TUES: State inspections lag for New Mexico’s primary drinking water source, + More
State inspections lag for New Mexico’s primary drinking water source – By Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico
Nearly 80% of New Mexicans depend on groundwater sources for their drinking water, according to the state. But the N.M. Environment Department isn’t keeping up with inspections and enforcement of health standards with those who hold permits to discharge into groundwater systems.
People in New Mexico can discharge liquid waste or pollutants into water sources with permits. This activity is supposed to be monitored by the Environment Department to ensure health standards are being met, and water is still safe to drink. But due to low inspection and enforcement rates, there could be unmonitored groundwater contamination.
There were 597 groundwater permittees reported from January to March, but only 35 inspections — just 6% — were conducted, according to a recently released report by the Legislative Finance Committee. The target goal of 65% for the whole fiscal year likely won’t be met.
This will be the third year in a row the state hasn’t met their goal for groundwater inspections, reports show.
Of the groundwater permittees inspected from January to March, 8% violated health standards. But it’s not likely that they’ll be forced to comply, either.
Environment Department spokesperson Matthew Maez said a lot of violations aren’t being penalized or corrected due to lack of staff. Seven out of 28 inspector positions at the Ground Water Quality Bureau are vacant, leaving the rest of the employees to make up for a missing 25% of the workforce.
He attributed much of these below-target rates to lack of sufficient funding from the state Legislature.
“In general, a significant number of inspections that identify violations are not enforced given the lack of adequate agency funding,” Maez wrote via email.
DAIRIES, NITRATES AND DROUGHT
Food and Water Watch is a national advocacy organization that advocates for clean water, and spokesperson Jessica Gable said regulation of groundwater discharge is an issue across the nation. In New Mexico specifically, she said most of the organization’s work is related to mega-dairies that play a large part in groundwater contamination.
Dairies in the state account for nearly 20% of all groundwater permittees and are allowed to cumulatively discharge over 6.3 million gallons of waste every day. But, according to Food and Water Watch, 80% of New Mexico’s mega-dairies have half the amount of land necessary to absorb manure nutrients. Gable said that can threaten groundwater, and there’s really none to spare during the historic drought the state is enduring.
When there are excess manure nutrients in groundwater, there’s a risk for that to turn into elevated levels of nitrate that contaminate groundwater sources, Gable said. With drinking water, this can lead to health issues, including cancer and birth defects, according to the National Institutes of Health. Gable said mega-dairies are the primary sources of nitrate contamination in groundwater.
“It’s a vicious cycle, and with any kind of lack of regulation, that is only likely to get worse,” Gable said.
To help with inspection rates, Maez wrote that the department is using innovative technology but still needs staff to “to hold polluters accountable.” They have some incentives, like an employee referral program and pay raises for advanced retirement notice, but he noted that other things like increased funding and competitive salaries “are critical to boosting inspection rates.”
Gable said the immediate solution is a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies.
The Food and Water Watch is also calling on the Environment Department to deny more discharge permits, specifying that no permits should be given out times of a drought, permits and renewals shouldn’t be allowed for discharges into highly contaminated aquifers and repeat violators should have their permits terminated.
But the number of groundwater permittees has been increasing still, according to the Legislative Finance Committee report.
And the globe’s just getting hotter.
“This issue is not going to go away as long as this drought continues,” Gable said, “and as long as the climate continues changing.”
Western states could settle feud over beleaguered Rio Grande - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
The fight between Texas and New Mexico over the management of one of the longest rivers in North America could be nearing an end as a date to resume the trial has been put off pending negotiations aimed at settling the years-long case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Tuesday that a special master appointed by the court cleared the way for ongoing negotiations and set a date in July for a status update.
The Supreme Court would have to approve any agreement reached by the states. In the case of an impasse, the trial would continue later this year.
"We assembled the best legal and scientific team in the nation to disprove that our farmers and our communities owed billions in damages to Texas, and we are now on the cusp of an exciting historic settlement agreement that will protect New Mexico water for generations to come," Balderas said in a statement.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office did not immediately respond to questions about the negotiations or a possible settlement.
The battle over the Rio Grande has become a multimillion-dollar case in a region where water supplies are dwindling due to increased demand along with drought and warmer temperatures brought on by climate change.
