State honors Dolores Huerta as birthplace sits vacant
SANTA FE — Dolores Huerta, the Mexican-American social activist who formed a farmworkers union with Cesar Chavez, was honored by state lawmakers, some of whom vowed to work to save her birthplace that now sits abandoned.
The 88-year-old advocate and one of the most recognizable Latina activists in the U.S. history stood quietly as on the House floor Feb. 27 as lawmakers took turns praising Huerta for helping shape their views on union activism and fighting poverty.
Democratic state Rep. Angelica Rubio said Huerta's decades of advocacy led to a new generation of Latina elected officials like herself.
"As some of you have the George Washingtons and Abraham Lincolns, we have Dolores Huerta," Rubio said.
Huerta's birthplace in Dawson, New Mexico, continues to sit vacant and neglected. Critics have charged that little has been done to preserve the old mining town because Huerta is a woman and scant attention has been given to female pioneers and civil rights leaders.
Dawson, now a ghost town about 140 miles northeast of Santa Fe, is surrounded by a fence and is not open to the public.
Huerta moved to Stockton, California, as a child, and later helped form the United Farm Workers with Chavez in the late 1960s.
Huerta said she'd be happy if lawmakers sought to restore the town of her birth, but any effort should also focus on labor history.
"A lot of people died in those mines," she said. "It shouldn't be about me."
State is closer to raising beer alcohol levels
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers have moved closer to adopting alcohol levels for beer that are in line with most production-line brews sold around the country, despite opposition from the influential Mormon church.
The state Senate overwhelming passed the measure to raise low alcohol limits on Feb. 26, though it's expected to face more opposition at the state House of Representatives.
The proposal would increase the alcohol limit from 3.2 percent to 4.8 percent by weight, which would allow most standard beers to be sold in the state.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has expressed concern that the increase is too high. Most lawmakers are members of the faith that teaches abstinence from alcohol, and church positions can hold outsized sway. Many local microbreweries also oppose the change. Still, supporters have included businesses like Walmart.
As other states like Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas shed similar limitations, large brewers have begun to stop making lower-alcohol products, leaving shelves emptier and hurting rural Utah stores that depend on beer revenue.
Some critics worry the new limits are too high and could open the door to wine being sold in grocery stores rather than state-owned liquor outlets.
State considers kicking its habit of recall elections
LINCOLN — Nebraska's habit of booting mayors and county commissioners out of office before their terms end could be in jeopardy under an unusual proposal that would end the state's status as one as one of the nation's most prolific users of recall elections.
Voters have attempted to oust local officials at least 45 times since 2008 — proportionally more than Arizona, California and other states where voters can recall their elected leaders, an analysis by The Associated Press shows. Nebraska ranks sixth nationally in the number of recall elections held over the last decade, adjusting for the state's relatively small population.
That could change this year under a bill in the Legislature that would abolish recall elections. Sen. Curt Friesen, a former mayor, said he introduced it because he believes activists are using recall campaigns to retaliate against officials who make decisions they oppose.
Nebraska doesn't require any specific grounds for a recall campaign, like 16 other states. Some states only allow recalls for officials accused of neglect, incompetence or unethical behavior.
Kent Bernbeck, an Omaha businessman and petition-drive activist, said voters should have the right to recall elected officials if they can get enough signatures.
Nebraska's law applies to local officials such as mayors, city councilors and school board members, but lawmakers have exempted themselves and other statewide officeholders.
District will open 1-student school
A Wyoming school district plans to re-open an isolated school to serve a single student entering kindergarten this fall.
The Laramie Boomerang reports that Cozy Hollow School is about 60 miles north of Laramie. A modular classroom is already there but hasn’t been used for about a decade.
It will be the second one-student school in the Albany County School District. They’re only a few miles apart, but connecting roads are impassable much of the winter.
Wyoming law requires on-site education for isolated students when it’s impossible to transport them to other schools.
The district tried live-streaming classes for isolated students but it didn’t work well, especially for young children.
District officials say it will cost about $150,000 combined to educate the two students next school year.
Jury acquits county commissioner in Kansas fraud case
WICHITA — Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O'Donnell was found not guilty March 4 on nearly all charges of taking campaign funds for his personal use.
A federal jury acquitted O'Donnell on 21 counts of wire fraud, but deadlocked on two counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering related to his state and county campaigns. Prosecutors alleged he took $10,500 of campaign funds to put into his personal checking account or give to friends.
U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said his office will evaluate the results of the trial to determine whether to take the case to trial again on the counts in which the jury did not reach a verdict.
The Wichita Eagle reported O'Donnell and his family cried as the verdicts were read in the courtroom.
"I'm obviously very relieved. It feels good to be vindicated," O'Donnell told reporters as he walked away from the courthouse.
ACROSS THE WEST
States weigh bills addressing Native deaths, disappearances
Lawmakers in at least seven states have introduced legislation to address the unsolved deaths and disappearances of numerous Native American women and girls.
The legislation calls for state-funded task forces and other actions amid deepening concerns that law enforcement agencies lack the data and resources to understand the scope of the crisis.
On some reservations, federal studies have shown Native American women are killed at more than 10 times the national average.
An Associated Press review of the bills found that mostly Native American lawmakers in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Washington, New Mexico and Arizona have sponsored measures on the issue.
In Montana, a bill named for Hanna Harris — a 21-year-old found slain on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in July 2013 — proposes that state authorities hire a specialist responsible for entering cases into databases.
In New Mexico, Lente said his measure would call for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department to lead a task force joined by authorities across jurisdictions.
Bills in South Dakota and North Dakota include mandates for law enforcement training programs on conducting investigations.
Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, a Washington state Republican, introduced a bill signed into law last year that requires the Washington State Patrol to provide an estimate by June of how many Native women are missing in the state.