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WED: New Mexico governor pledges $10M for new abortion clinic, + More

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Morgan Lee
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Associated Press

New Mexico governor pledges $10M for new abortion clinic - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico's governor on Wednesday signed a new executive order that pledges $10 million to build a clinic that would provide abortions and other pregnancy care.

"The goal here is build it and they will come," Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham said after signing the order during a virtual announcement that included members of the state's Commission on the Status of Women and several legislators.

The governor noted that New Mexico already has seen an influx of patients following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade as abortions have ceased in neighboring Texas and elsewhere.

Lujan Grisham, who is running for reelection against Republican Mark Ronchetti, signed her first executive order on the matter in late June. It was aimed at ensuring safe harbor to people seeking abortions or providing abortions at health care facilities within the state.

The latest order reiterates her commitments to protecting access in addition to directing state agencies to leverage their resources to expand access to reproductive health care — including abortion — in underserved areas of the state. The order also calls for the state Department of Health to review the feasibility of providing medication abortions at its public health clinics.

Ronchetti on Wednesday said state funds shouldn't be spent on a clinic where late-term abortions would be available for people who come from out of state. He has proposed limiting abortion to the first 15 weeks, or in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk.

"Using taxpayer dollars to enable and fund abortion up until the point of birth is not only out of line with New Mexican values, it is extreme," he said in a statement.

The Democratic-led Legislature will hash out the next state budget, including capital investments, when it meets in January.

As for the one-time proposed infusion of $10 million for a new clinic in the Las Cruces area, Lujan Grisham said she envisions a partnership with medical schools and private providers, such as the Mississippi clinic at the center of the Roe court battle that relocated to southern New Mexico in early August.

One of the largest abortion providers in Texas, Austin-based Whole Woman's Health, also still has plans to move some of its operations to New Mexico and states in the southeastern U.S.

The Commission on the Status of Women in a resolution read Wednesday made clear its focus on protecting access to abortions, protecting health care providers and expanding access to what the panel called a full spectrum of pregnancy care — which includes abortions as well as post-birth care.

Commission Chairwoman Lisa Curtis said there needs to be a special emphasis on underserved areas across the rural state and investment in programs that will develop a pipeline of trained health care providers.

New Mexico lawmakers last year repealed a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures as felonies, thus ensuring access to abortion following the Supreme Court's action. Some Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday that they will push for measures during the next legislative session to further enshrine access and protections in state law.

The governor said the work being done by her allies in the Legislature and advocacy groups is saving women's lives.

"The notion that women cannot have control over their bodies, dignity, respect and autonomy is outrageous," Lujan Grisham said. "This is a state that is not going to let that be the status quo."

Researchers: Pretrial detention plans wouldn't reduce crime - Associated Press

Legislative proposals intended to make it easier to keep certain criminal defendants in jail while awaiting trial would have done little to reduce crime, according to a study by researchers at the University of New Mexico and the Santa Fe Institute.

The findings, disseminated Tuesday by state court officials, were based on a review of more than 15,000 people charged with felonies from July 2017 through June 2021. The researchers found that more people who would not be re-arrested if allowed to remain free would instead have been jailed if lawmakers would have adopted changes to the state's pretrial detention system.

According to the study, the proposals would have resulted in least 20 presumed innocent people being jailed to potentially prevent one individual from being arrested on a violent felony charge while awaiting trial.

"Despite the presumed intentions of policymakers, these proposals do not accurately target the small fraction of defendants who will be charged with new serious crimes if released pretrial," the researchers stated. "Instead, they cast a wide net, recommending detention for a large number of defendants who would not receive any new charges during the pretrial period."

The study comes as New Mexico politicians continue to debate how best to address what many have described as a revolving door in the state's criminal justice system and persistently high crime rates.

Frustration has grown among victims' families, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is running for reelection.

Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor's spokeswoman, said Lujan Grisham supports keeping violent defendants in jail pending trial.

