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KUNM News Update

MON: Mandatory vaccine requirement may be coming for APD/AFD, + more

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APD and AFD might be lining up to get vaccines if a new mandate via an amendment to the city's public health declaration goes through at tonight's city council meeting.

New Mexico city to consider vaccine mandate for police, fire—Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Police officers and first responders in New Mexico's largest city would be ordered to get vaccinated against COVID-19 under a proposed amendment to the city's emergency public health declaration. 

Elected officials in Albuquerque already have acknowledged that the police force and the fire and rescue department have been overburdened even before the start of the pandemic with persistent violent crime, skyrocketing homelessness and other calls. It was expected that the measure scheduled to be introduced during Monday's City Council meeting would get a chilly response from union membership. 

The sponsor of the measure, Democratic City Councilor Isaac Benton, did not answer questions ahead of Monday's meeting about the potential effects or how the city could fill any gaps in emergency services that would likely result. Democratic Mayor Tim Keller, who is running for reelection, did not immediately say Monday if he would support the amendment.

The push for mandatory vaccines among public safety workers in Albuquerque comes as police and firefighter unions as well as individual officers and first responders across the U.S. are pushing back by filing lawsuits to block mandates. 

In Seattle, the police department was forced to send detectives and non-patrol officers to emergency calls last week because of a shortage of patrol officers that union leaders fear will become worse because of vaccine mandates. In Chicago, union officials said more than 3,000 officers were refusing that city's mandate, with union leaders saying it was illegal because the city failed to negotiate the terms with the union.

There also have been protests by health care workers about similar mandates within their professions, and dozens of scientists, researchers and other workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory — the birthplace of the atomic bomb — also are suing over the lab's vaccine mandate.

The language of Albuquerque's proposed amendment states that the pandemic is a unique crisis that continues to spread through New Mexico and that city employees who become sick can't adequately perform their duties, which disrupts the orderly operation of the city government.

Many officers and first responders have questioned the purpose of the mandates, noting that they worked throughout the pandemic under the same conditions and shouldn't be forced to get shots now, even as the number of cases is far fewer than during the peak.

In New Mexico, health officials have said COVID-19 cases have plateaued but they are still concerned about the level of community spread.

About 72% of adults in the state are fully vaccinated but that percentage hasn't changed much in recent weeks.

Albuquerque's vaccine requirement would apply to all city public safety workers. If an exemption is granted, the worker would have to provide proof of negative COVID-19 testing every week.

The mandate would take effect no later than three weeks after approval. The council could vote as soon as mid-November. 

A vaccine mandate was imposed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this year for all state workers. Meanwhile, Bernalillo County officials have said they did not plan to require vaccines, pointing to staffing concerns.

New Mexico clears way for hospitals to ration care if needed—Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico on Monday cleared the way for hospitals to ration care if necessary, saying the state's health care system has yet to see a reprieve as the nursing shortage continues and as many patients with non-COVID-19 illnesses and those who have delayed care over the last year are now filling hospital beds.

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said hospitals already have been juggling patients with fewer resources since the pandemic began, and the order he signed sets up an "equitable procedure" for making tough decisions. 

Hospitals can suspend procedures that aren't medically necessary if they don't have capacity, he said, explaining that some patients could see delays in care depending on which hospitals have to invoke crisis standards of care and for how long. Individual providers will be deciding what procedures are necessary.

Officials during a briefing shared maps that showed even the state's most populated area had only two available intensive care beds.

"We're in tough shape in New Mexico," Scrase said, adding that enacting crisis standards doesn't mean people should not seek care.

State officials also pushed for more people to either get vaccinated or get their booster shots, as the rate in New Mexico continues to hover just below 72%. About 5% of adults in the state have received booster shots.

There is a proposal being introduced in Albuquerque that would require the city's police officers and first responders to be vaccinated or face termination. Those with exemptions would be required to show proof of negative COVID-19 testing every week. 

Elected officials in New Mexico's largest city already have acknowledged that the police force and the fire and rescue department have been overburdened even before the start of the pandemic with persistent violent crime, skyrocketing homelessness and other calls. Union members were expected to voice opposition to the measure.

