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KUNM News Update

FRI: Jan. 6 committee subpoenas fake Trump electors in New Mexico and 6 other states, + More

Trump Jan 6
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
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AP
FILE - The White House in the background, President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. The House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection is asking Ivanka Trump, daughter of former President Donald Trump, to voluntarily cooperate with its investigation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Jan. 6 committee subpoenas fake Trump electors in 7 states - By Farnoush Amiri Associated Press

The House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection subpoenaed more than a dozen individuals Friday who it says falsely tried to declare Donald Trump the winner of the 2020 election in seven swing states.

The panel is demanding information and testimony from 14 people who it says allegedly met and submitted false Electoral College certificates declaring Trump the winner of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to a letter from Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee's Democratic chairman. President Joe Biden won all seven states.

"We believe the individuals we have subpoenaed today have information about how these so-called alternate electors met and who was behind that scheme," Thompson said in the letter. "We encourage them to cooperate with the Select Committee's investigation to get answers about January 6th for the American people and help ensure nothing like that day ever happens again."

The nine-member panel said it has obtained information that groups of individuals met on Dec. 14, 2020 — more than a month after Election Day — in the seven states. The individuals, according to the congressional investigation, then submitted fake slates of Electoral College votes for Trump. Then "alternate electors" from those seven states sent those certificates to Congress, where several of Trump's advisers used them to justify delaying or blocking the certification of the election during the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

Lies about election fraud from the former president and his allies fueled the deadly insurrection on the Capitol building that day, as a violent mob interrupted the certification of the Electoral College results.

Last March, American Oversight, a watchdog group, obtained the certificates in question that were submitted by Republicans in the seven states. In two of them, New Mexico and Pennsylvania, the fake electors added a caveat saying the certificate was submitted in case they were later recognized as duly elected, qualified electors. That would only have been possible if Trump had won any of the several dozens of legal battles he waged against those states in the weeks after the election.

In the other five states, however, Republicans certified that they were their state's duly elected and qualified electors.

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a CNN interview this week that the Justice Department has received referrals from lawmakers regarding the fake certifications, and that prosecutors were now "looking at those."

An Associated Press review of every potential case of voter fraud in the six of the battleground states disputed by Trump has found fewer than 475 — a number that would have made no difference in the 2020 presidential election.

Biden won Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and their 79 Electoral College votes by a combined 311,257 votes out of 25.5 million ballots cast for president. The disputed ballots represent just 0.15% of his victory margin in those states.

The fake electors are the latest subpoenaed in the large-scale investigation the committee has been pursuing since it came together last summer. The congressional probe has scrutinized Trump family members and allies, members of Congress and even social media groups accused of perpetuating election misinformation and allowing it to spread rampantly.

The committee plans to move into a more public-facing phase of its work in the next few months. Lawmakers will be holding hearings to document to the American public the most detailed and complete look into the individuals and events that led to the Capitol insurrection.

Associated Press writers David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

Five people behind fake election certificates likely broke NM law, prof says – By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

UPDATE: FRIDAY, JAN. 28, 2022: The panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol announced today that it had issued subpoenas for 14 of the would-be electors from around the country. Two are from New Mexico: Jewll Powdrell and Deborah W. Maestas.

Maestas, reached by phone Friday afternoon, referred comment again to the Republican Party of New Mexico. Powdrell could not be reached.

Mike Curtis, a spokesperson for the party, declined to comment on the subpoenas. “We don’t comment on pending investigations,” he said.

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The local Republicans on Dec. 14, 2020 signed certificates affirming that Donald Trump — not President Joe Biden, who won the election here by nearly 100,000 votes — should receive the five electoral votes, according to documents published by watchdog group American Oversight. The signers are Jewll Powdrell, Deborah W. Maestas, Lupe Garcia, Anissa Ford-Tinnin and Rosie Tripp.

Herrera and Ford-Tinnin used to be high-ranking members of the state Republican Party.

So far, the New Mexico Republican Party has refused to comment on the acts by its members, and the signers have been less than forthcoming. Maestas, reached last week by phone, referred comment to the state GOP and its chairman Steve Pearce. A party spokesperson, however, said the local party would not be commenting.

