Out West Roundup: New Mexico governor’s tense tenure with state lawmakers nears end

Author: Associated Press - March 2, 2018 - Updated: March 28, 2018

In this Feb. 15, 2018, file photo New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, speaks to reporters outside her office in Santa Fe. The rocky relationship between Martinez and state lawmakers is coming to a close as both sides ponder what could have been. Democratic leaders say they wish there was better communication with the Republican governor and wonder if they could have done more. Martinez says her only regret is that lawmakers didn’t pass more of her legislation during her eight years in office.(AP Photo/ Russell Contreras,File)

New Mexico

New Mexico governor’s tense tenure with lawmakers nears end

SANTA FE — The rocky relationship between New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and state lawmakers is coming to a close as the Republican governor prepares to leave office and both sides ponder what might have been.

Democratic leaders said they wished there had been better communication with Martinez and wondered if more could have been done years ago to resolve grinding difficulties related to unemployment and crime.

Martinez told reporters she regrets lawmakers didn’t pass more of her major proposals during her tenure, describing unfulfilled initiatives to simplify the tax code, hold back students in third grade who cannot read at grade level and enhance criminal penalties.

Martinez, a former district attorney, blamed lawmakers’ inaction and noted a slow deterioration in public safety.

Lawmakers wrapped up work on Feb. 22 after passing a bipartisan package of spending bills and public safety reforms. Anti-crime legislation was designed to bolster police ranks, deter repeat drunken driving, toughen gun-possession penalties for violent felons, and better address addiction and health issues among prison inmates as they are released.

Martinez lambasted lawmakers for repeatedly shunning a proposal to expand life sentences for the intentional and fatal abuse of teenagers.

Violent crime and property crime both spiked during Martinez’s first six years in office, according FBI data.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said he believed Martinez lacked the leadership to work with lawmakers to pass bipartisan solutions over the years. This year was different because lawmakers from both parties worked out an approach to criminal justice reform and hoped to avoid vetoes.

“There has been a tremendous amount of frustration and just not a lot of engagement” from the governor, Wirth said.


Utah bill would give teens fleeing polygamy more rights

SALT LAKE CITY — Teenagers fleeing polygamous communities would get more legal protection from parents who could expose them to sexual abuse or forced marriage under a proposal approved last week by a panel of Utah lawmakers.

If teenagers run away from home, anyone they run to must inform their parents within eight hours, said Rep. Walt Brooks. In some cases, that’s allowed adults to take teenagers back to polygamous communities even when they did not want to return.

“We’re a family-friendly state, so we want them to be with families, but not if the family is going to hurt them,” said Brooks, a Republican from St. George, located near a well-known polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona state line.

Some polygamists expressed concern about the plan. Joe Darger, a Utah man who has three wives, said he supports protecting young kids in perilous circumstances, but is worried about too much focus on a single religious group and possible unintended consequences.

Brooks said the bill would apply to any teenager who could be vulnerable to sexual abuse at home.

Under the plan, parents would still be informed about runaway children’s welfare within the 8-hour window, but that information could come from authorities rather than a home where a child was staying, giving kids “a little bit of a gap,” Brooks said.


Kansas lawmakers cancel debate on NRA-backed gun safety bill

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas legislators canceled debate last week on allowing elementary schools to offer a National Rifle Association-backed firearms safety course, responding to concerns such a step would be inappropriate the week after the mass shooting at a Florida high school.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a conservative Kansas City-area Republican, said top GOP leaders are pursuing a more comprehensive plan that could include mental health initiatives.

The proposal drew fire from some Democrats and GOP moderates because it would give preference to an NRA gun-safety program as it authorized local schools to offer such courses to their students. They said it was inappropriate to steer schools to the NRA’s curriculum so soon after the fatal Valentine’s Day shootings of 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school.

“It’s in tremendously poor taste to be voting on a bill like that at a time like this,” said state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a moderate Kansas City-area Republican.

Kansas has been one of the most welcoming states in recent years for the NRA and its allies, with the GOP-controlled Legislature strongly supporting initiatives loosening restrictions on gun rights.

While the state’s 286 local school districts still can offer gun-safety courses without a specific law authorizing them, Whitmer said the goal is to encourage them to think about starting them.

But the bill would require the State Board of Education to adopt guidelines for such courses requiring ones for kindergarten through fifth grade to be based on the NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe program. Courses for sixth through eighth grades could be based on the NRA program or one offered by the state Department for Wildlife, Tourism and Parks.


Idaho lawmaker not sorry for yelling ‘abortion is murder’

BOISE — A Republican Idaho state senator yelled “abortion is murder” at a group of students who were pushing for birth control legislation at the Statehouse and now faces an ethics complaint after a post from an unverified Twitter account told them to discuss “killing babies” with a Democratic lawmaker.

Sen. Dan Foreman told The Associated Press that he has no plans to apologize and denied any ties to the social media account that purported to belong to him.

“I think the response was dead on and people can take exception to that — they’re welcome to their point of view — but I take abortion seriously. It’s murder,” Foreman said.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, who led a “respectful workplace training” event for all lawmakers in January, apologized for the way the students were treated and said Foreman’s behavior reflects on the Legislature.

“I told him it wasn’t an appropriate response; we need to conduct ourselves with much more dignity, civility and respect,” said Hill, a Republican.

About a dozen University of Idaho students from Foreman’s district in the city of Moscow had traveled nearly 300 miles for a scheduled meeting with him. They planned to lobby for a Planned Parenthood-backed measure in the conservative state that would allow women to receive up to a 12-month supply of prescribed birth control and would promote better sex education on college campuses.

Foreman abruptly canceled the meeting, and the students left a note and condoms in his office before heading to other meetings with lawmakers. He later passed the students in the hallway, and several recorded him shouting, “Abortion is murder.”

After narrowly winning election in 2016 in a surprise upset, Foreman shocked both parties by backing a proposal that would have classified abortion as first-degree murder — for the woman and the doctor. The measure never got a hearing.


Wyoming lawmakers advance miscarriage certificate bill

CHEYENNE – Emotions ran high in the early morning hours at the Wyoming Legislature last week as lawmakers advanced a bill requiring medical professionals to offer women certificates for “non-viable births,” or miscarried fetuses.

Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, said any assumption Senate File 85 is about abortion or birth control is “categorically false,” but those opposed to the legislation aren’t buying it.

If passed, the statute would call on medical professionals to offer women certificates after they’ve “suffered a non-viable birth,” defined in the legislation as “an unintentional, spontaneous demise of an unborn child that occurs any time after nine completed weeks gestation through 20 completed weeks gestation.”

It’s been Boner’s contention that it’s a measure to provide comfort for women going through a traumatic experience. He said he understands why it evokes a response, but the concern is misguided.

“This is certainly an emotional issue that affects a lot of people,” he said. “I understand not everyone is going to want a birth certificate – that’s why they are optional. What I do not understand is people opposed to the legislation that might help someone if they do want a certificate.”

For Sharon Breitweiser, NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming executive director, the legislation is troubling for several reasons. For one, she said it simply doesn’t seem like women and families across the state are calling for such a measure.

Associated Press

Associated Press