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    Texas has executed an inmate convicted of killing three teenagers while they slept in a Texas Panhandle home more than 25 years ago. John Balentine’s attorneys had argued his trial and death sentence were marred by racial bias. He received a lethal injection Wednesday evening at the state penitentiary in Huntsville. His execution was carried out after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop it and following a decision earlier Wednesday by a Texas appeals court that reinstated the execution order. Fifty-four-year-old Balentine was condemned for the January 1998 shooting deaths of two 15-year-olds and a 17-year-old at a home in Amarillo. He was the third inmate in Texas and the sixth in the U.S. to be put to death this year.

      A co-host of “Ear Hustle,” the Pulitzer Prize-nominated podcast produced behind bars, has been released from San Quentin State Prison, a year after California’s governor commuted his sentence. Rahsaan “New York” Thomas left the lockup near San Francisco on Wednesday and was greeted by his fellow podcast co-hosts. The 52-year-old's sentence was commuted by Gov. Gavin Newsom in Jan. 2022 and the state parole board granted his release in August. The governor has said Thomas dedicated himself to his rehabilitation. Thomas was a regular contributor to the San Quentin News, along with publications outside prison walls.

        Many Twitter users have found themselves unable to tweet, follow accounts or access their direct messages as the Elon Musk-owned platform experienced a slew of widespread technical problems. Twitter acknowledged on Wednesday that the platform “may not be working as expected for some of you" and said it is working to get it fixed. It's not clear what caused the meltdown, but Twitter engineers and experts have been warning that the platform is at an increased risk of fraying since Musk fired most of the people who worked on keeping it running.

          More than two dozen Republican Montana lawmakers are co-sponsoring a bill that would allow students to misgender and deadname their transgender peers without punishment. LGBTQ supporters contend the bill would allow the bullying of a population of kids already struggling for acceptance. The sponsor argues that his school-age children should not be required to call somebody something they're not. Opponents said the bill would make it easier for fellow students to make transgender students feel unsafe and unsupported. The Montana House Judiciary committee did not vote on the bill on Wednesday.

            The Washington state Attorney General’s Office contends in court filings that state lawmakers can refuse to provide certain records to the public. The News Tribune reports that in documents filed Monday, the office asserts lawmakers are immune from being required to produce certain records under Article II, Section 17 of the Washington Constitution. The filing responds to open government activist Arthur West's lawsuit over whether lawmakers can claim legislative privilege to withhold records and shield them from the state’s Public Records Act. The state Constitution says “no member of the legislature shall be liable in any civil action or criminal prosecution whatever, for words spoken in debate." It doesn't mention public records.

              A U.S. judge has upheld Washington’s residency requirement for involvement in the state’s legal cannabis industry — a decision at odds with a federal appeals court ruling concerning a similar requirement in Maine. A man who owns a chain of Washington cannabis stores called Zips, Scott Atkinson, wanted to transfer part of his ownership interest to a longtime friend who lives in Idaho, Todd Brinkmeyer. But Washington requires owners and investors in regulated marijuana businesses to have lived in the state for at least six months. Brinkmeyer sued the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board in 2020, saying the residency requirement was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle disagreed in a ruling Monday.

              A jury has convicted a Minnesota woman accused of shooting her 6-year-old son nine times and hiding his body in her car trunk. The Hennepin County jury deliberated less than two hours before convictin 29-year-old Julissa Thaler of first-degree murder on Wednesday in the killing of Eli Hart, just 10 days after she regained custody of him. During closing arguments, Thaler's attorney said she participated in the boy's death but didn't shoot him. Prosecutors said overwhelming evidence showed that Thaler killed her son, either for money, because of mental health issues or after a difficult custody battle with the boy's father.

              Pennsylvania is now the latest state where a judge has found the public school funding system to be unconstitutional. But the experience of other states suggests there's no guarantee of swift, significant or longstanding change for poorer school districts. Scholars who have studied school funding litigation in dozens of states say there may be many more steps to come. Joshua Weishart is a West Virginia University law professor who specializes in education rights. He says lawmakers usually don't approve enough funding to be fully compliant with judicial orders. The cases also can be complicated by economic, political and other factors. And courts can tire of trying to force compliance.

              Florida lawmakers have advanced proposals to strip Disney of its self-governing status, expand a controversial migrant transportation program and strengthen prosecutions tied to the state’s election police unit. The bills cleared separate committees and the Senate on Wednesday. The measures come as part of a special legislative session centered on the priorities of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as he focuses on cultural issues ahead of his expected 2024 White House run. The proposals still face additional legislative hearings before they reach final passage, though they are expected to pass in the GOP-dominated statehouse.