“When we have something to say, we’ll definitely get it out, but I’m not going to be commenting on that right now,” spokesperson Mike Curtis told Source New Mexico. He then hung up before answering whether the party directed Maestas to refer questions their way.

Powdrell declined to comment to Source New Mexico, though he’s spoken previously to the Las Cruces Sun-News and said he had “no regrets” in signing the certificate. Garcia, Ford-Tinnin and Tripp could not be reached.

HOW IT WORKS

Each state party designates “electors” to sign certificates granting their presidential candidate the electoral votes they won in each state. In New Mexico, that meant that on Dec. 14 last year, five party officials arrived at the Roundhouse to deliver their certificates and, in doing so, cast the state’s electoral votes for Biden. New Mexicans elected Biden by about 99,000 votes here, a victory of almost 11 percentage points.

But five Republicans here apparently submitted a separate set of certificates to a federal entity at some point, according to American Oversight. It’s not yet clear who coordinated the effort in New Mexico or who submitted the records.

The five Republicans signed the fake certifications despite Biden’s margin of victory and at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in New Mexico, when about 30 people were dying each day here.

Last week, Attorney General Hector Balderas referred the matter to the United States Attorney’s Office prosecutors, and he said he would begin a review of state law as it applies here in New Mexico. A spokesperson told Source New Mexico on Monday that the state review is not yet a criminal investigation.

“Election laws are the foundation of our democracy and must be respected,” Balderas said in a statement. “While review under state law is ongoing, we have referred this matter to the appropriate federal law enforcement authorities and will provide any assistance they deem necessary.”

The signed certificates came from New Mexico and six other states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada —, according to American Oversight, which obtained the records from a Freedom of Information Request. They attempted to certify Trump as the winner of the election despite Biden receiving about 7 million more votes nationally and winning all seven states. Trump and other mainstream Republicans falsely claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Recent reporting by CNN and the Washington Post found that Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani spearheaded the scheme to get alternate electors queued up in each state to certify the election for Trump, despite what the actual results showed. It was an integral part of the Trump administration’s effort to overturn the results of the election, according to the news reports, and it may become a subject of the ongoing congressional review investigating the Jan. 6 uprising at the United States Capitol building.

The faked certificates submitted from New Mexico are also different from those in most of the other six states. Those other certificates begin by stating: “We, the undersigned, being the duly elected and qualified Electors…”

But those from New Mexico and Pennsylvania add a caveat — one that would make them electors only if the Democratic electors’ votes are tossed out for some unexplained reason. It states:

“We, the undersigned, on the understanding that it might be later determined that we are the duly elected and qualified Electors …”

Joshua Kastenberg, a University of New Mexico law professor, teaches courses on constitutional law and criminal law. He said the New Mexico signers’ caveat might weaken any case against them, because it enables them a “safety valve” with which they can claim they were not attempting to undermine the election here, and instead just signing in case Biden’s victory was tossed out.

But it doesn’t mean they’ll escape being indicted for election fraud, Kastenberg said, which is what he says their conduct amounts to under state law.

“They’re not in as bad a position as, say, the Michigan folks,” Kastenberg said. “To me, it’s still probably enough to get an indictment.”

The indictment would be for “signing or offering to sign a certificate of registration when not a qualified elector,” which is a fourth-degree felony under state law. The fact that the signers included the caveat might make a jury more sympathetic, he said, but the five of them were clearly not qualified electors, he said.

“They probably had a lawyer in their midst saying, ‘This is our escape clause case. If we get into trouble we can say, unlike the others, we put this conditional statement in there.’” he said. “But here’s the thing – they’re holding themselves out as legitimate electors” and they’re not.

Michigan’s attorney general also referred the case there to federal prosecutors, and Nevada’s said the case is on the office’s radar.

As for a federal indictment, Kastenberg said, it depends on the manner in which the fake certifications were delivered and to whom. It could amount to mail or wire fraud, a broad category of crime that prohibits “any scheme or artifice to defraud the United States government or others,” he said, though that is typically related to monetary damages.

New Mexico governor backs $15 min wage for school workers - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham now backs a $15 minimum wage for school workers.

"I did get word five minutes before this hearing that the executive does support the $15 an hour minimum," state Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus told legislators during a joint meeting of the state House and Senate on Friday.

