Bills, governor test appetite for gun control

SANTA FE — The Democrat-led Legislature and governor are pushing to increase oversight of firearms sales and place new limits on gun possession and ownership.

During its 60-day annual legislative session, lawmakers could make New Mexico the first state to enact major gun control reforms in the wake of the midterm elections.

Since taking office in early January, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has urged lawmakers to strengthen background checks, ban guns for people with assault convictions and address responsibility for children's access to guns.

The reforms face an uncertain future in the state with a strong culture of gun ownership. Lujan Grisham's Republican predecessor ruled out additional background checks and vetoed a proposed ban on gun possession by people under permanent protective orders for domestic violence.

Scores of opponents to expanding background checks, some carrying guns that are allowed in the New Mexico Statehouse, lined up to comment at a recent hearing.

"We use firearms as a tool on our ranches on a daily basis, we share those tools with our workers, our neighbors and our friends," said David Sanchez, vice president of the New Mexico Stockman's Association.

Sheriffs from several rural counties objected to expanding background checks, while police chiefs from Las Cruces, Santa Fe and Albuquerque endorsed the measure, which advanced over the objections of Republican lawmakers.

Separate legislation, known as a “red flag” bill, would allow police or relatives to seek court orders to seize guns from people who have shown signs of violence.


Mormon church says it's not opposed to hate-crime bill

SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon church says it doesn't oppose hate-crimes legislation in Utah that includes protections for LGBT people, an announcement that could break a longtime legislative logjam on the issue.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' sought to clarify that it has not actively been blocking hate crimes legislation and will not stand in the way if lawmakers take up the issue this year, said Marty Stephens, the faith's director of government and community relations and a lobbyist for the church.

"The LDS church has been a victim of hate crimes over the years and we understand the importance of this," Stephens said. "All men and women are God's sons and daughters and we think they should be treated with civility and respect, and that no group should be targeted for crime based on membership in that group."

Utah has a hate-crime law, but the 1990s-era measure doesn't protect specific groups, and prosecutors have said it's essentially unusable. Efforts to beef up the law have failed in recent years after the church said the proposal would upset a balance between religious and LGBT rights, according to supporters of the changes.

All but five states in the U.S. have hate crime laws; Utah is one of 15 that have such laws that don't cover anti-LGBT-crimes, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Mormons have long been the dominant religion in the state, and Mormons account for 91 of 104 lawmakers, according to a recent Salt Lake Tribune report.

Republican Utah state Sen. Daniel Thatcher is sponsoring hate crimes legislation again this year, and said the church's statement makes a "night and day" difference in the chances it will get a hearing for the first time since 2016.

The December beating of a young Latino man and his father at their Salt Lake City tire shop by an attacker who told police he targeted them because they were Mexican brought new criticism of the state's hate crime law. Salt Lake County Attorney District Attorney Sim Gill said he couldn't charge the suspect with a hate crime because of shortcomings with the law.


Bill: State would take over parks during a shutdown

CHEYENNE — The state would operate national parks and other federal facilities if the federal government ever shuts down again under a proposal pending in the Wyoming Legislature.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are located in the state.

Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, introduced legislation to empower the governor to seize federal facilities, except military installations, until the federal shutdown ends.

Scott said a shutdown puts the state at the mercy of the federal government when it comes to the tourism industry. And given how big an impact closing off federal parks like Yellowstone and Devils Tower National Monument would have on the economy, Scott said Wyoming needs to be ready to act.

"If that happened to us in the middle of the tourist season, and Yellowstone got shut down, my God, that would just wreck our tourist industry, do a tremendous amount of economic damage," he told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Sam Kalen, a professor at the University of Wyoming's College of Law, said governments, nonprofits and other groups have worked with the federal government to provide services on federal lands for various reasons but added that it was unquestionably unconstitutional for the state to seize federal lands for any reason.

Scott dismissed any concerns about the constitutionality of his proposal, saying the idea is to help out the federal government, citizens and the tourism industry.

"We're trying to be cooperative. But when push comes to shove, we're not going to let the foolishness of Washington stand in the way of using a little common sense," he said. 


State looks into loud cannon fire at governor's inauguration

BOISE — Idaho National Guard's commanding officer says he will look into 19 startlingly loud ceremonial canon blasts that were part of Idaho Gov. Brad Little's inauguration.

The canon fire on Jan. 4 set off car alarms in downtown Boise and scattered Canada geese into the air as smoke billowed around soldiers. Some of the several thousand people attending flinched in surprise.

Republican Sen. Chuck Winder of Boise asked during a committee meeting of state lawmakers why the cannon blasts seemed louder than normal.

Idaho Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael J. Garshak says he'll look into why the blasts were so loud.


Report: Los Alamos lab infuses $3B in state economy

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico — Researchers have found that Los Alamos National Laboratory has had an average annual economic impact on New Mexico of about $3 billion from 2015 to 2017.

The northern New Mexico lab recently released preliminary findings from the University of New Mexico's Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

The birthplace of the atomic bomb, Los Alamos lab spent more than $750 million on goods and services last year. More than half of that went to New Mexico businesses.

In the coming year, the lab plans to double to 10 percent the local price reference given to contract bids from businesses based in the counties surrounding the lab. An additional preference will be given to qualifying tribal businesses.

The lab also marked an increase in employment last year, with more than 11,700 workers.


Lawmaker proposes porn tax to fund border wall

An Arizona state lawmaker wants a tax on pornography to fund President Trump’s border wall. 

Republican state Rep. Gail Griffin introduced a bill that would require electronic devices bought or sold in the state to have software that blocks the user from accessing porn. Those who want to watch porn would have to pay a one-time fee of at least $20 to the Arizona Commerce Authority.

Deactivating the software without paying the fee would become a crime under the proposed legislation.

The funds from the fees would be given to the John McCain Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Prevention Fund for a number of initiatives, including to “build a border wall between Mexico and this state or fund border security.”

The text of the bill says it requires support of at least two-thirds support of the Arizona House and Senate.

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