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THURS: Multiple NM police departments get calls about fake school shootings, + More

Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, NM.
Courtesy Santa Fe Public Schools
Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, NM.

Multiple NM police departments get calls about fake school shootings - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

Fake reports of school shootings came into police departments in multiple New Mexico cities Thursday afternoon.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the calls came into authorities about shootings at Volcano Vista High School on the city’s westside, Bernalillo High School, Rio Rancho High School and Santa Fe High School — all of which turned out to be false.

An Albuquerque Police spokesperson said when officers arrived at Volcano Vista with a report that a shooting had occurred, administrators said they had not called one in and an investigation turned up no evidence of a shooting.

Bernalillo High School was on lockdown for about 40 minutes Thursday with panicked parents outside the campus gate while officers swept the building.

Albuquerque Public Schools said it has contacted the FBI about the calls and tweeted that “making a hoax threat carries heavy federal penalties and will be thoroughly investigated.”

Santa Fe police told the Journal this issue was nationwide, with authorities in several states reportedly receiving calls about school shootings that turned out to be false.

NM religious leaders show public support for abortion - Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico

Faith leaders from different denominations in New Mexico are encouraging lawmakers to expand legal protection for reproductive health care rights.

On Wednesday, the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice released a letter with over 100 people from different churches around the state advocating for a person’s right to make their own decisions about reproductive health care.

Jamie Manson is the president of Catholics for Choice, a nonprofit reproductive advocacy organization that teamed up with the coalition. She spoke about the connection between religion and abortion rights.

“We support abortion access because it aligns with our Catholic social justice values of human dignity and individual conscience,” she said.

Not everyone feels the same.

People from different denominations signed the letter, but not everyone in each faith community supports abortion accessibility in the same way

“As leaders, we feel called to declare our support for a woman’s ability to access abortion and other reproductive healthcare services as a basic issue of health and safety for women and their families,” the letter read.

Manson said some churches have created a stigma around the topic of abortion, forcing “silence and shame around this issue.”

She said people who speak in support of it could be isolated from their religious communities or even lose church-controlled jobs.

She pushed for the passage of House Bill 7, which would protect anyone seeking either abortion or gender-affirming care from discrimination and stop local bans against the health care services. The legislation has passed two committees and needs approval from the House before it hits the Senate side.

Five Democratic lawmakers also just introduced a measure on Tuesday to codify some abortion access by protecting the right for people in New Mexico to give and receive abortions without being subject to lawsuits.

Manson added that lawmakers need to block House Bill 258, which would criminalize abortion when a fetal heartbeat is identified. That typically happens around five or six weeks into a pregnancy, before some people even experience symptoms.

“The assault we now see against reproductive freedom and LGBTQIA+ rights is the result of religious overreach led by Catholic bishops, men who will never ever be pregnant, men who have very few inroads into the lives of women,” she said.

The legislation, sponsored by election-denier Rep. John Block (R-Alamogordo), is scheduled for the House Health and Human Services Committee but isn’t likely to make it through the democratically controlled Roundhouse or past a governor that’s made expanding abortion access and protections her executive priorities.

Affirmative consent legislation one step away from Senate vote - Megan Taros, Source New Mexico

The affirmative consent bill that would make “yes means yes” the baseline for teaching consent in schools received unanimous approval from the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

It now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for review.

This is the third time Rep. Liz Thomson (D-Albuquerque) brought the bill to the Roundhouse, and each time it has drawn strong support from high school students.

The measure recently passed the House by a 49-12 vote. That debate saw some of the same concerns brought over in the recent Senate committee.

Senate Republicans wondered aloud about punishments if a student commits sexual violence,and if schools had the training and capacity to take on new methods of teaching responses to sexual violence.

The measure would not create any new punishments for school districts in New Mexico to enforce, because local schools already have to follow federal statutes when addressing sexual violence.