The sponsor of the measure, Democratic City Councilor Isaac Benton, did not answer questions ahead of Monday's council meeting about the potential effects or how the city could fill any gaps in emergency services that would likely result. 

Mayor Tim Keller's office issued a statement Monday, saying the city actively encourages vaccination for all who are eligible and has made getting tested and vaccinated as accessible as possible. The office also noted that a number of state and federal laws need to be considered when passing or implementing such a mandate and that the city's legal department is reviewing it.

The push for mandatory vaccines among public safety workers in Albuquerque comes as police and firefighter unions as well as individual officers and first responders across the U.S. are fighting back by filing lawsuits to block mandates. 

In Seattle, the police department was forced to send detectives and non-patrol officers to emergency calls last week because of a shortage of patrol officers that union leaders fear will become worse because of vaccine mandates. In Chicago, union officials said more than 3,000 officers were refusing that city's mandate, with union leaders saying it was illegal because the city failed to negotiate the terms with the union.

There also have been protests by health care workers about mandates within their professions, and dozens of scientists, researchers and other workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory — the birthplace of the atomic bomb — also are suing over the lab's vaccine mandate.

Albuquerque's proposal would add the vaccine requirement to the city's emergency declaration. The proposed amendment states that the pandemic is a unique crisis that continues to spread through New Mexico and that city employees who become sick can't adequately perform their duties, which disrupts the orderly operation of the city government.

Many officers and first responders have questioned the purpose of the mandates, noting that they worked throughout the pandemic under the same conditions and shouldn't be forced to get shots now.

The mandate for Albuquerque's public safety workers would take effect no later than three weeks after approval. The council could vote as soon as mid-November. 

A vaccine mandate was imposed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this year for all state workers. Meanwhile, Bernalillo County officials have said they did not plan to require vaccines, pointing to staffing concerns.

Victims express frustration with archdiocese bankruptcy case—Associated Press

It's been nearly three years since the Archdiocese of Santa Fe filed for bankruptcy, and letters sent to a federal judge reflect impatience with the pace of the proceedings. 

At least 16 letters have gone to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Thuma since the case began, with most being sent by the same few people. Still, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the letters appear to give a voice to victims or the relatives of victims as the case drags on.

One letter sent three months ago reads: "Nothing is happening! Victims are frustrated with the case at a standstill. Please help!!!!"

About 385 victims, most of whom suffered child sexual abuse by priests and other clergy members, are represented by numerous attorneys. Nine of the claimants make up a committee that also speaks for the victims.

The Rev. Glennon Jones, the archdiocese's vicar general, wrote on the institution's website at the end of September that the archdiocese is collecting money to pay the victims. The archdiocese also is negotiating with insurance companies, but Jones acknowledged that it "may take a while."

Ford Elsaesser, an Idaho-based bankruptcy attorney representing the archdiocese, said Thursday that the frustration of the survivors is understandable. While the ongoing work with the insurance companies is confidential, he said it's critical to the case.

Nationwide, numerous dioceses and Catholic orders have filed for bankruptcy in the sex abuse scandal. 

In New Mexico, victims' attorneys accused the archdiocese of shifting assets to parishes and trust funds ahead of the bankruptcy filing to make them inaccessible to victims. That complaint is on hold.

It's not clear how much money and insurance the archdiocese is trying to collect. Participants in the case have declined to disclose that. Thuma wrote in February that more than $150 million could be involved, and that was only for a portion of the assets victims potentially could receive.

Man convicted of Albuquerque vet's killing to be re-tried—Associated Press

The man convicted of killing a decorated Army veteran at an Albuquerque ATM in 2016 will get a new trial.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the state Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of Matthew Chavez in a ruling earlier this month.

A jury found Chavez guilty in 2018 of second-degree murder and lesser charges in 24-year-old Tyler Lackey's death. He was sentenced to more than 23 years in prison.

The Court of Appeals found the judge overseeing the trial should not have rejected a request to instruct jurors they could consider a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. 

