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KUNM News Update

TUES: Governor Renews Some Restrictions As Virus Cases Continue Spiking, + More

Megan Kamerick
Sign in Taos promoting face masks

New Mexico Governor Renews Restrictions As Virus Cases Rise - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she will renew public health restrictions and is warning that more stringent rules could be imposed due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

The regulations she announced Tuesday will take effect later this week. They'll include limiting gatherings to five people, a mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors from high-risk states, reduced hotel capacities and a 10 p.m. closure for any food or drink establishments that serve alcohol.

State health officials have reported more than 33,710 cases since the pandemic began, with 355 cases added to the tally Tuesday. Officials have said 918 residents have died.

Without a vaccine, the governor said there are only a few tools to fight the virus, such as wearing masks, staying home as much as possible and avoiding groups of people.

The state for several weeks has missed benchmarks set by health officials for reopening, including virus spread and positivity rates and daily case totals. Hospitalizations also have increased.

Lujan Grisham said New Mexico is fast approaching the point when community spread of the virus becomes uncontrollable and the only option is to shut down opportunities for the virus to spread.

Without improvements, the governor's office said the state will again restrict indoor dining service and roll back maximum occupancy allowances at other retail and dining establishments.

The governor is expected to discuss the revised health mandates during a public briefing on Thursday.

In Albuquerque, city officials on Tuesday announced a new program to supply local businesses with personal protective equipment and COVID-19 screening supplies. The city plans to spend more than $1 million on the effort.

New Mexico Voters To Decide Future Of Powerful CommissionAssociated Press

It will be up to New Mexico voters to decide the future of a powerful commission in charge of regulating utilities and other businesses.

If approved during the general election, a constitutional amendment on the ballot would change the Public Regulation Commission from an elected panel to one comprised of members appointed by the governor.

Supporters say the change would insulate the staff from political considerations. Opponents call it a power grab by the governor that would take away the right of voters to elect commissioners.

The push to reorganize the commission gained steam as the state began implementing a 2019 landmark energy law that involves the closure of a major coal-fired power plant and efforts to address the economic pains, and renewable energy mandates for investor-owned utilities to be carbon-free by 2045.

Decisions related to the Energy Transition Act have resulted in legal challenges involving the commission, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other Democratic lawmakers.

The Public Regulation Commission was created after voters in 1996 abolished two other regulatory entities — the three-member elected State Corporations Commission and three-member appointed Public Utilities Commission.

Years of ethics-related criticism of former commissions inspired the change aimed at making regulators more directly accountable to the public.

Think New Mexico, a public policy think tank, says special-interest money has already seeped into the voting process.

Executive Director Fred Nathan told the Albuquerque Journal the public has a right to know who is spending money to influence the election.

Judge Says Victims Can Sue Santa Fe Archdiocese Over Transfer Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A U.S. bankruptcy judge has ruled clergy sex abuse survivors can file lawsuits alleging the Archdiocese of Santa Fe fraudulently transferred millions to avoid bigger payouts to victims.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the recent decision by Judge David T. Thuma in the Chapter 11 reorganization case opens the door to what could be a multimillion-dollar boon to hundreds of alleged victims.

Or it could set off protracted, costly legal appeals that would tap funds that could have paid valid abuse claims.

Lawyers for the 94 archdiocese parishes, several of which predate the archdiocese by many decades or even centuries, predicted at a court hearing in August that the "decimation" of certain parishes would result if the lawsuits into the transfers go forward.

Negotiations between the parties have stalled in the nearly 2-year-old bankruptcy case, which the archdiocese filed in late 2018 to deal with a surge of claims alleging childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and other clergy.

An estimated $52 million has been paid in out-of-court settlements to victims in prior years.

Attorneys for the 374 victim claimants filed a motion in June alleging the archdiocese improperly shielded assets in preparation for the bankruptcy filing.

Their motion alleges the archdiocese, the state's largest, incorporated its parishes and transferred assets into trusts to "hinder, delay, or defraud" the claimants.

Lawyers for the archdiocese have said that wasn't the intent and argued that permitting inquiry via lawsuits into the transfers would constitute an improper burden on the exercise of religion in violation of federal law.

The archdiocese contends that a decision to incorporate its parishes and set up trusts for the transfer of assets and property was part of a restructuring that began in late 2012. The transferred total was more than $150 million, Thuma's ruling said.

Mayor Webber Condemns Obelisk Toppling On Santa Fe Plaza - Associated Press, Santa Fe New Mexican

The mayor of Santa Fe condemned the actions of protesters who tore down a historical monument in Santa Fe as New Mexico marked Indigenous Peoples Day.

Protesters used a rope and chain Monday to topple the obelisk on the Santa Fe Plaza, spurring cheers from the crowd. Signs near the marker read "It matters who we elevate and celebrate."

A point of contention for years, the obelisk was dedicated in part to the "heroes" who died in battle with "savage Indians."

