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FRI: Lawmakers Consider Subsidies For College Tuition, Cowboys For Trump Founder Released, + More

Central New Mexico Community College


New Mexico Legislature Considers College Tuition Funding By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

State Senators are considering a bill to provide $30 million in subsidies for attendees of two-year colleges and a pilot program to help college dropouts finish their degrees.

Of that, $26 million would be drawn from the general fund to support students of two-year colleges through the Opportunity Scholarship. The scholarship covers tuition and fees before federal funding is awarded.

Stephanie Rodriguqez, acting secretary of the New Mexico Higher Education Department, says in an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal  that allows students "the option to apply other financial aid they receive, such as federal Pell grants, to other expenses that often stand in the way of attaining a degree."

Colleges around the country have seen declining enrollment during the pandemic as students struggle to afford tuition, and university officials in New Mexico have feared fewer students will attend fall classes.

A hearing for the bill, SB 135, had been scheduled for Friday but was postponed to next week.

As written, it also allocates $4 million from the general fund for a pilot project to support Lottery Scholarship students who have left four-year colleges without finishing their degrees.

The Lottery Scholarship covered around $4,500 in tuition costs for New Mexicans in the current school year or about half the cost of attending the University of New Mexico. The award was 100% in the past.

The Opportunity Scholarship was conceived of last year before the pandemic at a time when state oil revenue was high and Democratic presidential politics drew attention to the idea of free college for all students in two-year and four-year colleges.

Cowboys For Trump Leader Released From Jail Pending Trial - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., is freeing from jail Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin as he awaits trial in connection with the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Beryle Howell on Friday reversed a magistrate judge's detention order and released Griffin to his home in New Mexico pending trial on charges of knowingly entering barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent to disrupt government as Congress considered Electoral College results.

Howell said that denying pre-trial release might leave Griffin in jail for longer than the one-year maximum sentence amid pandemic-related court delays.

Griffin denies federal charges that he knowingly entering barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent to disrupt government as Congress considered Electoral College results.

Griffin is banned from visiting Washington outside of court proceedings, must surrender his passport and must not possess a firearm.

More than 150 people have been charged in federal court with crimes following the Jan. 6 riot.

In releasing Griffin, the judge said she weighed Griffin's unrepentant appearance among the riotous crowd at the Capitol and vows to return and plant a flag on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk against his apparently candid subsequent interactions with the FBI and no obvious disdain toward the judiciary. She noted repeatedly that Griffin on Jan. 6 did not carry weapons, commit violence or enter the U.S. Capitol.

Griffin, an elected commissioner in Otero County, has led the Cowboys for Trump group in horseback parades through cities across the country in support of Donald Trump.

Colleagues on the Otero County commission have called on Griffin to resign in the aftermath of the Capitol siege.

State election regulators recently sued Griffin over his refusal to register Cowboys for Trump as a political group as agreed upon in arbitration. Griffin says the group is a for-profit business and that he worries about contributors being identified and harassed.

Wild Horse Hit, Killed Along Highway Near Navajo NationGallup Independent, Associated Press

Authorities and residents on the Navajo Nation have raised concerns about a herd of wild horses that have been grazing along a highway for several days before one was fatally hit by a driver last month.

The Gallup Independent reported that Navajo Police joined residents to chase the remaining horses back to the mountains in the Red Rock Chapter area.

Authorities say the horse was struck by a vehicle driving on New Mexico Highway 602 on Jan. 28.

Shane Thom, a 30-year-old New Mexico resident who was visiting family nearby, expressed concerns over the horses and the drivers along the highway, calling the animals a "safety hazard."

Virus Outbreaks Stoke Tensions In Some State Capitols - By David A. Lieb, Associated Press

Tensions are running high in some state capitols over coronavirus precautions after this year's legislative sessions began with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

The Associated Press has tallied at least 40 state lawmakers in roughly one-third of the states who already have fallen ill with the virus this year. More than 330 state lawmakers have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Most of the tensions are in Republican-controlled statehouses, where Democrats have been raising concerns about GOP colleagues who don't wear masks or practice social distancing.

