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FRI: New Mexico governor approves 3-district congressional map, + More

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham
Morgan Lee
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

New Mexico governor approves 3-district congressional map - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico's Democratic governor signed legislation Friday to redraw the state's three congressional districts and divide a conservative stronghold into multiple districts over the objections of Republicans.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a former three-term congresswoman, on Friday said the new congressional map establishes a "reasonable baseline for competitive federal elections, in which no one party or candidate may claim any undue advantage."

Republicans disagree, calling it a power grab by Democrats who have long dominated state politics.

"These maps are far from fair representation, and they are a disservice to constituents," said Steve Pearce, chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico. "The real losers are the rural voices of New Mexico, conservative Democrats, Republicans and independents. Democrats have deliberately carved up and extended areas in order to have an advantage. "

Consultants to the Legislature say the new congressional map gives Democrats an advantage in all three districts to varying degrees, based on past voting behavior.

Republicans need a net gain of five seats in 2022 to take control of the U.S. House and effectively freeze President Joe Biden's agenda on everything from climate change to the economy.

Democrat-backed redistricting plans for the House and Senate also were on their way to the governor's office Friday after a final House vote. Both plans embrace recommendations from Native American communities for shoring up Indigenous voting blocs in New Mexico's northwest corner.

Under the new congressional map, the traditionally conservative-leaning 2nd District would incorporate heavily Hispanic neighborhoods of Albuquerque and cede portions of an oil producing region in southeastern New Mexico. GOP U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, won the district in 2020 by ousting a one-term Democrat.

The changes also hold political implications for first-term Democratic U.S. Reps. Melanie Stansbury of Albuquerque and Teresa Leger Fernandez of Santa Fe.

Republicans have warned that the congressional map is aimed at imposing political representation that is hostile to a thriving oil and natural gas industry in the southeast.

State Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said the districts each bring together urban and rural residents.

"The new congressional map creates districts where we have to work together — rural and urban, north and south, and Democrats, Republicans and independents. That is a good thing," Wirth said in a statement.

Republicans unsuccessfully fought provisions of the state Senate redistricting bill that would pit two incumbent Hispanic Republican senators against each other in the same district for the next election cycle.

Republican House minority whip Rod Montoya of Farmington said the Senate map placed Democratic and Native American priorities over the interests of other communities, including politically conservative Latinos.

"I think if you are a New Mexico Hispanic with certain priorities, you have a target on your back," said Montoya, a Latino legislator whose wife and children are Native Americans of Navajo descent.

Democratic State Rep. Anthony Allison, a member of the Navajo Nation from Fruitland, on Friday commended colleagues for adopting detailed Native American recommendations.

He said the painstaking, eight-month process of consultation among Indigenous communities on redistricting priorities was like assembling a well-balanced ball of yarn.

"What I have witnessed ... is a resilience of people who have been here since time immemorial," Allison said.

New Mexico unit to specialize on Indigenous crime victims - Associated Press

Prosecutors in New Mexico's busiest judicial district and the state Indian Affairs Department are teaming up to create a special unit to focus on investigating cases of missing or slain Native Americans.

State Indian Affairs Secretary Lynn Trujillo and Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez announced a memorandum of understanding Thursday to form the investigative team. Under the agreement, the unit within the district attorney's office will help a statewide task force with analysis, case investigations and interventions.

Officials said New Mexico has the fifth-largest Native American population in the U.S. but the highest number of Indigenous people who have been killed or are missing in the country.

Native American women in New Mexico experience the highest rate of homicide among all racial and ethnic groups, officials have said, and Torrez characterized the situation as an epidemic.

"It is clear that steps need to be taken to help bring resources to the victims, families and communities affected by this crisis," he said in a statement. "Working with Native communities and law enforcement to collect actionable data is crucial to moving these cases forward and preventing future violence."

The district attorney's office has dedicated one analyst to reviewing crime data to understand historical patterns related to human trafficking and the intersection of movement of people between the state's tribal communities and the Albuquerque metropolitan area.

The office also is hiring another investigator to assist with victim advocacy and has submitted a special request to the state Legislature to hire two full-time investigators.

Trujillo said a previous report by the Urban Indian Health Institute showed New Mexico had some of the highest numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and that Albuquerque and Gallup were among top 10 cities nationwide. As a result, New Mexico created a task force in 2019 to begin addressing the crisis.

