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WED: High Court May Review Native Adoptions Cases, Bob Odenkirk Back On Set, + More

Chris Pizzello
Associated Press
Bob Odenkirk is back shooting “Better Call Saul," in New Mexico six weeks after having a heart attack. ";

Bob Odenkirk Is Back Shooting "Better Call Saul," Six Weeks After Having A Heart Attack – Associated Press

Odenkirk on Wednesday tweeted a photo of himself getting made up to play title character Saul Goodman in the AMC series, indicating that shooting had resumed on its sixth and final season.

"Back to work on Better Call Saul!" Odenkirk said. "So happy to be here and living this specific life surrounded by such good people. BTW this is makeup pro Cheri Montesanto making me not ugly for shooting!"

The 58-year-old Odenkirk had what he later called a "small heart attack" and collapsed on the show's set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on July 27.

Odenkirk has been nominated for four Emmys for playing luckless lawyer Jimmy McGill, who becomes increasingly corrupt and adopts the pseudonym Saul Goodman, the "criminal lawyer" who appeared in dozens of episodes of "Breaking Bad" before getting his own spin-off.

Both shows were shot in, and mostly set in, New Mexico.

Tribes, States Seek Review Of Native Child Adoptions CaseAssociated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to review a case that centers on whether Native Americans should receive preference in adoptions of Native children.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a sharply divided ruling in April over the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. The law gives Native American families priority in foster care and adoption proceedings involving Native children, and places reporting and other requirements on states.

The appeals court upheld the law and Congress' authority to enact it.

But the judges invalidated some of the law's placement preferences, including for Native American families and Native foster homes, saying they violate equal protection rights under the Constitution.

The court also ruled that some of the law's provisions unconstitutionally control the duties of state officials in adoption matters.

Now, four petitions are seeking review. They ask the U.S. Supreme Court to decipher the complex ruling that had multiple partial dissents and partially concurring opinions. On some issues, a majority of the appeals court agreed. On others, the court tied, meaning the original decision from a U.S. District Court in Texas on the issues prevailed. The appeals court ruling on the issues isn't considered precedential.

The states of Texas, Louisiana, Indiana and seven individuals — three non-Native couples and the biological mother of a Native American child that was adopted by a non-Native family — want the law thrown out. The children are enrolled or potentially could be enrolled as Navajo or Cherokee, White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

The district court sided with the states and individuals who argued the Indian Child Welfare Act was unconstitutional because it was racially motivated and violates the Equal Protection Clause.

A panel of the 5th Circuit disagreed with the lower court. The majority of the court agreed to rehear the case and upheld the determination that the law is based on the political relationship between federally recognized tribes and the U.S. government, not race.

The lead defendant — the U.S. Department of the Interior — and a handful of Native American tribes are asking the Supreme Court to determine whether the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the law's placement preferences. They've long championed the law as a way to protect Native American families and their cultures and want it kept wholly intact.

The case is the most significant challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act since it was passed in 1978. Studies have shown that before then, up to one-third of Native American children were being taken from their homes by private and state agencies, including church-run programs, and placed with mostly white families or in boarding schools in attempts to assimilate them.

Rival Congresswomen Greet Afghan Refugees At New Mexico Base -  Morgan Lee,  Associated Press

Some incoming Afghan refugees were greeted by two members of New Mexico's all-female U.S. House delegation, from opposite ends of the political spectrum, at Holloman Air Force Base.

Afghans evacuated in recent days by the American military are largely being processed at U.S. government facilities across the country, including Holloman outside Alamogordo and nearby Fort Bliss in westernmost Texas, before going to resettlement agencies that will determine their final destinations.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury of Albuquerque said Wednesday she felt fortunate to meet at Holloman with an Afghan interpreter who is seeking refuge in the U.S. with a wife and two children, as well as a support group for women seeking asylum in the U.S.

"As these families transition into American life, there are different gender norms here in the U.S. That'll be part of the journey as well," Stansbury said of the Tuesday tour of the air base.

Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell recounted her contact with a plane load of about 150 evacuees from Afghanistan as they arrived at Holloman. She said the base is expecting to accommodate 5,000 refugees by Friday.

"They had just landed, so obviously I'm interacting with them," said Herrell, an Alamogordo resident. "The first thing that happens ... they get refreshment, water, food and then they go to a quick medical screening."

Herrell and Stansbury were accompanied at the base on Tuesday by an Air Force general, a Homeland Security coordinator and State Department official.