But some Republicans also are pushing back against statehouse restrictions in Democratic-led legislatures.

In New Mexico's Democratic-led Legislature, House Speaker Brian Egolf excluded nearly all lawmakers from floor sessions and closed conference rooms after a Republican lawmaker and several staff tested positive for COVID-19. He cast partisan blame, saying members of the Republican Party were not following safe COVID practices.

House Republican leaders have asked the state Supreme Court to intervene, arguing the pandemic precautions go far beyond what's necessary to protect public health.

New Mexico Health Exchange Schedules 3-Month Open Enrollment - Associated Press

Managers of New Mexico's health insurance exchange have scheduled a special open enrollment period from Feb. 15 through May 15 in response to a federal mandate from President Joe Biden.

Nearly 43,000 residents of New Mexico rely on the marketplace for health insurance, with the promise of federal subsidies for consumers with low and moderate incomes who make too much to qualify for Medicaid.

State health exchange CEO Jeffery Bustamante said Thursday that the new open enrollment period provides a unique and streamlined opportunity for people to purchase health insurance amid the pandemic. Coverage is available to people who don't have job-based health insurance.

Open enrollment typically takes place only in November and December at the insurance exchange known as beWellnm

There are five insurance carriers that offer coverage in every county in the state.

State legislators are considering a proposal to expand subsidies to the state's health insurance exchange through a state surtax on insurance premiums. Those proposed subsidies would not take effect until 2023.

New Mexico residents have flocked to Medicaid health care, with 43% enrollment statewide as of November as the coronavirus wreaks economic havoc. Newcomers can stay on Medicaid for an extended period even as they regain employment under temporary provisions related to the pandemic.

State health officials Friday reported 589 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 176,793.

That included 14 new cases among New Mexico Corrections inmates at the Lea County Correctional Facility and one case at the Roswell Correctional Center.

There was at last one positive COVID-019 case in residents and/or staff in the past month at 88 long-term care facilities.

There were also 23 more deaths. That pushed the total number of deaths of New Mexico residents related to COVID-19 to 3,378.

New Mexico State Police Officer Shot And Killed On HighwayAssociated Press

Authorities say a New Mexico State Police officer making a traffic stop was fatally shot on a highway and that the attacker was chased and later died in a shootout with authorities.

The officer who was killed Thursday has been identified as Darian Jarrott. He had been a state police officer since 2015.

The attacker was identified by authorities as 39-year-old Omar Felix Cueva. The state police have said Jarrott was assisting U.S. Homeland Security Investigations on Thursday.

Various shooting scenes extended for about 40 miles.

The state police statement did not indicate whether the traffic stop was related to Jarrott's providing assistance to Homeland Security. But New Mexico State Police Chief Robert Thornton told reporters that Cueva was on his way to Las Cruces to do a drug deal.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered all flags at state buildings lowered to half-staff from Friday to Tuesday in honor of Jarrott.

New Mexico State Police Say Officer Shot, Killed On Highway - KVIA-TV, Associated Press

Officials say a New Mexico State Police officer was fatally shot on a highway Thursday and authorities chased the attacker, killing him in a shootout. 

KVIA-TV El Paso reports the officer who was killed has been identified as 28-year-old Darian Jarrott. Authorities also released the name of the attacker who was killed, 39-year-old Omar Felix Cueva. 

State Police said one of its officers was shot in Luna County between Las Cruces and Deming in a confrontation along Interstate 10 in southern New Mexico.

They said multiple agencies then pursued the suspect's vehicle to the Las Cruces area before there was an exchange of gunfire. 

The suspect was killed and a Las Cruces police officer was shot.

The officer was taken to a hospital in El Paso with injuries that were not life-threatening, according to Las Cruces police spokesman Danny Trujillo.

