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WED: Storm expected to worsen driving conditions in New Mexico, + More

Snow accumulates on Gibson Blvd. in Albuquerque on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022
Megan Kamerick
Snow accumulates on Gibson Blvd. in Albuquerque on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022

Storm expected to worsen driving conditions in New Mexico - Associated Press

Forecasters say driving conditions were expected to worsen and cause road closures Wednesday in northern and central New Mexico due to snowfall from a major storm forecast to intensify into the night.

The National Weather Service reported poor road conditions from the storm were expected to hamper Albuquerque's evening commute and said a winter storm warning would be in effect for much of the state until noon Thursday.

"Travel could be very difficult to impossible," resulting in significant delays, the weather service said.

Schools were closed Wednesday in Santa Fe and mountainous areas on Albuquerque's eastern outskirts because of the storm.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico's second most populous city, schools on Thursday will shift to remote learning due to the potential for icy road conditions, officials said.

"We understand families and educators have to plan, and with our flexibility to go remote, this is what we need to do," said Superintendent Ralph Ramos.

Expected snowfall amounts in New Mexico on Wednesday and early Thursday included 6 inches in Albuquerque, 5 inches in Las Vegas and 8 inches in Clines Corner along Interstate 40.

Up to 14 inches of snow were forecast for the highest peaks in several mountain ranges.

Sen. Luján to be out at least 4 weeks, Biden agenda at risk - By Lisa Mascaro And Farnoush Amiri Associated Press

The Democrats' fragile hold on the Senate majority became vividly apparent Wednesday with the sudden illness of New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Luján, who won't be back to work for at least four weeks, throwing President Joe Biden's Supreme Court pick and lagging legislative agenda in doubt.

The 49-year-old Democrat remained hospitalized after suffering a stroke and is expected to make a full recovery. But Senate colleagues were blindsided by the news — even top-ranking leaders were reportedly unaware that Luján fell ill last Thursday, a stunning oversight. Barring any complications, he is expected to be back at work in four to six weeks, according to a senior aide granted anonymity to discuss the situation.

Without Luján's presence, the party no longer has full day-to-day control of what has been an evenly split Senate, leaving Biden's potential Supreme Court nomination, big priorities and even routine business at risk in the face of Republican objections.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who went to the White House later Wednesday to discuss the court nominee with Biden, spoke of the "awful, frightening" situation, but remained hopeful that Luján, one of the chamber's youngest members, would be "back to his old self" before too long and the Senate would carry on with its business.

"All of us are rooting for him every step of the way — between now and the day he makes his return to the Senate," Schumer said Wednesday.

The uncertainty shows just how precarious the Democrats' hold on power in Washington really is and the limits of Biden's ability to usher what's left of a once-bold agenda through Congress. The president's chance to confirm a Supreme Court nominee, a hoped-for reset for the administration and the party, could be dangerously at risk if Democrats are unable to count on their majority to overcome hardening Republican opposition.

Already, routine Senate business was being rearranged Wednesday, as the Senate Commerce Committee announced it would be postponing consideration of some of Biden's executive branch nominees because the panel, on which Luján is a member, needs all Democrats for the votes.

More pressing, though, is the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation battle to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. Democrats have been eager to shift to the high court fight, believing it will galvanize voters at a time when Biden's broader legislative agenda, including his sweeping Build Back Better Act and voting legislation, have collapsed.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the panel is planning to push ahead with consideration of Biden's Supreme Court pick as soon as the president announces his nominee, expected later this month.

"We don't anticipate any difficulties," Durbin told reporters at the Capitol.

The Senate is split 50-50, with Democrats holding an ever-so-fragile majority because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote.

As it stands, Biden's agenda has fallen apart on Capitol Hill, taken down by the one-two punch of Republican opposition and two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have joined Republicans to halt the president's priorities.

