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KUNM News Update

THURS: APS remains closed for a second day after cyberattack, National Guard may help staffing shortages at New Mexico schools, + More

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APS remains closed for a second day after cyberattack - By Nash Jones, KUNM News

Students in New Mexico’s largest school district will miss a second day of school Friday because of a cyberattack.

Albuquerque Public Schools says the cyberattack damaged a database used for student attendance and family contact information, including which adults are authorized to pick a student up.

The district says it was forced to shut down schools because the downed system impacts teaching, learning and student safety.

The district said Wednesday that contractors were working to fix the problem, and would hopefully resolve it in time for its 85,000 students to return Friday.

Now, the district says that it intends to reopen schools after the holiday weekend, as the investigation continues.

APS says the missed days of school will be made up at the end of the year, like snow days.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Mexico is offering free all-day programming for APS students in response to the closure on a first-come, first-served basis with online registration.

This comes a week after Bernalillo County reported a ransomware attack on its computer systems, closing most buildings to the public.

Find that link and more online at KUNM.org.

Guard may help staffing shortages at New Mexico schools - Associated Press

New Mexico's governor said Thursday she's considering seeking help from the National Guard to address COVID-19 staffing shortages at public schools, a move that could mark a first in the nation.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the additional help would ensure that students can remain in the classroom.

She said the state has been in discussions with the Santa Fe school district, which was forced to plan for remote learning next week.

Grisham promised to release more details soon.

The National Guard has been used in other ways during the pandemic, including driving school buses.

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that starting next week, 1,000 military medical personnel will begin deploying across the country to help overwhelmed medical facilities ease staff shortages due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Lujan Grisham confirmed that one of the teams will be stationed at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.

She said the additional resources will "absolutely help" given that the hospital is the state's only top level trauma facility and often takes in many of the most complicated cases.

"With a Level I trauma, you've got to stabilize personnel resources there," Grisham said, noting that the hospital already has brought in hundreds of traveling nurses to help address the shortage.

New Mexico hospital officials have acknowledged over recent weeks that the majority of patients being seen are treated for illnesses and medical emergencies unrelated to COVID-19 but that a lack of staffing continues to put undue pressure on the state health care system, like many other states.

The omicron variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.

New Mexico leaders aim to put wedge in revolving crime door - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is aiming to put a wedge in the revolving door that many have blamed for persistent violent crime and record homicides in the state's largest city.

The Democratic governor joined other elected leaders in Albuquerque on Thursday to highlight a few of the public safety proposals that will be pushed during the legislative session that begins Tuesday. They stood in front of a mural dedicated to victims of gun violence as they acknowledged that residents around the state are fed up.

"This is not just an Albuquerque issue. This is a state issue. This is a neighborhood-by-neighborhood, community-by-community issue. New Mexico can and will do better," the governor said.

The measures include enhanced penalties for some crimes and a shift in New Mexico's pretrial detention system that supporters claim would ensure the most dangerous defendants accused of murder, rape or other violent crimes remain behind bars pending trial.

Lujan Grisham said the burden would be placed on defendants, rather than prosecutors, to prove they would not be a danger to the community if granted pretrial release.

Critics, including defense attorneys and public defenders, have raised concerns that the change would erode the checks and balances of the current system and would give prosecutors more power to detain people. They have pointed to efforts to narrow the presumptions used to hold defendants at the federal level as well as data from criminal cases in the Albuquerque area that showed a smaller share of those charged with rebuttable presumption offenses were arrested for a new crime while released.

Republican Rep. Bill Rehm of Albuquerque, a retired police officer who has been working on the issue for more than a decade and supports the proposed legislation, described it as narrow and surgical to address the most violent offenders.

Albuquerque police respond to 3 killings in 10-hour span - Associated Press

Amid growing concern about violent crime in New Mexico's most populous city, Albuquerque police say detectives responded to three different shooting scenes in a 10-hour span to launch homicide investigations.

