U.S. Briefs: Indiana aims to silence suit targeting gun-makers
The city of Gary’s 25-year-old lawsuit claims firearm manufacturers turned a blind eye to gun trafficking
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State lawmakers hope to quash a lawsuit pending for nearly 25 years against some of the world’s largest gun-makers. The suit—filed by the city of Gary, Ind., in 1999—claims leading firearm manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson ignored gun trafficking in their industry. Indiana House Bill 1235 would change the rules so that only the state government can bring such lawsuits. At a January hearing, the bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Chris Jeter, said the legislation is a last-ditch effort to stop the pending case. A judge recently ruled the defendants must provide documents they’ve tried to withhold from city attorneys as part of the discovery process. If passed, HB 1235 would apply retroactively to just three days before Gary filed its suit. Gary Mayor Eddie Melton called it a “morally bankrupt bill” that favors big industries over ordinary citizens. But it passed by a landslide in the Indiana House on Jan. 23 and moved on to the Senate the next day. Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers of the Statehouse. —Grace Snell
A Baltimore judge on Feb. 1 sentenced a convenience store security guard to 60 years in prison for killing customer Marquise Powell. Kanisha Spence, 45, shot Powell in the head on Oct. 30, 2022, when he became confrontational and refused to leave the Royal Farms gas station. Powell, 26, died six days later. According to prosecutors, Spence and Powell argued over using the store’s restroom. During a two-day trial, they cited Spence’s inability to deescalate the situation, and the judge questioned why she didn’t lock the door to the store or call 911. Spence’s attorney argued her client feared for her life. A rash of security guard shootings led state lawmakers last year to increase regulation. Most guards must now be trained, licensed, and insured. —Kim Henderson
Fishermen hoping to catch more of a valuable marine species met another roadblock on Feb. 5 when regulators said the stringent quota on baby eels will likely remain the same. Tiny baby eels, also called elvers, are harvested each spring from rivers and streams in Maine. They are worth more than $2,000 per pound and play a vital role in the supply chain for Japanese cuisine. Aquaculture companies buy the elvers, raise them to maturity, and sell them for food. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission said next year’s limit will stay at a little less than 10,000 pounds, the same as it’s been for several years. Environmentalists have sought to lower that number, while fishermen say they reach their quota in a matter of days. —Mary Jackson
A regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) official on Feb. 5 ruled that varsity men’s basketball players at Dartmouth College are school employees and have the right to unionize. Laura Sacks, regional director of the NLRB’s Northeast region, wrote that the athletes are employees “because Dartmouth has the right to control the work performed by the Dartmouth men’s basketball team, and the players perform that work in exchange for compensation.” The decision could pave the way to create the first labor union for National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) athletes. All 15 team members in September signed a petition seeking to join Local 560 of the Service Employees International Union. Sacks’ decision requires the NLRB to hold a secret ballot election in which the team will decide whether to join the union chapter that already represents other Dartmouth employees. The college plans to appeal the decision. The NCAA insists athletes are students, not employees. —Lauren Canterberry
The Department of Justice and Office of Inspector General are investigating claims of work done on a major bridge after it suffered a partial failure following supposed repairs last year. Parts of the Washington Bridge, which connects East Providence to Providence, R.I., have been closed since Dec. 11. That was only a month after workers completed a repair project. The bridge is a major commuter route, and locals now face longer travel times and clogged neighborhoods. Kaylynn Brewer, who works at a Providence daycare center, told NBC 10 News that some daycare staffers have worked over 10 hours a day because parents are stuck in traffic. Investigators want access to all communications about the Washington Bridge’s inspection, maintenance, and repairs dating back to 2015, though they’re focusing on the most recent documentation filed after work ended in July. —Elizabeth Russell
A Beltrami County farmer is suing Gov. Tim Walz and state agricultural Commissioner Thom Petersen for racial discrimination. In his Jan. 24 lawsuit, Lance Nistler said the state denied his application in July to a grant program that gives qualified farmers up to $15,000 to help purchase their first farm. Nistler, who is white, said he lacked the skin color and sex the state prefers for its emerging farmers program, despite his application being one of the first picked by lottery. Emerging farmers include “women, veterans, persons with disabilities, American Indian or Alaskan Natives, members of a community of color, young, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual, or urban.” The state says it wants to diversify agriculture and make up for past discrimination. Others call it a reparations program. Nistler, who’d like to grow soybeans, oats, and wheat, wants to buy 40 acres from his farmer parents, who must sell to support their retirement. —Sharon Dierberger