Push to ratify ERA launched in Utah, eyed in other states
SALT LAKE CITY — A renewed national push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment has come to conservative Utah, where supporters have launched a long-shot bid to become the tipping point state, despite opposition from the influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Utah is one of several conservative-leaning states where supporters hope to make inroads regarding the amendment that would explicitly enshrine equality for women in the U.S. Constitution.
ERA opponents in Utah turned out with signs and chants at a rally announcing the effort, and leaders of the state's predominant faith, often known as the Mormon church, reaffirmed its more-than three decades of opposition.
Democratic state Rep. Karen Kwan was undeterred in her support of the amendment. She's aiming to convince her GOP colleagues in the Legislature by pointing to an 1895 amendment to the state constitution that guarantees equal "civil, political and religious rights."
Kwan is sponsoring a bill for the 2020 legislative session that she hopes will make Utah the 38th state to ratify the ERA. That's a key number that would meet the constitutional threshold for approval if other challenges can be overcome.
Virginia, however, could get there first after Democrats won control of the Legislature this year for the first time in a generation.
However, even if more states join the effort, challenges would remain for the ERA, including a 1982 ratification deadline previously set by Congress and a move by five states to withdraw support.
About 40 people came out to protest the Utah launch, saying the ERA language is too broad and could erode protections for women and girls such as workplace accommodations during pregnancies.
'Typo' may have overvalued home at nearly $1B
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah officials say a possible dropped phone resulted in a typo that overvalued a home for almost $1 billion.
And taxpayers may have to pay for the mistake.
The Deseret News reports a 1,570-square-foot house built in 1978 in an unincorporated area of the county was recorded in 2019 tax rolls with a market value of more than $987 million. That's an overestimate of about $543 million in taxable value. Records show the house should have had a taxable value of $302,000.
Wasatch County Assessor Maureen "Buff" Griffiths told officials last month a staff member might have dropped a phone on a keyboard in May, but the mistaken “humongous number” wasn’t discovered until October.
Griffiths added that the blunder also produced $6 million in revenue shortfalls in five taxing entities that approved budgets based on the erroneous assessment.
Wasatch County officials say residents will likely see an increased tax rate over the next three years to make up for the lower amount collected in 2019.
State is 1st to share drivers' records with Census Bureau
LINCOLN — Nebraska is the first state agreeing to share drivers' license records with the U.S. Census Bureau as the federal agency tries to comply with President Donald Trump's order to count the number of U.S. citizens.
The Associated Press has learned that the Census Bureau and Rhonda Lahm, Nebraska's motor vehicles director, signed a memorandum of understanding to share the records in November.
An AP survey in October showed that the majority of states hadn't agreed to share their records with the bureau, which began requesting them in August.
The effort began after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration's plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, and the president instead ordered citizenship data compiled through federal and state administrative records.
The move has alarmed civil rights groups, which see it as part of a backdoor move by the Trump administration to reduce the political power of minorities.
The agency has promised to keep the records confidential, and Nebraska officials concluded that sharing the records complied with state law.
Nebraska only issues driver's licenses and identification cards to people who can prove they are living in the U.S. legally.
The decision drew criticism from a coalition of nonprofit groups that worry the Census Bureau's effort to seek such information, and Nebraska's decision to comply, will discourage immigrants from participating in the head count.
Tribe to convert methane into hydrogen for power
SALT LAKE CITY — The Navajo Nation announced it has signed a contract with renewable energy companies to convert methane vented from its oil producing operations in southeastern Utah into more eco-friendly hydrogen.
The plan was unveiled at the Utah state Capitol and hailed by Laura Nelson, who heads the Utah Governor's Office of Energy Development, as a strategy that will help with clean energy and lead to more tribal sovereignty, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.
Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co. technology officer Bill McCabe said they will work with two alternative energy companies named called H2GO and Big Navajo Energy. The tribe wants to do something with methane, a greenhouse gas, instead of it "just going up in smoke."
The tribe's vented gas is expected to produce 600 kilograms of hydrogen daily when the project begins and could ramp up to 1,000 kilograms, McCabe said.
Hydrogen retails for $13-$16 a liter at 42 fueling stations in California and prices are expected to drop as the technology for producing hydrogen improves, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership.
Energy development is vital to tribal government operations, with one-third of the Navajo Nation's "disposable income" coming from mineral energy resources in the three states the reservation spans.
Cowboys for Trump group now says sand wasn't from monument
ALBUQUERQUE — Iconic gypsum sand that the group Cowboys for Trump had said was from White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and was sent to Washington for the U.S. Capitol Tree lighting ceremony was actually gathered just outside the monument, one of the group's co-founders said Dec. 7.
The group had caused a political furor after announcing it sent the sand because it's illegal to remove sand from the park — and Democrats said the group might have violated federal law.
But Otero County Commission Chairman and Cowboys for Trump co-founder Couy Griffin told The Associated Press the group collected its four "big plastic bins" of extremely fine, pure white sand from outside the monument's perimeter for delivery to the Dec. 5 tree lighting ceremony after getting permission from the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
Cowboys for Trump members in social media posts and in videos had said that the "white sand was from White Sand National Monument." Griffin repeated the claim in a Nov. 30 Facebook video. But he said in the interview that his earlier statement was not accurate.
The transported sand was given as a gift to New Mexico's congressional delegation so it could be showcased with the tree. The tree is a large blue spruce from the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico.
Removing natural resources without permission from U.S. national parks units, including national monuments, is illegal, misdemeanor punishable with a $5,000 fine or six months in jail.
After Cowboys for Trump posted videos about transporting the sand, the Democratic Party of New Mexico accused the group of violating federal law.