U.S. Briefs: Leadership spat divides Michigan’s GOP
Republicans head to court to resolve competing party chair elections
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A power struggle in the state’s Republican Party has landed in court. Members of Michigan’s Republican State Committee voted Jan. 6 to remove Kristina Karamo as their chair. In a subsequent meeting on Jan. 20, they elected Pete Hoekstra, a former congressman and U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, to replace her. Karamo’s opponents accuse her of various failures, including an autocratic leadership style and mismanaging party finances. But Karamo has refused to step down: On Jan. 13, she held her own meeting, and other party members voted to affirm her as chair. In response to Hoekstra’s election, Karamo posted on X, “As chair of the Michigan Republican Party, we will not allow for the party to be stolen.” On Jan. 19, Republicans opposed to Karamo filed a lawsuit in Kent County Circuit Court in Grand Rapids to force her out. Karamo was elected to her position in February 2023. She is a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump and maintains the 2020 election was stolen. —Emma Freire
The state Senate’s Committee on Education unanimously recommended approval Jan. 16 of a bill that would let public school teachers discuss theories besides evolution in the classroom. If passed, public school officials could not prohibit a teacher from discussing or answering questions about “scientific theories of how the universe and/or life came to exist.” Proponents said teachers avoid discussing intelligent design because they fear reprisal. Opponents called intelligent design an unscientific form of creationism that violates the separation of church and state. The full state Senate approved a similar bill last year and still needs to vote on the new bill. Last year’s bill died in the House Education Committee. —Todd Vician
The state Board of Public Education unanimously approved 19 applications on Jan. 19 for Montana’s first public charter schools. The board received 26 applications and prioritized proposals that provided diverse options for students and parents. Those approved include a multilingual school for students learning English, a school focused on career-based agricultural education, and one offering internships and college credit to high school students interested in teaching. The board denied applications that didn’t show innovative instruction or a likelihood of success. The state Legislature authorized public charter schools in 2023 and will provide funding, at a level set by the governor, through the same process used for traditional public schools. —Todd Vician
Nearly four years after the death of Manuel Ellis, lawmakers in Olympia want to end the police practice that may have starved his body of oxygen. The restraining technique known as “hog-tying,” sometimes called the prone maximal restraint position or the hobble position, involves cuffing a person’s feet and hands, with the hands behind the back. It’s a practice the U.S. Department of Defense has opposed since 1995. The attorney general’s office in Washington state opposes it, too, according to a model use-of-force policy released in 2022. But some local agencies continue to use it. Democratic state Sen. Yasmin Trudeau sponsored SB 6009, legislation that could end hog-tying entirely. She says she doesn’t want anyone else to experience the “dehumanization” Ellis faced before his death. After a medical examiner ruled Ellis’ 2020 death a homicide, three Tacoma police officers faced murder and manslaughter charges. Defense attorneys argued methamphetamine intoxication and a heart condition caused Ellis’ death. A jury acquitted the officers in December. —Kim Henderson
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia has ruled state laws banning 18- to 20-year-olds from openly carrying firearms during a state of emergency are unconstitutional. In a 2-1 decision issued Jan. 18, the majority cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2022 ruling in New York v. Bruen. That decision affirmed for the first time that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense. And it established a new test for gun laws: Restrictions must “be consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” Regarding Pennsylvania’s attempt to impose restrictions on 18- to 20-year-olds, U.S. Circuit Judge Kent Jordan wrote, “We are aware of no founding-era law that supports disarming people in that age group.” Pennsylvania’s attorney general may appeal. —Sharon Dierberger
Inactive drilling sites, known as orphan wells, leak a toxic mixture of oil and salt water. Oil companies are supposed to fill them with cement within 12 months of closing a drilling site, but they abandon some of them, leaving the Texas Railroad Commission to clean up the mess. The Lone Star State now has a backlog of thousands of patch jobs, and officials are having trouble keeping up, according to commission data. Federal lawmakers delegated $4.6 billion to plug orphan wells in 2021 and filled 730 wells in Texas, more than any other state. As the federal money flowed, the watchdog group Commission Shift found that while the state is able to plug more wells, the Texas government is using less of its own money. State funds are paying for 600 fewer wells each year. The Railroad Commission hopes to secure more federal funding to keep up with the plugging, but federal officials say they will base future grants on states increasing their funding instead of their catalog of abandoned wells. —Addie Offereins