The river through stretches of New Mexico marked record low flows again this year, resulting in some farmers voluntarily fallowing fields to help the state meet downstream obligations mandated by water-sharing compacts that date back decades.
Texas has argued that groundwater pumping in southern New Mexico is reducing the river's flow and cutting into how much water makes it across the border. New Mexico argues that it has been shorted on its share of the river.
The first phase of trial was completed last fall, with testimony from farmers, hydrologists, irrigation managers and others. More technical testimony was expected to be part of the next phase.
A robust start to the monsoon season has given the Rio Grande somewhat of a reprieve after state and federal water managers had warned that stretches of the river closer to Albuquerque would likely go dry this summer as New Mexico's mega-drought continues.
Tricia Snyder, the interim wild rivers program director for the group WildEarth Guardians, said policymakers need to fundamentally rethink how to manage and value river systems.
"Like many river basins throughout the American West, we are approaching a crisis point," she said. "Climate change is throwing into sharp relief the cracks in western water management and policy and the unsustainable water allocation included in that."
Snyder and others have said that status quo has resulted in water resources being tapped out in the West and that all users — from cities and industry to farmers and Native American tribes — will need a seat at the table during future discussions on how to live within a river's means.
The latest federal map shows about three-quarters of the western U.S. are dealing with some level of drought. That is less than three months ago. But federal agriculture officials reported Tuesday that weekly rainfall accumulations for several locations were still well below average.
In New Mexico, the driest areas were on the eastern side of the state, where precipitation has totaled 25% of normal or less. That has affected cotton and hay crops as well as cattle and sheep herds.
After losing battle to preserve Roe v. Wade, Mississippi’s last abortion clinic is moving to NM - Jolie Mccullough, Texas Tribune
Shannon Brewer has lived in Mississippi her entire life, but when she realized the U.S. Supreme Court was about to upend her life’s work, she didn’t think twice about trading her state’s lush wetlands for a ragged mountain range.
At 50, Brewer has worked nearly half her life at what became Mississippi’s last abortion clinic — whose lawsuit against a statewide ban at 15 weeks into a pregnancy prompted the U.S. Supreme Court’s monumental decision last week eradicating Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion in the United States. Now, her clinic is closing its doors for good, as will those in Texas and numerous other states.
As the executive director of Jackson Women’s Health, Brewer says she saw the writing on the wall after the high court heard arguments in her clinic’s case. In December, she began searching for other places she could provide abortion care.
Though a stark contrast politically, geographically and culturally from Mississippi, New Mexico was the obvious choice. Without hesitation, she made plans to uproot her life to the Land of Enchantment.
“I’m not even perplexed about it,” Brewer said with a dismissive shrug, clicking away at her laptop in what will soon be the Las Cruces Women’s Health clinic. “I’ve raised my kids, they’re all grown, and this is what I’ve been doing, and this is what I want to continue doing.”
Brewer’s team picked Las Cruces, about 40 miles north of El Paso, because of its proximity to Texas and its lack of abortion care. They found an old dentist’s office in the city this spring and hope to have their new clinic open next month.
Brewer talks easily and often, but her mind is never far from her work. In conversation, her gaze often shifts to an alert on her computer screen or a ringing phone. At times, she stops talking midsentence to make a note on one of many nearby Post-It notes.
Her gaze and hands steadied, however, as she explained the saddest part of relocating is that many women in places like Mississippi or Texas won’t be able to travel to New Mexico for an abortion.
“But I still get to help women,” she added. “So the decision actually, it wasn’t hard to make.”
More than half of the states in the country already have or are likely to outlaw abortion after the high court’s ruling, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In the immediate aftermath, many poor people in anti-abortion states like Texas are unable to safely access procedures or medication. Those who can are traveling across the country and flooding the few clinics in states where abortion is still legal.
The pattern isn’t new, as the number of clinics has dwindled across the country for years. After Texas’ abortion ban at about six weeks into pregnancy went into effect in September, Brewer said existing clinics in places like New Mexico, Colorado, Louisiana and hers in Mississippi were inundated with Texas patients.
Before September, she said the Jackson clinic was open three days a week, and staff often had down time. Since, the clinic has been open five days a week and is swarming every day.
“That’s one state that caused all the states around them to be busy,” she said. “So you multiply that by half of the United States and what do you get? You get a catastrophe.”
