Alabama

Montgomery, AL – An Alabama fan is about to go on trial on charges of poisoning two oak trees that are fixtures for fans of archrival Auburn.

Attorneys will begin picking a jury in Lee County on Tuesday for the case against 63-year-old Harvey Updyke Jr. The courthouse is less than 10 miles from the Toomer's Corner oaks and Auburn's campus.

Updyke and wife Elva were in court Monday for the deposition of an expert witness who is unavailable later in the week.

Montgomery, AL – A $25 billion national settlement with five big mortgage companies is helping balance Alabama's operating budget during lean times.

The office of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange received $26 million from the settlement. Of that, $19.3 million will be used from 2013 through 2015 to pay for operations in the attorney general's office and in district attorneys' offices statewide.

Senate budget committee Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said that's freeing up money to help other state programs in the $1.68 billion General Fund budget for fiscal 2013.

Montgomery, AL – Alabama immigration activists are praising the Obama administration's decision to quit deporting many younger illegal immigrants.

The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice says the change announced Friday is a step in the right direction.

Coalition member and recent high school graduate Victor Palafox says he is in the country illegally after being brought to the United States from Mexico by his parents as a child. Palafox says the administration's announcement is an ``enormous victory'' for young people across the country.

Tuscaloosa, AL – The board of the University of Alabama System approved tuition increases Friday for the three campuses, starting with the fall semester.

Tuition for the Tuscaloosa campus will go up 7 percent to $9,200 for two semesters. Birmingham will increase 8.5 percent to $8,400 for two semesters, and Huntsville will rise 8.6 percent to $8,794 for two semesters.

Montgomery, AL – Alabama's unemployment rate has gone up for the first time since last summer.

State officials announced Friday that the rate rose from 7.2 percent in April to 7.4 percent in May.

Gov. Robert Bentley said the increase was expected because the national rate increased form 8.1 percent in April to 8.2 percent in May. He said Alabama's rate traditionally goes up in May when new high school and college graduates join the workforce.

Montgomery, AL – Alabama authorities say two men are now charged with hindering the search for a man suspected of killing three people and wounding three more during a party near Auburn University.

Auburn police say 18-year-old Jeremy Thomas of Montgomery is charged with hindering prosecution after allegedly fleeing the scene of the shooting with the prime suspect, 22-year-old Desmonte Leonard.

Police are still looking for a third person who was with them.

Montgomery, AL – Forecasters say more heavy rain is pelting south Alabama, where some roads remain closed after a weekend drenching.

The National Weather Service says areas north of the coast could receive as much as 2 inches of rain an hour on Monday, creating a threat for more flooding. The rain is expected to last through Tuesday.

The downpours come with some roads still closed after a weekend of heavy rains in Mobile County, where the airport has received more than 10 inches of rain since Friday.

Atlanta, GA – A federal appeals court in Atlanta has ruled that a lower court should take another look at a case involving an artist known for drawing iconic images of University of Alabama sporting events.

In a ruling released Monday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld parts of a lower court's ruling, reversed others and sent the case back to a district court.

The University of Alabama had claimed that Daniel Moore's artwork violates the school's trademark rights.

Atlanta, GA – A federal appeals court in Atlanta has ruled that a lower court should take another look at a case involving an artist known for drawing iconic images of University of Alabama sporting events.

In a ruling released Monday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld parts of a lower court's ruling, reversed others and sent the case back to a district court.

The University of Alabama had claimed that Daniel Moore's artwork violates the school's trademark rights.

Anniston, AL – Next week's auction for drilling rights in the Talladega National Forest is off.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management announced Friday that they would delay the June 14 auction for oil and gas drilling rights to allow more public informational meetings. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the agency wants to ensure people have ample input into decisions involving the management of national forests. The service did not say how that would be done or when the auction

Atlanta, GA – Health officials are investigating a mysterious and scattered outbreak of the E. coli bacteria linked to 14 illnesses and one death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said no form of contaminated food or other cause has been identified in the illnesses, which occurred in April and May. They are spread among six states that include Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama.

Three people were hospitalized. One - a child in the New Orleans area - died last week.

Brewton, AL – The U.S. Department of the Interior has affirmed the federal status of Alabama Indian land where highly successful casinos are located after Escambia County officials raised questions about the land.

New Orleans, LA – A new study says thousands of jobs would be created along the Gulf Coast if money from BP oil spill penalties and other sources is dedicated to coastal restoration.

The report by the research firm Mather Economics comes as Gulf interests press Congress for passage of the Restore Act, which would take 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties resulting from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and dedicate it to coastal projects. The fines could run anywhere from $5.4 billion to $21.1 billion.

Montgomery, AL – Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has signed into law a bill that's designed to make it easier for local farmers to sell their produce to Alabama public schools.

The Farm to School Procurement Act, signed by the governor Wednesday, requires the state Agriculture Department and the state Department of Education to investigate the potential for schools to purchase local farm products. The House sponsor of the bill, Democratic state Rep. Elaine Beech of Chatom said the law calls for schools to provide training to lunchroom staff on how prepare the fresh food.

Birmingham, AL – A legislative panel has scheduled a meeting to discuss reports of rising inmate-on-inmate violence in Alabama prisons.

The Legislature's Joint Prison Oversight Committee will also discuss allegations of prison employees sexually abusing women inmates at Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka.

Committee chairman Cam Ward, a Republican from Alabaster says that at the June 20 meeting legislators hope to hear from prison employees as well as prisons commissioner Kim Thomas.

Anniston, AL – State lawmakers are hoping a bill passed last month will alleviate overcrowding in a state that has the highest prison population growth in the country.