Sen. Gay Kernan (R-Hobbs) said situations involving allegations of assault can cause harm during the investigation process because she fears students may change their mind about consent after the fact.

“You can have two people in a room and they agree ‘I’m fine with all of this,’ and then there could be a regret later,” said Kernan. “How do you account for that? When one of them says, ‘no, I didn’t say that?’ We don’t know because no one was there to witness that…then you’ve got a person that’s kind of in a difficult position because now there’s an accusation that can’t be substantiated either way.”

People who experienced sexual violence said the criticism is a repeated trope that a is harmful and discourages people from coming forward about what happened to them.

Jess Clark, an expert witness for the bill and director of sexual violence prevention for the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said the bill is trying to stop that before it happens and teaching students that consent should be enthusiastic, even empowering.

Kernan asked why the contents of the bill should be in statute if some schools are already teaching affirmative consent. Expert witnesses said the measure would create a uniform policy that the public education department could provide for local districts that would teach all students an understanding of consent, instead of it varying from school to school.

Alexandria Taylor, an expert witness and executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said her schooling on consent when she grew up in Alamogordo is drastically different from what her own child is learning in Albuquerque.

“For us it’s about really equal access to education that all students in New Mexico have a baseline of what they’re being taught,” Taylor said. “When students are taught affirmative consent prior to entering into post-secondary school, incidents of sexual violence are actually reduced at college and university campuses.”

Sen. William Soules (D-Las Cruces) said the bill could help bring an understanding around consent that would prevent expensive lawsuits and help students understand what their responsibilities are to one another.

Settlements and penalties for sexual assault in schools also spiked to $8.4 million in the 2018-19 school year, according to the New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority. That’s more than three times the amount from the 2017-18 school year.

In 2021, nearly 10% of high school students in New Mexico reported being coerced into having sex, according to legislative analysts.

“The students appreciate it because as adults, we’re somehow afraid to talk about sexuality as being taboo, which makes it almost more exciting or interesting for the kids,” Soules said. “The more we can talk about it straight up, the better I think all of society is.”

New Mexico man sentenced in murder of Army vet girlfriend - Associated Press

A New Mexico man was sentenced to 33 years in prison Thursday for the 2019 murder of his girlfriend, a retired U.S. Army veteran whose remains were found nearly two years later in the Nevada desert.

The New Mexico Attorney General's Office said 61-year-old Jerry Jay of Farmington was sentenced after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and kidnapping.

They said it was the first case prosecuted under the murdered and missing indigenous person bill passed last year.

Prosecutors said Cecilia Finona, a 59-year-old Farmington resident of Navajo descent, was reported missing by her family in June 2019.

Her remains were found in February 2021 in a remote desert culvert just outside of Las Vegas and identified through DNA testing.

Finona's family says she retired in 2019 as an Army master sergeant after 31 years of service and Jay was her boyfriend.

Authorities said Jay struck Finona on the head with a blunt object after an argument on May 31, 2019 and he put the victim in the backseat of her truck.

Finona bled to death as Jay drove through Arizona, Nevada and California, using her debit card along the way to pay for new truck tires and gas before dumping the body, according to prosecutors.

They said Jay was later arrested for stealing the debit card and allegedly told a jailmate that he had killed Finona.

Financial records plus video and forensic evidence connected Jay to the murder, authorities said.

Supreme Court won't hear arguments Title 42 case as planned - Associated Press

The Supreme Court says it will not hear arguments as planned March 1 in a case involving a Trump-era immigration policy used several millions of times over the past three years to quickly turn away migrants at the border.

The justices on Thursday removed from their calendar the case involving Title 42, which justified the quick expulsion of migrants on public health grounds. A court spokeswoman provided no explanation and the case has not been dismissed. The court's action follows a legal filing from the Biden administration saying the case soon will be moot.

Government lawyers pointed to President Joe Biden's recent announcement that the emergency declarations tied to the COVID-19 pandemic will end May 11. The administration said the end of the public health emergency will also mean the end of Title 42.

