State explores public financing for cannabis businesses
SANTA FE — Small-scale marijuana businesses in New Mexico would receive access to publicly financed loans of up to $250,000 in an effort to promote social and economic fairness, under a proposal unveiled on Oct. 14.
The New Mexico Finance Authority suggested a $5 million line of credit to licensed cannabis microbusinesses, seeking preliminary approval from a panel of state legislators. The panel voted 6-5 against immediate endorsement, stalling the effort amid a variety of concerns about rules for lending to the fledgling recreational pot industry.
Under the proposal lending rules, loans would be made available to qualified cannabis "microbusinesses" that are licensed to cultivate and sell marijuana from up to 200 plants at a single location, operating much like a craft winery or brewery. That business niche was authorized in sweeping legislation to regulate and tax recreational marijuana sales, signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in April.
The law requires that the state promote business opportunities for communities that were penalized disproportionately by past criminal enforcement of marijuana laws, without saying exactly how. The social-justice provisions also mandate some form of help for farmers from economically disadvantaged communities and residents of rural areas where the marijuana industry may take hold.
New Mexico Finance Authority CEO Marquita Russel, an architect of preliminary rules for the loan program, said traditional business loans are still scarce for small-scale cannabis entrepreneurs.
The proposed loan program would be underwritten by the state's Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund, which helps stimulate the economy in remote regions of the state.
State-sanctioned recreational cannabis sales are scheduled to start no later than April 1. State cannabis regulators have received at least 22 license applications to form cannabis microbusiness, according to public records.
10-digit phone dialing required across state
ALBUQUERQUE — Starting Oct. 24, phone users across New Mexico have had to include area codes when dialing to make all calls, including local calls that previously only required seven digits.
The requirement for 10-digit dialing is taking hold in numerous states, affecting 82 area codes across the nation, and including both area codes in New Mexico, according to the Northern American Numbering Plan Administrator.
The 505 area code covers the Albuquerque area, Santa Fe and much of northern New Mexico, including Gallup, Farmington and Las Vegas. The 575 area code covers southern and eastern New Mexico, including Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Carlsbad, Roswell, Clovis, Hobbs, Silver City and Artesia.
The change is being made in those area codes where some phone numbers have 988 prefixes. The Federal Communications Commission last year chose 988 for use as the three-digit abbreviated dialing code to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline starting next July.
Things that won't change include customers' telephone numbers or area codes, the prices or rates of phone calls and the need for some long-distances callers to dial "1" before the area code and the phone number, the NANPA said.
Union Pacific and its unions sue each other over vaccine
OMAHA — Union Pacific and its labor unions are suing each other to determine whether the railroad has the authority to require its employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The unions argue that the Omaha, Nebraska-based railroad should have negotiated with them before announcing it would require all employees to get the shots. The railroad contends in its own lawsuit that it believes it has the authority to require the vaccine under its existing contracts because it can set standards for when employees are fit for duty.
Union Pacific announced this month that it would require all employees to be vaccinated by Dec. 8 to comply with an executive order President Joe Biden issued requiring all federal contractors to have their employees vaccinated. The railroad is also offering its union employees a $300 bonus if they get the shots. Nonunion employees at the railroad are being offered a half day of vacation if they get vaccinated.
On the same day the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division, or SMART-TD, union filed its lawsuit against the railroad, Union Pacific filed its own lawsuit against SMART-TD and two other unions that objected to the vaccination mandate to force the issue.
The railroad told employees that they would be medically disqualified under their contracts rather than fired if they didn't get the shots.
But the unions said Union Pacific was unfairly changing the conditions of their employment without bargaining over it as required.
The other unions that objected to the mandate were the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way unit of the International Teamsters union and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
Union Pacific is one of the nation's largest railroads. it operates 32,400 miles of track in 23 Western states.
Strong economic growth continues in rural parts of 10 states
OMAHA — Strong economic growth continues in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states, according to a new monthly survey of bankers in the region.
The overall economic index for the region improved in October to 66.1 from September's already-strong 62.5 reading. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy, while a score below 50 suggests a shrinking economy.
Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, said the region is benefitting from solid grain prices, continued low interest rates and growing agricultural exports. USDA figures show that agricultural exports are up more than 25% so far this year.
Farmland prices in the area continue growing even though the price index for cropland slipped in October to 81.5 from September's record high of 85.2.
Demand for workers remains high but businesses are having a hard time finding people to hire, Goss said. The hiring index increased in October to a very strong level of 71.4 from September's 67.9.
But bankers were less optimistic about the economy. The confidence index dropped to 51.8 in October from September's much stronger 65.4 reading.
Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.
'Widespread' racial harassment found at school district
SALT LAKE CITY — A federal civil rights investigation released Oct. 22 found widespread racial harassment of Black and Asian American students at a Utah school district, including hundreds of documented uses of the N-word and other racial epithets over the last five years.
The probe also found physical assaults, derogatory racial comments and harsher discipline for students of color at Davis School District, the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division said in a statement.
The district has agreed to take several steps as part of a settlement agreement, including a new department to handle complaints, more training and data collection.
Black students throughout the district told investigators about similar experiences of white and non-Black students calling them the N-word, referring to them as monkeys or apes and saying that their skin was dirty or looked like feces, according to the department's findings. Students also made monkey noises at their Black peers, repeatedly referenced slavery and lynching and told Black students to "go pick cotton" and "you are my slave."
The investigation found Black students were also disciplined more harshly than their white peers for similar behavior, and were denied the ability to form student groups while supporting similar requests by other students.
District officials admitted to federal investigators that their discipline data from at least four years revealed that staff treated students of color differently than white students, but the district did nothing to correct these disparities, according to the department.
The district pledged to resolve any previous complaints.
Black and Asian American students are each roughly 1% of the approximately 73,000 students enrolled in the district north of Salt Lake City.