Police said the first homicide victim was a man whose daughter called 911 to report the shooting at a home early Wednesday evening . According to police, the shooter left the scene before officers arrived.

Police said the second involved a man found dead at a motel after officers responded to a report of gunfire shortly before midnight.

The third involved a person found dead in an alley behind a business early Thursday morning.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and fellow elected Democrats were scheduled to gather in Albuquerque on Thursday to talk about public safety proposals ahead of next week's legislative session.

Officeholders, particularly those who represent constituents in Albuquerque, have been facing growing pressure to address record homicides and other violent crime.

Film armorer blames ammo supplier in deadly 'Rust' shooting - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A new lawsuit accused an ammunition supplier Wednesday of creating dangerous conditions on a movie set where a gun held by actor Alec Baldwin killed a cinematographer, by including live ammunition in a box that was supposed to include only dummy rounds.

The lawsuit was filed in New Mexico state district court by Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the armorer who oversaw firearms, ammunition and related training on the set of "Rust" along with two colleagues. Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died on Oct. 21 from a gunshot wound during a "Rust" rehearsal at a ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe in northern New Mexico.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office that is leading an investigation into the cause of the death has said it is too soon to determine whether charges will be filed. Investigators have described "some complacency" in how weapons were handled on set.

The lawsuit from Gutierrez Reed places blame on ammunition supplier Seth Kenney and his company PDQ Arm & Prop for introducing live rounds to the set where only blanks and dummies were supposed to be present.

"The introduction of live rounds onto the set, which no one anticipated, combined with the rushed and chaotic atmosphere, created a perfect storm for a safety incident," the lawsuit states.

Kenney could not be reached for comment. He has said previously that he was sure his company did not send any live rounds to the set of "Rust."

The lawsuit adds new details to the chain of custody for guns and ammunition on the "Rust" set on Oct. 21, describing the appearance of a new box of ammunition — presumed to be harmless dummy rounds with no explosive — shortly before a revolver was loaded and passed to Baldwin.

Baldwin has said he didn't know the gun he was holding contained a live round when it went off while pointed at Hutchins. Investigators are trying to find where the live round came from, searching the Albuquerque premises of PDQ Arm & Prop in December.

The new lawsuit seeks damages at a jury trial on allegations of unfair trade practices, introducing dangerous products, and false labels and misrepresentation.

It states that authorities found on set "a suspected seven live rounds distributed inside the ammo box, on the ammo cart and in the bandoliers."

The lawsuit also accuses Kenney of inserting himself in the investigations and attempting to implicate Gutierrez Reed.

Authorities recovered hundreds of rounds of ammunition at the "Rust" movie set — a mix of blanks, dummy rounds and what appeared to be live rounds.

Authorities have issued a search warrant for Baldwin's phone, seeking text messages, images, videos, calls or any other information related to the movie.

APS closes all schools following cyberattack - By Nash Jones, KUNM News

Albuquerque Public Schools will be closed district-wide Thursday following a cyberattack.

In a statement Wednesday, district spokesperson Monica Armenta said the cyberattack damaged systems related to teaching, learning and student safety, but did not specify which.

The district has contractors working to fix the problem, according to the statement, and intends to reopen Friday.

Armenta says the district will update the APS community if the issues aren’t resolved by mid-day Thursday.

Sports and other extracurricular activities should continue as scheduled, according to Armenta, but meals will not be served.

The district says employees considered essential are still expected to come in.

This comes a week after Bernalillo County reported a ransomware attack on its computer systems, closing most county buildings to the public.

New Mexico reports over 6,900 new COVID cases, Bernalillo County sees over 2,000 - KUNM News, Associated Press

New Mexico health officials Wednesday reported 6,919 new COVID-19 cases, with over 2,000 of those in Bernalillo County. Only one other county saw a case count above 1,000 – Doña Ana County, with 1,012.

According to the state’s daily update, Wednesday’s record one-day total includes 1,000 cases that came in following a technical disruption in the feed from labs, and over 2,500 cases from a lab that just submitted results from tests conducted over the last 12 days.