Republicans and even some Democrats in border states have opposed Biden's efforts to end the Title 42 policy. They say the United States is not prepared for the expected influx of people who will come to the border with Mexico once the policy ends.

In December, the justices were deeply divided when they agreed to prevent the policy from ending pursuant to a judge's order and they set the case for argument. Five justices agreed to do so while four justices — the court's three liberals and conservative Neil Gorsuch — disagreed. The case itself involved the ability of states to intervene in a lawsuit over the policy.

The policy dates to March 2020 when — under pressure from the White House — the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order limiting migration at the nation's borders with Mexico and Canada, saying it was necessary to reduce the virus' spread. The order said the facilities where migrants are held were not designed to quarantine people or allow for social distancing.

The authority for that order came from Title 42 of the Public Health Service Act, which gives federal health officials extraordinary powers during a pandemic to limit transmission of an infectious disease.

Officials have expelled asylum-seekers inside the United States 2.5 million times under Title 42.

Texas mall shooting started as fight between groups - Associated Press

A Texas shooting at an El Paso mall that left one person dead and three others wounded began as a confrontation between two groups, police said Thursday.

The people involved in the fight Wednesday at Cielo Vista Mall ranged in age from late teens to their early 20s, interim police Chief Peter Pacillas said.

"This is a random incident that occurred between two groups at the mall," he said.

The shooting added to the dozens of people already killed this year in mass shootings across the United States.

El Paso police said hours after the gunfire that two people had been taken into custody.

The shooting broke out in a busy shopping area and across a large parking lot from a Walmart where 23 people were killed in a racist attack targeting Hispanic people in 2019. El Paso — with a largely Latino population of about 700,000 people — sits on the U.S. border with Mexico, where residents of both countries cross frequently.

The United States has seen dozens of people killed in mass shootings so far in 2023, most recently Monday at Michigan State University, where three students were killed and five more were wounded. In January, 11 people were killed in the Los Angeles-area city of Monterey Park as they welcomed the Lunar New Year at a dance hall popular with older Asian Americans.

Pacillas said the two people taken into custody after Wednesday's shooting as well as all of the victims were males.

The FBI, which is assisting El Paso police in the investigation, set up a website where the public can share photos or video from the shooting.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said in a tweet Wednesday night that he had spoken to the mayor of El Paso and offered assistance from the Texas Department of Public and Safety and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

In 2022, more than 600 mass shootings broke out in the U.S. in which at least four people were killed or wounded, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

New Mexico House budget plan would boost spending, savings - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A panel of New Mexico House lawmakers endorsed a $1 billion increase in annual state general fund spending Wednesday to raise public salaries, shore up rural health care networks and expand no-pay day care and college. The increase would tap into a financial windfall linked to robust local oil and natural gas production.

The budget plan for the coming fiscal year also responds to an eventual economic transition away from fossil fuels in the nation's No. 2 state for oil production by investing up to $850 million in a trust to generate earnings and sustain public services in future decades.

Democratic state Rep. Nathan Small, of Las Cruces, chair of the lead House budget-writing committee, said that a large deposit to the state's severance tax permanent fund makes sense in the long term.

"This one-time only (set-aside) pays for itself in roughly a decade," Small said. "At the same time, we're investing in agencies and prioritizing health care, education, infrastructure, economic development."

The House panel advanced the bill on a 14-3 vote. A House floor vote would send the bill to the state Senate for deliberation and possible adjustments. The Legislature has until March 18 to send a budget proposal to the governor.

The proposal would increase general fund spending by roughly 12% to $9.4 billion for the fiscal year starting in July 2023 and ending in June 2024. The budget plan includes a separate $1 billion increase in infrastructure spending and leaves room for about $1.1 billion in possible tax reductions or rebates.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is advocating for $750 payments to tax filers and additional rate reductions for taxes on sales and services.

