Virus Outbreak Kansas

In this March 25, 2020, photo, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions in her office at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Gov. Kelly on April, 9, 2020, filed suit after a legislative panel overturned her executive order that was aimed at stopping religious and funeral gatherings of more than 10 people.

KANSAS

High court rules for governor on religious services ban

BELLE PLAINE — The Kansas Supreme Court ruled April 11 that a Republican-dominated legislative panel exceeded its authority when it tried to overturn the Democratic governor's executive order banning religious and funeral services of more than 10 people during the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision letting Gov. Laura Kelly's order stand came after the justices heard oral arguments one day before Easter, which is typically the busiest day on the Christian calendar in terms of church attendance.

The court ruled that legislative action designed to give the legislative leadership panel the ability to overrule Kelly's executive orders was flawed and didn't legally accomplish that.

The governor’s chief counsel argued that a seven-member legislative committee doesn’t have the power to overrule the governor.

Attorneys for the lawmakers, though, said the court should consider that the resolution that gave the panel its authority was a compromise meant to give legislative oversight at a time when the full legislature couldn't meet. The panel is the Legislative Coordinating Council, which is made up of the top four House leaders and top three Senate leaders. Five of the seven members are Republicans.

Conservative Republicans were upset with an executive order from Kelly to close K-12 schools for the rest of the spring semester and wanted to block her from using sweeping gubernatorial powers granted to deal with short-term disasters.

The state has identified four outbreaks stemming from religious gatherings.

NEW MEXICO

Lawmaker: Special session and tough choices ahead

ALBUQUERQUE — New Mexico's finances have been hit by a double-whammy with the pandemic and an oil-price crash, but one of the state's most influential lawmakers said April 6 that decisions made during the last legislative session to build up reserves will help cushion that blow — at least for now.

In a message to fellow lawmakers, Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, warned that a special legislative session and tough choices still lie ahead.

Many of the state's new spending priorities and the upcoming challenges were outlined in a post-session review made public by the finance committee.

Legislative analysts reported that the state now faces "considerable uncertainty" in light of depressed oil prices that threaten to halt production growth or result in production declines. They say that would have severe implications for state general funds for the current fiscal year and possibly beyond.

It's still unclear how soon lawmakers could be called upon to revise the budget. In response to an order from the state Supreme Court, legislative leaders have been discussing how lawmakers could convene and vote through remote electronic means.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on March 11 signed the budget for the next fiscal year with across-the-board pay increases for state workers and school staff and major new investments in public school education.

A week later, she acknowledged the deteriorating economic conditions and said a special legislative session would be needed to reconsider the budget, address public health needs and provide economic relief in response to the pandemic.

With New Mexico relying on the petroleum sector for more than a third of annual state income, state economists had warned of the forecast's sensitivity to sudden oil price shocks that could lead to dramatic decreases in revenues.

Public TV stations to broadcast classes for K-5 students

ALBUQUERQUE — With New Mexico schools shut down for the rest of the school year because of the coronavirus outbreak, three public television stations on April 6 began broadcasting class lessons for home learning for students in grades K-5.

The participating Public Broadcasting Service stations are KENW-TV at Eastern New Mexico University's Portales campus, KNME-TV at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and KRWG-TV at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

The Albuquerque school district will provide four hours of instruction each weekday morning, which KENW called "an ambitious and vital new broadcast initiative."

The daily lesson plans will be broadcast each day, and they will then be available later for individual "on-demand lessons," KNME said.

Academic subjects include English, math and science, according to the Albuquerque' district's website.

Schools statewide closed in March through the end of the school year to reduce the spread of the virus.

Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Rachel Reedy said in a March 27 letter that teaching and learning would continue despite the "devastating" shutdown. "It will just look a lot different during the next few months," she said.

Reedy said the Albuquerque district worked with the state Public Education Department "and many other districts on developing a plan that is accessible and equitable for all."

State and Army Corps of Engineers officials have chosen a temporarily closed Gallup high school as a site for a "stepdown" hospital to care for non-coronavirus patients, the Gallup Independent reported.

UTAH

Mormons unveil new official logo at crowd-less conference

SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sat 6 feet apart inside an empty room as the faith carried out its signature conference April 5 by adhering to social distancing guidelines that offered a stark reminder of how the global coronavirus pandemic is affecting religious practices.

Their livestreamed speeches didn't dwell heavily on the pandemic as they instead stuck to plans made last year to make the conference a commemoration of the 200th anniversary of events that led to the creation of the church by founder Joseph Smith. Speakers spoke at length about the tenets he established, including why men have priesthood powers but not women.

Church President Russell M. Nelson also unveiled a new church logo that continued his push to rebrand how the faith is known and recognized around the world. The new symbol features a drawing of Thorvaldsen's marble Christus statue under an arch and on top of the church name with the words "Jesus Christ" larger than the rest.

Nelson, who took the helm in 2018, has made a concerted effort to get the world to use the full church name rather than shorthand monikers such as "Mormon church" and "LDS church" that previous presidents embraced and promoted. He has renamed the choir and changed names of websites and social media accounts to show he's serious.

The conference was the faith's first without a crowd in attendance since World War II, when wartime travel restrictions were in place.

Church leaders gave their speeches from inside a small auditorium in Salt Lake City with fewer than 10 people in the room. Normally, top leaders sit side-by-side on stage with the religion's well-known choir behind them and about 20,000 people attending each of the five sessions in a cavernous conference center.

ARIZONA

Man arrested for urging killings of Navajo over virus

PAGE — Authorities in northern Arizona arrested a man for writing a racist social media post accusing Navajo people of carrying the coronavirus and calling for their deaths.

The Page Police Department announced April 7 that 34-year-old Daniel Franzen was taken into custody on suspicion of attempting to incite an act of terrorism.

Police say they received reports of a Facebook post that urged people to use "lethal force" against the Navajo community because they were "100% infected" with COVID-19.

Investigators say they traced the post to Franzen.

In a statement, Page police said any unlawful hate speech will be "aggressively investigated." Authorities also said that anyone who makes retaliatory threats against the suspect would be subject to investigation as well.

The city of Page borders the Navajo Nation, the nation's largest Native American reservation.

The tribe has had more than 380 coronavirus cases and 15 deaths on its reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

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