Lujan's illness is a reminder it's not just Manchin, Sinema and Republican opposition, but the health and welfare of every single senator that could make or break the Democrats' hold on power and the outcome of Biden's agenda.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has stymied both parties, as senators have been forced to isolate after testing positive for the virus or being exposed. This week, two Republicans, Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and John Hoeven of North Dakota, are working remotely because of positive virus tests.

"We always knew a 50/50 Senate was going to require patience as well as cooperation and we hope he's back soon," said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

Asked if progress on the president's agenda could be imperiled, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, "Life is precious," and noted the average age of senators. It is 64.

"I would just say we spend most of our time engaging in good faith about the president's agenda, and not making those calculations," Psaki said.

Luján's condition appears serious, but also improving. He is expected to be out for at least a month, according to a Democrat familiar with the situation who discussed it on condition of anonymity.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the Finance Committee, said, "Everybody in the Senate can count so we all know what votes mean."

Past illnesses, including strokes, have led to prolonged absences in the Senate, most recently with Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois and earlier with Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota.

More recently, Democrats faced a health scare last year when Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was diagnosed with cancer. She underwent radiation therapy and is cancer-free.

Rarely has a president tried to accomplish so much in Congress with so slim a majority, and the fallout has been swift and stark.

Luján's office announced that he checked himself into a hospital in Santa Fe on Thursday. His chief of staff, Carlos Sanchez, said the senator was then transferred to a hospital in Albuquerque for further evaluation.

His office added that Luján is still in the hospital but is expected to make a full recovery.

"Senator Luján was found to have suffered a stroke in the cerebellum, affecting his balance," the statement released Tuesday said. "As part of his treatment plan, he subsequently underwent decompressive surgery to ease swelling."

Most Senate Democrats hadn't spoken directly to Luján or his office as of Wednesday. Even his New Mexico colleague, Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich, shut down reporters inquiring about Lujan's health and wellbeing, calling the questions "unbelievable." But his absence was felt throughout the Senate, with both Republicans and Democratic lawmakers hailing his bipartisan work at the Commerce hearing Wednesday morning, according to committee chairwoman Maria Cantwell.

"He'll be back," Cantwell said. "But this is just a reminder of how fragile we all are as individuals, And certainly we get all in the big fight about trying to get things done, but this is a reminder that we should all work together."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the entire Senate is "praying for and pulling for our colleague."

GOP Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said he texted Luján Tuesday night to tell him he was thinking about him, but has not heard back yet and his staff said, "It may be a couple of days before he's able to get back to you."

Elected to the Senate in 2020, Luján is a quiet but well-known lawmaker on Capitol Hill, who helped lead Democrats to the House majority with its record-breaking class of freshmen recruits heading the campaign committee during the 2018 election year.


Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

Commissioners choose De La Cruz to fill House seatKUNM News, Albuqueqrue Journal

The Bernalillo County Commission appointed Art De La Cruz to the New Mexico House of Representatives on Wednesday to fill a seat vacated by Democrat Brittney Barreras.

The Albuquerque Journal reported De La Cruz, a former county commissioner, played a similar role in 2020 when the commission appointed him to fill another seat. De La Cruz ultimately lost the election to retain that seat to Barreras.

With the New Mexico Legislative in session, Bernalillo County commissioners were on a fast track to replace Barreras, who resigned her House seat representing an Albuquerque district to focus on her mental health.

Barreras said she had been honored to be trusted by her neighbors and community to represent them and did her best to serve the 12th District.

The commission voted 4-1 to appoint De La Cruz over two other applicants, both Democrats. They were Melissa Armijo, executive administrator for the National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation, and Nicole Michelle Olonovich, CEO of CSolPower LLC.

​​Authorities vow to never give up on unsolved killings- By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The remains of 11 women and an unborn child were discovered buried more than a decade ago in the desert on the edge of Albuquerque, kicking off what would be the largest homicide case in the police department's history.

Tips are still coming in today, and investigators said Wednesday they're hoping to get that one bit of information — however tiny it might seem — that will help to break open the case.