A budget proposal from Lujan Grisham to the Legislature earlier this month had called for a $15 minimum wage for state workers, but not for school workers.

In a call with reporters on Jan. 7 touting a proposal to raise licensed teacher salaries by as much as 22%, Lujan Grisham said that school districts already had the capability to fund $15-per-hour salaries saying: "It is within the reach of the school districts. And frankly, they just need to do it."

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Sackett confirmed the governor's support for the $15 minimum Friday.

Inflation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and other stresses on the labor market are driving wage growth including in low-wage jobs that schools rely on to run, from bus drivers to cafeteria workers to custodians.

In Santa Fe, a sign at Mcdonald's advertises $14-per-hour starting pay, higher than the lowest paid part-time positions in local cafeterias in the local school district, just over $12 per hour.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth has said he supports the $15 minimum wage for public employees in state government and at public schools.

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Associated Press writer Morgan Lee contributed to this report.

Albuquerque mayor pleads with lawmakers to help with crime - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller told a panel of state lawmakers Friday that they need to help New Mexico's largest city deal with its persistent crime problems by clearing the way for the most violent defendants to be kept behind bars pending trial.

While making his latest plea, the Democratic mayor said residents are "screaming for the Legislature to help our city."

"We are doing everything we can and we need your help," he said. "So if that means amending things later, if it means new bills, that's fine. We just need your help."

At issue is legislation that would create a specific pathway for keeping defendants accused of murder, rape and other violent crimes jailed pending trial. District attorneys contend it would help close a revolving door in the criminal justice system, but public defenders and civil rights advocates say there are constitutional concerns and have questioned whether it would address the problem as intended.

Republican Rep. Greg Nibert, an attorney who represents constituents in a rural district 200 miles away from Albuquerque, said he has been working for years to fix what many have recognized as a broken system. He likened the current state of criminal justice to a slap on the wrist.

"I know that we as a legislative body have got to get a handle on crime if we have any reasonable expectation of having economic growth and having more prosperity for our citizens," he said. "Businesses will not come to a place where there is rampant crime."

The legislation comes as residents voice frustration about the shortcomings of New Mexico's 2016 bail reform effort, which was designed to do away with the cash bail system and keep low-level offenders without financial means from languishing in jail. It also allowed prosecutors to seek detention for defendants deemed dangerous.

Officials with the Albuquerque Police Department testified Friday about the rise in crime over the last several years. Others talked about crime in the suburbs and in communities like Gallup, Aztec and Taos.

Albuquerque shattered its homicide record last year, and there have been several homicides since the start of the year.

In a nod to promises made by politicians during an election year, some lawmakers said they were worried about rushing any changes to the pretrial detention system without fully vetting them.

"We as legislators, we need to make sure that if the legislation moves forward, that we do everything in our power, that we do everything that we could possibly do to ensure that this piece of legislation passes constitution muster," Nibert said.

Nibert said he expects the matter to end up before the New Mexico Supreme Court. He added: "It will be challenged. And if we are wrong, it will cost the state of New Mexico a lot of money."

Democratic Rep. Gail Chasey of Albuquerque, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said she had concerns about how the bill was written and worried that it wouldn't address the problem.

"I just hope we have actually have a solution that isn't ignoring the reality and the data that we have now," she said.

Chasey's committee was expected to discuss the bill Friday, marking what could be its last stop before the House floor.

While police officers can attest to seeing more crime, Albuquerque Deputy Police Commander Kyle Hartsock testified that the number of criminals hasn't necessarily grown, but rather the same people are committing more crimes.

"The same criminals know it's a joke. They know they can just come out and keep doing these crimes over and over," he said. "They know how easy it is to avoid detection of pretrial services monitoring, of probation officers and even police. Keeping certain violent criminals incarnated until their trial is honestly one of the only ways to keep this society safe."

Officials also disputed the effectiveness of GPS ankle monitors when it comes to violent offenders, pointing out that defendants are not monitored around the clock nor are there immediate consequences if they violate conditions of their release.

"We have to match the right tool to the right process and the right crimes, and right now GPS monitoring is not the right tool for violent crimes," Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said.

