State’s high court bolsters abortion rights, blocks ban

TOPEKA — Kansas' highest court has declared for the first time that the state constitution protects abortion rights, a sweeping ruling that blocks a ban on a common second-trimester method for ending pregnancies and endangers other restrictions as well.

The state Supreme Court's April 26 decision immediately roiled Kansas politics. Abortion opponents called for amending the state constitution but might wait to push for a change until next year, when all state lawmakers face voters.

The court's decision was a big victory for abortion rights supporters in a state with a Republican-controlled Legislature long hostile to their cause. It also comes with other, GOP-controlled states moving to ban most abortions in direct challenges to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortions across the nation.

The decision prevents the state from enforcing what was a first-in-the-nation 2015 law that could have greatly limited second-trimester abortions. But even worse for abortion opponents, the ruling clears the way for legal challenges to a string of abortion restrictions approved in other states under Republican governors.

The court's majority said vague language protecting "equal and inalienable rights" in the first section of the Kansas Constitution's Bill of Rights grants a "natural right of personal autonomy" that includes the right to "control one's own body" and to decide whether to continue a pregnancy.

The 6-1 majority rejected the state's arguments that there is no protection for abortion rights because most abortions were illegal in Kansas Territory when the state constitution was written in 1859. The majority said at the time that women faced a "paternalistic attitude" and a lack of recognition that they had the same rights as men.


Former Interior boss Zinke parlays post into lucrative gig

BILLINGS — Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is quickly parlaying his time in President Donald Trump's cabinet into a lucrative private career.

He's landed a more than $100,000-a-year post at a Nevada mining company and is pursuing involvement in natural gas exports that have surged under Trump, Zinke told The Associated Press.

The rapid transition from the highest levels of the executive branch to the corporate boardroom is raising questions about possible conflicts of interest.

It comes fewer than four months after Zinke left a Cabinet position overseeing the country's oil and gas, coal and other natural resources and those companies that profit off their extraction.

Zinke told AP that his work for Nevada-based U.S. Gold Corp., which focuses on mining exploration and development, would not constitute lobbying. But the company's CEO cited Zinke's "excellent relationship" with the Bureau of Land Management and the Interior Department in explaining his hiring as a consultant and board member.

A 2017 executive order from Trump said executive-branch appointees cannot lobby their former agency for at least five years after leaving their government post.

Zinke, who left Interior in January amid ethics allegations, said he sees no conflict in his new role and will have no direct contact with his former colleagues at the agency.

At U.S. Gold Corp., Zinke will receive $90,000 in cash and stock for consulting fees. His consulting agreement also allows expenses, with fees and expenses not to exceed $120,000 annually, according to papers filed with the SEC.

He also will get $24,000 a year for serving on the company's board of directors, according to CEO Edward Karr and the company's SEC filing.


Proposed highway from Mexican border generates support, opposition

TUCSON — A proposed highway that would start at the border with Mexico and serve as the southern leg of Arizona's Interstate 11 is being called both an economic benefit and an environmental threat.

Federal, state and local agencies have reservations about the environmental impact for mostly undisturbed sections of the Sonoran Desert, The Arizona Daily Star reported.

The 280-mile highway now in preliminary planning stages would extend from Nogales on the U.S.-Mexico border to Wickenburg, northwest of metro Phoenix.

Other Arizona sections of I-11 are in planning stages and would connect with a small section already built in southern Nevada. As envisioned, the completed I-11 would extend from Nogales to Reno, Nevada, and incorporate portions of several existing highways.

Economic reasons that Tucson-area leaders back a new route include increasing trade with Mexico and reducing congestion on Interstates 10 and 19.

The route would pass near Saguaro National Park and encroach on animals there, National Park Service officials reported. Traffic noise and congestion are also concerns.

Commercial traffic through Nogales is growing on average by 3% per year and the area can handle 4,000 trucks a day, although southern Arizona freeways are reaching capacity and truckers in Mexico may choose Texas border crossings if delays in Nogales increase, officials said.


Governor begins posting her daily appointments online

SANTA FE — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has begun publishing a running list of her daily appointments online, providing a glimpse of political consultations during her first busy months in office.

The schedule of daily events and meetings shows Lujan Grisham set aside time for Native American leaders, an ExxonMobil subsidiary and an investor in a proposed racetrack-casino.

Lujan conferred with more than a dozen state lawmakers — Republican and Democratic — as the Legislature approved teacher pay increases, gun control laws and energy reforms during a 60-day annual legislative session.

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Lujan Grisham, said that the schedule is being published on a weekly basis, with some revisions to account for last-minute appointments. He said the itinerary captures about 95% of the governor's professional engagements and that unlisted meetings primarily involve staff.

Former Gov. Susana Martinez, Lujan Grisham's Republican predecessor, intermittently published a less-detailed appointment calendar.

During this year's legislative session ending in March, there was time allotted for actor-turned-politician Steven Quezada of "Breaking Bad" fame, and a call with President Trump's former secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen.


Pilot rescued from plane that crash-landed atop giant fir tree

MCCALL — A pilot who was trying to crash-land in an Idaho field instead brought his small plane to rest at the top of a 60-foot tree, officials said.

Pilot John Gregory was not hurt in the April 22 crash, which happened at night when his single-engine Piper Cub PA-18 lost power and a wing strut became entangled in the tree, according to the fire department in the resort town of McCall.

Gregory was rescued from his perch atop the giant white fir by volunteer firefighter Randy Acker, who owns a tree removal company.

Acker had Gregory stand up in the plane so he could cut the pilot's harness and clip him to a safety line for the descent. Gregory was brought down safely with the plane still lodged in the branches.

A piece of the plane's propeller and one of its wheels had fallen to the ground, but the rest of the plane was intact, suspended in the tree.

Officials are trying to determine how to remove the plane from its perch and warned people to stay away from it.

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