House OKs dropping 'Dixie' from university name
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House on Feb. 10 voted in support of Dixie State University dropping "Dixie" from its name — an example of the nation's reexamination of the remnants of the Confederacy and slavery.
Dixie State University, which is located about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City in St. George, recommended the name change after reviewing the results of a study that showed some employers in other states expressed concern about the Dixie name on graduates' resumes. It also said nearly two-thirds of people in the college's recruiting region associate the name Dixie with the Confederacy.
The university's board of trustees voted for a name change in December, which was then supported by the higher education board.
Dixie State had faced scrutiny in the past over its name but had resisted changing it. The area was nicknamed Dixie, a reference to Southern states, when settlers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many of them from the South, tried to make it a cotton-growing mecca in the 1800s.
Supporters say the name is important to the area's heritage and is separate from the history of slavery. But efforts across the U.S. to remove monuments, names and other Confederate symbols have intensified during the nation's reckoning over racial injustice.
Dixie State has taken other steps in recent years to remove Confederate imagery. In 2009, the school's nickname was changed from the Rebels to Red Storm.
The bill moves to the Senate. The university has not chosen a new name yet.
Supreme Court backs governor's pandemic authority
SANTA FE — The state Supreme Court showed new resolve in its support of pandemic related health restrictions placed on businesses by the governor of New Mexico, in a detailed written opinion issued Feb. 15.
At the same time, the Legislature took initial steps that could place new limits on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's authority to declare a health emergency.
The Supreme Court opinion provides detailed and updated reasoning for its rejection in August of a lawsuit brought by several restaurants and their industry association to challenge restrictions on restaurant dining.
The court said a suggestion that the Legislature holds special sessions to guide the pandemic response was obviously unworkable.
A state Senate committee on Feb. 15 advanced a bill that would give the Legislature a share of authority over extended public health emergencies.
The bill from Republican Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca would limit the duration of public health orders to 45 days and require legislative approval to extend an order.
Counties could secede under long-shot proposal
SANTA FE — New Mexico has largely been a state divided by region when it comes to such issues as environmental regulations, pandemic-related school closures and gun rights laws.
But a proposal filed Feb. 1 by a Roswell Republican would take those divisions a step further by allowing counties to petition the Legislature to actually secede from the state – either to join a neighboring state or create a new state.
The proposed constitutional amendment, filed by Sen. Cliff Pirtle, likely faces long odds at the Roundhouse but could trigger debate about a deepening urban-rural political rift.
However, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, expressed doubts that any New Mexico county would actually pursue secession.
If approved by the Legislature and statewide voters, the proposed constitutional amendment would allow counties to launch an effort to formally disengage from New Mexico through a unanimous vote of county commissioners — or a voter petition drive.
In the case of counties wanting to join another state, at least one of the counties involved would have to border the neighboring state.
In addition, both the Legislature and Congress would also have to ratify such a move – along with the neighboring state.
Much of the regional discontent is based in the state's Republican-leaning southeastern region, which is sometimes known as Little Texas due to cultural similarities and a reliance on the oil industry as a top economic driver.
Stewart said there's an alternative for residents of southeastern New Mexico who no longer want to be part of the state.
"If you like Texas better, just pack up your bags and move — it's not that far," Stewart said.
Bill would limit who could return voters' absentee ballots
TOPEKA — Some Kansas Republican legislators are backing a bill that would make it a felony for anyone besides a family member or caregiver to return another person's absentee ballot.
The bill is facing pushback from Democratic lawmakers and voting rights advocates who say the legislation would make it harder for many racial minorities, older voters and people with disabilities to cast ballots. Those critics say the move would criminalize nonprofit groups and church volunteers for helping people to vote and would address a problem that doesn't exist.
Proponents say banning so-called "ballot harvesting" would prevent political groups and candidates from unfairly influencing elections.
Legislators in nine states have proposed bills to impose or increase strict limits on who can help return a voter's ballot, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute based at New York University School of Law.
University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller said Democrat and Republican candidates have historically collected and returned ballots as a campaign strategy. The practice has become an issue within the past decade, he said.
Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Republican from Derby who leads the House Election Committee, said he is concerned with voters losing "custody" of their ballot when they entrust someone to return it for them.
The League of Women Voters of Kansas and the NAACP's Kansas chapter say the bill would make it difficult for Kansans who don't have family living nearby to vote.
There is no evidence in Kansas that allowing someone to drop off a voter's ballot has led to fraud.
Judge rejects amendment legalizing marijuana
PIERRE — A South Dakota judge on Feb. 8 struck down a voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana after Gov. Kristi Noem's administration challenged it.
Circuit Judge Christina Klinger ruled the measure approved by voters in November violated the state's requirement that constitutional amendments deal with just one subject and would have created broad changes to state government.
Brendan Johnson, who sponsored the amendment and represented a pro-marijuana group in court, said it was preparing an appeal to South Dakota's Supreme Court.
Two law enforcement officers, Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, sued to block legalization by challenging its constitutionality. Miller was effectively acting on behalf of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who had opposed the effort to legalize pot.
Thom praised the ruling, saying it "solidifies the protections" of a 2018 constitutional amendment that required further amendments to stick to one subject.
In her ruling, Klinger said that marijuana legalization would have touched on business licensing, taxation and hemp cultivation. The amendment would have given the state's Department of Revenue power to administer recreational marijuana, but Klinger ruled that by doing so, it overstepped the authority of the executive and legislative branches of government.
Lawyers defending legalization had cast the lawsuit as an effort to overturn the results of a fair election. About 54 percent of voters approved recreational marijuana in November.
Possessing small amounts of marijuana would have become legal on July 1, but that will not happen unless a higher court overturns the ruling.