Jail guard union president warns of heightened chances for a riot at MDC – Austin Fisher, Source NM

The head of the union representing guards at the Metropolitan Detention Center is skeptical that calling in the New Mexico National Guard will solve the problems there.

Joseph Trujeque is the president of AFSCME Council 18 Local 2499, the union representing guards at MDC. He works there, too, and has for around 20 years.

A big staffing shortage and a cyberattack has left inmates locked in their cells. The low morale and harsh conditions raise his concerns about the place erupting in violence.

He said he is always worried about a jail riot, no matter the circumstances, but there is a heightened threat of a riot right now. On lockdown, inmates cannot take showers, contact their loved ones or have visitors. And after the ransomware attack, they couldn’t access their commissary, Trujeque said, which is one of the only sources of relief for them.

There are between 1,150 and 1,300 inmates inside the jail, MDC Chief Greg Richardson told state lawmakers on Wednesday night.

According to Trujeque, a big portion of the inmates are in jail awaiting trial and have not been convicted. They are struggling through poor medical and psychiatric care, constitutional violations, lockdowns, and inhumane conditions, according to a review by Source New Mexico.

Staff members at the jail have been leaving because they are overworked, underpaid — and, he specifies, lacking support from Bernalillo County officials.

“You would think that the third-largest public entity in the state would have some kind of defense or some kind of plan if something like that were to happen,” he said in an interview with Source NM. “I’m pretty saddened that the county had no plan, nothing in place. That shows how much the county cares about their employees.”

COVID DEATHS INSIDE

Three guards and one inmate at MDC have died from COVID-19, Trujeque said.

Asked about these deaths, county spokesperson Tia Bland did not deny them but wrote that the county will not release any information protected by federal health privacy law.

“We will not release the names of the staff out of respect for their families,” Bland wrote.

The jail is still at the same place it was when the pandemic first began in terms of measures taken to slow the spread of COVID, Trujeque said. Richardson told lawmakers the same thing.

That includes social distancing, N95 masks required for inmates and staff at all times, no physically transporting inmates to court, and 15-day quarantines for all inmates upon arrival and any inmate who tests positive.

When an inmate tests positive for COVID-19, their entire unit is locked down, Trujeque said, so each inmate is locked alone in their cell. They are only let out for 30 minutes at a time to allow for testing, he said, and guards remove inmates who test negative from that unit.

There is no mandate for staff to be vaccinated, he said, and many staff members aren’t. The jail’s policy around unpaid quarantine leave could be contributing to spread at MDC.

Any guard who tests positive stays at home for 15 days and must return to work, he said, even if they’re not completely healthy yet.

The union and the county agreed on Jan. 21 to provide paid leave for quarantine, but it is only for five days. “The only option is, you come back to work, or you use your own leave, if you have it,” he said.

County calls on the military for help

The Bernalillo County Commission on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution asking for help from the New Mexico National Guard, including 13 jail guards who have been on leave while on deployment with the National Guard.

Trujeque said he does not know if 13 people will make a significant difference.

Even if 100 troops showed up immediately, they still could not step foot in the jail, he said, until they get 10 weeks of training required by McClendon v. City of Albuquerque, the decades-old lawsuit over conditions and overcrowding at the jail.

The troops cannot perform guard duties, Bland wrote in an email Thursday. The county has asked for their help to do administrative duties, she wrote.

The resolution also requires other counties holding inmates at MDC to collect them. There are probably between 50 and 100 inmates who fit that description, Trujeque said.

National Guard troops — along with county behavioral health workers already filling in at the jail — are not allowed to have any contact with inmates nor can they take on any duties reserved for guards, according to a list of responsibilities obtained by Source New Mexico through a public records request.

ARE THE CAMERAS UP?

As of Wednesday, guards had access to only 40 of the approximately 200 cameras at the jail, he said. This conflicts with what Roseanne Otero Gonzales, MDC’s director of administrative services, told the Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council a week before.

Otero Gonzales said, “now we have full (camera) coverage over this facility.”

That may be true, but according to Trujeque, the problem is not whether the cameras are operational, but rather whether guards are able to access them.

The county denies this.

“All cameras are currently operational and accessible,” Bland wrote Thursday.

