canada africa partner reservation Jury finds BNSF Railway contributed to two asbestos-related deaths in Montana town | FROM THE WEST ROUNDUP | News

Jury finds BNSF Railway contributed to two asbestos-related deaths in Montana town | FROM THE WEST ROUNDUP | News

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NORTH DAKOTA

The jury finds that the railways contributed to two asbestos-related deaths

HELENA — A federal jury said April 22 that BNSF Railway contributed to the deaths of two people who were exposed to asbestos decades ago when contaminated mining equipment was shipped through a Montana town that has sickened thousands.

The jury awarded $4 million each in compensatory damages to the estates of the two plaintiffs, who died in 2020. Jurors said asbestos-contaminated vermiculite that spilled into the rail yard in the town of Libby, Montana, was a substantial factor in the plaintiffs’ illnesses. and deaths.

Relatives of the two victims hugged their lawyers after the verdict was announced. An attorney for the plaintiffs said the ruling carried some responsibility, but a family member told The Associated Press that no amount of money could replace her lost sister.

Libby’s vermiculite contains high levels of naturally occurring asbestos and has been used in insulation and other commercial purposes in homes and businesses across the US.

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After being mined from a mountaintop outside the city, it was loaded onto rail cars, sometimes ending up in the Libby yard. Residents have described piles of vermiculite being stored in the yard and dust from the facility blowing through downtown Libby.

The jury did not find that BNSF acted intentionally or with indifference, so no damages were awarded. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. acquired BNSF in 2010, twenty years after W.R. Grace & Co.’s vermiculite mine. near Libby was closed and shipments of the contaminated mineral stopped.

The estates of the two victims argued that the railroad company knew the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite was dangerous and failed to clean it up. Both lived near the rail yard decades ago and died of mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer linked to asbestos exposure.

A second trial against the railroad over the death of a Libby resident is scheduled for May in federal court in Missoula.

IDAHO

The Group aims for a ballot initiative for abortion rights in 2026

BOISE — A new Idaho organization says it will ask voters to restore access to abortion and other reproductive health care rights in the state after lawmakers allowed a second legislative session to end without changing strict abortion bans responsible for a recent exodus of healthcare providers.

Idaho has several anti-abortion laws to its name, including one that makes performing abortions a crime, even in medical emergencies, unless they are done to save the life of the pregnant patient. The federal government has sued Idaho over the ban, saying it violates a federal law that requires hospitals to provide stabilizing care — including abortion — when a patient’s life or health is in serious danger.

Idaho’s attorneys say the ban allows life-saving procedures for things like ectopic pregnancies, and they argue the Biden administration is trying to create a federal “abortion loophole” in Idaho hospitals.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in that case on April 24.

Idahoans United for Women and Families is fundraising and hopes to have one or more ballot initiatives ready this summer to put on the 2026 ballot, spokeswoman Melanie Folwell said.

Cynthia Dalsing, a certified midwife in northern Idaho and board member of Idahoans United for Women and Families, said her region went from offering a “top-notch midwifery service” to a maternal care desert after the four local midwives moved. stands.

According to data collected by the Idaho Physician Well-Being Action Collaborative, about a quarter of Idaho obstetricians have stopped practicing since a near-total abortion ban went into effect in August 2022, as have about half of the state’s maternal-fetal physicians . Three hospitals have closed their labor and delivery units.

NEBRASKA

Governor calls special session on tax cuts

OMAHA – Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen has threatened from the start of this year’s legislative session that he would recall lawmakers for a special session if they fail to pass a bill to significantly alleviate rising property taxes. On the final day of the 60-day session, April 18, some lawmakers who helped torpedo an already anemic bill said they would welcome Pillen’s special session.

Pillen continued in his address to lawmakers just hours before they adjourned without voting on the property tax bill he backed. He said he planned to issue a proclamation for a special session.

Nebraska law requires that a special session be no shorter than seven days and that the actions contemplated be limited to those items outlined in the governor’s proclamation.

Pillen had supported a bill that initially aimed to increase the state’s sales tax to 6.5%, which would have been one of the highest in the country. It also expanded the sales tax base to include items like candy, soda, pet care, veterinary services and digital advertising, and added some limits on local government spending.

In return, the appointed commission proposes a cap on the increase in property tax revenues

However, by the time it reached the third and final round on the last day of the session, the sales tax increase had been eliminated, leaving only a fraction of the originally targeted property tax savings.

The bill was key to Pillen’s plan to reduce rising property taxes. Just days after the hearing, Pillen called for a 40% cut, which would save $2 billion on the $5.3 billion in property taxes collected in 2023. These property tax revenues are comparable to the $3.4 billion collected just 10 years earlier and far exceed collections. from sales and income taxes, which would raise approximately $2.3 billion and $3 billion, respectively, in 2023.

Rising home and land prices in recent years have led to skyrocketing property taxes for homeowners and farmers, but some homeowners have been hit especially hard because state law requires homes to be appraised at nearly 100% of market value, up from 75% . for agricultural land.

The series of proposed sales tax increases was enough to find opponents, both among Liberals, who complained that too much of the tax burden was placed on those least able to afford it, and among Conservatives, who called for more cuts related to new taxes.

NEW MEXICO

Voters can receive absentee ballots permanently

SANTA FE – Registered voters in New Mexico for the first time can join a permanent list to receive an absentee ballot by mail in future elections, state elections supervisors announced April 17.

The Secretary of State said it is accepting online requests for absentee ballots ahead of the June 4 primary election at the website NMVote.org, where qualified voters can sign up for the permanent list.

Previously, voters had to request a ballot at each election in a voting process that sometimes involved three or four mail deliveries.

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Absentee ballots can be returned by mail or by hand to county clerks or ballot drop boxes in some areas. The deadline to request an absentee ballot in the state’s June 4 primary is May 21.

New Mexico’s permanent absentee voting list was approved under 2023 legislation aimed at expanding ballot access in New Mexico. The law also requires each of New Mexico’s 33 counties to have at least two audited ballot drop boxes, although county clerks can apply for an exemption.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said in a statement that this option is one of the ways the state has increased the ease of voting.

KANSAS

Ostrich at zoo dies after swallowing employee’s keys

TOPEKA – A beloved ostrich at the Topeka Zoo & Conservation Center in Kansas has died after swallowing an employee’s keys.

The zoo announced in a social media post on April 19 that a 5-year-old ostrich named Karen had gotten past the gate of its exhibit and grabbed the employee’s keys and swallowed them. Staff consulted with experts across the U.S. “to undergo surgical and non-surgical efforts to minimize the impact of the keys. Unfortunately, these efforts were unsuccessful,” the zoo said.

Karen was euthanized on April 18 and “died in the hands of staff,” Fawn Moser, interim director of the Topeka Zoo, said in an email.

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Moser said, “She wasn’t just an animal; she was a beloved member of our community. Our thoughts are with our dedicated animal care team, who have built a deep bond with Karen during her time with us.”

The adored ostrich had been at the zoo since March 2023. She was known for her love of playing in water “and, best of all, for being our ‘dance queen!’ to be,” the zoo said.

The zoo said it has launched an investigation and is “taking appropriate action regarding the team member involved.” The zoo also said it would review and improve safety protocols for its animals.

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