"This very study references nearly 100 defendants who were charged with new violent felonies while on pre-trial release," she said. "That's nearly 100 victims and families who were subjected to violence due to an offender's violence not being given appropriate consideration."

The study considered a variety of factors that would be considered presumptions for pretrial detention. Those include current charges, past convictions, failures to appear at court hearings and previous violations of conditions of release.

Currently, people charged with a felony can be held without bond only if prosecutors can persuade a judge that no conditions of release would protect the public, or that a defendant is unlikely to appear in court.

Researchers found that under the current system, about 4 in 5 defendants who were released remained arrest-free pending trial.

One legislative proposal considered during the last session would have created a presumption that defendants should be held if they are charged with a serious violent offense, such as crimes involving a firearm.

According to the study, at most 8% of the defendants the researchers identified are charged pretrial with a new violent crime and at most 5% are charged with a new violent felony.

"The chances a pretrial defendant will commit a first-degree felony during their pretrial release is literally one in one thousand," Santa Fe Institute scientist and mathematician Christopher Moore told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Moore told the Albuquerque Journal that when someone is denied bond there can be consequences to them and their families.

"They can lose jobs, housing, custody of their kids and so on," he said. "We don't hear about those costs as much as we hear about the terrible cases where someone is released and does do something awful."

Lawyers: Eastman advised to plead the Fifth in Georgia probe - By Kate Brumback Associated Press

Lawyers for John Eastman, a lead architect of some of Donald Trump's efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election, said Wednesday they advised their client to assert attorney-client privilege and invoke his constitutional right to remain silent when testifying before a special grand jury investigating possible illegal election interference in Georgia.

Charles Burnham and Harvey Silverglate confirmed in a statement that Eastman had appeared before the panel in Fulton County, complying with a summons from the district attorney. They declined to comment on the questions or testimony, citing respect for the secrecy of the grand jury process.

Eastman is one of a number of Trump advisers, attorneys and allies whose testimony Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has sought to compel in the case. Former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who's been told he may face criminal charges in the investigation, testified in mid-August. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, is fighting his subpoena. Willis filed petitions last week seeking the testimony of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Trump-allied attorney Sidney Powell, among others. And conservative attorney L. Lin Wood Jr. said this week he's been told Willis wants him to appear.

Willis' investigation began early last year, shortly after a recording of a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger became public. In that call, Trump suggested the state's top election official could "find" the votes needed to overturn his narrow loss in the state. But it has become clear that the scope of the probe has broadened considerably since then.

In their statement Wednesday, Eastman's attorneys accused Willis of embarking on "an unprecedented path of criminalizing controversial or disfavored legal theories."

As Trump and his allies began a campaign to spread false claims about the election, Eastman circulated what was essentially an academic proposal challenging the workings of the 130-year-old Electoral Count Act that governs the process for tallying the election results in Congress.

The first part of the plan was to put in place a slate of "alternate" electors in seven battleground states to sign certificates falsely stating that Trump, not Democrat Joe Biden, had won their states. Willis has told the 16 Georgia Republicans who joined that effort that they are targets of her investigation.

The second part of the proposal involved convincing then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count some of the electoral votes won by Biden when presiding over Congress the certification of election results on Jan. 6, 2021. But Pence refused to stray from his ceremonial role that day, even as Trump supporters broke into the Capitol, chanting for him to be hung.

Wood, who sued unsuccessfully to block the certification of Georgia's election results, said Wednesday that he's willing to testify before the special grand jury.

Wood said a lawyer who represents him in a separate matter told him late last week that Willis' office wants to subpoena him to testify. But he said he hadn't received a formal request and didn't know when they would want to see him.

"If they want to ask me questions, I'm happy to answer them," Wood told The Associated Press by phone. "I have nothing to hide."

Wood has long been known for his representation of high-profile clients — including Richard Jewell, who was wrongly accused in the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta — particularly in defamation cases.