A report issued by the task force said that between 2014 and 2019, there were 660 Native Americans reported missing in Albuquerque, of which 287 were women.

"These alarming statistics highlight the critical need for partnerships, and that's why the MOU between the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department and the Bernalillo County DA's Office is so crucial," Trujillo said.

Trujillo said the crisis has its roots in colonialism and racism and is perpetuated by indifference and silence.

"The responsibility falls on each of us to end this historic violence against our indigenous communities, which has devastated us for far too long," said Trujillo, who is a member of Sandia Pueblo and is part Acoma and Taos Pueblos.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty was among those at the signing ceremony. She leads the Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives task force that is developing a framework for a proposed data institute and a missing persons toolkit for communities.

"It is clear that our Indigenous women are plagued by high rates of violence and in response, there continues to be a lack of government support to meet the growing needs of our families," she said.

Crotty added: "In order to restore harmony and begin the healing process, criminal cases must fully be prosecuted and our Indigenous relatives must be found. The lives of our missing Navajo relatives are sacred and their stories must be told."

Court: EMTs can take blood in drunken driving cases - Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that emergency room technicians who are trained and experienced in drawing blood can draw blood for the purpose of a DWI investigation.

The court issued its opinion Thursday in a case that originated from San Juan County in which an "emergency department technician," also licensed as an emergency medical technician, took blood samples at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington as part of a DWI investigation.

The case was one of six with similar circumstances. The defendants argued that the emergency department technicians weren't qualified to draw blood under the state Implied Consent Act.

The Supreme Court affirmed an early decision by an appellate court that such medical professionals are qualified to draw blood under the statute so long as they were employed to do so by a hospital or physician and have adequate training and experience.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said Friday that the decision codifies a common-sense notion that experienced EMTs are qualified to draw blood from suspected drunken drivers. He added that the ruling supports the Legislature's intent to allow for valid blood draws to be used as evidence in DWI investigations and prosecutions.

The Supreme Court said the Legislature's intended purpose encompassed two goals: to protect patients subject to a blood draw and to ensure the collection of a reliable blood sample for use in DWI prosecutions. Rejecting the defendants' narrow interpretation of who is authorized to draw blood, the court said requiring a technician to have explicit laboratory experience would not achieve lawmakers' goals.

New Mexico has made progress over the decades on curbing intoxicated driving, having dropped out of the top 10 worst states for the number of DWI fatalities per 100,000 in 2008.

The latest data shows there have been just over 100 fatalities resulting from alcohol-involved crashes so far this year. That's notably less than the previous two years.

Police: Van full of Christmas toys stolen in New Mexico  - Associated Press

Time is of the essence for the Salvation Army in New Mexico now that the Grinch has thrown a wrench into the group's holiday toy program.

A van loaded with $6,000 worth of toys set to be passed out to hundreds of children was stolen this week from a store parking lot in Farmington.

"It is a pretty Grinch-like thing to do," Farmington police spokesperson Nicole Brown told the Farmington Daily Times.

Brown said a detective conducted interviews following Tuesday's theft and the investigation is ongoing.

Farmington police reached out via Facebook for the public's help in finding the white minivan.

"Shock, disbelief, just how somebody could do that — especially in a marked vehicle, taking gifts for children," Lt. Christopher Rockwell with the Salvation Army Farmington Corps told KOB-TV.

Meant for more than 350 kids, the toys were set to be distributed on Dec. 20. Now, the hope is to replace the stolen toys before Monday. Rockwell said the community has already responded in a big way by donating more toys and money.

"The response of the community and what they're doing is absolutely heartwarming because this area is just so generous and giving here in Farmington and the Four Corners area," he said.

The Salvation Army operates out of 25 centers around New Mexico and provides church service, food for the hungry and shelter and clothes for the homeless, among other services.

EPA releases $1B to clean up toxic waste sites in 24 states - By Michael Rubinkam Associated Press

Nearly 50 toxic waste sites around the U.S. will be cleaned up, and ongoing work at dozens of others will get a funding boost, as federal environmental officials announced Friday a $1 billion infusion to the Superfund program.

The money comes from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law last month and will help officials tackle a backlog of highly polluted Superfund sites in 24 states that have languished for years because of a lack of funding, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

About 60% of the sites to be cleaned up are in low-income and minority communities that have suffered disproportionately from contamination left by shuttered manufacturing plants, landfills and other abandoned industrial operations.