THE SAFE HAVEN
New Mexico — set to become a safe haven for abortion for Texas and much of the south — is also a poor, largely rural state that often fails to adequately provide reproductive health care to its own residents, including abortions and things like cancer screenings.
The state has only three surgical abortion clinics, all in Albuquerque, the most populous city in the state’s northern half. Doña Ana County, home to Las Cruces in the south, has two reproductive health clinics, but they only provide abortion medication for early stage pregnancies. One clinic advertises on its website that it’s only one mile from El Paso.
New Mexico abortion-rights advocates have encouraged new providers to come help the state with its increasing patient load. But they have urged them to not only perform abortions, largely for out-of-state patients, but to help New Mexicans with all reproductive health care, as well.
“We hope that any provider coming to New Mexico is doing so with the true, long-term needs of the community in mind,” said Charlene Bencomo, executive director of Bold Futures, a New Mexico advocacy group for the rights of women and people of color.
Brewer said she aims for her new clinic to provide services that New Mexico needs beyond abortion. She discussed contraception, health screenings and, possibly, meetings or instructional classes in the clinic’s basement focused on empowering women.
Brewer already has a condo in Las Cruces, which she at least initially plans to share with two Jackson clinic staffers who are also relocating. A self-described workaholic, she said she plans to spend most of her waking life at the clinic. So it doesn’t bother her that Black residents like herself make up less than 3% of the population in what will become her new state.
Though she will keep a place in Mississippi so she can see her family often, her priorities are to continue fighting for abortion rights for her daughters and granddaughters.
“As long as they have access, then they’re able to make a full decision on what they want to do if they need to,” Brewer said.
A NEW HOME
On Monday, memories of the former dentist’s office were visible in X-ray mounts and cabinets, but nearly every wall of what will be New Mexico’s newest abortion clinic was painted different shades of bright, hopeful colors. Unhung paintings and an eclectic mix of furniture lined the hallways.
Humming a songless tune, Brewer walked through the office, pointing out rooms that would be designated for counseling, prescribing abortion medication, ultrasounds, lab testing and recovery, plus a surgical hall for procedural abortions as well as other reproductive health services like Pap smears.
Brewer said she knew the building was right because flash flood ditches, or arroyos, surround two sides of the office and act as physical barriers. She also appreciated that the parking lot and entrance are behind the building, not right off the street where protesters are likely to gather.
During 21 years at the Mississippi clinic, she said protesters were always stationed, holding religious signs and shouting at people walking from the parking lot to the building. Brewer expects anti-abortion advocates will soon be outside her building in Las Cruces, too, even if the city and state largely support abortion rights.
“You have antis who were in these 20-some states that are fixing to close — what are they going to do?” she said. “This is all they know, and this is all they’ve been doing.
This week, Brewer was overseeing phone connections and security camera installations and estimating pricing and insurance plans. A few doctors who plan to work rotating shifts in the new clinic are already licensed in New Mexico, and she said a few more who work at the Jackson clinic are waiting for approval to practice medicine from the New Mexico Medical Board.
On Tuesday, Brewer went back to Mississippi to run her existing clinic in its final days. Mississippi’s trigger ban against abortion will go into effect 10 days after the state attorney general signed off on the ruling, which happened Monday.
After tying up loose ends, like suggesting alternatives for patients who routinely visited for contraception, Brewer will pack up and move to New Mexico.
“It’s going to be weird,” she acknowledged, twirling her hair between her purple fingernails. “The whole time I’ve been doing this New Mexico thing, I haven’t really put a whole lot of personal thought into it as far as the Jackson clinic. Because I’ve put my focus on what’s next, what’s next, what’s next.
“My plans are just to stay open to be able to help everybody that we can.”
New Mexico farm aims to research cannabis strains - KUNM News, El Defensor Chieftain
A small, former alfalfa farm in Socorro, New Mexico is now shifting to growing hundreds of cannabis plants to help find and identify certain strains that grow best in the state’s heat.
The El Defensor Chieftain reports, this research project is run by a business called “Weeds. Cannabis Consulting,” involving some familiar faces to the New Mexico marijuana scene––including Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis and Matt Kennicott, who was heavily involved in expanding medical cannabis licensing under former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.
The two hope this summer research will give more insight into things like what soil mixtures yield the best crop and use the least amount of water. Or, what strains are appealing the most to consumers.