Herrell expressed a combination of pride in the humanitarian effort toward resettlement — and trepidation over security vetting procedures for refugees.

"To see a humanitarian effort take shape in this capacity, it touches my heart and it truly makes me proud to be an American," she said.

She described "Herculean" efforts by contractors and military personnel to set up tents with living quarters, including private spaces to accommodate individual families, and provide medical care including COVID-19 testing.

"My biggest concern is the vetting process" for asylum-seekers, Herrell said. "And we pressed the general yesterday on these issues."

Lawyers representing refugees and special immigrant visa holders say the wait time for approval is at least two years while background checks and interviews are conducted.

Herrell says she worries Afghan refugees won't all go through that process, and that U.S. doesn't have access to enough reliable data on Afghan nationals. She opposes any artificial deadlines for security vetting.

Stansbury called those concerns political "talking points," and says she is confortable with the vetting process at multiple stages in the resettlement process.

"They're not based on the reality of what our armed services and the State Department and the FBI and others are doing to make sure that the people that we helped to evacuate were people that were allies ... people that qualify for resettlement and services here in the U.S.," she said.

Herrell said her concerns about proper vetting do not signal disapproval of resettlement efforts.

"The refugees that are coming here seeking safety and looking for a new way of life, certainly they want to be protected also," Herrell said. "There needs to be a more robust vetting process at these facilities where they're stopping before they come to America."

New Mexico has a new slate of first-term representatives in Congress.

In 2018, Herrell flipped New Mexico's southern District 2 seat to Republican control while embracing then-President Donald Trump's border wall strategy and espousing a pro-petroleum philosophy in a major U.S. oil-production hub.

Stansbury won a special election in June on a progressive political platform to fill the former congressional seat of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has offered New Mexico as a ready participant in efforts to assist with Afghan refugees seeking asylum.

Police: Officer In Anti-Abortion Ad 'Against His Wishes' - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press / Report For America

A New Mexico police officer who adopted a child from a pregnant woman he found using heroin in what has been held up as an alternative to abortion is pictured in uniform on an anti-abortion billboard without his permission, his superiors say.

Albuquerque Police Officer Ryan Holets appears on a billboard along an interstate that runs through the city, along with the words "My favorite right is life."

The images include two of him holding his daughters, including one daughter he adopted from a couple he found shooting heroin while on patrol in 2017. Holets also helped raise money to find housing for girl's biological parents while they completed a drug rehabilitation program in 2018.

The heroin-using woman was pregnant at the time Holets found her, and she agreed to give up the girl for adoption after the birth.

Anti-abortion activists have held up Holets' adoption of the girl as an alternative to abortion, including the grandmother of his other daughter, Ethel Maharg.

She is the executive director of Right to Life New Mexico, the anti-abortion group that used his image on the billboard.

The Albuquerque Police Department says Holets declined the group permission to use the image of him in uniform because it would violate policy.

"The group used the images anyway, without permission and contrary to the wishes of a police officer who has distinguished himself for his integrity," police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.

"That's not true," Maharg told local TV station KRQE in an edited interview. "Officer Holets never told me that I couldn't."

It's unclear who took the photos, which are used without attribution on a number of anti-abortion websites.

"I think they came from Ethel or from the New Mexico Right to Life," said Albuquerque Pastor Dewey Moede, who used them in a blog post last year.

Holets has participated in political rallies and even spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention, but he did not wear a uniform or badge.

Gallegos, the police spokesmen, said he hadn't seen the images on the partisan blog posts, and he couldn't immediately say if they violated department policy.

Maharg did not return messages left with her staff Wednesday, who said she was traveling. A staff member said her comments to the television station lacked context, but declined to send a copy of the interview she said she had recorded.

Hopis To Narrow Candidates For Tribal Chairman In Primary -Associated Press

Hopis are voting Thursday to narrow down the list of candidates for tribal chairman.

Tim Nuvangyaoma is seeking a second, consecutive term in the post. He faces David Norton Talayumptewa, a member of the Tribal Council and former U.S. Bureau of Indian Education official, whom he beat in the 2017 general election.

Former Vice Chairman Alfred Lomaquahu Jr. and Andrew Qumyintewa also are running for chairman.

The top two finishers move on to the Nov. 11 general election. Both candidates for tribal vice chairman, incumbent Clark Tenakhongva and Craig Andrews, automatically move on to the general election.

Polls on the reservation in northeastern Arizona will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thousands of Hopis are eligible to vote in the primary election.

Karen Shupla, who heads the tribe's elections office, said more than 200 people already have voted early.