"No community should have to live in the shadows of contaminated waste sites," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Friday at a news conference at the Lower Darby Creek Superfund site in Philadelphia, where a former landfill leached chemicals into soil and groundwater in the largely minority Eastwick neighborhood.

"With this funding, communities living near many of these most serious uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination will finally get the protection they deserve," said Regan, who has made environmental justice a top priority.

The funding is the first installment of a $3.5 billion appropriation to the Superfund program from the bipartisan infrastructure law. The announcement comes a day after Regan disclosed plans to release $2.9 billion in infrastructure law funds for lead pipe removal nationwide and to impose stricter rules to limit exposure to lead, a significant health hazard.

Sites to be cleaned up under the Superfund program include one in Roswell, New Mexico, where dry cleaners that went out of business almost 60 years ago laced the aquifer with toxic solvents; dozens of residential backyards in Lockport, New York, where a former felt manufacturer contaminated the soil with lead; and a residential and commercial district in Pensacola, Florida, where the defunct American Creosote Works once used toxic preservatives to treat wood poles and fouled the neighborhood's soil and groundwater.

In Philadelphia, fed-up residents approached the EPA in 2015 to push for cleanup of the contaminated Clearview Landfill. Work began two years later. More than 25,000 tons of contaminated soil has already been removed from nearly 200 residential properties, parks have been cleaned up and stream banks have been stabilized.

The $30 million cash infusion from the infrastructure law will accelerate those efforts, with work to be completed in 2023 — a year ahead of schedule.

"Our property values have never been higher," said Eastwick resident Ted Pickett, who serves on a community group that has been advising the EPA. "We no longer fear that our health is negatively impacted by concerns about contamination from the landfill.. Our social fabric is stronger."

New Jersey accounts for seven sites on the Superfund backlog list, while Florida has five and Michigan and North Carolina have four each. Pennsylvania has two — and 90 on the Superfund list as a whole.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said many of these toxic sites are in low-income and minority neighborhoods like Eastwick that have "borne a disproportionate share of the harmful effects of environmental damage." He said the harms have been compounded by a historical lack of funding for cleanup.

"We have to work tirelessly to clean up polluted places that are harming and holding back communities in which they are located," said Wolf, adding the new Superfund money "is going to help make the promise real for communities all across Pennsylvania."

Tribes prevail as redistricting plans advance in New Mexico - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

The Democrat-led New Mexico state Senate endorsed a new map for its own political boundaries Thursday that embraces recommendations from Native American communities for shoring up Indigenous voting blocs in the northwest of the state.

In a 25-13 Senate floor vote along party lines, Republicans opposed the redistricting bill that would pit two incumbent Republican senators against each other in the same district for the next election cycle. The bill moves to the House, where major changes are unlikely.

Democratic state Sen. Shannon Pinto, a Navajo Nation member from Tohatchi, described her vote for the bill as a gesture of appreciation for sovereign tribal nations and the state Legislature.

"With this vote, I believe there is a table out there where we can sit and nobody is higher than one another," said Pinto, whose grandfather was a Navajo code talker in World War II and served in the state Legislature until his death in 2019. "With this vote, the voices of those overlooked are not silenced. ... I believe one day there will be justice for all."

Native American communities account for about 12% of residents in New Mexico. Tribal leaders are seeking to bolster political influence amid frustration with public education, basic infrastructure and economic opportunities.

The Senate-approved bill would shore up Native American voting-age majorities in three Senate districts and ensure robust minority Indigenous voting blocs in two other districts. The state Senate has 42 seats.

In an acrimonious debate Thursday, several Republican senators said the redistricting plan was stacked in favor of Democrats at the expense of Hispanic voters, noting that it would reduce the number of majority-Hispanic voting districts in the state by at least one to 15.

"This floor amendment decides to pair two of our members," Sen. Ron Griggs of Alamogordo said of final adjustments to the bill. "Those two members happen to be Hispanic Republicans. That certainly smells of partisan politics. It does not ... pass the smell test."

Unaffiliated Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque, who recently left the Democratic Party, said the bill would dilute the vote of his urban Hispanic constituents by disbursing them into multiple Senate districts. He still voted yes in deference to concern for Native Americans.

Tribal leaders say their communities negotiated painstakingly to arrive at a consensus proposal for the heavily Indigenous northwest of the state.

Elements of that consensus plan would leave Republican state Sen. Joshua Sanchez of Bosque outside the boundaries of his current district, to compete in a neighboring district against Senate minority leader Gregory Baca of Belen.

