Today in New West news: Montana LGBT advocates back non-discrimination bill, Big Sky Film Festival, undocumented mother seeks sanctuary in Denver church, and Utah now sixth largest state for solar.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana LGBT advocates have backed a bill currently in the state Legislature, sponsored by Representative Kelly McCarthy (D-Billings), that would “extend non-discrimination protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people across Montana.” The Chronicle acknowledges such measures have tanked in previous years, but notes that the backlash North Carolina received for its so-called “bathroom bill” could bolster the bill’s chances. As McCarthy argued in front of the House Judiciary Committee, “Let’s not give anybody a reason to not come here.”
News of the bill comes after the city of Helena voted earlier this year to remove an exception from the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that advocates and legislators say targeted transgender people. From the Chronicle:
About two dozen states offer nondiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Montana’s proposal would add “gender identity or expression” and “sexual orientation” to existing law.
Jeff Laszloffy, the president of the Montana Family Foundation, warned of unintended consequences and urged the committee to reject the proposal.
“For those concerned about unintended consequences, this bill should set off all kinds of alarm bells,” he said. “If you pass this bill, it would give boys and men unfettered access to girls’ locker rooms.”
Some proponents recounted their personal travails in arguing for the bill.
Kathleen O’Donnell, a relative of McCarthy, spoke about the hurt she faced when she was rejected, she said, by a potential landlord because of her sexual orientation while looking for a rental for her fiancee and son.
As O’Donnell recounted the incident, the landlord told her that “her kind” would not be welcomed.
“Many emotions rang through my head — confusion, anger, sadness,” O’Donnell said. “My kind was a person who had a stable job and a good rental history in search of a home.”
The festival had a bit of a hiccup earlier this month when, according to the Missoulian, the roof of the Silver Theater (one of the festival venues) collapsed under heavy snow and ice. While festival organizers found another venue, the Silver’s owners said they will not rebuilt, opting instead for a full demolition. The theater, originally the World Theater, was purchased in 2015 and in the midst of a full renovation when the accident occurred.
Down in Colorado, according to the Denver Post, Jeanette Vizguerra, an undocumented mother of four, fearful of a scheduled meeting with Immigration and Customs and Enforcement officials, has taken sanctuary in Denver’s First Unitarian Society. The decision to seek sanctuary likely reflects increased tensions over immigration policies in light of executive orders and rhetoric from the Trump Administration. From the Post:
Vizguerra’s stand rallied support from various community members and groups, including the We Belong Together campaign, which hand-delivered a letter to ICE headquarters Wednesday afternoon seeking a “stay of removal or the closure” of her case, according to a WBT media release.
Several local elected officials also voiced support for Vizguerra, who entered the country illegally from Mexico in 1997 with her husband.
“What’s happening to Jeanette Vizguerra is appalling and the result of a broken immigration system — a system made worse by the chaotic actions of the White House and ICE,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a news release. “Jeanette is not a threat to our community. She is a mother of four, an active community member and someone who has persistently pursued legal status through the proper channels.”
Vizguerra, described as a longtime leader in immigrant and labor movements, has applied for a U visa, which is granted to victims of crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse. Hancock’s office signed a document in August 2015 supporting her pending U visa application. Officials did not elaborate about the crime committed against Vizguerra.
Vizguerra has three children, ages 6, 10 and 12, who are U.S. citizens. She has an adult daughter with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status and a 2-year-old grandson.
Congresswoman Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado’s 1st District, said Wednesday that Vizguerra would be granted “lawful status” to remain in the country if HR 752, now before the U.S. House of Representatives, passes.
Finally, over in Utah, according to Utah Business, the Beehive State saw a big boom in its solar market, jumping ahead to the sixth largest in the nation, according to a forthcoming report (the U.S. Solar Market Insight report, coming out March 9) from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association:
In the new ranking, Utah snagged the sixth-highest spot for solar states in the US, jumping ten spots from 2015. The state’s solar installations increased 500 percent year over year, to 1,489 MW total vs. 248 MW in 2015. California is far away #1 at (18,300 MW), followed by North Carolina and Arizona. Utah is one of nine states that have installed more than one GW of solar capacity. At the end of 2012, only one state (California) had done so.
For the first time ever, U.S. solar ranked as the number one source of new electric generating capacity additions on an annual basis. Altogether, solar accounted for 39 percent of new capacity additions across all fuel types in 2016.
“What these numbers tell you is that the solar industry is a force to be reckoned with,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Solar’s economically-winning hand is generating strong growth across all market segments nationwide, leading to more than 260,000 Americans now employed in solar.”
Success this year was driven largely by the utility-scale segment, which was bolstered by a pipeline of projects initially hedging against the extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit. Not only did it represent the most MW installed, but the utility-scale segment also featured the highest growth rate of any segment, growing 145 percent from 2015.
“In a banner year for U.S. solar, a record 22 states each added more than 100 megawatts,” said Cory Honeyman, GTM Research’s associate director of U.S. solar research. “While U.S. solar grew across all segments, what stands out is the double digit gigawatt boom in utility-scale solar, primarily due to solar’s cost competitiveness with natural gas alternatives.”
The non-residential market also exceeded expectations with two major growth drivers in the segment. The first is community solar, adding a record total of more than 200 MW, led by Minnesota and Massachusetts. Second, rate design and net energy metering fueled a rush in project development and installation growth across a number of major state markets, most notably in California.
Per the report, the United States now hosts over 1.3 million solar PV installations, producing over 40 gigawatts in cumulative capacity.