money for a $300 addition to unemployment payments. That money would come from FEMA because Trump declared an emergency surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. The president’s memo says the additional payment is $400 but only $300 will come from federal funds.

Arizona is not providing the additional $100.

Learn more here.

Cold case office for missing and murdered Indigenous peoples opens in Phoenix


Gila River Indian Community Police Department is now home to one of seven new national cold case offices investigating missing and murdering Indigenous peoples.

The office, which will be staffed by two Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services agents opened Thursday, and it's the first to be "tribally housed," according to a BIA press release. The new office in the Phoenix metro area is connected to Operation Lady Justice, a national task force set up by President Donald Trump in November 2019 via an executive order to improve investigations of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.

Operation Lady Justice is trying to collect data across different jurisdictions — including tribal, state and federal — while establishing more efficient ways to investigate missing or murder cases concerning Indigenous peoples.

Learn more here.

Heat wave baking Southwest expected to continue several days


PHOENIX — Forecasters say an “intense and relentless” heat wave baking much of the U.S. Southwest will continue for the next several days.

Phoenix on Friday tied a record for the date with a high of 117 degrees, and the National Weather Service said Friday was the eighth day in 2020 with a high of at least 115 degrees. That beat the old record of seven days in 1974. The same high pressure ridge over Arizona and Nevada was elevating temperatures in parts of California. Excessive heat warnings set to remain in effect until Wednesday evening blanketed large parts of the three states.

Official: Crime measure lacked signatures to get on ballot


PHOENIX — Arizona’s top election official says supporters of an initiative measure to make criminal sentencing changes didn’t submit enough valid voter signatures to qualify the proposal for the state’s November ballot.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said state and county reviews of petitions submitted by backers of the measure found just under 217,000 valid signatures, short of the required 237,645. The initiative, called the Second Chances, Rehabilitation and Public Safety Act, is backed by a Quaker religious group and others.

Provisions in the measure included ending many mandatory sentences for “non-dangerous” crimes and boosting early release credits.

Navajo woman sues tribal government over canceled primary


FLAGSTAFF — A member of the Navajo Nation is suing the tribal government to try to force a primary election that was canceled because of the coronavirus.

Eloise Brown alleges in the complaint that tribal officials don't have the authority to alter election dates. She says that power is reserved for the Navajo people. The lawsuit filed in tribal court seeks to postpone the November general election until a primary election can be held.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon’s office didn’t respond directly to the lawsuit but said the council established a record of its discussion on a bill to cancel the primary.

Read more here.

'Die-in' protests UA reopening plans


Several dozen people "played dead" on the University of Arizona mall Friday morning to show their concern over the university's reopening plan during the pandemic.

The protesters, who were students and instructors, displayed signs such as "We are not your experiment." They say they want the university's plans to be guided by public health data, not arbitrary dates on the calendar, in order to keep people safe.

Organizers said they were concerned about having equitable options available so that everyone can study or work safely and what they feel is a lack of transparency from the university.

Learn more here.

OSIRIS-REx completes successful rehearsal above asteroid's surface


The University of Arizona-led OSIRIS-REx mission successfully completed its second in-space rehearsal for its sampling of the asteroid Bennu.

The rehearsal was called a “matchpoint maneuver,” where the craft descended within 41 meters of the asteroid and matched its rotational speed.

“This basically gets us hovering over the sample collection site and preparing for our descent down to make contact with the surface and collect that precious material,” said Dante Lauretta, the mission's principal investigator.

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to make contact with the asteroid in October to collect that sample.

Learn more here.

Arizona construction contracts on the rise despite pandemic


Arizona bucks the national trend of slowed construction activity. Of the top 20 most populous metropolitan areas in the country, Phoenix was the only one that saw construction starts increase over last year, according to a July report from Dodge Data and Analytics.

"Ironically, construction's hitting on virtually all cylinders," said Dennis Hoffman, director of the L. William Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University.

Most construction work is done on contract, and Hoffman said those contracts were signed well before the virus arrived. Gov. Doug Ducey declared construction essential in the spring, so the industry wasn't hindered by lockdown orders.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation Will Start Its Phased-In Reopening Plan Aug. 17

Fronteras Desk

The Navajo Nation has announced its plan for a phased-in reopening beginning Aug. 17. Navajo President Jonathan Nez says it will not be a rushed reopening, and the plan prioritizes elders and high-risk individuals.

“Everybody’s saying ‘keep everything closed.’ You can’t keep everything closed and get our elders the direct services that they need," said Nez.

Depending on data trends, the tribe may move from a less-restrictive to a more-restrictive status and vice versa.

At times, The Navajo Nation had one of the highest per capita infection rates in the country. Now, it has had 48 consecutive days with fewer than 100 reported daily coronavirus cases.

Feminist Groups In Sonora Call Proposed Law On Sexual Violence Onilne A 'Hoax'

Fronteras Desk

Feminist groups across Mexico have been fighting for legal reforms penalizing the unauthorized sharing of sexual images online. But many are rejecting a version of those reforms proposed in Sonora, saying it would do more harm than good.

Twenty-two of Mexico's 32 states have passed set of legislative reforms that criminalizes digital violence, including online harassment, threats and the non-consensual sharing of sexual content.

But feminist collectives in Sonora oppose a version of those reforms proposed by state legislators. Members of various feminist groups in Sonora, held press conference Thursday to express their concerns about what they call "vague and imprecise language" in Sonora’s proposed legislation that substantially changes the intent of the reform and leaves too much room for interpretation.

Learn more here.

Rights group demands Arizona schools not ask citizenship


PHOENIX — A national Latino rights group has warned two Arizona school districts that their practice of asking about citizenship and Social Security numbers on enrollment forms violates a Supreme Court decision that ensures children have access to public education regardless of immigration status.

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund said it sent the letters by certified mail and email Friday morning, demanding that Coolidge Unified School District in Pinal County east of Phoenix and St. Johns Unified School District in eastern Arizona’s Apache County revise their forms. The high court’s 1982 Plyler v. Doe decision said citizenship should not be a factor in ensuring children get an education.

Learn more here.

Navajo president: Schools should use online learning in fall


WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez is urging all schools on the tribe’s reservation to use online learning during the fall semester to help reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Nez’s statement released Thursday night cited all public and private schools, including charter schools, schools operated by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and those controlled by the tribe.

Over 9,300 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported on the reservation, which includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Learn more here.

US West faces reckoning over water but avoids cuts for now


CARSON CITY, Nev. — Levels in two massive lakes in the U.S. West are projected to remain high enough to avert severe water cuts in states that rely on the Colorado River. The levels forecast Friday will only trigger voluntary reductions in Arizona and Nevada that haven't yet trickled down to homes.

Despite optimistic forecasts, officials say they must prepare for a drier future as climate change and prolonged drought shrink the amount of water available for cities and farms. With a combination of conservation and alternative sources, officials hope to avoid painful cuts to their water supply from the river that serves 40 million people in seven states.

Learn more here.

Arizona leads nation in pediatric COVID-19 case rate

Arizona Republic

A weekly report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association found that Arizona has the highest rate of pediatric COVID-19 cases in the entire country. This was true for reports from July 30 and Aug.6, which were the two most recent reports.

The high pediatric case rate reflected Arizona’s status as a nationwide hotspot for general cases of COVID-19.

Learn more here.

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