New Mexico presents unusual challenges in efforts to comply with the U.S. Voting Rights Act and preserve communities of interest and give minority voters a fair shot to elect candidates of their choice.

Nearly half of New Mexico residents claim Hispanic ancestry — the largest share of any state. The state also includes 23 federally recognized tribes.

Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, sponsor of the Senate redistricting bill, said she believed the 2020 census provided a "serious undercount" of remote tribal populations in the northwest of the state.

She also acknowledged that the redistricting process was inherently political, in New Mexico and statehouses across the country.

New Mexico Legislature sends pandemic aid bill to governor -Associated Press

A spending bill is on its way to the governor of New Mexico that would allocate $478 million in federal pandemic aid toward highways, internet infrastructure, tourism ads, hospital construction and more.

The state House on Thursday approved final changes from the Senate, sending the bill to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The legislature is meeting in a special session to redraw congressional and legislative political districts to conform with population shifts in the 2020 national census.

Lujan Grisham has urged quick deployment of federal relief aid. She has veto authority over any and all portions of the bill.

Included in the bill is at least $123 million in spending on internet projects, including "alternative broadband" using emerging technologies like wireless towers, blimps and new satellite internet networks.

The sparsely populated rural state has struggled for years to expand internet access by laying underground fiberoptic cables. The issue was pushed to the forefront during the pandemic because of inequalities in online education and healthcare access.

Senate amendments added $2 million for teacher loan repayment and $50 million for a rural hospital. The bill includes money to build libraries in Native American communities and $10 million to bolster budgets at food banks that have provided a crucial safety net during the coronavirus pandemic.

The money would come from the nearly $1.1 billion in remaining pandemic relief funds. Lawmakers want to put around half of that money in the state general fund, providing more flexibility on spending deadlines.

Lujan Grisham vetoed pandemic relief proposals from the legislature in the spring. Several senators sued successfully to assure legislative authority over relief spending.

Three GOP senators punt again on redistricting, prolonging pandemic legislative session that can cost $50k or more per day - By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

Three Republican senators voted to extend a procedural stunt Thursday afternoon, one that will prevent the Legislature from voting on a new state Senate political district map.

The senators – Mark Moores of Albuquerque, Cliff Pirtle of Roswell and Joshua Sanchez of Bosque – voted Thursday afternoon not to lift the “Call of the Senate,” a rare procedural move that requires every senator to be present in the chambers and the doors of the chamber locked. If even one senator is absent, the vote cannot continue.

The Call of the Senate went into effect late last night.

It has historically cost taxpayers an average $50,000 per day to hold special legislative sessions like this, though it’s not clear yet how much this one has cost, said Raúl Burciaga, director of New Mexico Legislative Council Service. COVID-19 protocols add additional costs, he said, though he doesn’t expect this year’s session to be extraordinarily high.

Lawmakers gathered at the Roundhouse this year amid a pandemic and strict COVID-19 protocols, including a vaccine mandate. One senator is absent after testing positive for the virus during the session.

Sen. Craig Brandt (R-Rio Rancho) announced the “Call of the Senate” late Wednesday, and Sen. Crystal Diamond (R-Elephant Butte) could not be found in the Roundhouse. So the Senate went into recess until this afternoon.

It takes at least seven senators to enact a “Call of the Senate,” and all seven must vote to lift it if a senator remains absent without an excuse. Brandt, who initiated the call, voted for lifting it today.

Sanchez, one of the senators who voted to prolong the call, represents District 30, a seat that was redrawn in the proposed Senate map to pair him with another Republican, Greg Baca. This would require one of them to step down, or for them to face off in a coming election.

The bill up for a vote was introduced by State Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque), and it reflects the consensus of tribal leaders who proposed a map concept to the nonpartisan Citizen Redistricting Committee, which approved it for the full Legislature’s consideration. The tribal coalition concept map aims to maintain Native American voting power in the state while honoring their rights to self-determination.

Joaquin Romero, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans, said in a brief phone call he could not speak to the motivation of the trio who voted to continue to stall the session. Pirtle declined to comment.

The Senate is expected to reconvene at 5:30 p.m.

New Mexico regulators deny utility's exit from coal plant - Associated Press

New Mexico regulators have denied a request by the state's largest electric provide to divest itself from one of the Southwest's few remaining coal-fired power plants by transferring its shares to a Navajo energy company.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to reject the plan, saying Public Service Co. of New Mexico didn't specify how the lost power would be replaced.