Second Judicial District Attorney Raul Torrez's office slammed the ruling.

"This decision turns the roles of the criminal and the victim upside down and we encourage the Attorney General to ask the New Mexico Supreme Court to reinstate the jury's verdict," spokeswoman Lauren Rodriguez said in a statement. 

In February 2016, investigators say Lackey and a friend stopped by the ATM and Chavez tried to rob Lackey. The Army veteran, who had a concealed-carry permit, took out a handgun and followed a retreating Chavez. 

Defense attorneys argued Chavez shot Lackey in self-defense.

Ex-chairwoman of Grant County GOP dies in small plane crash—Associated Press

Authorities have identified a Silver City woman who died in the crash of a small plane in Gila National Forest.

New Mexico State Police said 74-year-old Linda Pecotte was pronounced dead at the scene of Friday's crash south of Reserve.

Pecotte's two passengers were injured and airlifted to a hospital. Their names, ages and conditions weren't immediately released by authorities.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday that Pecotte was a former chairwoman of the Grant County Republican Party.

An online profile showed that Pecotte was a real estate agent in Silver City at the time of her death.

State Police said officers responded around 11:15 a.m. Friday to reports of a downed airplane in the area of Sheep Basin in the southwestern New Mexico forest.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the crash.

Police: Driver fatally shot in apparent road rage incident—Associated Press

Albuquerque police say road rage apparently triggered a fatal shooting discovered when officers responded to a crash.

A car's driver was pronounced dead Friday night at a hospital where he was taken when officers discovered he had gunshot wounds, Police Department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.

According to witnesses, there were gunshots in the area and an argument involving a person in another vehicle, Gallegos said.

The investigation was ongoing and no additional information was released.

State Fair returns after pandemic hiatus but attendance down – Associated Press

Attendance at this year's New Mexico State Fair dropped by about two-fifths from the 2019 fair, the last before the 2020 event was canceled because of the pandemic.

State Fair General Manager Dan Mourning said Friday that 275,467 people attended the nine-day event from Sept. 9-19, a 41.6% decrease from the 2019 fair, which drew 472,415 visitors.

Revenue figures weren't available yet but it's likely the 2021 fair's decreased attendance generated less than the 2019 fair's revenue figure of over $5 million, he said.

The fair for 2021 instituted health safety requirements that included requiring people to show a COVID-19 vaccination card in order to enter and to wear a mask in all indoor spaces.

The restrictions led to the fair’s cancelation of the usually well-attended New Mexico Youth Livestock Expo after most of the parents of exhibitors said they would not attend.

Mourning said 425 exhibitors were originally scheduled to participate, but only 20 indicated they'd still participate after the mandates were announced.

“We couldn’t do it with just 20 people,” Mourning said. “That’s not putting on a show.”

Instead, the youth exhibitors participated in a show on private property in Roswell without the requirements.

The fair was still a success, Mourning said.

“A pleasant surprise for us was that people were spending money, the vendors and concessionaires that came out here made money,” Mourning said.

And the people attending the fair “had an amazing experience," Mourning said. “They were back out among their neighbors and in a safe environment.”

New Mexico on Friday extended its mask mandate for indoor spaces across the state, citing persistently high levels of community spread.

In extending the mask mandate, state health officials said the goal was to reduce pressure on the health care system.

A separate public health order requiring health care workers to be vaccinated remains in place. School workers also are required to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing.

Interior secretary's mother, a longtime civil servant, dies – Associated Press

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's mother, Mary Toya, a longtime civil servant and U.S. Navy veteran, has died.

Officials with the Interior Department confirmed Toya's passing Saturday but didn’t immediately release her age or cause of death.

“We celebrate Mary Toya’s long life and are grateful for her 25 years of service to Native students as a member of the Interior team within Indian Affairs," department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said in a statement.

Haaland testified during her confirmation hearing earlier this year that her mother served in the Navy, worked at the Bureau of Indian Education and raised four children as a military wife. Haaland's father, who is also deceased, was a career Marine who served in Vietnam and received the Silver Star.