State Police had said they had limited information and two separate shooting scenes 30 miles apart to investigate.

The Las Cruces Police Department closed the interstate near the shooting scene and told drivers to use a different route until the investigation has been completed.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered all flags at state buildings lowered to half-staff from Friday to Tuesday to honor the State Police officer killed in the line of duty.

New Mexico Teachers Union Opposes Extending School Year - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press/Report For America

New Mexico's largest teachers union is opposing legislation that would extend the school year to make up for learning that was lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

Children are facing unprecedented setbacks amid online instruction, and court rulings are pressuring state leaders to improve student outcomes, which were some of the worst in the nation even before the virus hit.

Two programs offer state funding to extend elementary school calendars by 25 days and upper grades by 10 days. Teachers, who are normally unpaid during summer months, effectively get a 6% to 14% raise when they participate.

Union leaders and lawmakers agree that extended learning is good for students. But only a third of school districts participated in the programs in the 2019-2020 school year.

During the pandemic, participation fell even further among elementary school programs, leaving over $100 million allocated by the Legislature unused.

School officials say teachers often don't want to work the extra days and cite staffing as the primary challenge to offering the extended learning.

Union leaders say their members need a break after a stressful year and don't want districts cutting into vacation time.

Other union officials say the extended learning requirements could hurt teacher retention, especially among those who aren't tied to New Mexico.

Teachers are prioritized for vaccines, and some received them in January, including the entire staff of a small private school in Santa Fe.

But clinics for teacher vaccines at large public schools were canceled later in the month due to supply constraints and miscommunications with health officials.

Legislative research reports indicate that learning loss during the pandemic could range from five to 12 months depending on students' vulnerability. Those without secure housing and rural children lacking solid internet access are some of the most at risk.

Albuquerque School District Delays Vote On School Reopenings Associated Press

The largest school district in New Mexico has delayed the vote on how to move forward with schools reopening, and it has planned to revisit the discussion at a coming meeting.

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education met Wednesday to discuss a plan presented by Interim Superintendent Scott Elder that would have allowed kids to return in phases starting Feb. 22.

Elder is now expected to present a different plan that would likely focus on small groups of students. The district's next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 17.

Meanwhile, New Mexico health officials reported 565 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 17 more deaths Thursday, raising the state's totals to 176,211 cases and 3,355 deaths since the pandemic started.

The state Department of Health has said K-12 school employees are currently ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine unless they are in another priority subgroup.

The Albuquerque Teachers Federation union, which represents about 6,000 employees, called for in-person learning to be voluntary for staff until vaccines are widely available.

A county will be considered "green" or at medium risk, if it has a COVID-19 test positivity rate of 5% or less and fewer than eight newly confirmed cases a day per 100,000 residents.

Navajo Nation Hosting A Memorial For Late Tribal President - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation is hosting a memorial event to honor the memory of former tribal president Albert Hale. 

Tribal officials say the 70-year-old Hale died Tuesday because of complications from COVID-19.  

Friday's event will be streamed live online and aired live on a Navajo language radio station. 

Hale served as the Navajo Nation's president from 1995 to 1998 and was in the Arizona Legislature, where he served in the Senate from 2004 to 2011 and in the House from 2011 to 2017. 

To honor Hale, tribal President Jonathan Nez has called for flags to be flown at half-staff through Saturday on the vast reservation that covers parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Navajo Nation Reports 110 New COVID-19 Cases, 9 More DeathsAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Thursday reported 110 new COVID-19 cases and nine more deaths.

The latest numbers raised the totals to 28,668 cases and 1,047 known deaths since the pandemic began. The tribe has tribe extended its stay-at-home order with a revised nightly curfew to limit the spread of COVID-19.  

The Navajo Department of Health has identified 56 communities with uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus, down from 75 communities in recent weeks.

The Navajo Nation also is lifting weekend lockdowns to allow more vaccination events. The actions in the latest public health emergency order will run through at least Feb. 15.