Commissioners also had concerns about investments that the utility known as PNM sought to recover through bonds that would be paid back by customers over a 25-year period.

The utility could appeal the decision or it could come back to the commission with more information.

The decision marked the commission's second major rejection involving PNM in recent weeks. Regulators also denied a proposed multibillion-dollar acquisition of PNM by global energy giant Iberdrola and its U.S. subsidiary, Connecticut-based Avangrid.

Supporters of PNM's exit from the coal plant named Four Corners Power Plant had argued that the move would translate into savings for customers, reduce emissions from the utility's portfolio and strengthen the Navajo Nation's position when it comes to determining the future of the plant.

Environmentalists had criticized the proposed transfer, suggesting it would prevent an early closure. However, there hasn't been any willingness by the plant's majority owner — Arizona Public Service Co. — to end operations before 2031 because doing so could undermine the reliability of that utility's network.

The commission deliberated the power plant issue behind closed doors for hours. Chairman Stephen Fischmann said after Wednesday's vote that the panel lacked information needed to make a good decision and that the commission was open to PNM following up with details.

PNM officials called the vote disconcerting, saying that after months of proceedings that the outcome created uncertainty about the regulatory environment in New Mexico and that it made the company's transition to more renewable energy more difficult.

PNM President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn pointed to New Mexico's Energy Transition Act, saying the commission ignored the law's requirements for balancing shareholder responsibility, customer savings, economic aid and environmental benefits.

"We will need to carefully review the order rejecting abandonment to determine next steps, including a possible appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court," she said in a statement.

Under the proposal, Navajo Transitional Energy Co., known as NTEC, would have taken over PNM's interest in Four Corners, becoming the second largest owner of shares in the plant. PNM shareholders would have paid NTEC $75 million to assume its obligations under a coal supply agreement.

By transferring its shares, PNM could have exited Four Corners about seven years ahead of its previously scheduled departure and would have been closer to meeting New Mexico renewable energy and emissions mandates. The Energy Transition Act requires public utilities to be carbon free by 2045.

Located on tribal land, the Four Corners plant has been a huge economic driver for the Navajo Nation for decades. The plant and the neighboring mine that feeds it provide hundreds of jobs for tribal members and the operations account for nearly a quarter of the Navajo Nation's annual general fund revenues.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez and other tribal leaders spoke in favor of PNM's plan.

"As we determine how to transition to a post-coal economy, we continue to rely on these jobs and revenue for the foreseeable future," Nez said. "This is not going to be an easy task."

New Mexico authorities issue warrant for Baldwin's phone - Associated Press

Authorities on Thursday issued a search warrant for Alec Baldwin's cell phone, saying it could hold evidence that might be helpful as they investigate a deadly shooting on a New Mexico film set that killed a cinematographer and wounded the director.

Baldwin was holding a revolver during rehearsal when it fired. He has maintained that it was cinematographer Halyna Hutchins herself who asked him to point the gun just off camera and toward her armpit before it went off. Director Joel Souza also was wounded in the shooting on the Bonanza Creek Ranch film set near Santa Fe.

Baldwin has said that at Hutchins' direction he pulled the hammer back and that it fired when he let go. He has said he didn't know the gun contained a live round.

Investigators have described "some complacency" in how weapons were handled on the set of the Western "Rust." They have yet to file any charges and have been working to determine where the live rounds found on set might have come from.

According to the search warrant affidavit, investigators are looking for any text messages, images, videos, calls or other information related to the movie production.

Court documents state that Baldwin told investigators during an interview that there were emails between himself and the film's armorer Hanna Gutierrez Reed where she showed him different styles of guns and that he had requested a bigger gun, which ended up being a Colt revolver with a brown handle.

A brief search of Halyna's phone turned up conversations about the production that dated back to July as well as photographs of receipts from businesses in Santa Fe, according to the affidavit.

Suspect charged in hit-and-run killing of child - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

A suspect has been charged in the hit-and-run killing of a child who was crossing the street with his family following the River of Lights event at the Albuquerque BioPark over the weekend.

The Albuquerque Journal reports a warrant has been issued for 27 year-old Sergio Almanza of Belen who’s charged with homicide by vehicle, knowingly leaving the scene of an accident and tampering with evidence.