“Mary spoke Keres, raised her children in a Pueblo household and passed traditional wisdom down to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Schwartz said. “Her legacy will live on in Secretary Haaland, all of her relatives and the countless Native people she inspired.”

Haaland became the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary when she took office in March. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican. She attended 13 public schools as a military child before graduating from Highland High School in Albuquerque.

Haaland, a Democrat, served as chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party from 2015 to 2017 and as U.S. representative for New Mexico’s 1st congressional district from 2019 to 2021 before becoming Interior secretary.

Groups: New Mexico needs to fund more conservation projects – Theresa Davis, Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The Land of Enchantment is home to vast forests and deserts, meandering rivers and streams and a variety of wildlife.

Now a coalition of outdoor recreation and conservation groups is pointing to an influx of federal stimulus money and a healthy state budget as funding sources for projects to protect and promote New Mexico’s natural resources.

The groups are asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to direct $65 million of the state’s remaining $1.7 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding to “shovel-ready” conservation programs and projects.

The 15 groups outlined spending priorities in a Sept. 30 letter to the governor and cabinet secretaries for the Economic Development, Finance and Administration, Environment and Energy Minerals, and Natural Resources departments.

Brittany Fallon, policy director for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, said pandemic relief money puts the state in an “unprecedented” funding position.

Economic Development Department data estimates that the outdoor recreation industry directly supports $1.2 billion in income and 33,500 jobs, and contributes $2.3 billion to the state’s GDP.

“We’re advertising all over the world for tourism to New Mexico, for people to come here and visit our places, and we’re not maintaining the trails,” Fallon told the Albuquerque Journal. “We’re not installing the trash cans that we need, we’re not doing the work we should be to conserve the places that we’re trying to make a linchpin of our economy.”

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30×30 initiative

The Biden administration announced the federal America the Beautiful and 30×30 initiative earlier this year.

The effort focuses on protecting water quality and wildlife and reducing carbon emissions on public and private lands.

Lujan Grisham’s Aug. 25 executive order mirrors that federal initiative and set a goal of conserving 30% of all lands and waters in the state by 2030.

The 30×30 initiative created a task force of state agency leaders who will “support and implement programs designed to conserve, protect and enhance lands and natural environments.”

“I believe that New Mexico is going to lead the country in 30-by-30 conservation efforts that really make a difference for generations to come,” the governor said at the executive order signing event.

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Trail projects

The coalition requests that the Outdoor Recreation Division receive $10 million for trail development grants.

The Legislature approved $500,000 for the FY2021 Trails+ program. The agency had asked lawmakers for $3.2 million.

Outdoor Recreation Division Director Axie Navas said grants help communities invest in trail signs and river access, and prevent overuse and degradation of soil and water quality.

“It’s about protecting these places, but not at the expense of people who live there, and enabling access in safe, sustainable ways,” Navas said.

In October 2020, the division awarded trail project funding to six organizations. Most of the project sites have started construction.

Grants are available for tribes, municipalities, counties, acequia associations, land grants and nonprofit organizations.

“So many of us as New Mexicans derive so much joy from these (outdoor) places and our livelihood from these places,” Navas said. “They are our classrooms and our offices. A people-centric approach has to be part of the equation.”

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Water, forests

The conservation groups are asking that a total of $25 million in ARPA funding go to forest and water projects.

Dan Roper, a Trout Unlimited angler conservation program coordinator, said those projects could create a “restoration workforce” to improve watersheds and fish habitat.

“It can be really labor intensive when you invest in all kinds of habitat restoration,” Roper said. “You can create a lot of jobs in communities.”

Adding money to state agency programs that have remained stagnant for years could help New Mexico adapt to a changing climate that threatens water quality and quantity.

“A lot of our rivers have some form of what we would call impairments or degraded habitat,” Roper said. “That may be eroded or incised stream banks or rivers that are no longer connected to their floodplains. There’s a whole host of ecological benefits that we stand to lose.”

The coalition is requesting that the money fund an EMNRD forest and watershed health program and an NMED river stewardship program.