The state also reported that 28 more people have died from COVID-19 in New Mexico. Nearly 570 people are hospitalized with the virus.

The latest data from the New Mexico Department of Health shows vaccinated people made up nearly 40% of the new COVID-19 cases over the last four weeks. However, state data shows about 82% of people who are hospitalized with the virus are unvaccinated.

Governor polls local mayors on infrastructure priorities - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico's Democratic governor is polling local politicians on their infrastructure priorities as the state decides how to dispense federal pandemic relief money and spend from a multibillion-dollar budget surplus.

Breaking with past routines, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has delayed annual infrastructure recommendations to hold an online summit Friday with mayors from across the state about their priorities on construction projects ranging from high-speed internet to senior centers, water systems and roadways. A separate event for county governments is scheduled in the following days.

The state still has $600 million in federal pandemic relief to assign from its $1.7 billion allotment last year, a major budget surplus and money that it borrows routinely to finance public works projects.

Friday's deliberations among politicians are a prelude to decisions on how to spend New Mexico's share of a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package signed by President Joe Biden in November. That legislation will send billions of dollars to states and localities across the country over the next decade. Remarks are scheduled at Friday's summit from Democratic members of New Mexico's congressional delegation, according to organizers at the New Mexico Municipal League.

Martin Chavez, the former mayor of Albuquerque and appointed advisor to the governor on infrastructure, said public works projects can move to the front of the line for consideration if they already are well researched, planned or designed.

"There are a number of priorities. One, of course — that old term 'shovel ready,'" he told a panel of legislators Tuesday. "Maybe it's a project that's in design, maybe it's an expansion of the airport, that they've already designed but don't have the funds. Those projects will be given priority."

The Legislature's lead budget writers are recommending $500 million for transportation projects, including $350 million for roads. Additionally, they are calling for more than a half-billion dollars in new spending that will be paid off gradually through bonds to underwrite projects including veterans' home improvements and construction of a public safety command center, a new psychiatric hospital for children at the University of New Mexico and new facilities at the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said local voices are critical in the assessment of infrastructure needs.

"We are committed to making sure that every dollar is spent on meaningful projects," Sackett said in an email.

New Mexico could become the destination of federal infrastructure funds set aside to boost carbon capture technologies and efforts to forge less environmentally damaging sources of electricity through the use of hydrogen.

Lujan Grisham is backing legislation to help jump-start hydrogen production from natural gas in her state, a process that generates harmful greenhouse gases but might one day be harnessed to provide environmental benefits. A bill has not yet been introduced.

Another Game Commission member gone amid stream access fight - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has dismissed another member of a state panel that oversees wildlife conservation and hunting and fishing regulations as a dispute percolates over public access to streams and rivers that flow through private property.

Jeremy Vesbach was among those on the state Game Commission who voted last year to deny several landowners permits that would have restricted access to waterways that crossed their property. He said in an interview that he believes his removal with a year remaining in his term was rooted in the stream fight.

Vesbach noted Democrat U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and others have been outspoken against limiting access to what they say are public waters.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who is running for reelection, has been careful to walk the line on the issue. Some critics say that's due to political campaign contributions by wealthy landowners.

"New Mexicans hate it when money is just dictating what happens," Vesbach said. "It's in the court, but there are more decisions to be made, and she can still step in on the right side of this and I have hope that she will."

The governor's office denied that Vesbach's dismissal was related to matters of stream access. Spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said commissioners serve at the pleasure of the governor and that there was a "disagreement of mission."

Another shakeup on the commission occurred in 2019 when Lujan Grisham ousted then-chairwoman Joanna Prukop. She had run afoul of the governor when she and other commissioners voted to reconsider a contested rule that limited stream access.

Lujan Grisham's office said in 2020 that it believed there was a way to find a balance that "ensures access for sportsmen and women while also protecting private property rights."

The New Mexico Supreme Court in March is scheduled to consider a petition by a coalition of anglers, rafters and conservationists who contend the public has the constitutional right to fish, boat or use any stream for recreation so long as they do not trespass across private land to get there.