In a document filed last week seeking to compel Powell's testimony, Willis noted that Wood hosted meetings at his home in South Carolina "for the purpose of exploring options to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere." Powell asked Wood, who's licensed as a lawyer in Georgia, to help find Georgia residents who would be willing to serve as plaintiffs in lawsuits contesting the election results in the state, the petition says.

Wood said he didn't know Powell well at the time but that she got in touch and asked if a group could meet at his home in late November 2020. He agreed to reach out to some prominent Georgia Republicans on Powell's behalf, but said he doesn't remember exactly who he called and whether they ended up joining any lawsuit filed by Powell.

The lawsuits filed by Powell and Wood were among many that were filed around the country in the wake of the 2020 election, many of them claiming that widespread election fraud had occurred. The lawsuits were ultimately dismissed, and state and federal election officials have consistently said there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the election.

Gallup hospital staff didn’t report death of patient during call system breakdown, report says - Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

Someone admitted to a beleaguered Gallup hospital died this year after being forced to ring an old-fashioned hand bell to call for help instead of being able to use a modern call-light system, a report shows.

The failed call-light system was one of several major issues at the hospital that prompted a group of doctors at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital to unionize. Beginning in March 2021, patients could no longer press a button if they were in their hospital beds and were instead given handbells to ring in emergencies.

The malfunctions meant that “staff could not efficiently call a code” on a patient whose condition rapidly deteriorated, according to a July inspection report compiled by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and reviewed by Source New Mexico.

The call-light issue resulted in three “adverse events” in January of this year alone, according to the report. In two instances, the patients survived after being transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. In the third, the patient died once family requested staff cease life-saving measures, according to the report.

The patient’s death was one of several consequences of mismanagement at the 120-bed facility outlined in a news story published last week in The Nation called “How to Kill A Rural Hospital.” Community Hospital Consulting was hired by the Rehoboth McKinley’s Board of Trustees to run day-to-day operations, but community members and an activist group accuse the corporation of squeezing profits out of the hospital and not understanding the community in which it operates.

RMCH has seen multiple crises after once being at the frontlines of the nation’s coronavirus outbreak early in the pandemic, setbacks including deficits of millions of dollars, an audit that found potential shady dealings, mass layoffs and the abrupt closures of the birthing unit.

In the case of the call-light system, the inspection record found that staff did not report the patient’s death or the two other cases to the hospital’s Quality and Risk Committee, which provides reports for review by hospital leadership.

Additionally, an employee even listed the events as “no harm” done by a staff member. The employee who categorized them that way has since been fired, according to the report.

When the call-light system went down in March 2021, doctors at the hospital pooled their money to try to find an interim solution, they previously told Source New Mexico. But the donation was refused, and the system stayed broken until April 2022. 

The hospital’s labor and delivery unit abruptly closed in early October due to a staffing shortage. A year beforehand, the unit had 18 nurses and four doctors. The week of the closure, it had no doctors and four nurses.

The shutdown sent families scrambling to make last-minute birth arrangements and to find new hospitals, including in Albuquerque, two hours away by car. In the months since, many patients in labor have been airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital.

It reopened for several months, but on Aug. 3, the labor and delivery unit closed again. It’s not clear from public statements when pregnant patients might be able to seek care there again.

Concerns with the corporation running the hospital culminated in March with the replacement of CEO Don Smithburg, who split his time between New Mexico and Missouri. Robert Whitaker, who was the previous CEO of Southwest Medical Center in Liberal, Kansas, took over. (Whitaker now lives full-time in Gallup.)

The hospital serves patients coming from rural areas like the Zuni Pueblo and Navajo Nation and is also the only hospital in the region that serves residents who are not members of a Native American tribe.