The EMNRD program aims to manage forests in a way that prevents large wildfires and works to restore or protect rivers, streams and acequia systems from fire damage.

The NMED program addresses surface water quality and river habitat.

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Park maintenance

New Mexico’s 35 state parks see about 4.75 million visitors annually.

The coalition is requesting that the State Parks Division receive $15 million in ARPA funds to repair old infrastructure and build new facilities.

State Parks director Toby Velasquez said a funding boost would target capacity issues at high-use areas like Pecos Canyon and Fenton Lake.

“The romantic part about recreation is the campfires and the s’mores,” Velasquez said. “The by-product of that is there’s no opportunities for people to dispose of their RV waste.”

The parks director said the agency needs to adapt facilities to climate-induced threats of bigger wildfires and receding water levels.

“It’s going to take big measures for us to start to really catch up to what needs to be done, especially on properties where investment hasn’t been made in quite a few years,” Velasquez said.

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Game and Fish

Land acquisition is a key piece of the 30×30 initiative.

The coalition asks that $10 million go to New Mexico Game and Fish Department and State Parks for land acquisition projects.

Game and Fish recently bought a 7,500-acre property near Fort Sumner. The Pipkin Ranch parcel will now connect two other state properties that the agency manages as lesser prairie chicken habitat.

“Purchasing and maintaining property, such as this ranch, provides a great example of conserving wildlife habitat,” said Sharon Salazar Hickey, who chairs the state Game Commission. “To the average eye, the Pipkin Ranch might look like rolling grassland with little value, but to the lesser prairie chicken it is a chance for growth and an important conservation stronghold.”

Money from NGL Energy Partners and from fishing and hunting license sales enabled Game and Fish to buy the ranch.

The letter also requests that Game and Fish receive $5 million for habitat restoration and addressing at-risk species.

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ARPA spending

Lujan Grisham has said her administration will use $656 million in ARPA funding for the state unemployment fund.

Two lawmakers have petitioned the state Supreme Court with a challenge as to the governor’s spending authority for the remaining funding.

Governors and lawmakers in Wyoming, Michigan, Maine and New Hampshire have all either allocated or proposed spending the latest pandemic stimulus money on state parks, outdoor recreation and conservation.

Greg Peters, a public lands and wildlife advocate with Conservation Voters New Mexico, said the state should follow the national trend to build a “conservation legacy.”

“The last 10 years, New Mexico hasn’t had a proactive public lands agenda,” Peters said. “But these are opportunities now to make significant progress in protecting our lands, waters, wildlife and cultural heritage.”

Ex-chairwoman of Grant County GOP dies in small plane crash – Associated Press

Authorities have identified a Silver City woman who died in the crash of a small plane in Gila National Forest.

New Mexico State Police said 74-year-old Linda Pecotte was pronounced dead at the scene of Friday’s crash south of Reserve.

Pecotte’s two passengers were injured and airlifted to a hospital. Their names, ages and conditions weren't immediately released by authorities.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday that Pecotte was a former chairwoman of the Grant County Republican Party.

An online profile showed that Pecotte was a real estate agent in Silver City at the time of her death.

State Police said officers responded around 11:15 a.m. Friday to reports of a downed airplane in the area of Sheep Basin in the southwestern New Mexico forest.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the crash.

Navajo Nation: No COVID-related deaths, 11th time in 17 days – Associated Press

The Navajo Nation has reported 31 more COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths for the 11th time in the past 17 days.

The latest numbers released Saturday pushed the tribe’s totals to 34,814 confirmed COVID-19 cases from the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

The known death toll remains at 1,464.

“Contact tracers continue to find that many new cases of COVID-19 are due to family gatherings where people let their guard down and don’t wear masks,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. “We have to remain diligent and do our best to follow the guidance of our health care experts.”

Tribal officials still are urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks while in public and minimize their travel.

All Navajo Nation executive branch employees had to be fully vaccinated against the virus by the end of September or submit to regular testing.

The tribe’s reservation is the country’s largest at 27,000 square miles and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.