New Mexico Capitol

In this file photo, the sculpture "Tug 'O War" sculpture by artist Glenna Goodacre sits at the entrance to the New Mexico State capitol building in Santa Fe, N.M., on Jan. 13, 2021

NEW MEXICO

Proposal would professionalize only unsalaried legislature

SANTA FE — Lawmakers in New Mexico — the nation's only unsalaried legislature — are looking for ways instill greater professionalism in their work that could result in a steady paycheck and lengthier legislative calendar.

Democratic state State Rep. Joy Garratt of Albuquerque told the Santa Fe New Mexican that she plans to co-sponsor a ballot initiative to create a commission with the authority to set salaries for legislators. Legislative approval is required to schedule the vote.

Members of the New Mexico House and Senate receive a daily stipend and reimbursement for travel that can add add up to more than $20,000 in some instances, with an optional pension plan for long-serving lawmakers.

New Mexico's Legislature meets for as few as 30 days a year, with 60-day sessions in odd-numbered years. There are more extensive duties and travel for members of year-round budget and policy committees.

Critics of the system say legislative salaries would help younger candidates who hail from working households serve as lawmakers and alleviate conflicts between legislative advocacy and private careers.

In New Mexico, money is currently no obstacle to expanding pay for legislators. State government is forecasting a multibillion-dollar windfall from surging oil production and robust energy prices.

Economists estimate state government income of nearly $12 billion for the fiscal year running from July 2023 to June 2024, exceeding current annual general fund spending obligations by 43% or $3.6 billion.

Anxiety added as condition for medical marijuana

SANTA FE — Officials in New Mexico have approved anxiety disorders as a qualifying condition under the state's medical marijuana program.

When approving the move, the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Advisory Board cited that up to 25 percent of New Mexico's adult population — roughly 465,000 people — could be experiencing the effects of such disorders. The ruling takes effect Jan. 1.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the change, which could expand the medical cannabis program to thousands of new patients, came about after two advisory board members, physician assistant Stephanie Richmond and Dr. Jean-Paul Dedam, petitioned the board to add anxiety as a qualifying condition.

Richmond said she hopes the measure will reduce the need for benzodiazepines, common pharmaceutical drugs prescribed for anxiety disorders with the potential for dependency and negative side effects. She also hopes it will encourage more discussions between patients and doctors about the plant's use, especially because strong stigmas and misinformation still exist.

Dispensary managers view the measure as a positive step forward, but they say dosage and treatment protocols will ultimately remain the responsibility of cannabis shop employees until more medical doctors are versed in products and their effects.

KANSAS

Pipeline section with oil spill is back in service

TOPEKA — A pipeline operator put a damaged section in Kansas back into service on Dec. 29, a little more than three weeks after a spill dumped 14,000 bathtubs' worth of crude oil into a rural creek.

Canada-based T.C. Energy announced that it had completed repairs, inspections and testing on its Keystone pipeline in northeast Kansas to allow a "controlled restart" of the section from Steele City, Nebraska, near the Kansas line, to Cushing, in northern Oklahoma. The 2,700-mile Keystone system carries heavy crude oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to the Gulf Coast and to central Illinois.

A spill on Dec. 7 shut down the Keystone system after dumping 14,000 barrels of crude oil into a creek running through rural pastureland in Washington County, about 150 miles northwest of Kansas City. Each barrel is 42 gallons, the size of a household bathtub.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's pipeline safety arm gave TC Energy permission to restart the section of pipeline after telling the company that it would have to operate it at lower pressure than before. The company's announcement disclosed that it still is working to determine the cause of the spill.

The rupture occurred on local farmer Bill Pannbacker's land, and he said he's bothered the company reopened the section of pipeline when "they haven't at least given an official cause" of the accident.

The company reported that as of a week before reopening the pipeline, it had recovered almost 7,700 barrels of the spilled crude oil, or a little more than half. The company and government officials have said drinking water supplies were not affected. No one was evacuated, and most of the Keystone system was back in operation in eight days.

ARIZONA

Group want jaguars reintroduced to US Southwest

PHOENIX — An environmental group on Dec. 12 petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help reintroduce the jaguar to the Southwest, where it roamed for hundreds of thousands of years before being whittled down to just one of the big cats known to survive in the region.

The male jaguar, named Sombra — shadow in Spanish — has been seen in southern Arizona several times since first captured on a wildlife camera in the Dos Cabezas Mountains in 2016, including a 2017 video by the Center for Biological Diversity. There are a handful of jaguars known to be living across the border in the Mexican state of Sonora.

The center wants the federal agency to help expand critical habitat for jaguars in remote areas and launch an experimental population in New Mexico's Gila National Forest along the border with Arizona.

Jaguars ranged throughout North America before they were killed to the point of extinction for their stunning spotted pelts and to protect livestock.

Jaguar populations in many places from Mexico to South America are shrinking as well. They are being reintroduced to their historic range in Argentina through a program in which they are bred in captivity and released.

Concerns about the jaguar's future were mentioned in a letter the center sent Oct. 19 to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, giving his administration a 60-day notice of its intent to file a lawsuit to halt the ongoing placement of shipping containers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The letter says the San Rafael Valley in southeastern Arizona is among the last established corridors for jaguars and ocelots between the two countries.

Trial reset for polygamous sect leader

PHOENIX — The trial date for a polygamous sect leader charged with kidnapping and tampering with evidence in a federal investigation into his community on the Utah-Arizona border has been pushed back.

Samuel Bateman has pleaded not guilty to the charges in U.S. District Court in Arizona. He was scheduled to go on trial on Jan. 3, but his attorney asked for more time to prepare. The trial now is scheduled to start March 14.

Bateman faces a raft of state and federal charges, including child abuse, obstructing a federal investigation and aiding in kidnapping girls who were placed in the state child welfare agency after his arrest earlier this year.

Federal authorities also have accused Bateman of taking more than 20 wives, including underage girls, though he does not face any charges directly related to that accusation.

Bateman and his followers practice polygamy, a legacy of the early teachings of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The faith known widely as the Mormon church abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it.

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