July 5, 2022

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OUT WEST ROUNDUP | Yellowstone’s bison herd faces reduction; Wyoming eyes salary boosts | News

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Deal reached to reduce Yellowstone’s bison herd by 600-900

MISSOULA — Officials have agreed to allow as many as 900 bison from Yellowstone National Park to be shot by hunters, sent to slaughter or placed in quarantine this winter in a program that seeks to prevent the animals from spreading a disease to cattle.

An additional 200 bison among the park’s more than 5,000 bison could be captured or hunted in the late winter if those numbers are met, federal, tribal and state officials agreed in a Dec. 1 meeting.

Bison routinely leave Yellowstone and head north into Montana each winter, raising concerns that the animals could spread brucellosis to cattle. Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that can cause cows to abort their calves. The disease can spread to people but is rare in humans in the U.S.

Elk have spread the disease to livestock but there are no documented cases of bison spreading brucellosis to livestock in the wild, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

Yellowstone currently has around 5,450 bison, on the high end of recent counts, according to park biologist Chris Geremia.

Removing 600 to 900 bison this winter should cause the population to stabilize or decline slightly but increase back to around current numbers after spring calving, according to park officials.


Salary increases for state employees a budget priority for governor

CHEYENNE — Gov. Mark Gordon considers salary increases meant to support state employee recruitment and retention a high priority in the 2023-24 biennium budget.

He included $53 million in his budget proposal to go toward employee compensation and emphasized how important this funding is during his presentation to the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee on Dec. 1. The money is part of his $2.3 billion total general fund budget for the time period that begins July 1, 2022.

Executive branch agencies, members of the judicial branch and educational institutions across the state would receive the additional funding.

Gov. Jared Polis proposes $1.3 billion more in next year's budget to address effects of pandemic

“We are hemorrhaging talent and experience,” Gordon said. “The private sector, which is always quick to respond to opportunity, is picking off some of our best and most talented.”

Currently, state employees are paid below the 2017 market compensation rate, according to Gordon, and a recent survey conducted by the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information revealed 38% of workers had a second job. A report from the same survey also found that 3% of the state workforce took advantage of SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other assistance services.

The governor said given inflation and the expectations placed on state government, employees should be paid more

Gordon explained how this has impacted the ability of state government agencies to provide assistance to constituents, notably in the Departments of Family Services and Workforce Services. There was also concern expressed regarding the winter season, as the region is experiencing a shortage of snow plow drivers due to low compensation.


Public financing OK’d for cannabis businesses

SANTA FE — New Mexico will provide business loans of up to $250,00 toward small-scale cannabis businesses in an effort to provide economic opportunity to communities that were hit hard by past criminal enforcement of marijuana laws.

The Regulation and Licensing Department on Dec. 2 announced that the loan program is moving forward, after a legislative panel provided approval.

The New Mexico Finance Authority is planning for a $5 million line of credit for cannabis entrepreneurs, with average loan size of about $100,000. The application process is expected to open in February.

Loans would be available to qualified cannabis “microbusinesses” that are licensed to cultivate and sell marijuana from up to 200 plants at a single location, operating much like a craft winery or brewery.

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That business niche was authorized in sweeping legislation to regulate and tax recreational marijuana sales, signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this year. Recreational cannabis sales commence by April 1, 2022.

Terms of the small business loans will extend for up to five years with interest rates from 2% to 3%.

New Mexico Finance Authority CEO Marquita Russel has noted that traditional business loans are still scarce for small-scale cannabis entrepreneurs.

New Mexico has emphasized social and economic fairness as it prepares to legalize and tax sales of recreational cannabis.

Democrat-led state delves into political redistricting

SANTA FE — Efforts to draw new political maps in New Mexico are beginning in earnest as a Democrat-led legislature converged on Dec. 6 on the state Capitol for a special legislative session.

States must redraw their congressional districts every 10 years to reflect new population numbers. The New Mexico legislature is scheduled to take up redistricting right away, though there is no specific deadline to forge an agreement.

Stakes are especially high for residents of a congressional swing district in southern New Mexico that flipped to Republican control in 2020.

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Republicans need a net gain of just five seats to take control of the U.S. House. That would effectively freeze President Joe Biden’s agenda on climate change, the economy and other issues.

Democrats hold two congressional seats out of three for New Mexico.

Map recommendations were provided to legislators by a citizens’ advisory panel under a hybrid redistricting system. Legislators can adopt, modify or discard the suggested maps and start from scratch.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham holds veto authority over the process. It’s the first time in 30 years that the process is being overseen by both a Democratic governor and Democratic majorities in the Legislature.

Boundaries are being drawn not only for congressional seats but also 112 legislative districts and a commission overseeing charter schools.

The special session also is open to proposals for spending roughly $1 billion in federal pandemic relief.

The state Supreme Court ruled in November that those relief funds must be appropriated by the Legislature and not just the governor.


Bundy says campaigning counts as court-ordered community service

BOISE — Far-right activist Ammon Bundy says time he has spent campaigning to become the next governor of Idaho should count toward the community service he was ordered to perform after being convicted of obstructing police during his trespassing arrest at the state Capitol.

Aaron Welling, Bundy’s campaign treasurer, wrote in November to court officials that Bundy has “completed 1,621 hours of public service” — citing what appear to be campaign activities.

Welling said the candidate has traveled the state while encouraging people to “become more active in holding public officials accountable” and that Bundy also encouraged people to register to vote.

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Bundy filed paperwork to run in the crowded Republican primary for Idaho governor next May. Incumbent Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little is also expected to run but has not declared yet.

After Bundy’s conviction in July of misdemeanor trespassing and resisting or obstructing officers at the Capitol, he was ordered to pay more than $1000 in fines and sentenced to eight days in jail. But the sentence was commuted to 40 hours of public service to be completed within 6 months.

The conviction stemmed from Bundy’s arrest on Aug. 25, 2020 when he refused to leave a statehouse auditorium after officials ordered it to be cleared. Officers said Bundy also went limp and refused to stand and put his hands behind his back. Officers ultimately wheeled Bundy out of the Capitol building on a swivel chair.

The arrest came during a special session of the Idaho Legislature called for lawmakers to address issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.