"I think that we have to remember that we can never give up hope," said Police Chief Harold Medina, who was a lieutenant on the graveyard shift when the discovery was made.

Authorities gathered to mark the 13th anniversary of the discovery of a human bone by a woman who was walking her dog on the mesa not far from a new housing development. It was the first of many skeletal remains that would be unearthed as part of an intense around-the-clock excavation that was followed by a nearly yearlong effort to identify the victims based on DNA and dental records.

A few years before the discovery, Detective Ida Lopez noticed women with ties to drugs and prostitution had been vanishing from Albuquerque. All of the women who made the detective's list were among those found at the mass grave site on Albuquerque's west side.

Authorities also noted Wednesday that eight women with similar backgrounds remain missing.

While many of the victims struggled with drugs, family members never imagined they would turn up dead. Some were mothers and many knew each other.

"These women were loved, each one has a unique story and their families want answers, and we are dedicated to finding those answers," Lopez said in a statement.

The women's names were read aloud by City Councilor Klarissa Peña, whose district includes the area where the remains were found. She said the case has been burned into Albuquerque's collective memory and that a memorial park helps to keep the women's memories alive.

"These family members just want closure," she said. "We hope that there are tips out there or anybody who knows anything can help in closing this case so the families can finally put their family members to rest in peace."

Investigators said whoever killed the women was likely charming or friendly and able to build trust with these other street-wise women. They also said the person would have been comfortable with the place that the women were buried.

Nearly 1,200 tips have come in over the years and about 200 women with arrest records for drugs and prostitution have been interviewed as part of the case. A task force also is conducting an audit of all the tips to ensure each one has been worked to the fullest.

In 2018, two extensive searches were done — one of which used ground penetrating radar based on a tip received in search of evidence of the missing women. The other search was near the original dig site and was determined to be an ancient burial ground. In 2021, another search was conducted based on a tip but nothing turned up.

Other cold case homicides also are being reviewed to see if there are similarities.

Authorities said there are "more than a few" suspects in the serial killings, noting that the number changes as tips come in and as investigators rule out possible suspects.

The Albuquerque Police Department, the FBI and the families of the women have contributed to a reward of up to $100,000 for information that leads to an arrest and successful prosecution in this case.

Mayor Tim Keller said new information is what will lead to the case being solved.

"Sometimes we don't have all the answers, but we're not going to quit," he said.

New Mexico to test K-12 students for 1st time in 2 years - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico's top educator said Wednesday the state will carry out testing of K-12 students this spring, after receiving waivers to federal testing requirements for the past two years.

"We do have a statewide standardized assessment that will be given at the end of this school year," Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus told state senators at his confirmation hearing.

He said that the department will also try to backfill the lack of testing in part by asking school districts to submit internal testing data for analysis by the state this summer.

Like most states, New Mexico took advantage of a blanket waiver on federal testing requirements in 2020. It was one of a handful to obtain a waiver in 2021.

But data points from 2019 won't be directly comparable to the testing in 2022. That's because Steinhaus' boss, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, replaced the testing system of her Republican predecessor after taking office that year.

The plan was to pivot to another testing format in 2020, but that was delayed due to the pandemic. Grisham is running for reelection this year with few objective metrics of educational achievement in the K-12 system.

Steinhaus was confirmed by the Senate in a 37-4 vote. He has led the education department since August.

Indigneous language speakers could get teacher salaries - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

The New Mexico Legislature advanced a bill Wednesday that would increase the minimum salaries of some fluent Indigenous language speakers who teach the languages to children in schools but are not state certified teachers.

The instructors who speak Navajo, Zuni, Keres and other Native American languages work for school systems at non-teaching jobs for which they are paid much less than teachers despite the work that they do teaching languages to students.

About 100 people in New Mexico have Indigenous language certificates approved by their tribes and administered by state education officials. The bill would provide state funding to cover those certificate holders with minimum salary protections of middle-tier licensed teachers.

