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WED: School Year Begins For Some New Mexico Districts, + More

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Students taking class online from home

School Year Begins For Some New Mexico Districts - Associated Press

The school year is getting underway at some of New Mexico's largest public school districts as teachers, students and parents deal with remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Albuquerque Public Schools is starting Wednesday as schools in the district have been distributing technology to students, making virtual home visits, and providing guidance to staff, students and families. 

The Las Cruces district is also outlining new protocols for instruction, technology and nutrition services for an all-online start Wednesday. 

“We have prepared, and we are ready,” Las Cruces Superintendent Karen Trujillo said in a statement. “Our teachers have immersed themselves in professional development training, our nutrition services team is ready to get meals moving and our technology staff has ensured that students who need devices for online learning have them in hand.”

Trujillo said educators participated in more than 350 professional development webinars to prepare for the start of virtual classes and laptops and tablets were ordered at the beginning of the summer with the aim of every student having access to a device. Some students are still waiting though due to shipping delays and social distancing constraints as the district's technology staff prepares the devices for distribution.

Whether students return to the classroom later in the year will depend on the pace of the pandemic in the state.  

New Mexico Lawmaker Resigns, Will Run For Bernalillo Sheriff - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

New Mexico state Rep. Patricio Ruiloba has resigned from his Albuquerque-area seat and says he will run for Bernalillo County sheriff.

The Democrat told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he submitted his resignation letter and will begin organizing his campaign.

The 53-year-old retired Albuquerque police officer says he has been urged to run for sheriff by residents concerned about rising crime and conflicts between law enforcement and communities of color.

Current Democratic Sheriff Manny Gonzales has faced criticism for a rise in deputy shootings and for stalling on requiring deputies to wear body cameras.

Gonzales can't run for sheriff again because of term limits and said he is considering a run for mayor of Albuquerque.

No other candidates have publicly announced their intent to run for sheriff.

Last month, Gonzales was criticized after telling reporters he was looking to partner with a company so deputies can put smartphones in their vests and record video.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signed a bill requiring all law enforcement to wear body cameras. But Gonzales calls the current technology archaic and says it's too costly.

The Albuquerque reports two Black women from Wisconsin are suing Gonzales and two deputies, alleging racial and religious profiling during a traffic stop in 2017.

The sheriff's office declined to comment to the AP on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit came about five months after Bernalillo County reached a $100,000 settlement with another Black woman who filed a lawsuit against the sheriff's office after she was pulled over three times in 28 days by the same deputies named in the new lawsuit.

New Mexico Reports Another 202 COVID-19 Cases, 3 Deaths Associated Press

New Mexico health officials on Tuesday reported another 202 COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to more than 22,640 since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Another three deaths were also reported, bringing that tally to 693. The additional deaths include men in their 40s from San Juan and McKinley counties as well as a woman in her 50s from Luna County who had underlying conditions.

The state Health Department's latest modeling report indicates the statewide increase in daily case counts is continuing to decline and that the highest percentage of cases — about 19% — are among people between 25 and 34 years old.

The data also shows that people 45 and older make up the highest percentages of new hospital admissions each week, even though officials say hospitalizations have been steadily declining since mid-July. There are currently 134 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, with one-fifth of them requiring ventilators.

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 19 more cases of COVID-19 but no additional deaths. That brings the total number of people infected to 9,334 and the known death toll remaining at 473 as of Tuesday. 

Meetings Cancelled As New Mexico Agency Stretches Resources - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A panel that oversees water quality and permitting issues across New Mexico has been forced to cancel another meeting.

The reason is the state Environment Department doesn't have the staff needed to organize meetings for the boards and commissions under its umbrella.

That means it could be September before the Water Quality Control Commission meets again, putting on hold decisions about everything from lower financing rates for rural water projects to enforcement actions against polluters.

New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney says years of austere budgeting has left his agency in a "deep hole" with few resources in the face of more responsibility.