              Damar Hamlin has been named winner of the NFLPA’s Alan Page Community Award and made a brief appearance in Phoenix during Super Bowl week to receive the award. Hamlin read a brief statement with his parents on stage with him at the Phoenix Convention Center. The Buffalo Bills safety received the award a little over a month after he went into cardiac arrest and needed to be resuscitated on the field in Cincinnati. Hamlin’s toy drive fundraiser has raised more than $9 million since he collapsed.

              Arizona lawmakers have voted to let public school districts spend all the money they were promised by the state. The vote on Wednesday eliminates the risk that schools would abruptly lay off teachers or close before the end of the year. It allows schools to spend nearly $1.4 billion that exceeds an arcane spending cap approved by voters in 1980. Voters approved the spending cap in response to a growing anti-tax movement in the 1970s and ’80s, but a significant increase in school funding recently threatened to trigger the cap.

              Sheryl Lee Ralph is living a career dream: The “Abbott Elementary” star won her first Emmy last year and lends her powerful vocals as a Super Bowl pregame performer this weekend. With all her success, the veteran actor-singer only wishes her late parents were alive to witness her recent accomplishments. Ralph will hit Sunday’s Super Bowl stage to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The other pregame performances include country music star Chris Stapleton, who will sing the national anthem, while R&B legend Babyface will perform “America the Beautiful.” Rihanna is the featured halftime performer.

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              New York City police say a shooting outside a Brooklyn high school has injured two students and a school security guard. Authorities say a gunman opened fire outside Williamsburg Charter High School at about 2 p.m. Wednesday around dismissal time during a large fight. Police say the three victims’ injuries were not life-threatening. Two students — a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy — were both shot in their legs and the 37-year-old security guard suffered a bullet graze wound to his neck, officials said. All three were taken local hospitals. No arrests have been announced.

              Lawmakers in several conservative states are continuing to target transgender children with bills that prohibit gender affirming care for young people. Bills that prohibit such medical care for young people were passed Wednesday by GOP-controlled committees in Oklahoma and South Dakota, and are expected to be approved in Nebraska. The states are among more than two dozen considering similar bans, including Utah, where the Republican governor just signed that state's bill into law. A judge is reviewing whether to strike down Arkansas' law after temporarily blocking it last year. Such treatments, including the use of puberty-blocking drugs and hormones, have been available in the United States for more than a decade and are endorsed by major medical associations.

              Republican lawmakers have wrapped up work on a bill making a deeper cut in Kentucky’s individual income tax rate. The Senate passed the bill Wednesday. It now goes to the governor. For Republicans, it’s another step toward achieving their goal of phasing out individual income taxes. The attention will quickly shift to whether Gov. Andy Beshear signs it. The bill would lower the individual income tax rate by a half-percentage point to 4%, effective Jan. 1, 2024. It follows up on last year’s tax overhaul, which reduced the tax rate from 5% to 4.5% at the start of this year.

              School-choice advocates in Kentucky are mounting a more ambitious effort after suffering a setback last year. The new effort is much broader in scope and would be added to the 2024 ballot. They're pushing for a constitutional amendment to allow public dollars to support students who aren't attending public schools. The measure is likely to reignite a policy battle over school choice in the GOP-trending Bluegrass State. Last year, the state's Supreme Court struck down a measure that would have allowed a form of scholarship tax credits to support private school tuition.

              California could reinstate voting rights to felons while they are in prison in a major expansion of suffrage for incarcerated people if a bill currently before the state legislature passes despite an uphill battle. California would join Maine and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia, as the only states where felons never lose their right to vote, even while they are in prison. Two-thirds of each chamber of the state legislature must vote yes for the bill just for it to appear on the ballot as a proposition. Voters must then approve it by a simple majority for it to become a constitutional amendment.

              The fire chief in Ohio's small town of East Palestine says Wednesday that evacuated residents can safely return to the area where crews burned toxic chemicals after a train derailed five days ago near the Pennsylvania state line. Authorities in East Palestine had warned that burning vinyl chloride that was in five of the derailed tanker cars would send hydrogen chloride and the toxic gas phosgene into the air. They said Wednesday subsequent air monitoring hasn’t detected dangerous levels inside or outside the mile-radius evacuation zone, which stretched into Pennsylvania. Many nearby residents left shortly after the derailment, and others were ordered out before the controlled release of the chemicals because of concerns about serious health risks from it.

              A bill backed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration would provide protections to the western Joshua tree, a native desert plant known for its distinct appearance. The bill's proposal comes as the state's Fish and Game Commission continues to weigh whether to list the tree as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. The newly-proposed legislation would simplify the permit process for getting permission to remove it. Proponents of listing the tree as threatened warn that climate change is threating the conditions in which it can thrive. But some argue listing it could hinder housing and solar projects where the tree is abundant.

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