'DANGEROUS WORK ENVIRONMENT'

Trujeque has worked at the jail since 1999. He left for a couple of years but returned in 2005.

“I’ve never seen, felt or heard of the morale being like this,” he said. “People do not want to walk into that place right now.”

The lockdown is, in part, caused by the lack of guards’ ability to supervise all of the inmates.

The majority of the staff is working three, 16-hour shifts per week, usually three days in a row, Trujeque said.

“It’s creating a dangerous work environment for not only the civilian staff but for the inmates as well,” he said.

Each pod at MDC contains numerous inmates. The list of responsibilities for non-guards expects them to “focus on pods where one officer is assigned to more than one pod.” That guidance might seem a little out of touch, because on really bad days, a single guard is expected to supervise an entire unit, Trujeque said.

That’s eight pods.

The jail is missing scores of guards, and pay might be part of the problem. Starting pay for guards at MDC is around $18.50 per hour. The county government needs to step up, he said, and bump everyone’s pay by $3 to $5 per hour. Bland wrote in an email Thursday that the current MDC vacancy rate is 39%, including guards, sergeants and lieutenants. She refused to provide specific numbers, she said, for security reasons..

Guards are suffering from the psychological effects of witnessing people incarcerated there committing suicide, fighting or attacking guard, Trujeque said.

“You can imagine the stress level of having to make sure that every single inmate is OK, do your checks on time, and not get in trouble at work,” he added.

The bottom line is, MDC needs to get staff in the door. “Everybody’s working all this overtime, and it seems like the county’s only answer is to make the overworked and frustrated people do more,” he said. “And that’s not the answer.”

Judge sides with Treasury in tribes' coronavirus relief case - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

A federal judge has sided with the Treasury Department in a case that challenged the distribution of coronavirus relief aid to Native American governments.

Tribal governments had received $4.8 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act based on federal housing population data that some said was badly skewed.

Three tribes in Oklahoma, Florida and Kansas sued over the methodology that relied on population data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The tribes alleged they were shortchanged by millions because tribal enrollment figures were higher than those reflected in federal data.

The figure for the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, for example, was zero in federal data.

The Treasury Department revised the methodology to correct the most substantial disparities after a federal appeals court said the methodology likely was arbitrary and capricious, and sent additional payments to some tribes.

The Shawnee Tribe was satisfied and dropped its legal challenge. The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians in Florida and the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Kansas argued the new amounts didn't make sense when broken down to a per-person figure and continued their fight in court.

U.S. District Court Judge Ahmit Mehta ruled Friday that the Treasury Department's revised methodology was reasonable, "even if some tribes ended up worse off than if Treasury had simply used better data in 2020."

Congress gave the department discretion in how to dole out the funding.

Carol Heckman, an attorney for the Prairie Band, said Friday the tribe hasn't decided whether to appeal the decision. But she pointed to what she saw as a number of wins in the case.

Prairie Band received an additional $864,000 because of its legal pursuit, Heckman said. The case influenced the way the federal government distributed money to tribes under the American Rescue Plan Act by not relying on outdated HUD figures.

And, a federal appeals court ruled Mehta had to consider the tribes' claims on the merits after initially ruling the Treasury Department's methodology wasn't subject to court review.

"On balance, it's been very successful litigation despite this decision," Heckman said. "I'm really kind of happy."

Attorneys for the Miccosukee did not respond to email and phone requests for comment Friday. The tribe received an additional payment of nearly $825,000 because of the lawsuit.

The Shawnee Tribe received another $5.2 million.

It's unclear which other tribes received additional payments last spring based on the revised methodology. The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The agency had said it would look at the difference between the federal data and enrollment figures provided by tribes and rank them, so the top 15% of tribes would receive more money to correct the most substantial disparities.

New Mexico nursing shortage prompts call for more funding - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico didn't have enough nurses even before the pandemic and nursing advocates renewed their push Thursday for lawmakers to boost funding to increase capacity at nursing schools around the state to remedy a situation made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

Legislative analysts have estimated that New Mexico needs more than 6,200 nurses to meet demand.

Budget proposals by the Democrat-dominated Legislature and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham include $15 million for the state Department of Higher Education to help nursing programs hire additional faculty, pay for student stipends and fund other efforts aimed at expanding nursing school programs.

