Ex-Oklahoma zookeeper testifies in his murder-for-hire trial

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An ex-Oklahoma zookeeper and former candidate for governor says he never wanted to kill a woman who investigators say was the target of a murder-for-hire plot.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as "Joe Exotic," testified in his own defense Monday at a federal trial. He's accused of trying to arrange the killing of Carole Baskin, the founder of a Florida animal sanctuary who has criticized Maldonado-Passage's treatment of animals. Baskin wasn't harmed.

Maldonado-Passage testified he didn't deny disagreements with Baskin spilled over into his social media posts. But Maldonado-Passage says he never wanted Baskin dead.

Prosecutors say Maldonado-Passage offered $10,000 to an undercover FBI agent to kill Baskin, and the conversation was recorded. His attorneys say he wasn't being serious.

Maldonado-Passage faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted.

•••

Oklahoma leaders push to count young children in 2020 census

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma leaders are kicking off efforts to ensure the state gets an accurate count in the nation's 2020 census.

The Oklahoman reports state leaders will particularly focus on including children 5 and younger, which many say have been historically undercounted. Federal and state officials throughout the U.S. began their efforts promoting the once-a-decade census Monday, a year ahead of the official count.

Each state's population from the Census is used to determine how many U.S. representatives it is allotted, plus that number influence federal funding for some programs.

Joe Dorman of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy says it's especially important to county children in poor households, because they often are directly affected by federal programs that provide health care, food and other services.

•••

Judge rules Oklahoma Native American art law too restrictive

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A federal judge has struck down an Oklahoma law that requires an artist to be a member of a federally recognized tribe in order to have their artwork labeled as Native American.

U.S. District Judge Charles Goodwin ruled Thursday that the Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act violates the U.S. Constitution because it gives a more narrow definition of Native American than federal law, The Oklahoman reported.

"In doing so, the State Act diminishes 'the market for the products of Indian art and craftsmanship,'" Goodwin said.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 allows art to be marketed as Native American even if the tribe is only recognized at the state level, Goodwin said. Oklahoma's law violates the constitutional provision that gives federal law precedence over state law, even though both seek to protect and promote Native American artists, he said.

The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office had defended the state law. A spokesman said the office is reviewing the decision.

The Oklahoma law originally passed in 1974. It was amended in 2016 with the narrower requirement that an artist belong to a federally recognized tribe.

Peggy Fontenot challenged the law amendment in 2017. Fontenot is a member of the Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Virginia, which is recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia but not by the federal government. She said the state law violated her constitutional right to equal protection and freedom of speech.

Goodwin rejected the argument and also found that the state law doesn't violate interstate commerce protections because it only restricts the marketing, and not the sale, of art.

•••