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Out West Roundup: Film industry officials hope next New Mexico governor boosts business

Author: Associated Press - April 27, 2018 - Updated: May 10, 2018

This photo taken Feb. 10, 2014, shows a costumed person walking past the Breaking Bad van parked by the New Mexico State Capitol during the state's annual Film & Media Day in Santa Fe. Gubernatorial hopefuls say some potentially consequential tweaks to the state's film and television tax incentive program could round out this increasingly prominent piece of the state economy. (Clyde Mueller /Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)This photo taken Feb. 10, 2014, shows a costumed person walking past the Breaking Bad van parked by the New Mexico State Capitol during the state’s annual Film & Media Day in Santa Fe. Gubernatorial hopefuls say some potentially consequential tweaks to the state’s film and television tax incentive program could round out this increasingly prominent piece of the state economy. (Clyde Mueller /Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

New Mexico

Film industry officials hope new governor boosts business

SANTA FE — Officials in New Mexico’s film and television industry say a new governor may help boost business for film production in the state.

Gubernatorial hopefuls seeking to succeed term-limited Gov. Susana Martinez say some potentially consequential tweaks to the state’s film and television tax incentive program could round out this increasingly prominent piece of the state economy, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports .

Some candidates are proposing removing or raising the payout cap for productions some view as an impediment to future growth.

“Georgia stole our business,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. “Fairly and squarely. They invested in schools; they invested in studios; they invested in an entire infrastructure. We should be doing the same.”

The next governor will inherit a film economy that has drawn more in-state direct spending from film and TV productions each year since 2014, topping out at $505 million last fiscal year.

Martinez, who came into office talking tough about reining in the incentive program, saw production activity fall off as her term began, with previously skyrocketing spending numbers tumbling to a low of $162 million in 2014.

But the Republican governor changed her tune, signing into law the 2013 “Breaking Bad bill.” The legislation, which derived its name from the Emmy-winning TV drama that filmed primarily in Albuquerque during its five seasons, enhanced incentives for television productions and celebrated industry spending at annual news conferences.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the only Republican in the governor’s race and thus his party’s presumptive nominee, emphasized a “fiscally responsible and sustainable” approach to the film business, which he said must be made more “geographically diverse, more economically sustainable and more permanent.”


Suicide prevention funding restored, but there’s a long way to go

CHEYENNE – For Cheyenne resident Rhianna Brand, funding for suicide prevention services is a life-or-death matter.

Brand is the director of operations at Grace for 2 Brothers Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention and awareness. Along with fellow suicide prevention and awareness proponents, Brand tracked the Wyoming Legislature’s 2018 budget session, when lawmakers restored $1.5 million in funding for suicide prevention services across the state.

“It’s definitely a cause for celebration,” she said.

However, it followed a difficult 2017 legislative session, where $2.1 million was reduced from the Wyoming Department of Health’s Substance Abuse, Tobacco and Suicide Prevention budget. That cut compounded reductions from the previous year.

During his final State of the State address that kicked off the budget session, Gov. Matt Mead said there were areas in the budget where cuts went too deep, including the Department of Health. He called on the Legislature to take Wyoming’s high suicide rate seriously.

While Brand waits to see how the funds will be distributed, she said organizations like hers are still counting on donations to support their activities. But it’s easier in Laramie County, where a more dense population makes garnering donations more fruitful and there are professional services available on sliding scales.

Many communities across the rural Cowboy State don’t have that advantage, Brand said.

The national ranking has varied, but Wyoming is consistently in the top five states for suicide rates. There were 144 deaths by suicide in 2017, a rate of 25.2 per 100,000 people. That compares to a national rate of 13.4. It is the sixth leading cause of death overall in the Cowboy State. Nine times as many people in Wyoming die by suicide as by homicide.

So while the restoration of funding for community-based services is good news, Brand said Wyoming still has a long way to go to adequately address its suicide problem.

“Suicide is 90 percent preventable, but we can’t do anything with zero funds,” she said. “We’ve all got to link arms and do the best we can with what we’ve been given.”


Candidate buys ads on Sinclair TV stations to blast company

HELENA, Montana — A Democratic candidate for Montana’s U.S. House seat is using Sinclair Broadcast Group’s own television stations to blast the company for forcing its reporters to read the conservative-leaning corporation’s statements on air.

John Heenan bought airtime starting this week for an ad on Sinclair-owned stations KECI-TV in Missoula and KTVM-TV in Bozeman and Butte. In it, he calls Sinclair “a corporation using its power to take advantage of journalists, our democracy and the people of Montana.”

“This station is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, a powerful corporation that forces its journalists to read corporate talking points on the air,” Heenan says in the ad.

KECI general manager Tamy Wagner said her station had received the ad and that it would run as scheduled.

“We don’t turn away candidate ads,” she said. She declined further comment.

Heenan added that the Sinclair stations did not object to the ad’s message. “They cashed our check,” he said.

The candidate, one of four Democrats competing for the chance to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, was referencing a script read by news anchors on Sinclair stations across the country that expressed concern about “one-sided news stories plaguing the country.”

A video by the website Deadspin that edited together dozens of anchors reading the same words from the Sinclair script has been viewed by millions of people.

Other Democratic candidates for political office in the U.S. have pulled their ads from Sinclair stations or pledged not to buy air time on them in protest. Heenan claimed to be the first candidate to use the company’s own airwaves against it.

Gianforte won Montana’s only House seat in a special election last year that received national attention when Gianforte assaulted a reporter who was trying to ask him a question.

Heenan noted that Sinclair director Robert E. Smith’s contributions to Gianforte in last year’s and this year’s elections exceed $10,000.


Audit: Utah public schools collected $71M in fees last year

SALT LAKE CITY — Lab fees of $162. Textbooks costing $225. Cheerleaders paying up to $1,100.

The costs for academic services and extracurricular activities at Utah’s schools is adding up, and state and local governments aren’t doing enough to comply with policies on fees and fee waivers, according to an audit released last week by the Utah State Board of Education.

In all, the state’s public schools collected $71 million from students in 2017, a 29 percent increase over five years, the audit found.

In addition to the cost, the sheer number of fees also increased by 18 percent from 2012 to 2017. So more students are paying more money for more fees.

The system has become “unreasonable,” the audit concluded. Without a change, the board warned that some students who aren’t able to pay will end up not participating in school activities.

North Dakota

Marijuana not part of North Dakota’s corporate farming ban

BISMARCK, North Dakota — North Dakota’s Great Depression-era law banning corporate farming won’t preclude horticulture operations from growing medical marijuana, provided it’s not done on agricultural land, the state’s attorney general has determined.

The state health department sought clarification from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem on how the program voters approved in November 2016 will apply to large corporations, which are barred from owning and operating farms. The agency is in the process of accepting applications from potential marijuana growers, which might include large corporations.

The intent of the longstanding ban is to protect the state’s family farming heritage. Two years ago, voters overwhelmingly rejected an effort to exempt hog and dairy operations from the ban in order to boost those dying industries.

But marijuana presented a different legal dilemma. Some members of the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee said last month that they thought lawmakers last year had made it clear that medical marijuana production was not to be considered an agricultural operation.

“The law requires that medical marijuana be produced in an enclosed, locked facility that does not allow the plants to be visible from the street or other public areas,” Stenehjem said in his opinion.

The North Dakota Compassionate Care Act allows the use of the drug for 17 medical conditions, along with terminal illnesses. The Health Department hopes to have the drug available by late this year.

Associated Press

Associated Press