The measure could double or triple instructor salaries from the local minimum wage to a teacher salary that currently stands at $50,000, but is expected to be raised to $60,000 by the Legislature this year.

The House Education Committee advanced the bill Wednesday in a 9-1 vote that included Democratic and Republican support.

The bill's supporters said the salary increase is essential for fairness, will boost the number of Native American instructors in the classroom and preserve language and culture.

Critics voiced concerns that school workers like bus drivers would benefit from the program.

New Mexico governor appoints new top water official - Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday appointed her recently named water adviser to now serve as the state engineer.

As New Mexico's top water official, Mike Hamman will overseeing water rights and will serve as secretary of the Interstate Stream Commission, which manages interstate water compacts and long-term water planning.

Hamman will replace John D'Antonio, who stepped down in December after citing a persistent lack of financial support to protect the state's water resources.

Hamman told lawmakers during a legislative hearing this week that one priority will be completing the governor's 50-year water plan as the state aims to be better prepared for a more arid future. He also warned lawmakers last week that New Mexico needs readily available tools so it can accommodate years with particularly slim supplies.

The governor in a statement issued Wednesday described Hamman as a consummate expert in his field.

Before taking on the advisory role in the governor's office, Hamman was the chief engineer and chief executive officer for the irrigation district that covers tens of thousands of acres along the Rio Grande in central New Mexico. He also worked for nearly two decades at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, ending his tenure there as a regional manager.

Republicans crowd into primary race for governor, Congress - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Candidates are crowding into the Republican primary election to challenge Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as well as first-term Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury of Albuquerque in a newly drawn First District.

New Mexico's 2022 election landscape came into sharp focus on Tuesday during the one-day registration period for primary contestants to pursue major-party nominations that include the Libertarian Party.

Democrats control every statewide elected office, as Lujan Grisham seeks a second term. She led the state through the coronavirus outbreak with aggressive emergency health mandates and vaccination programs, and is proposing tax cuts and tougher criminal penalties and bail provisions in response to surging crime rates in Albuquerque.

GOP contenders for governor include former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2020 against Ben Ray Luján. State Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences, a consultant to early childhood providers, also filed a signature petition to enter the Republican primary, along with second-term Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block.

Additional GOP contenders include anti-abortion activist Ethel Maharg of Albuquerque and West Point graduate Greg Zanetti of Albuquerque. Zanetti lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 1994 to Walter Bradley, who won the general election alongside Gov. Gary Johnson.

First-term congresswomen are defending all three New Mexico congressional districts under newly drawn political boundaries that divvy up the state's conservative oil-producing region in the southeast of the state.

Several statewide offices are on the ballot, including secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and land commissioner overseeing New Mexico's vast underground oil and natural gas reserves.

Stansbury, who won a special congressional election in 2021, is defending an Albuquerque-anchored seat held by Democrats for more than a decade. In December, the district added a swath of rural, conservative leaning territory to the southeast of Albuquerque.

Republican contenders for Stansbury's seat include Albuquerque city councilor Louie Sanchez, who owns a firearms store and a shooting range and ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination to U.S. Senate in 2020, and perennial Republican political candidate Michelle Garcia Holmes, a former police detective and administrator for the state attorney general's office.

Garcia Holmes ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018 and lost a run for Congress in 2020 to Deb Haaland, before Haaland's appointment as U.S. secretary of interior. Jacquelyn Reeve and Joshua Taylor Neal also are seeking the GOP nomination in the First District.

Las Cruces city councilor Gabe Vasquez is among contenders seeking the Democratic nomination to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell in a district that recently annexed heavily Hispanic neighborhoods of Albuquerque.

In northern and eastern New Mexico, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez is defending her seat in a possible rematch against Republican contender Alexis Martinez Johnson of Santa Fe, who lost to Leger Fernandez by 17 percentage points in 2020. Jerald McFall also is pursuing the Republican nomination in the 3rd District, where he lost by more than 30 percentage points in 2018.