Socorro was picked for the project because of its central location in the state and allows for anyone from Albuquerque to Silver City to travel to it.
NM legal aid attorney: FEMA system ‘broken,’ but don’t give up – By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico
NM legal aid attorney: FEMA system ‘broken,’ but don’t give up – By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico
A lawyer overseeing a slew of damage claims from the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire said the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s aid process needs an overhaul.
Michelle Garcia, an attorney with New Mexico Legal Aid, encouraged those seeking FEMA relief to reach out for legal help to a coalition of lawyers who are helping with claims.
FEMA is providing an array of disaster aid checks for those who lost their homes or property, or incurred emergency expenses following the biggest fire in recorded New Mexico state history, one that resulted from escaped prescribed burns crews started in the Santa Fe National Forest. The biggest payments for destroyed homes can reach up to $37,500 and be as small as $500 or smaller for emergency expenses.
At last count, the agency had denied 30% of applications from New Mexicans who sought damages, though people can still appeal. The agency had provided more than $3.6 million to 1,061 applicants as of Tuesday — which works out to about $3,400 apiece.
The agency has come under criticism for its practice of sending automated denial letters to individuals and families who seek assistance. Denials often happen because applicants can’t immediately provide proof of ownership or other documents. The agency has also issued rejections based on incorrect information it gathered.
In one case detailed by Source New Mexico this week, an application for a home destroyed by the fire in Las Dispensas was denied because the home was deemed “safe to occupy,” In that case, the agency was also using a different address than the one on the deed, and it erroneously determined the house was a rental, according to documents and interviews.
Garcia said 3% of applicants have reached out to the FEMA legal assistance hotline, which routes callers to Legal Aid, the State Bar Association and the NM Young Lawyers Association. Three percent amounts to about 80 people, according to the latest application estimates from FEMA.
Garcia said she regularly encounters cases where FEMA is denying applicants too quickly, and she’s not surprised to read about the agency getting things wrong.
“We’re dealing with a bit of a broken system where there’s a default of, ‘Well, we know it’s bad. So go ahead and apply and then deal with it in the appeal process,’” she said. “It’s almost like people are supposed to be OK with the system not working at the application stage… That’s really frustrating, beyond frustrating, for people that need help with the situation.”
Those affected by the fire have until Aug. 4 to apply, according to New Mexico Legal Aid. The previous deadline was July 5, but the agency extended it.
Garcia urged those harmed by the disaster to call the hotline and speak to lawyers working on their behalf, even if they think their case is straightforward or if they think they don’t qualify.
“Talk to somebody. We’re happy to help,” she said. “And the main takeaway is people should apply even if they’re not sure they’re going to qualify, even if they don’t have all the paperwork, even if they’re not 100% on what they might need. Just get the application started.”
Applications get started with FEMA but get routed in various directions, like to the Small Business Association if an applicant doesn’t qualify for FEMA aid but can receive a low interest loan for help rebuilding.
In the case of small farmers, of which there are many in northern New Mexico, the process is “arcane,” Garcia said.
A farmer with a small operation would begin at FEMA, which would refer it to the SBA, Garcia said. But the SBA doesn’t offer loans for farmers, so that farmer would be sent to the Farm Services Agency for aid.
“You would have to go through three different agencies to even get an answer on who can help you,” Garcia said. “And that’s hard. I don’t know another word for it. It’s really hard.”
FEMA has said since it opened up shop in the burn scar that applicants should do their best to meet the requirements of the program and appeal if they are denied.
“Take the money that FEMA gives and start rebuilding, and then see what comes after,” Carmen Rodriguez Diaz, a FEMA spokesperson, told Source New Mexico earlier this month.
Fort Sill Apache present plans for New Mexico casino - By Algernon D'ammassa Las Cruces Sun-News
A legal representative of the Fort Sill Apache tribe seemed pleasantly surprised by the prevailing mood at a public scoping meeting for a proposed gaming facility and other developments on a patch of land in Luna County.
"I applaud you folks here today," the tribe's attorney, Phillip Thompson, said during the recent meeting. "I've been to some rancorous meetings about casinos in California and other parts of the country where, you know, we were looking for the back exit."
No one spoke in opposition to the project at a meeting soliciting community input, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported. Those who came to the microphone had questions about the project and potential economic development, and one man even offered business advice for the future casino.