The Hopi chairman and vice chairman run separately. Much of their authority comes from the Tribal Council, which functions like a city government. The chairman presides over meetings but doesn't vote except to break a tie.

New Mexico Plots Greater Spending, From Tuition To Medicaid – Morgan Lee, Associated Press

An expansion of nonmerit scholarships to college and greater spending to safeguard abandoned oil wells in New Mexico are among the governor's new spending priorities, amid a windfall in state income linked to federal pandemic relief and petroleum production.

September marks the outset of the Legislature’s grueling budget writing process for the year beginning on July 1, 2022.

Several executive agencies overseen by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are making the case for expanded services. Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said Tuesday that the inclination is to “aim high” and “make the most of the opportunity we have to finish the work of rebuilding state government services after so many years of forced austerity.”

The Human Services Department is suggesting a $100 million spending increase on Medicaid and related mental health services alone, for total annual general fund spending of $1.26 billion on the program.

State income for the coming fiscal year is expected to outpace routine annual spending obligations by $1.4 billion, or 19% of annual general fund spending obligations.

That leaves lawmakers more money than ever before to spend on education, roads, public safety and other government programs.

Detailed spending targets from the Legislature's lead budget writing committee — geared toward programs with efficient and measurable outcomes — are still months away from publication.

The state agency that oversees oilfield permits and cleanup activities says its $82 million budget proposal would increase capacity for on-site inspections and plug more orphan oil and natural gas wells. It was allotted less than $70 million for the current budget year ending June 30, 2022.

The Environment Department is seeking a $7.1 million increase in general fund spending, a roughly 45% increase over current year spending of $16 million. The funds would help the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector by implementing new fuel efficiency standards and boosting hydrogen infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles that have no tailpipe emissions, the Environment Department said in a statement.

Environmental regulators also are under pressure to expand food safety oversight to cannabis infused products known as edibles, as the state legalizes recreational cannabis sales by April 1, 2022.

The Human Services Department says its suggested Medicaid spending increases will bring in $6.1 billion to the state in annual federal matching funds.

Post-partum Medicaid benefits would extend for one year after childbirth, up from six months. More than 70% of births in New Mexico are covered by Medicaid insurance for people living in poverty or on the cusp.

Statewide Medicaid enrollment has grown by more than 100,000 people since the outset of the pandemic in March 2020. About 44% of the population relies on Medicaid and the related Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Some lawmakers have warned that federal recovery aid won’t be around forever, urging colleagues to increase the state’s reserves to guard against future budget shortfalls.

State higher education officials say they are seeking a $48 million appropriation to the governor's “opportunity scholarship” initiative that kicks in after other grants and scholarship to help attain tuition-free college. That would more than double current appropriations.

Police Arrest 1, Seeking 1 In Las Cruces Fatal Shooting – Associated Press

Police have arrested a 28-year-old suspect in a fatal shooting last month in Las Cruces and are asking for the public’s help in locating a second suspect.

Las Cruces police said Tuesday they arrested Hector Victor Calderon on Saturday and charged him with one count of open murder, two counts of conspiracy and one count of tampering with evidence in the killing of 40-year-old Ezekiel Diaz on Aug. 16.

They have issued an arrest warrant on the same charges for a 29-year-old man, who they warned Tuesday may be armed and should be considered dangerous.

Police said they believe the second suspect was driving and Calderon was a passenger in a gray Toyota Corolla that pulled alongside Diaz’s sport utility vehicle just before the shooting on Lohman Avenue east of downtown near Interstate 25.

Diaz died from a single gunshot wound to the chest. A preliminary investigation indicates Diaz and another suspect had an ongoing dispute and were in at least one previous confrontation, police said.

They located the suspect’s Corolla at a motel the following day. It's not clear if Calderon has a lawyer.

New Mexico Police Probe Officer-Involving Fatal Shooting – Associated Press

New Mexico State Police said Tuesday they are investigating the fatal shooting of a 46-year-old suspect who fired at a SWAT team during a standoff with Albuquerque police.

The victim who fired multiple shots at officers responding to a domestic violence call at a residence in Moriarty Monday night was identified as Cimmeron Christy of Moriarty. He was pronounced dead at the scene from his injuries sometime after 10 p.m. Monday.

No deputies or officers were injured during the incident. State police, Torrance County sheriff's deputies and an Albuquerque Police Department SWAT team were attempting to negotiate a peaceful surrender when Christy fired the shots toward the officers and they returned fire, police said Tuesday.