The budget proposal from House legislators includes an average pay increase of 5% for state employees and public school educators at an annual cost to taxpayers of roughly $234 million. Further pay increases are proposed for critical agencies and programs.

Lujan Grisham has urged legislators to boost teacher compensation by underwriting health care premiums by as much as $10,000 per person each year. The bill from legislators includes a more modest increase in medical care premiums for public school employees.

Medicaid spending would increase by $218 million in an effort to retain and recruit health care professionals by raising reimbursement rates to medical providers, under the proposal.

Public spending on daycare and prekindergarten programs overseen by the Early Childhood and Education and Care Department would increase by $135 million, or nearly 70%.

The budget blueprint also includes increased annual spending of $291 million for agencies that oversee oilfield, water and environmental regulations. It devotes $120 million to tuition-free college for in-state students. That scholarship program was initiated in the fall of 2022 amid a surge in enrollment.

Lujan Grisham has urged the Legislature to underwrite tuition-free college on a permanent basis. Small said the budget bill includes "guardrails" to monitor future increases in tuition.

The House budget plan would devote more than $100 million to business incentives and economic development initiatives, including $50 million for public-private partnerships on energy projects. Tourism spending would include an $11 million national publicity campaign

Republican state Rep. Cathrynn Brown, of Carlsbad, voted against the budget plan, objecting to the scale of spending on government programs.

"The overall spend and increase of 12% is just more than I would like to see," she said. "We've had successive years of large increases. And I'm looking into the future and thinking our best move right now is put more money into the permanent funds that will help us along for the future and take care of our next generations."

Former New Mexico lawmaker tapped for USDA leadership role - Associated Press

A former Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico has been nominated to serve as the next deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The granddaughter of migrant farm workers, Xochitl Torres Small has been working as an undersecretary in the agency with a focus on rural development. Her nomination was announced Wednesday by the agency and members of New Mexico's congressional delegation.

Torres Small served on the House Agriculture Committee during her one term in Congress. For nearly two years, she has overseen loans and grants to provide infrastructure improvements, broadband expansion and business development as undersecretary for rural development.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement described Torres Small as an exemplary member of USDA leadership, saying she represents "the heart and soul of rural communities."

Torres Small started out as an organizer in southern New Mexico before joining former U.S. Sen. Tom Udall's team as a field representative. She also practiced water and natural resources law after earning a degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law.

In 2018, Torres Small won by less than 4,000 votes to flip a traditionally Republican-leaning district that spans oil and gas country, border communities and desert valleys known for their agricultural production.

She lost her re-election bid to Republican Yvette Herrell in 2020 and was tapped the following year by the Biden administration to lead the agency's rural development office. Her husband, Nathan Small, is a state lawmaker.

NMSU athletic director gets vote of confidence after hoops shutdown - By Eddie Pells Ap National Writer

New Mexico State's chancellor expressed his confidence in athletic director Mario Moccia on Wednesday, less than a week after the school's most high-profile sports program — the men's basketball team — was shut down for what the chancellor said was a culture of bad behavior, egregious violations of the student code of conduct and other "despicable acts."

In addition to backing Moccia, chancellor Dan Arvizu said at a news conference that he was confident the behavior that led to the cancellation of the season and firing of head coach Greg Heiar was not reflective of the athletic department or the school overall.

"Our review indicates that this culture of bad behavior is contained within the basketball program," Arvizu said.

He was speaking less than 24 hours after firing Heiar, whose program was sunk by a pair of scandals, both of which are subject to ongoing investigations. The latest was the hazing allegations reported to campus police last week by a player who said three teammates ganged up on him and attacked him in the team locker room.

That came less than three months after the fatal shooting of a student at rival University of New Mexico in November. Surveillance video of the shooting shows New Mexico State player Mike Peake being shot at by that student, then responding by shooting the student as they ran through an apartment parking lot. Peake has been suspended from school but not charged in the incident.

