Governor signs bill to require paid sick leave
SANTA FE — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation April 9 requiring that employers throughout the state provide paid sick leave to workers.
The Democrat-sponsored legislation ensures that employees accrue an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 64 hours of leave annually.
The law takes effect on July 1, 2022 — a delay in concession to employers who argued that businesses already are under intense financial pressure from the pandemic.
Democratic legislators argue the requirement is essential to ensuring public health and a stable workforce. They advanced the bill over unified Republican opposition in the state House and Senate.
Lujan Grisham, a first-term Democrat, said the coronavirus has driven home the need for paid sick leave.
The governor also signed a bill that increases the surtax on insurance premiums from 1% to 3.75% to shore up subsidies to health insurance policies for low- and moderate-income patients provided through New Mexico’s health insurance exchange.
The changes are offset by the recent elimination of a federal fee on insurance. The governor’s office says the law will eliminate copayments and cost sharing by patients to access mental health services.
The state’s 60-day legislative session that ended March 20 included approval of a $7.5 billion state spending plan for the coming year.
Advocates sue to protect monarchs, Northern spotted owls
BILLINGS — Wildlife advocates sued federal officials April 1 in a bid for greater protections for monarch butterflies, northern spotted owls and eight other species inching toward possible extinction.
The move comes after federal officials have said the species named in the lawsuit need protections, but that other imperiled plants and animals have higher priority.
The Center for Biological Diversity asked a U.S. District Court in Washington to order the Fish and Wildlife Service to move immediately to grant the species protections under the Endangered Species Act.
Federal officials declared the monarch butterfly a candidate for protections in December, but said no action would be taken for several years because of the many other species needing protection.
The spotted owl of the Pacific Northwest has been in decline for decades as old growth forests disappear. It was rejected for an immediate upgrade to “endangered” status last year despite losing nearly 4% of its population annually.
Also included in the lawsuit were the eastern gopher tortoise of the Southeast, the Penasco least chipmunk of New Mexico, a North Carolina snail known as magnificent ramshorn, the twistflower plant of south Texas and three mussel species — Texas fatmucket, Texas fawnsfoot and Texas pimpleback.
Solar plant leases finalized on tribal land
CAMERON, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation is moving forward with two more solar plants on the reservation that are expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the tribe over the projects’ lifetimes.
Tribal leaders met at the site of the larger solar plant in Cameron on April 7 to finalize the lease for the Cameron Solar Generation Plant. A committee of the Navajo Nation Council had approved the lease in late March.
The solar plant is expected to produce 200 megawatts of energy for one of Arizona’s largest utilities, the Salt River Project, though a power purchase agreement hasn’t yet been signed. About 400 people will be employed during construction.
Tribal President Jonathan Nez said the solar plants are part of a move toward renewable energy sources. Tribal officials also gathered near the Arizona-Utah border to finalize a lease for a 70-megawatt solar plant there. The tribe has two other solar plants near Kayenta.
The Red Mesa Tapaha Solar Generation Plant is expected to create 300 jobs during the yearlong construction phase. It will be majority owned by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and provide energy largely to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems.
Lease payments to the tribe will approach $7 million over the 30-year life of the project, the tribal utility said. The tribe also will receive tax revenue.
Some of the revenue from both projects will go toward connecting more Navajo homes to the power grid and keeping rates down for tribal customers, according to the tribal utility.
Cameron lies along the route to the east entrance of Grand Canyon National Park, which reopened in April after being closed for more than a year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Over three decades, the solar plant is expected to bring in $90 million in energy transmission payments, $13 million in land lease payments and $6 million in tax revenue for the tribe.
Cheyenne Frontier Days to return in full this year
Cheyenne Frontier Days will host its 125th anniversary celebration in full at Frontier Park from July 23 to Aug. 1, according to an April 7 announcement.
The rodeo and surrounding entertainment events were canceled last year for the first time in Frontier Days history due to the coronavirus pandemic. An annual report from February showed the cancellation netted a $3.34 million loss in 2020.
In conjunction with the governor’s office and public health officials from the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, organizers plan to implement COVID-19 procedures to ensure cleanliness and sanitation.
However, there will be no limitations on crowd sizes for concerts, rodeo or other outdoor events, and masks will not be required, according to Tom Hirsig, CEO of Cheyenne Frontier Days. Hirsig and Gov. Mark Gordon spoke at a news conference in Cheyenne.
A lineup announcement was still pending, but a few performers have already been announced, including Garth Brooks. Thomas Rhett, Eric Church and Blake Shelton are also set to return this year after originally being scheduled for the 2020 lineup.
The rodeo previously announced that it will dedicate the 2021 event to to late Wyoming country music star and world rodeo champion Chris LeDoux.
The governor said the state can do Cheyenne Frontier Days safely due to the low COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Gordon said in a statement: ”Our big message that we want people to hear loud and clear today is that Wyoming is back and we are open for business.”
Eighth-grader wins contest to name supercomputer
CHEYENNE — A Wyoming middle school student has won a contest to name one of the world’s fastest supercomputers.
The new machine will be named “Derecho,” after a type of weather event that can bring hurricane-force winds and heavy rains, the Boulder, Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research announced April 12.
Riverton Middle School eighth-grader Cael Arbogast, 13, submitted the winning name for the supercomputer that will be used to study phenomena including climate change, severe weather, wildfires and solar flares. It will be housed at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center on the outskirts of Cheyenne.
Houston-based Hewlett Packard Enterprise won a bid to provide the $35 million to $40 million replacement machine for the supercomputing center, the National Center for Atmospheric Research announced in January.
The HPE-Cray EX supercomputer will likely rank among the world’s 25 fastest when it goes into operation in 2022. It will have a theoretical maximum speed of almost 20 quadrillion calculations per second, 3.5 times faster than the center’s current supercomputer, according to NCAR.
The facility’s existing supercomputer, named Cheyenne, is over three times faster than its predecessor, which was named Yellowstone.