Fight over wolf protections goes before federal judge
BILLINGS — A U.S. government attorney urged a federal judge on Nov. 12 to uphold a decision from the waning days of the Trump administration that lifted protections for gray wolves across most of the country, as Republican-led states have sought to drive down wolf numbers through aggressive hunting and trapping.
Wildlife advocates argued that the state-sponsored hunts could quickly reverse the gray wolf’s recovery over the past several decades in large areas of the West and Midwest.
They want U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland, California to put wolves back under the legal shield of the Endangered Species Act, which is meant to protect animals from extinction.
Federal officials contend that wolves are resilient enough to bounce back even if their numbers drop sharply due to intensive hunting. They say protections are no longer warranted.
At stake is the future of a species whose recovery from near-extinction has been heralded as a historic conservation success. That recovery also has brought bitter blowback from hunters and farmers angered over wolf attacks on big game herds and livestock.
The federal court hearing focused on a much more arcane, legal issue: Were wolves properly classified under the endangered act prior to losing their protected status last year?
A U.S. Justice Department attorney said they were not, because of changes to the act by Congress in 1978. That means the wolves at issue do not make up a valid “species” that is distinct from a smaller number of wolves not included in November’s decision to lift protections by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service .
The Biden administration’s defense of the removal of protections under Trump has angered environmentalists who hoped the election of the Democrat would shift U.S. policy on wolves.
Democratic and Republican administrations alike, going back to former President George W. Bush, have sought to remove or scale back federal wolf protections first enacted in 1974.
State GOP to stop recognizing Cheney as a Republican
CASPER — The Wyoming Republican Party will no longer recognize Liz Cheney as a member of the GOP in its second formal rebuke for her criticism of former President Donald Trump.
The 31-29 vote on Nov. 13 in Buffalo, Wyoming, by the state party central committee followed votes by local GOP officials in about one-third of Wyoming’s 23 counties to no longer recognize Cheney as a Republican.
In February, the Wyoming GOP central committee voted overwhelmingly to censure Cheney, Wyoming’s lone U.S. representative, for voting to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Cheney has described her vote to impeach Trump as an act of conscience in defense of the Constitution. Trump “incited the mob” and “lit the flame” of that day’s events, Cheney said after the attack.
It’s “laughable” for anybody to suggest Cheney isn’t a “conservative Republican,” Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler said by text message on Nov. 15.
Cheney is now facing at least four Republican opponents in the 2022 primary including Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman, whom Trump has endorsed.
In May, Republicans in Washington, D.C., removed Cheney from a top congressional GOP leadership position after she continued to criticize Trump’s false claims that voter fraud cost him re-election.
Robust growth foreseen in state government income
SANTA FE — Forecasts for state government income have increased slightly as New Mexico legislators prepare to meet in January to craft a general fund budget.
The state’s top taxation official and the lead economist for the Legislature told a panel of lawmakers Monday that state income is likely to exceed already robust expectations by at least $28 million for the fiscal year starting July 2022.
That adds slightly to a forecasted $1.4 billion surplus in state general fund income over current annual spending obligations.
The estimate hold implications for public school finances, health care subsidies, public worker salaries, public safety and more.
State income is expected to increase by 9% to $8.84 billion for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2022, from $8.1 billion for the current fiscal year.
Taxation and Revenue Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke said the economic recovery has been limited for low-income and less-educated workers.
Progressive changes to the state tax code that favor low-income households are taking a bite out of the state general fund budget for the first time.
Early this year, lawmakers expanded the state’s working families tax credit and the low-income comprehensive tax rebate. Initial estimates showed the state would forgo about $74 million in annual income as a result.
Water chief to step down over lack of resources
SANTA FE — New Mexico’s top water official says a persistent lack of financial support to protect the state’s water resources is behind his decision to step down.
A well-known water expert with decades of experience, John D’Antonio submitted his resignation on Nov. 11. His last day as state engineer will be Dec. 31, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
D’Antonio will be just the latest appointee to leave Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s cabinet, resulting in another leadership vacuum that won’t easily be filled. The first-term Democratic governor has seen a wave of retirements among department heads, from education to public safety.
D’Antonio’s departure comes as New Mexico remains locked in an ongoing legal battle with Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court over management of the Rio Grande and as the state grapples with a decades-long drought that has resulted in record low reservoir levels and river flows.
D’Antonio in a written statement said he is optimistic about his agency’s work to limit New Mexico’s liability in the Texas case, but he cited the lack of resources for the Office of the State Engineer and unfunded mandates as factors in his resignation. He expects several senior staff members who are eligible for retirement to announce departures, too.
D’Antonio said his office was directed to submit a flat budget this year, despite strong growth in projected state revenues.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the governor has worked to boost funding for the state engineer since taking office in 2019.
City council passes hair discrimination ban
TEMPE — Tempe is now the second Arizona city to ban discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyles, including at schools and in the workplace.
The city said on Nov. 22 that the Tempe City Council had unanimously approved adding the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN Act, to its anti-discrimination ordinance.
Hairstyles like braids, twists or bantu knots would be protected.
Tempe’s African American Advisory Committee and Human Relations Commission pushed for the addition. The city also pointed to a study that reported Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair and 80% more likely to feel like they have to change their hair to fit in at work.
The city’s anti-discrimination ordinance has been in effect since 2014. It prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation among other traits.
Tucson became the first Arizona city to incorporate the CROWN Act in February.
The CROWN Act is part of a national campaign promoted by Dove, the National Urban League, Color Of Change and Western Center on Law and Poverty. It also prohibits workplace discrimination based on headdresses worn for cultural or religious reasons.