Gila Monster

A Gila monster at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle in a 2018 file photo.


Gila monster named official state reptile

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has named a venomous lizard with black and yellow bead-like scales as its state reptile.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a bill into law adding the Gila monster to the list of state symbols, honoring the lizard among things like the beehive, the Dutch oven, elk and seagulls.

Republican state Rep. Lowry Snow had sponsored the bill after students at Lava Ridge Intermediate School in Santa Clara lobbied the lawmaker. The students pushed for the bill through correspondence and committee testimony.

"I have so much enjoyed these emails from these fourth-graders," Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler said during debate on the matter. "I did not know the Gila monster stored its fat in its tail, and I felt like we had something in common."

The monsters eat tortoise and bird eggs as well as small mammals, like baby cottontail rabbits, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

They dine only three or four times a year because they can eat up to 33 percent of their body weight in a single meal. They mostly stay underground.

Their venom can be deadly in large doses, but it also has medicinal properties, according to the wildlife agency.


State raises cap on annual rebates for film industry

ALBUQUERQUE — New Mexico politicians are banking on more film and television producers bringing their business to the state now that the pot of tax rebates that will be available each year is more than doubling.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the film incentive legislation at Albuquerque Studios, making good on a campaign promise to boost the annual rebate cap.

The state is increasing the cap from $50 million to $110 million. Other major provisions include one-time spending of up to $225 million to address a backlog of unpaid incentives. The backlog is projected to hit $382 million by the end of the year.

New Mexico has long been on the map when it comes to successful movie and television productions, from the early Westerns decades ago to more recent series such as the Emmy-winning TV drama "Breaking Bad."


State lawmakers move to nullify 1975 Equal Rights support

BISMARCK — The male-dominated legislature is considering a resolution to nullify its 1975 support of the Equal Rights Amendment, a move seen as offsetting revived efforts nationally to enshrine the nearly half-century-old measure in the U.S. Constitution.

The resolution sponsored by seven male Republican lawmakers says Congress' deadline for ratification of the gender-equality amendment passed 40 years ago and is no longer valid.

If the resolution is approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, North Dakota would join Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota as states that ratified the amendment and later withdrew their support. The other states rescinded their support by 1979, though it's not clear their withdrawal was valid.

Rep. Chuck Damschen, a lead sponsor, denied that the nullification measure is "anti-woman" or "anti-women's rights."

He argues that so much time has passed that North Dakota's support is no longer valid. His resolution cites a 1979 deadline set by Congress for the amendment to achieve three-fourths support in the states.

Damschen and other supporters believe those still pushing ERA ratification want legal protections that could affect everything from abortions to bathrooms. And they say that goes beyond what the state endorsed when it was one of 35 states to ratify the amendment — three states short of what was needed.

Illinois and Nevada have ratified the amendment in the past two years, bringing the number of states who have to 37. Backers are now looking to other states to get the ERA past the threshold needed for enshrinement in the Constitution. A push to ratify the amendment in Virginia failed by a single vote in February.


Court: State must pay legal fees over 'In Cold Blood' notes

WICHITA — Kansas must pay legal fees arising from its efforts to stop publication of notebooks kept by the lead investigator into the murders of a Kansas family chronicled in Truman Capote's book "In Cold Blood."

The Kansas Court of Appeals ruled that the state must pay more than $168,000 to attorneys representing the investigator's son and a literary memorabilia dealer in Seattle.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt sued in 2012 to prevent the publication or selling of notes from Harold Nye, who led the Kansas Bureau of Investigation's probe into the killings of the Herb Clutter family in 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas. Capote's book drew international attention to the murders.

The state argued that Nye's material belonged to Kansas because he was a state employee. Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks in 2012 granted the state's request for a temporary order blocking the sale or publication of the notebooks. But he reversed himself in 2014, saying the notes' publication or sale were protected by the First Amendment and the Kansas Constitution.

Harold Nye worked for the Kansas bureau from 1955 until his retirement in 1975; he was its director from 1969 to 1971.

Gary McAvoy, an author and literary memorabilia dealer, used the notebooks to write "And Every Word Is True," a book on the Clutter killings.

Herb Clutter, his wife and two of their four children were bound, gagged and shot to death at their farm in near Holcomb. The killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested six weeks after the murders and eventually executed.


Ex-governor candidate found guilty in murder-for-hire plot

OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal jury has convicted a former Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate and zookeeper in an attempted murder-for-hire plot.

Jurors returned the guilty verdict on April 2 following six days of testimony in the trial of Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, 56, who was accused of trying to arrange the killing of Florida animal sanctuary founder Carole Baskin, who criticized his treatment of animals. Baskin wasn't harmed.

Maldonado-Passage, known as "Joe Exotic," was also found guilty in the deaths of five tigers, and selling and offering to sell tiger cubs in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

He could face more than 20 years in prison.

Maldonado-Passage testified in his own defense that although disagreements with Baskin spilled over into his social media posts, he never truly wanted her dead.

Prosecutors say Maldonado-Passage offered $10,000 to an undercover FBI agent to kill Baskin during a December 2017 meeting that was recorded and played for the jury. In the recording, he told the agent, "Just like follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off."

Maldonado-Passage's attorneys have said their client, who used to operate a zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, wasn't being serious.

Known for his blonde mullet and expletive-laden rants on YouTube, Maldonado-Passage finished third in a three-way Libertarian primary in 2018.

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