“The New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau agents are working to independently determine the series of events leading to the shooting, including collecting evidence and conducting interviews,” the bureau said in a statement.

The name of the officer involved won’t be released until interviews are completed. The results of the investigation will be given to the district attorney’s office for review, the bureau said.

Latest Draft Of New Mexico Oil, Gas Rules Stirs Tension – Associated Press

Advocates for the oil and gas industry and the environment are at odds over the latest draft of proposed regulations to tamp down on smog-causing pollution.

A New Mexico Environment Department panel will hear the agency’s proposed new rules, which some see as putting the state’s budget and hundreds of jobs at risk, at a hearing later this month, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

Don Schreiber, whose ranch home near Blanco encompasses both Rio Arriba and San Juan counties, has been following and documenting the pollution issue surrounding regional oil and gas drilling for nearly two decades. He has lobbied for strict industry emissions regulations at the state and federal level.

“Oil companies can choose to capture methane without a regulation,” Schreiber said. “It’s common sense. But it’s also about the bottom line.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's executive order on climate change calls for state environmental regulators to come up with ways to cut emissions from the gas and oil industries.

Environmentalists like Schreiber think the tentative new regulations may not go far enough. He thinks they still have exceptions for emissions when it comes to re-drilling or completing wells.

“This is a brittle landscape,” Schreiber said. “I can go to well locations that have been closed for 15 years, and I can tell you exactly where it was. It just doesn’t heal.”

Under the proposal, professional engineers would review and validate emissions data calculated by oil and gas operators. There would also be an increase in inspections of equipment for leaks and other issues.

“We can’t wait for our ozone levels to get worse,” state Environment Secretary James Kenney said. “We have an unlevel playing field between industry and the government right now.”

The state department estimates the rules would slash ozone-forming pollutants by about 129,000 tons annually, and also reduce about 425,000 tons of methane.

JoAnna Strother, the American Lung Association’s senior advocacy director, said the state of the air quality in the region has to change. The group gave failing grades to five New Mexico counties for ozone pollution.

“We need to see air quality standards get tightened up so we really can be protected,” Strother said. “We still have a ways to go before we make sure we’re breathing cleaner, healthier air.”

New Mexico's oil and gas companies have already expressed reservations through written feedback. Ryan Davis, the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico president and operations manager of Merrion Oil & Gas Corp. in Farmington, said the rule doesn't seem fairly balanced if you're a smaller operator.

“The requirement of having certification by a qualified professional engineer is not appropriate and creates an unnecessary burden to operators,” Davis wrote as part of the Petroleum Association’s 200-page testimony and recommendations. He thinks it would be fine to let operator's in-house engineers certify data.

Davis also has objected to phasing out certain pneumatic control devices because replacing equipment like that would be a hefty price tag for some operators.

If the new rules were to pass, they could go into effect by March.

New Mexico Rep. Herrell Seeks Reassurance On Afghan Refugees – Associated Press

A Republican congresswoman is seeking more information on the vetting process for Afghan refugees and emphasizing security concerns as she embarks on a tour of resettlement operations at an Air Force base on the outskirts of her home town in southern New Mexico.

U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell was scheduled Tuesday for a tour of the resettlement operations at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo.

“For weeks Rep. Herrell has insisted upon Congressional oversight following Joe Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan,” spokesman Billy Gribbin said in an email. “Rep. Herrell believes that New Mexicans deserve transparency in a process that has been clouded by the Biden administration’s incompetence thus far.”

In a commitment to help people who aided the American war effort and others who are particularly vulnerable under Taliban rule, at least 50,000 Afghans are expected to be admitted into the United States following the fall of Kabul.

Most of the Afghans who have arrived in the U.S. are being housed on military bases, receiving medical treatment, assistance with submitting immigration applications and other services aimed at helping them settle in the country.

Similar resettlement efforts are underway at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Lee in Virginia, Joint Base McGuire–Dix–Lakehurst in New Jersey, Fort Pickett in Virginia and other military facilities.

The Department of Homeland Security said last week that tens of thousands of Afghans already have made it through security vetting and arrived in the U.S.

In 2018, Herrell flipped New Mexico's southern District 2 seat to Republican control while embracing then-President Donald Trump’s border wall strategy and espousing a pro-petroleum philosophy in a major U.S. oil-production hub.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has offered New Mexico as a ready participant in efforts to assist with Afghan refugees seeking asylum.

Gribbin said the congresswoman also intends to review the living conditions for Afghan nationals brought to New Mexico.