Trial starts today in alleged state abuse of foster wards

A class action lawsuit that accuses the state of Massachusetts of allowing thousands of foster children to suffer a wide range of abuse is set to go to trial in federal court.

The suit by the New York City-based advocacy group Children’s Rights accuses Massachusetts of “causing physical and psychological harm to the abused and neglected children it is mandated to protect.” It says the abuse includes sexual assault, constant foster home uprooting and inappropriate prescribing of psychotropic drugs.

Opening arguments in the trial, which is expected to take weeks, are scheduled for Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Boston.

The Boston Globe reports that Children’s Right’s first witness will be a woman who grew up in the Massachusetts system and suffered terrible abuse while being shuffled between foster homes.

“When taxpayers hear what they’ve been spending money on, they will be appalled,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights.


Autopsy hoped to ID body pulled from river Sunday

New Hampshire investigators are hoping an autopsy will help them identify a body pulled from the Merrimack River in Manchester.

Police say the person may have died weeks or even months ago and the body is so decomposed the autopsy will be needed to determine its gender. The cause of death isn’t known yet, either.

WMUR-TV reports the body was discovered late Sunday afternoon.

A man was reported missing on the same street in November, but police haven’t said whether there might be a connection between the two cases.


Nearly 50 legislators agree to health-benefits change

Nearly all new and returning Rhode Island legislators say they will pay at least 10 percent of their state-paid health insurance or waive the benefit in exchange for a $1,001 end-of-year payment.

The Providence Journal reports that 19 House members and 12 senators may claim a waiver payment in December. Another 18 lawmakers declined the health insurance and waiver payment.

State-paid health insurance is worth $7,506 for an individual plan and $21,038 for family.

Most of Rhode Island’s part-time lawmakers who are paid $14,640 a year have chosen to pay 10 percent, 15 percent or 20 percent of the cost.


Senate leader pulling bill to reinstate weapons ban

The majority leader of the Vermont state Senate says he’s withdrawing a bill that would have reinstated in Vermont a now-expired federal assault weapons ban.

Democratic Sen. Philip Baruth, of Chittenden County, says there’s not enough support among his colleagues and there’s mounting opposition from outside the Statehouse.

Baruth’s bill also would have capped the number of rounds in a gun’s magazine to five.

Vermont Public Radio is reporting that Baruth sent a statement to his colleagues Sunday saying he would abandon the legislation.


One student dies in fire at off-campus housing

An Amherst fire official says a male student from the University of Massachusetts is dead after a fire at an apartment complex that’s used for off-campus housing by nearly two dozen students.

The Republican reported that Assistant Chief Lindsay Stromgren declined to give the victim’s name or age.

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said the fire appears to have started in the unit where the deceased person was discovered.