The state Environment Department over a four-year period marked a decrease of almost 10% in federal funding along with a nearly 15% reduction in state general funds. The amount collected from fees — which accounts for more than three-fifths of the agency's budget — was down by more than 3%.

New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney said the agency hasn't been able to raise its fees in over 10 years for most of its programs, adding to the crunch of less federal and state funding while permitting and enforcement responsibilities are growing.

2nd Suspect Hospitalized In Case Where Child's Remains Found - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A judge has ordered the hospitalization for mental health treatment of a second member of an extended family confronting firearms, kidnapping and terrorism-related charges.

The case stems from a 2018 raid on a remote compound in New Mexico where a child's decomposed body was discovered.

Court records on Tuesday show 42-year-old Lucas Morton was found incompetent to stand trial by a federal judge and should be committed to a medical center for treatment and re-evaluation within four months.

The case against Morton and four co-defendants revolves around the abduction and death of a 3-year-old boy and allegations of plotting against government institutions.

Albuquerque Police Fatally Shoot 2 Men In Separate IncidentsAssociated Press

Authorities say Albuquerque police fatally shot two men during separate incidents a few hours apart.

Deputy Police Chief Harold Medina said police fatally shot one man early Tuesday during an exchange of gunfire after a home invasion and that another man was fatally shot Monday evening when police responded to an altercation between neighbors.

In that case, the original caller had told dispatchers that a neighbor had pointed a gun at him. At least one officer who responded to the scene opened fire, hitting 48-year-old Jose Vallejos at least once.

Authorities said a firearm was found at the scene. Albuquerque police say a multi-agency task force was in the early stages of investigating the shootings.

New Mexico Ethics Commission Seeks Subpoena For First TimeAssociated Press

The New Mexico State Ethics Commission is invoking its full investigatory powers for the first time with a request for court approval of a subpoena.

The commission declined to provide any details of the ethics complaint that inspired the investigation.

Commission spokesperson Sonny Haquani said that state statute requires a probable cause finding before the commission can disclose details of complaints.  

The seven-member commission fields complaints regarding campaign finances, government contracting, gifts from lobbyists and more.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of the commission in 2018 in the wake of a series of high-profile corruption scandals.

Navajo Nation President Asks Trump To Commute Death Sentence Associated Press

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has asked President Donald Trump to commute the death sentence of a Navajo man convicted in the 2001 killing of a fellow tribal member and her 9-year-old granddaughter.

Nez cited the tribe's longstanding opposition to the death penalty in a July 31 letter to Trump that asks for Lezmond Mitchell's sentence to be reduced to life in prison.

Mitchell is the only Native American on federal death row. Tribal officials and even the victims' family opposed his death penalty, despite the grisly nature of the killings.

The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment on the clemency request.

Mitchell is scheduled to be executed on Aug. 26 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terra Haute, Indiana, where he's being held. He was among the first male inmates scheduled to be put to death after the U.S. Justice Department announced last year that the federal government would resume executing death row inmates for the first time since 2003.

New Mexico's Largest Newspapers Combine Printing Operations- Associated Press

The Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican are partnering to print both publications at the The New Mexican's production facility in Santa Fe. The state's two largest newspapers made the announcement Tuesday and said discussions about consolidation of the printing operations have been ongoing for years. Officials say the move will increase efficiency. As a result, there will be up to 70 layoffs at the Journal‘s print facility in Albuquerque. Officials say the change will take effect Oct. 12 and will not affect the size or content of either newspaper. The newsrooms of the two newspapers will remain separate and maintain independent operations.

New Office To Investigate Cold Cases Involving Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Opens in Albuquerque- Associated Press

U.S. officials have opened an office in New Mexico dedicated to investigating cold cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous people. The office in Albuquerque  is part of an effort to address violence against Native Americans and Alaska Natives, particularly women and girls. The office is the fourth of seven that are being established across the country as part of the Operation Lady Justice Task Force created via executive order by President Donald Trump in November. Other offices will be located in Arizona, Alaska and Tennessee. The goal is to develop protocols for law enforcement to respond to missing and slain Indigenous persons cases and to improve data collection.