Opponents of anticipated Gateway Center say appeal wasn’t followed by city - KUNM News, Albuquerque Journal 

A proposed homeless shelter to be placed at the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson has garnered opponents from neighborhoods in the area––and they are now claiming the city of Albuquerque has prematurely approved the use of the facility on the heels of a yearlong zoning dispute.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, the city says it has all it needs to proceed with the shelter, with the possibility of opening doors by this winter.

Arguing the shelter will be an unwelcome and negative addition to the area, residents are saying the city council was completely cut out of the appeal process.

The claim that the shelter would be a detriment to the area never gained true traction as the appeal went through the city’s development review process. Though, opponents believe the city council should have voted on the matter.

A land hearing officer with the city did say in a written opinion that the appeal was bound for the council after some kinks were worked out. As it turns out, that never happened and the application for the shelter was approved.

The city Planning Department pointed to “conflicting opinions” in the case and interpreted a recent decision to mean that the neighborhoods needed to file a new appeal to keep the process moving.

A spokesperson for the department told the Journal the decision is final because the neighborhoods never filed that appeal.

State consolidates housing assistance funds for renters and owners - By Nash Jones, KUNM News

New Mexicans whose finances were hard hit in the pandemic now have a more straightforward way of accessing housing assistance.

The state’s Department of Finance and Administration announced Tuesday that it has consolidated its rental and homeowner assistance programs into one.

The New Mexico Home Fund will provide emergency assistance to support residents in covering their housing expenses in an effort to avoid eviction or foreclosure. The state previously offered a program for renters - the Emergency Rental Assistance Program - that was separate from the subsequent Homeowner Assistance Fund where homeowners would go to access housing aid.

Those who lease their home can apply for help with rent, including past and future payments, as well as utility bills. Homeowners can access funds to go toward their mortgage, including payments in forbearance, as well as property taxes, insurance and utilities.

The federal aid does not need to be repaid regardless of whether a person rents or owns their home.

In order to qualify, applicants must have experienced a pandemic-related financial hardship. In addition, owners must make 150% or less of their area’s the median income and have a mortgage balance of less than $417,000. Renters must make 80% or less of the median income in their area and be at risk for eviction or housing insecurity.

The state says The New Mexico Home Fund will be available at nmhomefund.org until September 2025 unless the money runs out before then.

Reseeding to begin over McBride Fire burn scar - KOB-TV, KUNM News

New Mexico’s historic fire season has wiped out over 900,000 acres of land that may not grow back without intervention. While reseeding efforts have already been underway in northern New Mexico, they are now scheduled to begin over southern New Mexico’s McBride Fire burn scar.

KOB-TV reports the seeds will be dropped from aircrafts Thursday and Friday this week over the areas that field assessments determined to have the most severe burns in the Lincoln National Forest. The goal is to reseed more than 335 acres.

As with efforts in the north, initial reseeding is not meant to result in reforestation, which could take years. Instead, crews hope the barley and grass seedlings can help stabilize the soil and prevent debris runoff and erosion into the Rio Ruidoso and Devil Canyon watersheds.

Forest officials will be assisting drivers along Forest Road 120 to ensure safe passage as reseeding is taking place in the area.

Monsoon rains bring more mushroom poisoningsAlbuquerque Journal, KUNM

Officials are warning that the heavy monsoon rains this year have produced a bumper crop of mushrooms, leading to an increased number of poisonings from the fungi.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center has logged 42 cases of mushroom poisonings this year, surpassing those recorded in all of 2021.

Director of the center Susan Smolinske says there have been no fatalities but there have been many hospitalizations. She warned that many mushroom varieties look alike and distinguishing the edible kind from poisonous spores can be difficult.

Some cause vomiting and diarrhea and those tend to be less dangerous. But mushrooms that contain amatoxin can attack the liver, kidneys and other organs. They have a high fatality rate and symptoms may show up hours later.

People who have symptoms can call the New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center. Meanwhile experts recommend not eating wild mushrooms and teaching children not to put them in their mouths. Also, folks should check lawns for mushrooms and discard them in the trash so children and pets don’t eat them.