Candidates will vie in open races to serve as the state's top public prosecutor with the departure next year of Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Contenders for the Democratic nomination include Raúl Torrez, district attorney to the Albuquerque region, and Brian Colón, who is stepping down as state auditor. Gallup-based attorney Jeremy Michael Gay is seeking the Republican nomination.

Termed-out State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg is endorsed as a potential successor to Democrat Heather Benavidez, a former municipal and magistrate judge who oversees state treasury programs including investment and savings accounts for people with disabilities. She'll vie for the Democratic nomination against Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya, with Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya seeking the GOP nomination.

New Mexico state spending plan advances toward House vote - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A proposal to increase annual state general fund spending by $1 billion — or 14% — advanced toward a House floor vote Tuesday with the backing of Democrats in the legislative majority and some Republicans.

The lead House budget-writing committee endorsed the budget bill on a 15-3 vote, with three Republican legislators in opposition to the $8.5 billion spending plan that also sets aside $400 million for a variety of possible tax cuts.

The plan would channel a windfall of state income linked to federal pandemic relief and surging oil production in an effort to shore up public education, health care, policing and infrastructure spending.

In a state with high rates of poverty, the proposal extends free college tuition to most New Mexico youths pursuing two- and four-year degrees, and fully funds home-based care for thousands of people contending with severe disabilities since childhood.

"That is a major opportunity for the state of New Mexico," said Democratic state Rep. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup, chairwoman of the House budget committee. "I think people will be very pleased."

In all, the bill calls for general fund spending of $8.47 billion for the fiscal year starting on July 1, 2022 — a nearly 14% increase from current annual spending of $7.45 billion.

That still should leave the state with an unspent general fund balance of $2.6 billion — equal to 30% of annual spending obligations. The spending bill incorporates many recommendations from Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Republican state Rep. Randal Crowder of Clovis expressed unease about the state's growing reliance on U.S. government spending and cast a vote against the bill in committee.

"I'm blown away by the budget. It seems to meet every need of everybody," Crowder said. "This is clearly a record high tide."

The budget proposal would establish new state offices to help address climate change and prevent gun-violence.

Rep. Candy Ezzell of Roswell said the $300,000 allocation to the Health Department for preventing gun violence should go toward law enforcement initiatives.

Salaries would increase by at least 7% for public employees in state government and public education. Minimum salaries for teachers and principals, at various career stages, would rise to between $50,000 and $70,000.

Even larger pay hikes are slated for state police. And new taxpayer contributions are proposed for public-school pensions and health care plans for state employees.

The budget sets a $15 minimum wage for public employees at schools and across state government, at a cost of nearly $12 million.

In all, state general fund spending on public schools would increase by $425 million to $3.87 billion, a 12% boost.

Legislators are redoubling efforts to extend classroom learning time at K-12 schools, with funding for programs that offer longer academic calendars and school days.

Teachers that engage in the programs can earn an additional 3% salary raise for a combined 10% increase. That's not including additional pay that comes with expanded school hours or additional days.

The state would devote $1.3 billion to Medicaid spending as it bracing for the expiration of pandemic-era emergency spending by the federal government on the health care program for the poor.

Legislators want to extend pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage to mothers for a year after births, up from two months, by spending $14 million. A majority of births in New Mexico are covered by Medicaid.

Lujan Grisham is backing a separate bill that would combine and increase state scholarship funding to cover all tuition and fees for in-state college students who maintain a C-plus grade point average. It would apply to part- or full-time attendance at any New Mexico public college, university or tribal college.

Legislators are considering a slight reduction in state taxes on retail sales and business services along with several proposals to limit or eliminate state taxes on Social Security income. Additional proposals are possible during a 30-day legislative session that ends on Feb. 17.

New Mexico debates bill to block spent nuclear fuel storage - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and members of New Mexico's congressional delegation already have voiced strong opposition to building a multibillion-dollar facility along the state's border with Texas that would store tons of spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants around the U.S.