Senate Bill 386 gives the Alabama Sentencing Commission power to shorten prison sentences for various crimes starting in October 2013 unless the Legislature specifically rejects the change. Bill sponsor Sen. Cam Ward, a Republican from Alabaster, said over time the prison population will decline.

Alabama's prisons hold 27,000 inmates but they were built for half that.

Birmingham, AL – Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman says his ``heart is broken'' over the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to refuse an appeal of his federal bribery conviction.

In a statement, Siegelman says law professors plus current and former attorneys general from both political parties backed his appeal. He says he hopes something positive comes out of the case in the future.

The Supreme Court declined Monday to review Siegelman's conviction on charges of accepting a bribe from former HealthSouth Corp. CEO Richard Scrushy, who also lost his appeal.

Birmingham, AL – Birmingham's new smoking ban is now in effect.

The ordinance prohibits smoking in virtually all public places, including bars. But it goes a step further and also restricts smoking outside of businesses.

While the sight of smokers standing around outside doors of downtown buildings is common, it may be a thing of the past. That's because smokers must now be at least seven feet from any public entrance, and businesses are required to post ``No Smoking'' signs.

Violators can be fined $50, and businesses face a $100 fine.

Montgomery, AL – A national coalition of civil rights and labor organizations say they will run advertisements around the country encouraging people not to visit tourist sites in Alabama because of the state's crackdown on illegal immigration.

Leaders of the group said in a telephone news conference Thursday that they also plan to have demonstrations in front of 73 Hyundai dealerships around the county to encourage the South Korean auto manufacturer to publicly take a stance against Alabama's immigration law.

Jackson, AL – Gov. Robert Bentley says 105 road and bridge projects worth about $138 million are being planned across Alabama to improve the state's infrastructure.

The projects will be funded by bonds through the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, or ATRIP.

Bentley announced the projects during a stop in the southwest Alabama town of Jackson.

The first round of work includes projects in 61 of Alabama's 67 counties.

Gulf Shores, AL – State leaders are prodding Alabama's coastal counties to make earlier decisions on hurricane evacuations so residents have more time to get away if a major storm threatens the Gulf of Mexico.

With hurricane season starting Friday, officials tell The Associated Press that state leaders have pushed for the change in meetings held as recently as this week.

Birmingham, AL – Forecasters say that severe storms are possible in Alabama ahead of an approaching cold front.

The National Weather Service says that any storm that develops will pose a threat of damaging straight-line winds and large hail.

Storms could form in Alabama as early as Thursday afternoon, and the threat of severe weather will continue overnight and into Friday.

Montgomery, AL – Montgomery city officials are working with state officials on a study to determine whether it's feasible to create a passenger railroad line that would allow residents to travel on trains between Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile.

In 2009, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs received a $200,000 matching grant from the Federal Railroad Administration to fund the study.

Robert Smith, Montgomery's director of planning, said the first part of the study will look at a Birmingham-to-Montgomery connection, and will cost $200,000.

New Orleans, LA – An expanded class-action settlement agreement calls for around two dozen companies that manufactured trailers distributed by the government after hurricanes Katrina and Rita to pay a total of $37.5 million to resolve claims that Gulf Coast residents were exposed to dangerous fumes while living in them.

The amount is disclosed in a federal court filing Wednesday. About $22.7 million of the total would be paid by four manufacturers that agreed Monday to participate in the expanded settlement proposal.

Montgomery, AL – The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs is closing 17 veterans' service offices around the state. This means veterans in some counties will have to travel to get assistance in receiving benefits or help with other issues.

The offices are being closed because of severe funding cuts to agencies funded by the state General Fund budget.

Spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Robert Horton, says no employees will lose jobs because of the offices being closed. Manpower will be consolidated in the offices remaining open.

Montgomery, AL – Gov. Robert Bentley has vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature with only one negative vote. It would have set up a new streamlined system for hearing appeals of state and local tax disputes.

Legislators and lawyers who worked on the legislation to create the Alabama Tax Appeals Commission said a compromise was worked out on the final day of the legislative session, but in the rush of the last day, not all of the agreed-upon language got included in the bill that was presented to the Legislature for the nearly unanimous vote

Montgomery, AL – The state Department of Public Safety says troopers investigated three fatal crashes this year, down from seven in 2011, over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

The crashes occurred in Walker, Madison and Winston counties. Preliminary investigations indicate that in two of the three crashes, seat belts were not used. In the third fatal crash, a motorcyclist was killed.

The holiday period began at 6 p.m. Friday and ended Monday. Despite heavier-than-usual holiday traffic, troopers were not called to investigate any fatal crashes Sunday or Monday.

Montgomery, AL – Fewer Alabamians are graduating from high school than previously thought according to a new formula for calculating graduation rates.

State officials said Thursday about 72 percent of Alabama high school students are graduating. That rate was previously thought to be at more than 87 percent under the old methodology.

State officials say the new formula for calculating graduation rates is believed to be more accurate.

Anniston, AL – Alabama community colleges are having a tougher time funding services and employee payroll amid state budget cuts and declining enrollment.

The Alabama Department of Postsecondary education reports that early 97,000 students are enrolled in the state's community colleges for this fall. That marks a significant decrease from the 102,000 students enrolled in 2010.

The Department says state community colleges will see their budgets decrease by 2.4 percent and tuition will increase by nearly 1.9 percent.

Montgomery, AL – Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has signed two state budgets into law.

Bentley said Thursday he didn't like everything the Legislature put into the education and General Fund budgets, but there were more positives than negatives.

Bentley said he waited to sign the budgets until the Legislature passed a use tax bill early Thursday morning. It moves part of the state use tax from education purposes to the General Fund budget.

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