Mayor Alan Webber had tried earlier this year to diffuse conflict over several historical markers linked to Spanish colonialism. The mayor had promised to form a commission that would contemplate the future of the historical markers, but that hasn't happened.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Mayor Webber condemned the activists’ actions Monday, saying in a video statement on Facebook that they had “broken trust” and that the toppled monument, “leaves an ugly mark on our community.” 

The Santa Fe police department was on-site earlier in the day on Monday, according to the New Mexican, but were not present on the plaza when the obelisk came down. In a statement, the city said the officers’ absence at that moment was in an effort to follow “a protocol that values life over property.” 

New Mexico Homeless Shelter Reports More Coronavirus Cases Associated Press

Albuquerque officials confirmed more COVID-19 infections at the city's homeless shelter as cases across New Mexico keep rising.

The city reported an additional 72 cases at the shelter Sunday, bringing the total to 93 confirmed infections since the pandemic began.

Overall, state health officials have reported a total of more than 33,360 cases, including 389 cases that were added to the tally Monday.

New Mexico health officials reported another four deaths Monday, bringing the statewide total to 915 since the pandemic began.

The shelter is not taking new residents. Anyone already there who's experiencing symptoms or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 is being isolated and tested, officials said.

Some hotels are being used to house those who test positive in an effort to curb spread among the homeless population.

The city said it has established protocols for identifying vulnerable people such as seniors and those with chronic medical conditions that put them at risk. They're being offered shelter in other locations.

New Mexico has had some of the most restrictive health orders in place since the pandemic began but has been reporting near record highs in recent days.

Navajo Nation Reports 30 New Coronavirus Cases And 6 Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Monday reported 30 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and six more deaths. 

The latest numbers bring the total number of cases to 10,728 including two additional cases that was previously unreported due to delayed reporting. The known death toll is now at 571.  

Tribal health officials said 112,648 people on the reservation have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic started and 7,343 have recovered. 

A shelter-in-place order, mask mandate, daily curfews and weekend lockdowns remain in effect on the Navajo Nation.

Ski Santa Fe Sells Out Its 2,900 Passes In Under 10 Hours - KOB-TV, Associated Press

It's not even winter yet, but Ski Santa Fe has sold out of its nearly 3,000 passes. 

KOB-TV reports that the ski passes were gone in less than 10 hours Monday. 

Ski Santa Fe general manager Ben Abruzzo says they put 2,900 different reservation-based passes on sale at midnight. All of them were sold by 10 a.m. Monday. 

In a typical season, Ski Santa Fe sells close to 6,000 season passes over a few months. 

Abruzzo says state officials finalized ski areas' coronavirus-safe plans Monday. Some of those plans include limiting ski lift capacity to 25%. 

Abruzzo says those who missed out on buying a season pass at Ski Santa Fe will still have other options, including an online reservation system.

Lift tickets can still be purchased after Ski Santa Fe announces their opening date, but people will have to check in advance to make sure all the reservations haven't been claimed, Abruzzo told KOB.

Schools Allege Overreach By New Mexico Education Secretary - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

A group of New Mexico school districts argue in a lawsuit that the Public Education Department is overstepping its authority during the pandemic.

From forcing children without the internet to learn remotely to commandeering toilet paper for child care centers, they say the education department's mandates exceed the powers laid out in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's emergency health order to deal with COVID-19.

A number of the school districts represented in the lawsuit are on or near the Navajo Nation, where stakes are high for in-person learning. The region was hit hard early in the pandemic. Now its students, around half of whom cannot connect to the internet, are struggling to keep up with school.

An injunction in the case could severely limit the education department's ability to implement what state officials describe as a science-based process of limiting risk in schools.

A ruling against the education department could require the governor to explicitly include each detail in its public health order, or submit to a lengthy rule-making process.

It's the latest lawsuit aimed at limiting the power of the executive branch to use health orders to direct decisions in public education. Another recent lawsuit filed in a New Mexico district court argues the state's orders violate federal protections for disabled students.

New Mexico Governor Urged To Take Stand Against Nuclear Plan - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Environmentalists and other watchdog groups are calling on New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to create a government agency that would be tasked with keeping the state from becoming a permanent dumping ground for spent nuclear fuel and other high-level waste.

Dozens of groups have sent a letter to the Democratic governor. They pointed to Nevada's success in mothballing the Yucca Mountain waste repository project and asked the governor to consider similar measures to protect New Mexico.

In comments recently submitted to federal regulators, state officials opposed a preliminary recommendation that a license be granted to Holtec International to build a multibillion-dollar storage facility in southeastern New Mexico.

The first phase of the project calls for storing up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium, which would be packed into 500 canisters. Future expansion could make room for as many as 10,000 canisters of spent nuclear fuel.

Holtec has said the site in New Mexico — about 35 miles from Carlsbad — is remote and geologically stable. The company also has said the four-layer casks that would hold the spent fuel would be made of steel and lead and transported on a guarded train.