Sackett said the statute that led to the fight predates Lujan Grisham's administration and that it will be up to the court to decide its fate. She added that Lujan Grisham has taken more action than any recent governor to advance conservation efforts, including setting a goal to preserve at least 30% of New Mexico public lands and watersheds.

The Western Landowners Alliance on Wednesday backed the governor's decision to dismiss Vesbach, saying the rights and interests of diverse stakeholders need to be respected and balanced. The group also argued that New Mexico law allows for people to access streams flowing across private land as long as landowners give permission. And it said some sportsmen are seeking to overturn long-standing laws to gain access to private land.

Following the commission's August vote against restricting access, an attorney for the property owners said his clients' rights were being violated.

Advocates of private property rights have warned that if waterways are opened up, property values will decline and there will be less interest by owners to invest in conserving tracts of land along streams. Some fishing outfitters and guides have said their businesses will be adversely affected.

Aside from the stream access issue, Vesbach said the state Game and Fish Department is facing a staffing crisis and that its conservation officers and biologists need to be paid more to ensure they don't leave for other jobs. He noted the officer shortage comes at a time when needs are increasing as more people venture onto New Mexico's public lands.

A recent report to the Game Commission showed the department was short 22 officers in the field.

Federal lab in New Mexico pauses vaccine mandate -Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

One of the federal government's national laboratories in New Mexico is pausing a vaccine mandate that was set to go into effect this month.

Sandia National Laboratories had previously issued directives that all employees and subcontractors be fully vaccinated by mid-January. Scott Aeilts, the associate director of mission services at Sandia, told the Albuquerque Journal on Tuesday that the decision had been made to pause enforcement.

The decision comes amid an ongoing lawsuit that was filed by a handful of unvaccinated employees.

Lab officials contend the vaccination requirement was aimed at creating a safe work environment.

The latest data from the New Mexico Department of Health shows the number of reported COVID-19 cases has increased significantly due to the transmissibility of the omicron variant and that vaccinated people made up nearly 40% of new cases over the last four weeks.

Health officials also noted that most infections have been mild and they expect the omicron wave to peak in the coming weeks. Of those in the hospital, state data shows about 82% are unvaccinated and less than one-quarter of patients are on a ventilator.

President Joe Biden last year issued an order requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for federal workers and contractors. Like Biden's mandate for large private companies, the requirement for federal workers has faced numerous legal challenges, some of which are pending.

In northern New Mexico, Los Alamos National Laboratory has had a vaccine mandate in effect since October. The lab said Wednesday that all eligible employees are vaccinated, that no changes were expected in the policy and that COVID-19 testing among workers was ongoing.

According to the lab, Los Alamos' confirmed cases totaled 1,726 as of Friday, with most having recovered. About 40% of employees continue to telework.

$10K reward offered in shooting of Farmington police officer

Authorities are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a man sought in the Friday night shooting of a Farmington police officer.

The Farmington Police Department announced Tuesday that the U.S. Marshals Service is offering the reward for information regarding 22-year-old Elias Buck.

According to court records, Buck is charged with aggravated battery upon on a police officer in the Friday night shooting in which Officer Joseph Barreto was wounded.

Barreto was released from the hospital and is at home recovering, the police department said in a statement.

According to the police department, the shooting occurred when Barreto tried to detain Buck after seeing Buck and a female companion walking after a car in the area had been reported as possibly being involved in drunken driving.

New Mexico woman pleads not guilty to putting baby in trash -Associated Press

An 18-year-old New Mexico woman accused of abandoning her newborn baby in a dumpster pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of attempted first-degree murder and child abuse.

Alexis Avila of Hobbs was told by a Lea County judge at her arraignment that she can stay out of jail pending trial and set house arrest as a main condition of release.

Police said a group of people were looking through a dumpster for anything of value last Friday in Hobbs, near the Texas border, when they heard what they thought was a dog or kitten.