Now, the New Mexico Legislature is considering a bill that supporters say would keep the state from becoming the nation's de facto permanent dumping ground for nuclear waste.

Top New Mexico officials contend the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hasn't done enough to vet plans by Holtec International to build a facility to store thousands of tons of spent uranium in the state. They argue that without a plan by the federal government to deal with spent fuel, the material would remain in New Mexico indefinitely.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has also expressed his opposition to a similar storage facility in his state. Both states have sued the federal government over the issue.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces, who is sponsoring the New Mexico legislation, said the federal government needs to address the problem and establish a policy for dealing with the spent fuel piling up at the nation's nuclear power plants.

"New Mexico, with less than one half of 1% of the nation's population, should not continue to be the sacrifice zone because we can be exploited," he told fellow lawmakers, noting that many communities have passed resolutions opposed to bringing high-level nuclear waste to the state.

Some southeastern New Mexico residents testified during a legislative committee meeting Tuesday that Holtec International's proposal would be safe and create jobs.

In New Mexico, the planned facility initially would store up to 8,680 metric tons of used uranium fuel. Future expansion could make room for as many as 10,000 canisters of spent fuel over six decades.

Federal regulators in September granted a license for an interim storage facility across the border in Andrews County, Texas. That facility is licensed to take up to 5,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel rods from power plants and more than 231 tons of other radioactive waste. Possible expansion could increase the total capacity to 40,000 metric tons of fuel, but additional regulatory approval would be needed.

After regulators approved that site, Abbott, the Republican Texas governor, tweeted: "Texas will not become America's nuclear waste dumping ground."

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nuclear reactors across the country produce more than 2,000 metric tons of radioactive waste a year, with most of it remaining on-site because there's nowhere else to put it.

The federal government is paying to house the fuel, and the cost is expected to stretch into the tens of billions over the next decade, according to a review by independent government auditors.

The fuel is sitting at temporary storage sites in nearly three dozen states, either enclosed in steel-lined concrete pools of water or in steel and concrete containers known as casks.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has talked about revisiting recommendations made a decade ago by a blue ribbon commission on America's nuclear future. In November, her agency issued a request seeking input on a consent-based siting process to identify locations to store commercial spent nuclear fuel.

Despite opposition from environmentalists, the Biden administration has pointed to nuclear power as essential to achieving its goals to create a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035.

Opponents of the New Mexico legislation testified Tuesday that banning interim storage would take the state out of the national conversation and that could result in missed opportunities to address climate change.

State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, a retired law professor from Albuquerque, said federal law requires consent and that New Mexico has numerous concerns beyond the safety of an interim storage facility. She pointed to potential impacts on oil and gas development in the Permian Basin, which is one of the most productive regions in the world, and to environmental justice concerns for minority populations.

Sedillo Lopez said the legislation still will need to stand up to any legal challenges.

"This is a very, very serious issue," she said. "It's something that the state should take a long hard look at and exercise its authority in the areas where we have authority to do so."

Sen. Luján suffers stroke, expected to make 'full recovery' - By Farnoush Amiri Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico is expected to make a full recovery after suffering a stroke and being hospitalized last week, when he began to experience dizziness and fatigue, according to his chief of staff.

The 49-year-old Democrat checked himself into a hospital in Santa Fe on Thursday. His chief of staff, Carlos Sanchez, said the senator was then transferred to a hospital in Albuquerque for further evaluation.

"Senator Luján was found to have suffered a stroke in the cerebellum, affecting his balance," the statement released Tuesday said. "As part of his treatment plan, he subsequently underwent decompressive surgery to ease swelling."

His office added that Luján is still in the hospital but is expected to make a full recovery.

It was initially unclear when Lujan would return to the Senate and what impact his absence would have.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters he was anticipating Lujan's "quick return to the Senate," adding, "I believe the Senate will be able to carry forward with its business."