Supporters have estimated that the additional funding could increase the number of nursing students by about 1,500 a year.

Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Nurses Association, said New Mexico needs a consistent effort lasting years to work toward erasing its nursing deficit.

"So, we're going to need this money and going to need more money every year if we're serious about addressing the crisis in our state," she told members of the Senate Finance Committee. "And there's no other way to do it, there's no other way out of this crisis other than growing our own nurses. Thousands of nurses are not going to move to New Mexico."

Siegle and others testified that the pipeline of nursing students has declined because some are often unprepared for the academic rigors involved or may have financial hardships that prevent them from completing training. Those who testified said having more instructors and better infrastructure to support nursing students could help alleviate those problems.

Separate legislation would provide an avenue for nursing students to pay off loans.

A survey conducted by the New Mexico Hospital Association in September showed that 12% of the state's nursing workforce consisted of traveling nurses. That included New Mexico nurses who travel to other parts of the state to work as higher paid contract nurses.

Lillian Montoya, president and CEO of St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, said the challenges related to the pandemic are different this year as more people sought care for non-COVID-19-related health problems. Whether the hospital treats them in the intensive care unit or monitors them as part of a home health program, Montoya said nurses still are needed.

She said about 25% of her nursing workforce is made up of contract nurses as opposed to staff.

"What this pandemic did was reveal that we have so much more to do in terms in aggressively planning for workforce pipeline, both one that we grow locally and one that we're able to attract from out of state until we can grow our own to get to that place," Montoya said.

Officials from community colleges and universities that operate some of New Mexico's nursing education programs said most of their students end up staying in the communities in which they are educated.

Alexa Doig, the director of the School of Nursing at New Mexico State University, said the school several years ago recognized the need to address the shortage then and used university and private donor funding to grow the program by about 35%.

"We're really at a stage where we need recurring funding to be able to even just sustain this, let alone try to increase enrollment," she said, pointing to costs related to computer systems, training facilities and accreditation requirements.

Democratic Sen. Nancy Rodriguez of Santa Fe said building more partnerships between hospitals and the state's nursing schools will be key as New Mexico tries to fill the gap.

"The variants, the virus and so on, it's only a contributor but we've had this since way before," she said of the shortage. "We knew this problem was significant and we just let it go. We thought it was going to go away and so now we know what we're facing."

Support for hydrogen incentives falters in New Mexico - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

State legislators gave a cold reception Thursday to a package of financial incentives aimed at scaling up hydrogen production using New Mexico's vast natural gas reserves.

A state House panel voted 6-4 to indefinitely postpone consideration of a bill that would offer grants, loans and tax breaks to a nascent hydrogen industry. Time is running short for the bill to advance during a 30-day legislative session that ends on Feb. 17.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has backed the initiative with enthusiasm, deploying top environmental and economic development officials to lobby legislators.

The proposal coincides with an $8 billion federal government set-aside for as many as four "hydrogen hub" production and distribution centers somewhere in the United States. Public investments in hydrogen are aimed at developing cleaner sources of fuel for industrial sectors and the deployment of fuel-cell vehicles in heavy, long-haul trucking.

Environmentalists are wary of the impacts of hydrogen production that uses natural gas as an energy source and feedstock, arguing that it can prolong dependence on fossil fuels and relies on relatively unproven technologies to capture and dispose of carbon pollution that otherwise contributes to global warming.

Democratic state Rep. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup urged colleagues to quickly set up a framework for incentives in public-private partnerships to help New Mexico gain a foothold in the industry.

"If you're not the lead dog, the scenery never changes," said Lundstrom, chairwoman of the lead House budget committee. A draft of the state's annual spending plan would devote $125 million for hydrogen-related grants, loans and administrative expenses at state agencies.

Nearly 300 people logged into an online waiting room to comment on the proposal in one-minute intervals. An informal survey showed about three-fourths of the audience opposed the bill.

Supportive comments poured in from business associations, rural electric cooperatives, hydrogen entrepreneurs and multinational energy giants Chevron and ExxonMobile. Local government and public-school administrators said the bill held out the promise of restoring jobs to regions where coal-fired power plants have closed down in recent years.

