Mountain-man skiing, shooting event grows
LOGAN — A northern Utah event straight out of the Old West is attracting more people with its mountain-man appeal, organizers said.
About 50 people gathered in Blacksmith Fork Canyon to compete in the state-organized biathlon — an event combining cross-country skiing and sharpshooting — that features muzzleloader guns, the Herald Journal reported.
Many wore traditional mountain-man gear to the event Jan. 18 dubbed Willy Wapiti's Smoke Pole Biathlon at Hardware Ranch, which is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and populated by hundreds of elk.
Shooters raced along a snowy trail, with or without snowshoes, to five separate shooting stations. Each station had two sets of metal silhouette targets, one set for traditional shooters and another at further distances for modern muzzleloaders.
Prizes like electronic earmuffs, knives and fire starters were given to the best score out of 10, said Rachael Tuckett, a wildlife recreation specialist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, which organized the event.
Prizes also are given for the best mountain man outfit. The event has grown by 40% since last year.
Appeals court throws out ballot harvesting law
PHOENIX — A federal appeals court ruled Jan. 27 that a 2016 Arizona law that bars anyone but a family member or caregiver from returning early ballots for another person violates the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.
The ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also found that Arizona's policy of discarding ballots if a voter went to the wrong precinct violates the law.
The rulings are a major victory for Democrats who sued to block the 2016 law and the out-of-precinct voting policy.
Appeals Court Judge William A. Fletcher wrote for the divided court that Arizona's practice of discarding ballots cast in the wrong precinct and criminalizing the collection of another person's ballot "have a discriminatory impact on American Indian, Hispanic and African American voters in Arizona" in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling also said the ban on what Republicans have called ballot harvesting was enacted with "discriminatory intent."
Four of 11 judges on the panel dissented, saying the panel struck down duly enacted policies.
The lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and state Democratic Party has been working its way through the courts since shortly after the 2016 law was passed.
Attorneys for the state argue the new law ensured the integrity of elections and called it a reasonable step to prevent voting fraud. The state Republican Party joined the defense.
Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich said he'll appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
State could break its taboo on salaries for legislators
SANTA FE — New Mexico legislators could receive state salaries for the first time as the result of a newly proposed constitutional amendment.
A panel of legislators led by state Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque endorsed the proposed constitutional amendment Jan. 29 that would give the recently founded State Ethics Commission authority to set salaries for lawmakers and other elected official including the governor.
New Mexico runs the only unsalaried legislature in the nation, though members receive a $162 daily stipend during sessions and reimbursement for some travel expenses.
Amendment sponsor Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat, said that handing over salary decisions to the ethics commission would depoliticize the matter and avoid the taboo against lawmakers approving their own pay.
Ivey-Soto's proposal would place salary decisions for a long list of elected state and county officials under the authority of the ethics commission.
Constitutional amendments approved by the Legislature still require ratification by statewide vote.
New Mexico's ethics commission was approved by voters in 2018 in the wake of a string of public corruption scandals as an arbiter of complaints against public officials, lobbyists and contractors. It opened its doors this month. Its members are appointed by leading legislators from both parties and the governor.
New Mexico's "citizen legislature" of volunteer politicians has long been a source of civic pride in the state.
At the same time, safeguards against self-enrichment by lawmakers have come under greater scrutiny with the conviction of former state Sen. Phil Griego on fraud and felony ethical violations for using his Senate position to profit from the sale of a state owned building.
Watchdog groups including Common Cause support efforts to pay New Mexico legislators a salary to help eliminate financial conflicts of interest between legislative duties and outside careers.
US says state misrepresenting facts in plutonium fight
RENO — The state of Nevada continues to intentionally misrepresent the facts in an ongoing legal battle over the Energy Department's secret shipment of weapons-grade plutonium to a site near Las Vegas, U.S. government lawyers say in new court filings.
Nevada wants a federal judge to order removal of the highly radioactive material and issue an order prohibiting any new shipments. It says the plutonium was illegally trucked to the Nevada security site over the state's objections last year after the agency refused to conduct the necessary environmental reviews on potential impacts.
The Energy Department has promised no more plutonium will be shipped to Nevada from South Carolina and pledged to start moving out the materials already sent there.
Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said in court filings in December the government has engaged in a "secret plutonium smuggling operation" and cannot be trusted.
Department lawyers said in support of their latest motion to dismiss the lawsuit that Nevada continues to ignore relevant case law, misconstrues past rulings and "significantly misstates contents of agency testimony in a related case in a futile attempt" to support its claims.
They said the U.S. court in Nevada already concluded there was no proof of imminent danger to public health or the environment.
Nevada says the government repeatedly has refused to provide classified details it needs to further characterize the risks.
Lawyers for both sides told a U.S. magistrate they've agreed on a process to determine what if any additional information the department will provide to the state — some of it previously top secret — while a judge considers the motion to dismiss the case.
Coal mines' owner says deal in place to pay back taxes
CASPER — A Navajo Nation company says it has an agreement to pay outstanding taxes and royalties on three large coal mines that it bought last year in Wyoming and Montana.
The Navajo Transitional Energy Company said Jan. 28 that it made its first payment in December under an installment agreement with the Department of Interior.
As part of its purchase in a Cloud Peak bankruptcy auction last October, the company took on about $93 million in unpaid taxes and royalties from Montana's Spring Creek mine and the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Wyoming.
A Jan. 16 claim filed in court by the federal government stated the former owner of the mines owed $10 million in past-due royalties for coal mined at the facilities during September and October , the Casper Star-Tribune reported.
Coal companies must make production royalty payments to the government for all minerals extracted from public land and payments are due the last day of each month following the month the coal is mined, according to federal law. About half of the royalties goes back to the states where the mines are located.