Luna County stood at 11.5% official unemployment in May and typically sees double-digit rates, while county and city populations have dwindled in recent years.
The tribe currently operates Apache Homelands, a restaurant, cigarette shop and convenience store with a museum next to a pecan orchard alongside Interstate 10 in Akela, 20 miles east of Deming.
Construction has been underway since last fall on an expanded retail facility that will offer shower and laundry facilities, electric vehicle charging stations and expanded retail operations. The project, branded Chiricahua Plaza, is nearly 10,000 square feet in size and is anticipated to be completed late in 2022.
A wastewater treatment plant designed to recycle greywater for irrigation and non-drinking uses is also under construction.
Last week's event was a scoping meeting at which Thompson, alongside tribe chairwoman Lori Gooday Ware and project manager Brady Jones, presented plans for future developments and solicited public input as part of an approval process for gaming facilities that requires sign-offs from the U.S. interior secretary and New Mexico's governor.
The proposed developments include a gaming facility within the existing building that will feature up to 100 Class II slot machines, parking facilities that will accommodate RVs and trucks, enhanced tribal offices and cultural facilities.
The tribe projects the Akela project will create more than 160 jobs in the construction phase, averaging $46,000 in yearly wages and nearly $25 million in economic activity. After that, it anticipates 60 operational jobs at $34,100 in average wages, and to stimulate the economy by $16.4 million with $1.1 million in tax revenue.
The tribe has also studied potential impacts for a potential hotel and other attractions at the location.
The project seeks to establish an economic base for the small, federally recognized tribe descended from Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apache peoples taken as prisoners of war and removed from the southwest to Florida, Alabama and eventually Oklahoma.
Fort Sill Apache, named for the location of their captivity, was recognized by the United States in 1976 and granted approval of a reservation in New Mexico in 2011 after long and complex litigation. Thompson said the tribe is negotiating a land swap with New Mexico, exchanging land it owns in Albuquerque for land adjacent to the Akela development.
Efforts to establish gaming facilities at Akela have also been subject to challenges from the National Indian Gaming Commission, the state and federal governments. Among the issues raised is that the tribe's government is based in Oklahoma and had few economic links to New Mexico.
Thompson addressed that at the beginning of his presentation, explaining that the tribe is the recognized legal successor for Apache groups that lived in southwest and northern New Mexico and part of Arizona, before their removal by the United States after the bands' surrender in 1886. Thompson said the tribe aimed to establish their homelands once more in New Mexico and provide its citizens with community and economic opportunity.
Rebecca Lescombes, a Libertarian candidate for the Luna County Board of Commissioners, asked the representatives how many of the jobs would be designated for tribal members versus local residents as well as housing needs.
Jones, the project manager, said the Fort Sill Apache is "very small" and employs workers from outside the tribe.
The public comment period ends July 27.
Crews douse fire in abandoned building near the ABQ BioPark - Associated Press
A fire burning in an abandoned building near the Albuquerque Biological Park was brought under control Sunday and authorities said its cause wasn't immediately known.
City fire department crews were called to the scene about 6 a.m. Sunday and reported seeing a large plume of smoke coming from a building.
Fire officials say there were no injuries but the building's structural integrity is compromised as it has caught fire before.
The BioPark is an environmental museum that contains four separate facilities — a 64-acre zoo, a 36-acre botanic garden, an aquarium and a fishing lake/picnic area.
Navajo Nation authorized to file benefit claims for veterans - By Noel Lyn Smith Farmington Daily Times
The Navajo Nation Veterans Administration was formally recognized by the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for being the first tribal nation program to receive accreditation to help veterans submit federal benefits claims directly to the VA.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough recognized the tribal government program's status during a visit to Gallup on June 28, the Farmington Daily Times reported.
"We've been negotiating this with President Nez and his team. They are the first tribe to take up this new authority," McDonough said. "I'm thrilled that we can announce that today and as importantly, put it into action."
He added that this is part of the VA's work to make sure tribal nations have a seat at the table, this includes having veteran service officers on tribal lands who can submit veterans' benefits claims to the VA.
McDonough's visit came a day after it was announced that a group of bipartisan senators ended the review process on recommendations by the VA to close outpatient clinics in several states, including those in Gallup, Española, Las Vegas and Raton.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez noted that the accreditation achieved by the tribal government's VA will greatly help Navajo veterans, many who face difficulties in traveling to VA centers outside the tribal land.