Police say 7-year-old Pronoy Bhattacharya was struck by an off-highway vehicle that ran a red light at Central Ave. and Tingley Dr. on Sunday and drove off. The child and his family were in the crosswalk with the right of way at the time. The child was pronounced dead at the scene. His father was injured, but expected to recover.

The Journal reports police have video of a man they believe to be Almanza drinking at a bar half an hour before the time of the crash.

The warrant for his arrest says the suspect attempted to hide the vehicle at a friend’s house and asked for help cleaning it. The friend told police that a nervous Almanza told him he had “just hit a kid.”

State Republicans throw down ‘obstructionist’ tactic to stall vote on Senate map - Patrick Lohmann,Source New Mexico

A new state Senate map that would shape the next decade of New Mexico politics remains elusive after a late-night stunt by Republican senators delaying the bill’s passage.

Senators didn’t start their scheduled 6 p.m. session until around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, following days of disagreement on the state Senate redistricting plan. The negotiations remain stalled after the introduction of a map last weekend that ignored some priorities of a tribal coalition. Senators instead redrew the map to prevent two Republican senators in Districts 29 and 30 from being drawn into the same district, among other things, and presented it with little warning on Sunday.

Tribal officials with the All-Pueblo Council of Governors spent months achieving a consensus on the Senate maps, ones they said preserve their voting power in Northwestern New Mexico and honor their right to self-determination.

State Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque), who first sponsored a measure that reflected the tribal consensus early in the legislative session, introduced a new map Wednesday, one that continues to draw Republican Sens. Greg Baca and Joshua Sanchez in D 29 and D 30 into the same district. That means one would have to quit or they would run in an election against each other.

Both districts have identical demographics and contain the same precincts, according to a comparison of both bills.

The only difference between the two maps is the shifting of some precincts between Districts 3 and 4 in the northwest corner of New Mexico, out of line with the original tribal consensus plan, though the coalition supports Lopez’s amended bill, according to a tribal coalition member.

Sen. Shannon Pinto (D-Tohatchi) urged lawmakers to support the newly revised map that reflects what tribes and pueblos want.

“As we move forward and see the work that was put into this very judiciously and tediously, we also know that there are people who do have the capacity and the knowledge to help the state of New Mexico with redistricting,” Pinto said.

State Sen. Craig Brandt (R-Rio Rancho) voiced his opposition.

“Today is an unfortunate time in the history of the state,” Brandt said. “This map is a travesty to our state.”

Republicans have expressed frustration with the redistricting process when it comes to the pairing of incumbent senators like Sanchez and Baca.

The maps produced for the Senate and other political districts were created over months by the Citizen Redistricting Committee, a nonpartisan group that evaluated maps based on communities, demographics and district size but did not consider partisan data or where an incumbent lived.

As the measure neared a vote, Brandt issued a rare “Call of the Senate,” which pulls all senators into the chambers. This often means senators — sometimes even corralled by state troopers — are required to be in the room, and the issue at hand cannot proceed unless they’re present or have an excused absence.

It can only be done with approval of seven senators. In this case, all seven were Republican. When it was approved, Senate staff shut the chamber doors and began a search for any absent senators.

State Sen. Crystal Diamond (R-Elephant Butte) was apparently absent without an excuse, which halted the proceedings.

That’s when Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), the Senate’s majority floor leader, announced that the Senate would be in recess until noon Thursday, nearing two weeks of the special redistricting session.

Chris Nordstrum, a spokesperson for Senate Democrats, said the call is often a delaying tactic. He assumes the stunt was used to prevent the passage of the Senate map.

“It’s basically an obstructionist move,” he said. “… I don’t know if this whole thing was orchestrated and she (Sen. Diamond) knew to be in hiding, so to speak, or if she just happened to not be here tonight.”

Bernalillo County bans outdoor cannabis consumption areasNew Mexico Political Report, KUNM

Outdoor consumption areas for cannabis are banned in parts of Bernalillo County that do not fall within the City of Albuquerque’s jurisdiction under an ordinance approved Tuesday by the County Commission.

According to New Mexico Political Report, Bernalillo County Zoning Administrator Nicholas Hamm told the commissioners the goal was to create an environment that is separated from the public because cannabis is still a controlled substance and has intoxicating effects.

An earlier version of the proposal would have made a distinction between consumption areas for medical use versus recreational use, but the final version eliminated that split.

Erica Rowland, a medical cannabis patient who wants to open a country-club type cannabis facility with outdoor smoking on her property, urged commissioners to reconsider the outdoor ban.