Arvizu said the shooting, which had roots in a fight that Peake and others were involved in at an Aggies football game a month earlier, is still under investigation. He said players who are under investigation could be suspended from school, suspended from basketball or exonerated.

At a board of regents meeting held shortly after the fatal shooting, chair Ammu Devasthali said guns are not permitted on the university campus or on university trips.

Moccia, who appeared with Arvizu at the news conference, defended his hiring record over his eight years on the job, along with the vetting process he led on Heiar, who went 9-15 in his first season before it was abruptly halted.

"I made a list of every coach I've hired ... and, you know, we have an excellent batting average," Moccia said. "Nobody bats a thousand. But surely, tremendously disappointed in this outcome, specifically for this victim, but for everyone involved. We'll go back and look at our processes."

The AD also was pressed on whether Heiar ultimately bore responsibility for Peake and his teammates being out after curfew on the night of the shooting in Albuquerque.

"What my heart tells me is that when you're sound asleep in your bed and you're awoken and a situation has occurred, what is your direct responsibility?" Moccia said. "However, setting the culture matters, and for individuals to think that the night before a big game, to get out of a room and do some things we would never condone, is certainly troubling."

Heiar coached 22 games after the Nov. 19 shooting. His firing — which Arvizu said was "with cause," meaning the school isn't obligated to pay him — came after the hazing allegations surfaced, and after Arvizu called off the season. The chancellor said the coach had not been cooperating with investigators. Arvizu also said the fates of the rest of the coaching staff, along with players involved, would be determined after the multiple investigations are complete.

Safe, however, is Moccia, who is in charge of a basketball program that, more than any other sport, puts New Mexico State and its 14,000-student campus in Las Cruces, on the map. The Aggies have made 26 March Madness trips over their long history and have long drawn more nationwide attention than their football or any other team.

"He still has my confidence to turn this problem around," Arvizu said. "Clearly there are some issues that we need to see why it took so long to understand that there was an issue. But I think there's plenty of evidence to support this particular incident, or set of incidents, is contained within the basketball program and primarily as a coach's responsibility. The oversight of that is in question, and we'll continue to look at that."

Snowstorms moving out of Southwest; bitter cold to continue - Associated Press

A winter storm packing gusty winds and heavy snow that shut down schools and stretches of highways in northern Arizona and New Mexico was making its way out of the region late Wednesday. But unseasonably cold weather with bitter wind chills was forecast to keep an icy grip on much of the Southwest into Friday.

"High temperatures on Thursday and low temperatures Friday morning will be unseasonably cold areawide," the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said Wednesday afternoon. "Conditions will improve over the weekend with warmer temperatures and dry conditions."

Several stretches of Interstate 40 east of Flagstaff, Arizona, were closed off and on Wednesday because of multiple crashes and spinoffs after a foot of snow fell in the area Tuesday night into Wednesday. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.

The same was true with a couple of stretches of U.S. Highway 60 in New Mexico south of Albuquerque. Fifteen inches (38 cm) of snow was reported at Los Alamos and schools were closed in Santa Fe.

A winter storm warning was set to expire Wednesday evening in northern Arizona and New Mexico. But bitterly cold temperatures were forecast Wednesday night into Thursday from as far west as the Sierra Nevada to the New Mexico-Texas Line.

Temperatures were expected to drop below zero around Lake Tahoe, as cold as minus 6 Fahrenheit at Truckee, California. Lows early Thursday were expected to drop to minus 10 in Ely, Nevada near the Utah line.

In New Mexico, the temperatures fell early Wednesday to minus 28 at Angel Fire, minus 6 at Taos. Winds gusted up to 46 mph in Albuquerque.

In Flagstaff, where schools also were closed Wednesday, it was expected to be even colder overnight into Thursday, with raw temperatures around zero and wind chills as low as minus 13 (minus 25 C).

Even deserts cities like Phoenix and Tucson were expected to see temperatures drop below freezing.