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Know the West

Western legislative roundup


Western legislatures, except California's, have finished for 2012. Montana and Nevada didn't have a lawmaking session this year, but elsewhere, election-year politics, not surprisingly, influenced what happened. In New Mexico, many Republican-favored bills were shot down by a Democrat-controlled Legislature, including a measure to repeal a 2003 law that allows undocumented immigrants to get drivers' licenses. Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill that increased fines for public officials convicted of corruption, but vetoed another that would have raised taxes on out-of-state big-box retailers. California is considering bills that would put the state's beleaguered state parks on more solid footing and help shield them from projects like transmission lines. Another bill, which would have defined hydropower as renewable energy -- allowing the three biggest utilities to immediately jump to within a hair of meeting the state's 2020 renewable energy requirements -- recently failed to move out of committee. In Washington, a new land-use law introduces new fees and raises existing ones for some forestry projects and construction projects in or near water, and makes it easier for some development and agricultural projects to avoid environmental review. Some other legislative highlights (and low points) are listed to the right.

"I have concerns about us giving up our sovereignty to the United Nations and the World Court."

Arizona State Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, commenting to azcentral.com about SB1507, a Tea Party bill approved by the House that would quash government-led sustainability efforts –- preventing the state and counties from adopting tenets of Agenda 21, a 1992 United Nations declaration that encourages environmental stewardship. Conservative conspiracy theorists see it as a plot to take away peoples' freedom to travel, own gas-powered cars, and live in suburbs.

"Keeping our Native languages alive keeps the culture alive."

Colorado State Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, a member of the Comanche Nation, commenting to Indian Country Today on a just-passed law that allows high school credit and sets proficiency standards for study of the languages of federally recognized tribes. Tribal elders and other fluent speakers can teach in partnership with licensed teachers.

"As soon as they get done with this, I'm just sure they're going to be after the standard animal operating practices" at ranches and feedlots."

Idaho State Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, offering the Associated Press his opinion of a new animal-protection act. The law provides the state's first-ever felony penalties for extreme animal cruelty, including cockfighting at events with illegal drugs and gambling. Gov. Butch Otter's signing of it leaves North and South Dakota as the only states lacking felony animal-cruelty provisions.

"If you want wolves, hey, we ought to be willing to pay the price."

Oregon State Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, telling the Oregonian why he introduced legislation to reimburse ranchers for livestock lost to wolves. (Another bill that would have clarified the state's right to kill or remove problem wolves died.) The new law gives livestock owners who can prove they've lost animals to wolves a refundable tax credit of up to $37,500 per year. It expires in six years, or when the wolf is removed from the state endangered species list, whichever comes first.

"We certainly don't want some jack wagon coming in and taking pictures of (farm animals)."

Utah State Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, in the Deseret News, explaining why HB187, the so-called "ag-gag" law, passed. Meant to protect ranchers and farmers from animal-rights activists, it makes it a misdemeanor for someone to record images or sounds while trespassing on a farm or ranch; obtain a job at an agricultural operation under "false pretenses"; hide a recording device; or record after being asked not to.

"Things happen quickly sometimes -- look at Libya, look at Egypt."

Wyoming State Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, telling the Casper Star-Tribune why he introduced a bill to prepare for the federal government's complete collapse. (It -- the bill, not the government -- died in the Senate.) A task force would have investigated ways to cope with economic and political catastrophe, such as storing food and issuing alternative currency. A tongue-in-cheek amendment by Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, added other suggestions: "… implement a draft, raise a standing army, marine corps, navy and air force and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier."

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Western legislatures grab for control of public lands