They moved a trash bag and found a baby inside, wrapped in a dirty blanket with its umbilical cord still attached.

They immediately called authorities and tried to keep the boy warm until police and paramedics arrived.

Investigators used surveillance video to identify a car suspected of being involved. That led them to Avila, who admitted to giving birth at another location and then leaving the baby in a dumpster.

Questioned by police, Avila said she was not aware that she was pregnant until Jan. 6 when she sought medical attention for abdominal pain.

She told detectives that she was experiencing stomach pain the next day and unexpectedly gave birth.

Search warrants for Avila's car and her family's home turned up blood evidence, clothing and a towel.

Authorities said the infant is in the care of the New Mexico Department of Children, Youth and Families.

Like other states, New Mexico has a safe haven law, which allows parents to leave a baby younger than 90 days at a safe location without criminal consequences. The laws began to pass in state legislatures around the nation in the early 2000s in response to reports of gruesome baby killings and abandonments, which received copious media attention.

US acknowledges shipping Idaho radioactive waste to Nevada - By Ken Ritter Associated Press

The federal government acknowledged it has been shipping mixed radioactive waste from a nuclear cleanup site in Idaho to Nevada and New Mexico for disposal.

In a statement Tuesday that followed a protest letter from U.S. Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada, the U.S. Department of Energy said 13,625 cubic meters of material has been sent safely from a former dump at the Idaho National Laboratory to the Nevada National Security Site.

The material was characterized as "low level waste/mixed low-level waste," the department said. The amount would fill more than five Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Shipments began in 2009 and are ongoing, the department said, while noting that most of the Idaho waste was being sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Nevada and the federal government have clashed several times in the past over shipments of radioactive materials to the vast former government nuclear test site in the state.

In a Monday letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Titus said "the fact that dangerous materials could be sharing the roads with my constituents and visitors raise a number of questions for me about this shipment of nuclear materials."

Titus, a Democrat from Las Vegas, is a retired University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and an expert on atomic testing and American politics. She has fought for years to prevent the federal government from building a permanent storage facility for the nation's most radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, some 90 miles north of Las Vegas.

In her letter, Titus called for the Energy Department to disclose the amount of waste to be shipped to Nevada and its classification.

"Nevada is not America's dumping ground," she said.

A Nevada-based spokesman for the Energy Department, Jesse Sleezer, said in a statement Wednesday that since 1999, the department has transported more than 32,000 waste shipments to the Nevada National Security Site, "with no release of contamination resulting from these shipments."

The department said the Nevada state Division of Environmental Protection participates with other experts in pre-disposal documentation and review of an "extensive waste profile" of materials shipped to the site.

"All offsite wastes shipped to and disposed at the NNSS are handled safely and securely and must meet all applicable federal and state regulations as well as the rigorous NNSS Waste Acceptance Criteria," the department said in its statement Tuesday.

Nevada state Division of Environmental Protection Chief David Fogerson referred an inquiry about the shipments to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak's office. The governor's aide, Meghin Delaney, did not immediately respond to questions.

The Energy Department said last month it was completing the removal of targeted waste buried decades ago in storage drums and boxes in unlined pits at a sprawling site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory, 50 miles. west of the city of Idaho Falls.

The buried waste included plutonium-contaminated filters, graphite molds, sludges containing solvents and oxidized uranium generated during nuclear weapons production work at the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado.

The Nevada National Security Site is a vast federal reservation nearly the size of the state of Rhode Island where the government conducted more than 1,000 above- and below-ground nuclear detonations from 1951 to 1992. It serves today as a research and training site and for U.S. studies of nuclear, chemical, biological and other weapons.

The Energy Department agreed last year to pay Nevada $65,000 to settle a dispute about five years of shipments of mischaracterized waste from the Energy Department's Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to the Nevada site. The state called the shipments "an unfortunate misstep."

An earlier dispute involved the clandestine shipment of one-half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from a Department of Energy facility in South Carolina. Under that settlement, the government agreed to start removing the waste from the Nevada site last year.