But in Lujan's absence, Democrats would have just 49 votes compared to Republicans' 50, assuming all other senators are healthy. There might be instances in which Democrats would lack the votes needed to approve legislation or nominations over unanimous GOP opposition.

Democrats will retain majority control of the chamber because its membership is divided 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast tie-breaking votes.

New Mexico's other senator, Democrat Martin Heinrich, sent his regards to Luján. "I know that all of my fellow Senators and our constituents in New Mexico join me in sending our best wishes to him, his family, and his staff," he wrote in a tweet.

The surgery Luján underwent is a decompressive craniectomy, which temporarily removes a piece of the skull to allow a swelling brain room to expand.

Luján won the Senate seat in 2020 after serving six terms in the House, where he was a trusted ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. As one of the highest-ranking Latinos in Congress, Luján led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party's arm that supports House candidates, in the 2016 and 2018 elections.

* An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how many terms Luján served in the House. It was six, not five.

Embarrassed burglar leaves $200, flees home with his AR-15 -Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The owners of a New Mexico home were doubly surprised over the weekend to find a burglar in their house with an AR-15, and then to have him apologize, give them money and leave embarrassed.

The man had slept, bathed, dined and had some beer at the home on the outskirts of Santa Fe before the owners returned and discovered him, according to a Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office police report cited by the Albuquerque Journal.

He had an AR-15 scoped rifle but didn't threaten them, or take any of their jewelry or other belongings.

Instead, he gave the homeowners $200 as "reimbursement for the window he broke," the report said.

The suspect — about 6 feet tall and in his late 20s — also shared a bit of his story, telling the owners he was running from someone and that his family had been killed in east Texas, according to the report. He said his car had broken down outside Santa Fe.

The homeowners told authorities the man was "extremely embarrassed and apologetic about the situation," the report states.

The suspect left the home with his duffel bag and gun, walking down a ditch. His alleged larcenies totaled $15, the report said.

Sheriff's deputies came to the home and searched the ditch but didn't find anyone.

NMSU suspends concession sales to increase mask compliance -Las Cruces Sun News, Associated Press

New Mexico State University is suspending food and beverage sales during indoor spotting events because of what the university says is inconsistent compliance with the state's indoor mask mandate.

The suspension of concession sales will remain in effect until New Mexico's mask mandate is lifted statewide, the university said in a statement Monday.

Event staff and law enforcement personnel will enforce mask-wearing and fans unwilling to comply will be asked to leave the event, Chancellor Dan Arvizu said.

"Unfortunately, we are seeing less and less compliance with our state's indoor mask mandate during our home games, and fan behavior at Saturday's game was cause for grave concern for us and among our public health experts," Arvizu said in a memo to the campus community .

Many of the 12,307 people attending the men's basketball game Saturday between NMSU and Grand Canyon University were photographed without masks, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

Arvizu also indicated the university is prepared to restrict fan access to indoor athletic events until the mandate is lifted.

He said the university wants to avoid restricting fan access. "However, we must do what we can to create a safer environment for our Aggie community."

Winter storm brings freezing rain, snow to wide swath of US - By Paul J. Weber Associated Press

A major winter storm with millions of Americans in its path brought a mix of rain, freezing rain and snow to the middle section of the United States on Wednesday as airlines canceled hundreds of flights, governors urged residents to stay off roads and schools closed campuses.

The blast of frigid weather, which began arriving Tuesday night, put a long stretch of states from New Mexico and Colorado to Maine under winter storm warnings and watches. On Wednesday morning, parts of Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan saw freezing rain, sleet and snow.

More than a foot of snow was possible in Michigan by the time the storm moves through, on the heels of a vicious nor'easter last weekend that brought blizzard conditions to many parts of the East Coast.

"It will be a very messy system and will make travel very difficult," said Marty Rausch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

The footprint of the storm extended as far south as Texas, where nearly a year after a catastrophic freeze buckled the state's power grid in one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history, Gov. Greg Abbott defended the state's readiness. The forecast did not call for the same prolonged and frigid temperatures as the February 2021 storm and the National Weather Service said the system would, generally, not be as bad this time for Texas.

