/ Modified aug 20, 2020 10:32 a.m.

News roundup: Ed funding initiative back, USPS complaint dismissed

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Aug. 19.

Cases 195,557 | Deaths 4,634 | Diagnostic tests 1,109,724

On Wednesday, Aug. 19, Arizona reported 637 new cases of COVID-19 and 105 additional deaths. According to the Associated Press, the downward trend of the state’s coronavirus cases could mean school districts will meet the state criteria for widespread reopening soon.

Arizona Supreme Court revives education tax initiative


PHOENIX — The Arizona Supreme Court has restored a citizen’s initiative that would raise taxes on the wealthy to help boost education funding to the ballot. Wednesday's unanimous ruling is a major victory for proponents of the initiative who turned in signatures from more than 400,000 voters to qualify it for the ballot.

The Secretary of State’s office has not yet completed its review of those signatures to determine if it will go before voters on Nov. 3.

The high court overturned a July 31 ruling by a trial court judge who said the 100-word summary on petitions voters signed inaccurately described the measure and petition circulators were illegally paid.

Read more here.

Arizona attorney general rejects complaint over USPS


PHOENIX — Arizona's attorney general has dismissed a criminal complaint filed by the state's top election official accusing President Donald Trump of breaking election law by interfering with the U.S. Postal Service.

Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich said Wednesday that Trump doesn't directly control the Postal Service and that Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs didn't present any evidence of actual election interference in Arizona. He also accuses Hobbs of spreading misinformation.

Hobbs last week asked Brnovich to investigate whether Trump's criticism of the Postal Service and changes made by the new postmaster general violated Arizona law. Hobbs wrote on Twitter that she's disappointed Brnovich won't investigate.

AZ weekly unemployment shows slight increase


First-time filers for unemployment in Arizona last week increased after weeks of a downward trend.

More than 15,000 people filed first-time claims for regular unemployment. That number had shown steady decreases since July. Total first-time claims, which includes the self-employed, jumped by nearly 6,000 last week a 12% increase.

Currently, nearly 1.2 million Arizona residents are receiving unemployment.

Over the weekend, Arizona was granted permission to use federal emergency management money to pay a $300 a week supplement. Those dollars were not part of unemployment payments made last week. Questions also remain regarding how long that federal pot of money will be available. Arizona was one of the first states to receive permission to access the money.

See an interactive graph of unemployment claims here.

'We are not animals': Letter details how Tucson prison became COVID-19 hot spot


One unit at a state prison in Tucson is in the middle of the worst COVID-19 outbreak of prisons statewide. A letter shared with AZPM from the unit details how facility practices may have paved the way for cases to skyrocket, and numbers might be even higher than reported.

Manuel Lopez II is serving a four-and-a-half year sentence for an aggravated DUI at the Whetstone unit of Arizona State Prison Complex-Tucson (ASPC-Tucson), a unit that houses around 1,000 incarcerated people. Lopez is one of more than 500 within that unit to test positive for the coronavirus, according to data released by the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) on Aug. 4.

Learn more here.

Lots of heat, little rain in Tucson


This year's monsoon is more like a non-soon. But there's still a chance of rain in the days ahead.

In a normal year, Tucson would have received 3.79 inches of rain since mid-June. Instead the area has received only .73 inches, according to meteorologist Rob Howlett with the National Weather Service in Tucson.

He says the coming weekend may bring a little rain, thanks to a hurricane in the Pacific. "We're going to get some moisture moving into the area and we're looking at the better chances beginning Thursday, and then more widespread. Looks like this weekend we'll get into a better pattern that might get some thunderstorms actually in the city, We keep missing out," Howlett said.

He said says it's unclear whether the lack of normal monsoon activity is a result of climate change, some random quirky weather or a combination of the two.

UA launches Covid Watch Arizona app


The University of Arizona launched its COVID-19 exposure notification app, called Covid Watch Arizona, Wednesday. The app works by notifying a phone's user if they've been close to another app user who has tested positive for the coronavirus. Both people have to have the app running on their devices in order for it to work.

Joanna Masel is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the app's technology lead for the UA with Covid Watch. She says they hope to get "clusters" of students to adopt it, rather than aiming for wide acceptance right away.

The UA and the separate non-profit that created the app, also called Covid Watch, plan to push it statewide after a pilot test at the university.

Learn more here.

Members Of Yaqui Community In Sonora Continue Rail, Highway Blockades

Fronteras Desk

Mexico’s president signed an agreement pledging support for Yaqui Indigenous communities in southern Sonora during a recent visit to the state. But protesters say they will continue a rail and highway blockade until their demands are met.

Some members of Yaqui communities in Sonora are refusing to lift blockades until federal, state and local authorities hold a meaningful dialogue with protesters, who say they weren’t party to the agreement President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made with tribal leaders two weeks ago.

During a press conference this week, the president renewed his promises to work with Yaqui protesters in Sonora by sending the head of the national Institute of Indigenous Peoples, Adelfo Regino, to continue negotiations.

Learn more here.

Prosecutors: Border Patrol Agent Who Trafficked Drugs A Flight Risk

Fronteras Desk

The U.S. government is trying to convince a federal judge in Tucson that a Border Patrol agent who it says trafficked narcotics for a cartel will flee the country if he’s released from custody.

Carlos Passapera worked as a Border Patrol agent for 10 years. He resigned just after federal investigators arrested him in August after they say they tracked him smuggling dozens of pounds of cocaine, heroin and fentanyl.

Agents say they recovered more than $300,000 from Passapera’s Buckeye home, and that he and his wife tried to conceal $311,000 they had stashed in a safe deposit box from the federal court.

Federal investigators noted his strong ties to Puerto Rico and deemed him a flight risk.

Arizona close to meeting virus metrics for school reopenings


PHOENIX — Former state health director Will Humble says Arizona’s downward trend of coronavirus cases means parts of the state could meet all three metrics the state’s health and education departments set for at least a partial reopening of schools by Labor Day.

Humble says bars and nightclubs in at least some counties could meet the parameters for reopening shortly after that. But he says enforceable rules are needed for that to happen.

State health officials reported 637 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 105 more deaths Wednesday. That's well below the peak of nearly 5,000 new cases a day in early July.

Learn more here.

Navajo man on federal death row seeks stay of execution


FLAGSTAFF — The only Native American on federal death row is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to put his execution on hold while he seeks review of a lower court decision over potential racial bias in his case.

It's rare but not unheard of for the high court to grant a stay. Legal volleying in other recent federal executions has delayed the inmates' deaths by hours.

Lezmond Mitchell's execution is scheduled Aug. 26 at the federal prison in Indiana where he's being held. The Navajo man was convicted in the 2001 killings of Alyce Slim and her granddaughter during a carjacking on the Navajo reservation.

Learn more here.

Parts of 2 Arizona highways closed due to brush fire


GLOBE — Partial closures of two state highways were in effect Wednesday in east-central Arizona because of a lightning-caused brush fire. The partial closures of State Routes 188 and 288 in both directions are in a sparsely populated area southeast of Roosevelt Lake and north of Globe.

Tonto National Forest officials say the fire has burned about three square miles of grass and brush on the north side of SR188 about two miles east of the junction with SR288. Officials said three structures were threatened, but no communities had been evacuated.

Learn more here.

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