"Today marks a milestone with our partnership with the VA also our Navajo Nation VA," Nez said.
Last month, Nez's office announced that the Navajo Nation VA met the criteria and standards to be accredited through the federal VA's Tribal Representation Expansion Project.
There are now five Navajo Nation VA staff members accredited under the project and can process federal benefits claims for veterans, according to a release from Nez's office.
Navajo Nation VA Director James Zwierlein told the Daily Times that the employees work in the tribe's VA offices in Shiprock, Crownpoint, Tsé Bonito, Chinle and Tuba City.
A sixth person is being trained to work in the Fort Defiance office, he added.
The news release stated the staff members have taken in and submitted 83 claims into the federal VA system since May 2.
In remarks at the June 28 event, Zwierlein said these claims were filed on behalf of Navajo veterans but there are more veterans, including non-Navajo and non-Native American, in line for claims assistance.
McDonough also participated in a town hall with Nez, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M. at the University of New Mexico campus in Gallup.
According to Nez's office, the group heard from veterans, members of the Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council and state and tribal leaders about health care, benefits claims and the need for expansive care for traditional healing and mental health services.
Abortion ruling puts spotlight on gerrymandered legislatures - By David A. Lieb Associated Press
In overturning a half-century of nationwide legal protection for abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Roe v. Wade had been wrongly decided and that it was time to "return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives" in the states.
Whether those elected officials are truly representative of the people is a matter of debate, thanks to another high court decision that has enabled control of state legislatures to be skewed to the right or left.
In June 2019, three years before its momentous abortion ruling, the Supreme Court decided that it has no role in restraining partisan gerrymandering, in which Republicans or Democrats manipulate the boundaries of voting districts to give their candidates an edge.
The result is that many legislatures are more heavily partisan than the state's population as a whole. Gerrymandering again flourished as politicians used the 2020 census data to redraw districts that could benefit their party both for this year's elections and the next decade.
In some swing states with Republican-led legislatures, such as Michigan and Wisconsin, "arguably gerrymandering really is the primary reason that abortion is likely to be illegal," said Chris Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University who analyzes redistricting data.
Meanwhile, "in states where Democrats have gerrymandered, it's going to help probably make abortion laws more liberal than people would like," he added.
A majority of Americans support abortion access in general, though many say there should be some restrictions, according to public opinion polls.
States have sometimes been viewed as laboratories for democracy — institutions most closely connected to the people where public policies are tested, take root and potentially spread.
Writing for the Supreme Court's majority in its June 24 abortion decision, Justice Samuel Alito noted that 30 states had prohibited abortion when the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling "short-circuited the democratic process," usurped lawmakers and imposed abortion rights nationwide.
"Our decision returns the issue of abortion to those legislative bodies, and it allows women on both sides of the abortion issue to seek to affect the legislative process by influencing public opinion, lobbying legislators, voting, and running for office," Alito wrote.
Abortion already is an issue in Wisconsin's gubernatorial and legislative elections. A recent Wisconsin poll showed a majority supported legal abortion in most or all cases. But a fight is brewing over an 1849 state law — which had been unenforceable until Roe v. Wade was overruled — that bans abortion except to save the life of the woman.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is backing a court challenge to overturn the law, enacted just a year after Wisconsin gained statehood. He also called a special legislative session in June to repeal it. But the Republican-led Assembly and Senate adjourned in a matter of seconds without taking action.
Wisconsin's legislative chambers had one of the nation's strongest Republican advantages during the past decade and are projected to continue to do so under new districts in place for the 2022 elections, according to an analysis by PlanScore, a nonprofit that uses election data to rate the partisan tilt of legislative districts.
"Democracy is distorted in Wisconsin because of these maps," Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer said.
In 2018, Democrats won every major statewide office, including governor and attorney general, races where gerrymandering isn't in play. But they have not been able to overcome heavily gerrymandered state legislative districts since Republicans won control of the statehouse during the midterm elections in 2010.
"If we had a truly democratic system in Wisconsin, we would be in a different situation," she said. "We would be overturning this criminal abortion ban right now"
Republican state Rep. Donna Rozar, a former cardiac nurse who backs abortion restrictions, said gerrymandering shouldn't stop political parties from running good candidates to represent their districts. She expects a robust abortion debate during the campaign to carry into the 2023 legislative session.
