Public access to Statehouse still banned amid pandemic
SANTA FE — New Mexico is sticking with a ban on direct public access to the Statehouse in favor of remote internet video access as legislators gather to rewrite the state budget.
A divided Supreme Court rejected a petition June 16 from nearly two-dozen rank-and-file lawmakers to keep the doors of the Legislature open to the general public with a reduced limit on occupancy to guard against the coronavirus.
A bipartisan panel of leading lawmakers and their legal advisers at the Legislative Council Service insisted that public attendance would make it nearly impossible to avoid close human contact that allows COVID-19 to spread.
Thomas Hnasko, an attorney for the Legislative Council Service, defended the plan to close the Capitol to the public and provide remote access instead, arguing that interactive video feeds of committee hearings and floor sessions would ensure the Legislature doesn't operate in secret. Attorney Blair Dunn, representing 22 dissident legislators, said that public participation in a legislative session is about more than listening to committee hearings and floor debates and involves conversations in the corridors and offices of the Statehouse.
Justice David Thomson expressed his reluctance to tell a separate branch of government how to conduct business amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while Justice Shannon Bacon expressed concern that people without computers or high-speed internet in New Mexico's vast "technological desert" would be shut out.
Court deliberations were held by video conference and were interrupted for about 10 minutes by an internet connection failure — steering the discussion toward pitfalls of governance by internet.
Trump says he's heard 'interesting' things about Roswell
President Donald Trump says he's heard some interesting things about Roswell, but he's not sharing even with his eldest child.
Trump made the comments June 18 in a Father's Day-themed interview with his son Don Trump Jr., hosted by the president's reelection campaign. Don Jr. wound down his interview by jokingly asking his Dad/President if he would ever divulge more information about Roswell, the New Mexico city known for its proximity to arguably most famous UFO event — "and let us know what's really going on."
Trump responded, "I won't talk to you about what I know about it, but it's very interesting."
In 1947, a rancher discovered unidentifiable debris in his sheep pasture outside Roswell. Air Force officials said it was a crashed weather balloon, but skeptics questioned whether it was in fact at extraterrestrial flying saucer. Decades later the U.S. military acknowledged the debris was related to a top-secret atomic project. Still, the UFO theory has flourished.
The president in the past has spoken skeptically about the possibility that there is something out there. Last year Trump said he received short briefing on UFO sighting, but also offered: "People are saying they're seeing UFOs. Do I believe it? Not particularly."
After his father offered that he heard some "interesting" things about Roswell, Trump Jr. asked the president might declassify that information someday.
"Well, I'll have to think about that one," the president responded.
State's oil production in April saw biggest one-month drop ever
North Dakota's oil producers posted a historically ugly month in April, with production dropping 15% as COVID-19 hammered the U.S. economy and global demand for fuel.
And production declines are expected to continue, hitting lows not seen since oil's 2016 swoon.
North Dakota oil production fell from 1.43 million barrels per day in March to 1.22 million in April, according to data released June 19 by the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.
Output is expected to dip below 1 million barrels per day in May, a particularly dramatic decline considering that the state hit an all-time oil output high of 1.52 million barrels per day in November. North Dakota is the nation's second-largest oil-producing state after Texas.
Total U.S. oil production also hit a record high in November of 12.9 million barrels per day, but that number had fallen to 11.4 million in May, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The grim outlook can be seen in the U.S. oil rig count, a harbinger for future production. It currently stands at 10 in North Dakota, down from an average of 17 in May and 52 in March.
The oil and gas industry provides the best-paying hourly jobs in North Dakota, state employment data show. But the sector has been whacked by 9,200 layoffs through June 6, meaning a roughly 40% decline in oil and gas employment this year, state data indicates.
Court rules judges can change sex on birth certificate
CHEYENNE – Wyomingites now have the right to change their sex on their birth certificate, according to the Wyoming Supreme Court in an opinion it issued June 12.
In the case of MH versus the State of Wyoming, the Supreme Court reversed a Laramie County District Court decision made by judge Peter Froelicher that stated the court didn't have subject matter jurisdiction to change MH's sex on her birth certificate.
MH is going by her initials in the court case to protect her privacy. MH is a transgender woman, and at the time of her birth, she was assigned the male gender, but MH identifies herself as female, according to court documents.
In order to change her sex on her birth certificate, she needed to obtain a court order that instructed the Wyoming Department of Health to do so. The Wyoming Department of Health said it required a court order, which the Laramie County District Court then denied. This put MH in a Catch-22 situation, which caused her to appeal this issue to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
The high court ultimately found the district court erred in its ruling and said the district court did have subject matter jurisdiction to issue the court order for MH.
The district court stated it couldn't make a ruling on the MH case because the Vital Records Act, which a birth certificate change falls under, doesn't contain language about what to do with a sex change. The district court then said the Legislature must have intended to limit the district court's jurisdiction on such matters because there wasn't specific language regarding sex changes.
Phoenix mandates wearing masks amid surge of virus cases
PHOENIX — The city of Phoenix on June 19 approved a measure requiring people to use face masks in public to ward off the spread of the coronavirus as Arizona hit an all-time high for new daily cases.
In an emergency meeting called by Mayor Kate Gallego, the City Council voted 7-2 in favor of making masks or face coverings mandatory. The order went into effect the next morning.
The Phoenix ordinance applies to all public places, including public transit, in the nation's fifth-largest city. Restaurants and other businesses will have the right to refuse service to people who do not wear masks or face coverings.
Exempted from the order are children under age 6, people with religious beliefs against covering their faces and restaurant patrons who are eating or drinking. The restaurant patrons must wear masks while entering and exiting or moving around in the establishments.
Police are tasked with enforcing the mandate. Chief Jeri Williams said officers have been told to "lead with education" and let violators off with warnings first.
People who called in to express their views about the move before the vote were split between those who spoke in favor of it and opponents who called it a violation of their personal freedom.
Wearing a cloth face mask has been shown to limit the spread of respiratory droplets that can contain the virus and infect others.