But the plan came under withering criticism from environmentalists and an array of advocates for indigenous communities and social justice causes. They highlighted unresolved technological concerns, including the challenges of capturing and storing carbon dioxide as a byproduct of hydrogen production on a large scale.

Democratic state Rep. Matthew McQueen of Galisteo expressed reservations about providing incentives for "enhanced oil recovery," referring to underground carbon storage techniques that help produce more oil.

Republican legislators voted in unison against advancing the legislation, joined by two Democrats, at the close of a seven-hour public hearing.

New Mexico: New director of infrastructure, implementation -Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday announced the appointment of Bianca Ortiz-Wertheim as the director of infrastructure and implementation.

Ortiz-Wertheim comes into the role from the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management where she served as the cabinet secretary since May 2020.

While at DHS, Ortiz-Wertheim managed the distribution of more than $100 million in federal grants to New Mexico's communities, funding investments in irrigation systems, electrical grids, and other critical infrastructure.

In her new role, Ortiz-Wertheim will work directly with broadband and water advisors to organize and oversee major investments in New Mexico's infrastructure following the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law last year.

Lujan Grisham's deputy chief of staff Diego Arencón will serve as the acting secretary of DHSEM until a replacement is named by the governor.

Parker out as NMSU provost; search for replacement launched - Las Cruces Sun News, Associated Press

Carol Parker is out as New Mexico State University provost two months after being placed on paid administrative leave.

NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu disclosed in an email to university employees this week that Parker was no longer a university employee as of Jan. 21, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

Arvizu thanked Parker for her service to NMSU and wished Parker "the very best in her future endeavors."

Arvizu said Vice President for Student Success Renay Scott will continue as acting provost during a search for a permanent replacement for Parker.

Parker was placed on leave Nov. 9 after faculty and student organizations passed no-confidence resolutions calling for the removals of Parker and President John Floros. The resolutions said NMSU overspent on administration and that administrators didn't listen to their concerns.

Floros earlier this month announced he would step down, making Arvizu the sole top leader.

Parker's 2020 decision to merge several colleges prompted faculty discontent. The NMSU regents approved the merger last May.

Parker's attorney, Kate Ferlic, in November said Parker denied the resolutions' allegations against her and said Parker put students' needs first.

Ferlic on Wednesday said Parker "looks forward to contributing to successful student outcomes ... at her next university."

Arvizu said Vice President for Student Success Renay Scott will continue as acting provost during a search for a permanent replacement for Parker.

US judge may suspend mustang roundup in Nevada; suit pending - By Scott Sonner Associated Press

A federal judge is considering temporarily suspending the capture of wild horses in Nevada where their advocates say the federal government is "needlessly and recklessly" killing free-roaming mustangs in violation of U.S. laws.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du says she expects to rule by Monday, maybe sooner, on the advocates' request for an emergency court order pending another hearing next week to learn more about the potential danger of roundup near the Utah state line.

The Bureau of Land Management insists it must gather the mustangs before the end of February — one of several scheduled on an expedited basis across the West due to severe drought.

"If the court grants the temporary restraining order and sets a hearing next week ... halts the gather for a few days through next week, what's the harm?" Du asked lawyers representing the agency Wednesday during a hastily called hearing in Reno.

Maggie Smith, a Justice Department lawyer, said a delay of even two or three days would prevent the agency from completing the removals before the end of the year.

The bureau is prohibited from using helicopters to drive the herds into temporary corrals from March 1 to June 1 when mares typically are pregnant and give birth. After that, the summer heat adds stress on the animals and in the fall, contractor availability becomes a problem, Smith said.

The horse advocates say the agency is squeezing the roundup of 2,030 horses in Nevada into a month under an illegal environmental assessment of a series of gathers over 10 years. Of the 1,048 gathered as of Wednesday, the bureau says 11 have died.

The horse groups says the low-flying helicopters combined with "unsafe muddy conditions on the ground in mid-January create a purely artificial hazard that is deadly to these wild horses, a congressional protected, public natural resource."

"This particular herd is foaling now and pregnant now," Jessica Blome, their lawyer, told Du on Wednesday. "If they had followed the proper process and monitored the herd, they would know that."