"This is an issue that is so critical to come back to the states, because each state then can elect people that will represent their values." Rozar said.
The 2010 midterms, two years after former President Barack Obama was elected, were a pivot point for control of statehouses across the country. Coming into that election, Democrats fully controlled 27 state legislatures and Republicans 14, with the rest split. But sweeping GOP victories put the party in charge of redistricting in many states. By 2015, after two elections under the new maps, Republicans fully controlled 30 legislatures and Democrats just 11.
That Republican legislative advantage largely persisted through the 2020 elections, including in states that otherwise are narrowly divided between Democrats and Republicans, such as Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
In New Mexico, it's Republicans who contend the Democratic-led Legislature has pushed beyond the will of many voters on abortion policies. The New Mexico House and Senate districts had a sizable pro-Democratic edge during the past decade that got even more pronounced after districts were redrawn based on the 2020 census, according to the PlanScore data.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation last year repealing a dormant 1969 law that banned most abortions. After Roe v. Wade was overruled, she signed an executive order making New Mexico a safe harbor for people seeking abortions. Unlike most states, New Mexico has no restrictions on late-term abortions.
"I don't think that the majority of New Mexicans support New Mexico's abortion policy at this time," Republican state Sen. Gay Kernan said. "New Mexico is the late-term abortion capital of the United States, basically."
The Republican nominee for governor, Mark Ronchetti, has proposed to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for rape, incest and when a woman's life is at risk. But the legislative proposal has been described as dead on arrival by Democratic state Senate Whip Linda Lopez.
Michigan could provide one of the biggest tests of representative government in the nation's new abortion battle.
Republicans drew Michigan legislative districts after the 2010 census and created such a sizable advantage for their party that it may have helped the GOP maintain control of the closely divided House, according to an Associated Press analysis. As in Wisconsin, Democrats in Michigan won the governor's race and every other major statewide office in 2018 but could not overcome legislative districts tilted toward Republicans.
The dynamics have changed for this year's elections. The GOP's edge was cut in half under new legislative districts drawn by a voter-approved citizens' redistricting commission, according to the PlanScore data. That could improve Democrats' chances of winning a chamber and influencing abortion policy.
Michigan's Republican gubernatorial challengers generally support a 1931 state law — temporarily placed on hold by a judge — that bans abortions unless a woman's health is at risk. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is running for reelection, wants to repeal that law.
Republican state Rep. Steve Carra said lawmakers are looking to replace it with "something that would be enforceable in the 21st century."
"It's more important to protect life than it is a woman's right to choose to take that life," said Carra, who leads a coalition of 321 lawmakers from 35 states that had urged the Supreme Court to return abortion policy to the states.
Unsure about their legislative prospects, abortion rights advocates are gathering signatures for a November ballot initiative that would create a state constitutional right to abortion, allowing its regulation only "after fetal viability."
"It's the best shot that we have at securing abortion access," Democratic state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky said. "I think if this is put in voters' hands, they will want to see this ballot measure succeed."
2 men facing charges after car crash kills 3 in New Mexico - Associated Press
Two men are facing charges after a car crash in the small northern New Mexico town of Wagon Mound left a woman and two small children dead.
New Mexico State Police said 22-year-old Jesse Joel Blanco allegedly was speeding on State Road 120 around 10:45 p.m. Friday when the vehicle he was driving struck a car that was backing out of a driveway.
The driver of that vehicle — 42-year-old Irene Romero — was declared dead at the scene of the collision along with her 9-year-old niece and 4-year-old granddaughter, police said.
Romero's 21-year-old daughter was hospitalized with injuries not considered life threatening.
They said Blanco was booked into the San Miguel County Detention Center on suspicion of three counts of vehicular homicide while driving intoxicated, aggravated DWI causing great bodily harm, speeding and reckless driving.
Blanco's passenger — 20-year-old Dominc Armijo — is facing charges of tampering with evidence for allegedly trying to hide alcohol containers after the crash, police said.
Both Blanco and Armijo are Wagon Mound residents. It was unclear Sunday if either man has a lawyer yet.
Online court records show that Blanco doesn't have a criminal history in New Mexico, but he has been cited twice before for speeding.