While cigars and other types of tobacco are allowed in nearly all outdoor public areas, the Cannabis Regulation Act prohibits smoking cannabis in public unless it’s in a licensed consumption area.

The state Regulation and Licensing Department and the Cannabis Control Division do not have final rules on consumption areas yet, but regulators said they will not be allowed to also serve alcohol.

Meanwhile the City of Albuquerque does not prohibit outdoor consumption areas under ordinances finalized earlier this year.

New legal battle over predator killing in Nevada wilderness - By Scott Sonner Associated Press

Conservationists are suing three federal agencies over the adequacy of an environmental review the government has said satisfies requirements to resume killing coyotes, mountain lions and other wildlife in federally protected wilderness areas in Nevada.

The move comes five years after the U.S. Agriculture Department's Wildlife Services settled a similar lawsuit by suspending the operations intended to protect livestock from predators.

WildEarth Guardians long has battled Wildlife Services over the predator management program that Congress approved in 1931 and costs U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars annually.

It allows USDA to "eradicate, suppress or bring under control" a whole host of native species, including mountain lions, bears, wolves, coyotes and bobcats, "for the benefit of agribusiness."

The New Mexico-based environmental group and the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Reno. It accuses the agency of failing to fully disclose or adequately analyze the impacts of its plan to expand use of aerial gunning from small planes and helicopters, poisoning and trapping the animals on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands in Nevada.

The conservationists say the agency routinely ignores the science about the efficacy of what they call a "large-scale slaughter" program, killing 1.3 million native species across the U.S. annually — the vast majority of those, coyotes.

"While society has evolved to understand the importance of native species as a key part of ecosystems and the need for coexistence of wildlife, Wildlife Services continues to rely on antiquated practices in the name of `managing' conflicts with wildlife," said Lindsay Larris, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians.

After WildEarth Guardians sued over the program in 2012, Wildlife Services agreed in 2016 to cease predator control activities in wilderness areas and wilderness study areas in Nevada with few exceptions for public health or safety. The settlement dictated the operations — which typically stem from ranchers' requests for action — couldn't resume until the agency fully complied with federal law.

One of the updates in the agency's July 2020 assessment is the conclusion that imperiled sage grouse would benefit from killing of predators that feed on chicks, including coyotes and ravens.

The lawsuit says that's an illegal use of the Animal Damage Control Act, which only allows the agency to do what's necessary to control "injurious animal species."

The assessment "fails to establish that ravens and coyotes are depressing or otherwise injuring populations of sage grouse," according to the lawsuit that also names the bureau and the Forest Service as defendants.

The three agencies are violating the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wilderness Act by sanctioning an impermissible "commercial enterprise" within designated wilderness areas without demonstrating lethal predator controls are necessary for a valid "wilderness purpose" or preventing serious losses of domestic livestock, the lawsuit said.

Bureau spokesman Chris Rose said in an email to The Associated Press that the agency had no comment. Neither Wildlife Services nor the Forest Service immediately responded to requests for comment.

The lawsuit says Wildlife Services doesn't review circumstances surrounding ranchers' requests to determine whether lethal means are "necessary to prevent serious domestic livestock" nor to ensure "only the minimum amount of control necessary to solve the problem will be used."

Under the new plan, Wildlife Services "must simply provide email notification to the bureau before and after conducting (such management in) bureau-managed wildernesses and wilderness study areas," the lawsuit said.

Alternatives the agency doesn't consider include temporarily curtailing livestock grazing activities in areas where the bureau has determined conflicts between livestock and wildlife often recur at the same time of year when newly born lambs and calves graze on U.S. times and native carnivores are rearing their offspring, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit says the government also fails to adequately evaluate local impacts of predator management across nearly 9,700 square miles (25,000 square kilometers) of wilderness and wilderness study areas in Nevada. The environmental assessment said there's an "extremely high likelihood (95 to 100%)" that lethal control of wildlife will be conducted in eight wilderness areas and five study areas in Nevada over the next 10 years.

Most of the coyote killings are concentrated in only four of Nevada's 17 counties. But the government's assessment evaluates the impacts at a statewide scale across 109,826 square miles "thus diluting the degree of localized effects to native ecosystems," the lawsuit said.

Between 2015-20, nearly 15,000 coyotes were killed on Bureau of Land Management lands alone in Nevada — about three-fourths in White Pine, Eureka, Elko and Humboldt counties.