Balloon Fiesta

In this Oct. 5, 2019, file photo, a balloon is inflated at the 2019 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M. A colorful spectacle often described as one of the world's most photographed events will celebrate its 50th year in 2021. Organizers of the festival and officials at the international balloon museum say they are planning an exhibit to commemorate the anniversary.

NEW MEXICO

International balloon fiesta to be focus of new exhibition

ALBUQUERQUE — A colorful spectacle often described as one of the world's most photographed events will celebrate its 50th year in 2021 so organizers of the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and officials at the international balloon museum are wasting no time planning for the celebration.

They announced on March 5 that they have already amassed $400,000 through donations and state and local funds. They also will be kicking off a campaign to raise significantly more money over the next year to pay for a new permanent exhibition dedicated to telling the story of how New Mexico's largest city became the ballooning capital of the world.

It will feature historical artifacts, virtual experiences, scale models, storytelling and an interactive digital timeline that will trace the fiesta from its humble beginnings in a shopping mall parking lot in 1972.

Today, the nine-day event in October draws hundreds of thousands of spectators and pilots and has an economic impact of nearly $187 million for the Albuquerque area. Millions more are funneled to the state and local governments through tax revenues that result from related spending and lodging.

The balloon museum is already packed with history, charting the progression of the earliest flights to record-breaking attempts and other airborne missions to remote parts of the globe. It also highlights the science, technology and weather forecasting behind ballooning.

Marilee Schmit Nason, curator of collections at the balloon museum, brought out some of the programs and pins from past fiestas along with a jacket that then-Gov. Bruce King wore during the 20th fiesta back in 1991 and the plaque awarded to the pilot who won the first world championship hosted at the fiesta in 1973.

Among the other prize possessions are two posters that fiesta founder Sid Cutter had printed to advertise the inaugural event. They feature Warner Bros. characters Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner.

Governor signs bills to cap insulin cost, licenses tobacco retailers

SANTA FE — New Mexico's governor signed a bevy of health-related bills on March 4 that include consumer financial protections to ensure access to insulin for diabetics and new possibilities for state-marketed insurance plans that limit out-of-pocket costs.

Among four bills signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, one caps prices paid by diabetes patients for insulin prescriptions at $25 for a one-month supply.

Bill sponsor and Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque described the state subsidy as cost-effective because it avoids crippling or life-threatening consequences for diabetics who forgo insulin when they can't afford to buy it.

Other signed legislation opens the way for New Mexico to pursue imports of prescription drugs from Canada on a wholesale basis in search of cost savings. Opioids are excluded amid an epidemic of addiction and deadly overdoses.

The governor also signed legislation aimed at stricter oversight of tobacco sales to help enforce a new federal ban on sales to people under 21. Vaping shops and other tobacco retail outlets in New Mexico will be licensed and regulated by the state.

The new law allows for license suspensions and penalties of up to $10,000 against tobacco retailers for underage sales. A license can be revoked permanently at a location after four violations within three years.

OKLAHOMA

Emergency declaration triggers state’s price-gouging law

OKLAHOMA CITY — President Donald Trump's declaration March 13 of a national emergency over the new coronavirus triggered an Oklahoma law that prohibits price-gouging, the state's attorney general said.

Attorney General Mike Hunter said the law prohibits an increase of more than 10% in the price of goods or services during a declared emergency.

Trump also announced a new public-private partnership to increase national testing capabilities. Oklahoma used more than half its testing capacity Wednesday to test 58 members of the Utah Jazz basketball organization after a player tested positive. Those tests results showed one other player, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive.

Oklahoma state epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed said it would have been too risky to transport the team back to Utah for testing without knowing who might be positive.

A spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Department of Health said the tests on the members of the Utah Jazz did not disrupt testing of any Oklahoma patient samples.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections on March 13 cancelled visitation and volunteer access to all prison facilities across the state in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

IDAHO

Lawmakers seeks to ban transgender women, girls from competition

BOISE — Idaho moved closer on March 9 to banning transgender girls and women from competing on sports teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities despite warnings that the measure could be unconstitutional and challenged in court.

The Senate State Affairs Committee sent legislation to the full Senate, where it's expected to be amended to address concerns about exams athletes could face to check their birth gender and to allow transgender opportunities to compete in ways that have not been yet made clear by lawmakers. The measure last month overwhelmingly passed in the Republican-led state House of Representatives.

Under the legislation, girls' and women's teams would not be open to students who were born male, even if they identify as female. Opponents have warned that the legislation discriminates against a marginalized community.

Republican Sen. Mary Souza, a sponsor on the Senate side, said amendments to the bill could find a way for transgender athletes to compete. She did not elaborate, except to say that "having them taking the places of girls and women on girls' and women's teams is not something that we can condone," she said.

The lawmakers said allowing transgender athletes on girls' and women's teams would negate nearly 50 years of progress women have made since the 1972 federal legislation credited with opening up sports to female athletes.

As currently written, anyone could challenge the gender of athletes, requiring testing that involves external and internal exams to determine their birth gender.

UTAH

Lawmakers vote to study violence against Native women

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is poised to study the disproportionate violence inflicted against Native American women and girls after the Utah Legislature voted to create a task force.

Indigenous communities gathered at the Utah Capitol to celebrate on March 4 after the proposal passed the Senate unanimously, the Deseret News reported.

Democratic state Rep. Angela Romero's plan would bring together a nine-member task force of lawmakers, researchers, tribes, law enforcement and an advocate for victims. The task force will identify data-collection gaps in local, state and federal enforcement agencies.

Nationwide, American Indian women face a murder rate more than 10 times the national average, according to federal statistics. Utah had the eighth-highest number of missing and slain indigenous women in a nationwide study of 71 cities completed by the Urban Indian Health Institute several years ago.

The violence inflicted against Native American women is worsened by incomplete data, poor institutional practices and protocol, and lack of resources, said Yolanda Francisco-Nez, executive director of Restoring Ancestral Winds, a group that supports tribal communities dealing with issues like domestic violence and sexual assault.

Prosecution of non-Native American suspects in reservation crimes can also be scarce.

Republican Sen. David Hinkins co-sponsored the proposal and said there are often difficulties coordinating between the county sheriffs and the Navajo police force. His district covers the Navajo Nation, which also stretches into New Mexico and Arizona.

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