Today’s News: California told to hold off on executions; Pit bull attack leads to murder charges; Fish futures?

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Death penalty. A state appeals court has dealt another blow to proponents of the death penalty in California. A three-judge panel says that prison officials failed to comply with administrative rules when crafting new lethal injection procedures two years ago.

It’s been seven years since the last execution in California, and the appeals court decision could mean  the state’s capital punishment pause will go on indefinitely.

The judges said officials committed a number of missteps, including failing to explain to the public why they opted to continue with a lethal three-drug cocktail instead of the single-drug execution method used by other states. Advocates for death row prisoners say one of the drugs in California’s mixture could cause severe pain as it acts to paralyze the condemned. That would violate the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

California prison officials say the three-drug execution method is humane. And they say they’ve responded to thousands of messages from the public about the state’s lethal injection protocols.

There are currently more than 700 inmates on California’s death row, the largest population of condemned prisoners in the country. L.A. Times

Pit bull attack. Prosecutors have taken the unusual step of charging an Antelope Valley man with murder following the mauling death of a woman by a pack of pit bulls earlier this month. Little Rock resident Pamela Devitt was walking near her home on the morning a few weeks ago when she was set upon by at least four dogs. The 63-year-old suffered more than 150 puncture wounds and died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Prosecutors say murder charges are warranted because 29-year-old Alex Jackson knew his dogs were vicious. L.A. Times

Powerhouse Fire. The U.S. Forest Service says a wildfire that has burned about 1,400 acres in the Castaic area is about 15 percent surrounded. The Powerhouse Fire has been slowed down by morning clouds, but those are expected to make way for dry, hot weather today, with light wind gusts that could help push the flames. Seven helicopters and seven airtankers are working with more than firefighters on the ground to try to bring the fire under control. L.A. Daily News

Minimum wage. A bill that would raise California’s minimum wage from $8 to $9.25 an hour over the next three years has passed the state Assembly. The sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo, says the state’s minimum wage hasn’t changed in the six years, while the cost of food, gasoline and other necessities has gone up. Business leaders and Republicans say the measure would damage the state’s economy by making it harder for companies to employ new workers. The bill now moves to the Senate. Sacramento Bee

Disappearing fish. U.C. Davis researchers say climate change could cause 82 percent of California’s native fish species to go extinct over the next century. A new study looked at 121 native fish species and 50 non-native species, as well as fish habitats, temperature-change sensitivity and climate change projections. Just 19 percent of non-native species were thought to be in danger of extinction. Among the threatened locals: Chinook and Coho salmon, Kern River rainbow trout and the Delta smelt. U.C. Davis

Cleanup costs. The state agency responsible for monitoring the use of toxins has failed to collect more than $145 million in cleanup costs from polluters over the past 25 years. Officials with the Department of Toxic Substances Control have acknowledged they never tried to collect most of the money. The agency says its focus has been on cleaning up contaminated properties, not pursuing the parties responsible for the pollution. Officials say they’ve stepped up collection efforts and put into place new billing procedures that require companies to pay up sooner. Sacramento Bee