"No one can guarantee that there won't be any" outages caused by demand on the power grid, Abbott said Tuesday. "But what we will work to achieve, and what we're prepared to achieve is that power is going to stay on across the entire state."

In November, Abbott had, in fact, made a guarantee for winter: "I can guarantee the lights will stay on," he told Austin television station KTBC.

Abbott, whose handling of last year's blackouts is a top line of attack for Democrats as the Republican seeks a third term in 2022, said thousands of miles of roads in Texas will become "extraordinarily dangerous" over the coming days. Energy experts said the forecast this week, although below freezing, should not pose a challenge for Texas' grid.

"The question has always been if we get a repeat of last year, would the power stay on? And this is nowhere near a repeat of last year," said Doug Lewin, an energy consultant in Austin who has criticized Texas' response to the blackouts as insufficient.

No large-scale power outages were reported early Wednesday in Texas or elsewhere, according to poweroutage.us.

Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights in the U.S. scheduled for Wednesday, the flight-tracking service FlightAware.com showed, including more than half taken off the board in St. Louis. In an effort to stay ahead of the weather, Southwest Airlines announced Tuesday that it would suspend all of its flight operations Wednesday at St. Louis Lambert International Airport and Thursday at its Dallas Love Field hub. Airports in Chicago, Kansas City and Detroit canceled more flights than usual.

"Around the country, we're planning to operate a limited or reduced schedule from some cities in the path of the storm but will make adjustments to the schedule as needed," Southwest spokesman Dan Landson said.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency as school districts and universities shifted classes to online or canceled them entirely.

Illinois lawmakers canceled their three scheduled days of session this week as the central part of the state prepares for heavy snow, ice and high wind gusts in the region. In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt has declared a statewide state of emergency as the winter storm approached that would remain in effect for seven days.

The National Weather Service said 6 to 12 inches of snow was expected by Thursday morning in parts of the Rockies and Midwest, while heavy ice is likely from Texas through the Ohio Valley.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the weather service said 8 to 15 inches of snow was possible in parts of Michigan. That includes Detroit, where the mayor activated snow emergency routes and city crews were expected to work 12-hour shifts salting and plowing major roads.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, where up to 7 inches of snow and sleet was forecast but little ice, emergency management director Joe Kralicek said the event is not expected to cause large-scale power outages based on an ice index used by the National Weather Service.

"We could see some power outages, however, it's also suggesting that they be limited in scope and nature and very short term in duration," Kralicek said.

Becky Gligo, director of the nonprofit Housing Solutions in Tulsa said teams are working to move homeless people into shelters ahead of overnight lows that are expected to drop into single digits by Friday night.

Air Force launches study of changes to flight training areas -Associated Press

The U.S. Air Force is launching an environmental impact study of proposed changes to large flight training areas in rural Arizona to allow military aircraft to fly lower, practice later at night and cover more territory.

Three alternatives to be studied would change flight restrictions in areas northwest of Phoenix, west and southwest of Tucson and in parts of southeastern and east-central Arizona extending in western New Mexico.

A fourth alternative on the table would leave the flight areas as they are now "and training requirements would remain unmet," the Air Force said in a statement.

The areas are used for flight training by aircraft from Luke Air Force Base in Glendale and two bases in Tucson: Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Morris Air National Guard base at Tucson International Airport.

Proposed changes to various areas would include consistently allowing flights later at night and at lower altitudes in some areas, including ones involving supersonic flights in five of the 10 areas under study.

The so-called Tombstone training area, the area where the most changes would occur, stretches across much of Cochise County in southeastern Arizona and eastward into the southwestern corner of New Mexico.

Along with later and lower flights, use of radar-cluttering strips would be newly allowed in that area and flares could be released at lower altitudes. And the area itself would grow in size.