WED: Thousands in NM see drop in SNAP benefits as pandemic expansion ends, + More
As food benefits become scarce, mutual aid shows there’s plenty to go around - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
More than half a million New Mexicans relying on food assistance saw a significant drop in their monthly benefits on Wednesday as the federal government suspended the pandemic expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
State officials have said they are expanding outreach to rural communities and communities of color to help people apply and reapply for SNAP.
But there is no proposal to simply keep these people on the SNAP program at the level of benefits they had during the formal public health emergency.
Part of the rationale for state and federal government officials who made the policy choice to allow expanded food benefits to expire is that the “emergency” phase of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is over.
“While the virus is not gone, thanks to the resilience of the American people, and the ingenuity of medicine, we have broken COVID’s grip on us,” President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address in February. “COVID deaths are down nearly 90%. We’ve saved millions of lives and opened our country back up. And soon we’ll end the public health emergency.”
For a family making $10.50 per hour, the end of federal COVID-SNAP support means a $5,612 decrease in annual SNAP benefits, according to the state Human Services Department, which oversees New Mexico’s SNAP program.
It’s taken as a given that people will keep getting kicked off the benefit rolls and having to work to get back on them, since public benefit programs “require” periodic reassessment of eligibility for benefits as a cost-saving measure.
But are these expanded public benefits like SNAP and Medicaid really something that only should exist in an emergency? Or are they actually what people needed all along?
For three mutual aid organizers in very different parts of New Mexico, the answer to that second question is a resounding yes.
“We are so far behind in extending what this society actually needs,” said Selinda Guerrero, with Albuquerque Mutual Aid.
For three years, the mutual aid collective has gathered donations of food and supplies, handing them out in care packages. Some are for unsheltered neighbors. Others are for private homes, apartments, motels, and trailers, said Moneka Stevens, with the local chapter of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party.
Stevens said any time SNAP benefits increased since the pandemic began in 2020, the number of requests for care packages went down.
Organizers became used to getting 100 requests per day, but saw it go down to 20 requests because the government increased its food aid, she said.
Nearly 24% of New Mexicans rely on SNAP, the highest rate in the nation.
New Mexico has the third-highest rate of poverty in the U.S., at 18.4%, far exceeding the national rate of 12.8%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Contrary to the scarcity that drives the focus on costs when discussing these government programs, mutual aid instead shows that there is an abundance of resources. It just needs to be redistributed to those in need.
Walk into any one of the community swaps that are organized by mutual aid organizations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and you’ll find clothing, furniture, kitchenware, hygiene products, over the counter medications, beds, and fresh local produce, Guerrero said.
“We get lots of apples, and okra,” Stevens said with a laugh. “It’s amazing, the abundance that’s out there. We have to find ways to get it out, because it’s so much.”
People living in rural New Mexico communities sometimes have to travel for hours to buy food, Stevens said. One of those communities is McKinley County, in the border region between New Mexico and Navajo Nation.
When people get public assistance like SNAP, they start budgeting it into their lives, said Christopher Hudson, coordinator for the McKinley Community Health Alliance, a partner organization of McKinley Mutual Aid.
There is no way to revert these benefits without taking away what people are already budgeting, Hudson said.
“When bureaucracy takes it away, that’s when people’s budgets become unstable,” Hudson said. “Any cut to any social services is bad for any community.”
Another rationale for the end of these expanded benefits is that they will make people more likely to get a job.
In December, former New Mexico health secretary David Scrase told lawmakers he believes the drop in SNAP benefits would “drive people back into the workforce.”
“Not all of us need health care every day, right? But all of us need food every day, and so I think that will be the initial stimulus for families to reconsider their options and return to the workforce,” Scrase said in a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee.
Scrase said he hopes tens of thousands of people will return to work.
The exploitation of labor is where inadequacies start, Guerrero said. Corporations like Walmart benefit from having low wages for their workers, while those workers themselves qualify for SNAP assistance, Guerrero said.
Mutual aid breaks down the notion that one must “pull your own self up by your bootstraps, when most of us never had any,” Guerrero said.
Even though the term mutual aid was coined recently in history, Guerrero said, “what we know is that this is actually us speaking to our culture, speaking to what our communities have always known, and the way our people have always existed.”
She said mutual aid is a way of regrounding people to their culture, to the way their ancestors taught them and what their elders continue to teach them: “That we are a community who relies on each other, and my survival is your survival, and yours is mine.”
Trial set for New Mexico candidate in drive-by shooting case - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
A political newcomer who lost his bid for the New Mexico Statehouse is scheduled to be tried early next year on charges of allegedly orchestrating a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of Democratic officials.
A judge issued an order Tuesday that charts a course for the case of Solomon Peña, scheduling a potential pretrial evidentiary hearing for November followed by a two-week trial in early January.
The 39-year-old felon remains in custody after being indicted on 14 counts that include criminal solicitation to commit shooting at a dwelling, shooting at a dwelling, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and possession of a firearm by a felon.
The charges stem from shootings that occurred between early December and January. No one was hurt, but the case reignited the debate over whether lawmakers should make it harder for people accused of violent crimes to make bail. Lawmakers also are considering a bill that would shield from the public the addresses of elected officials.
Authorities arrested Peña on Jan. 9, accusing him of paying for a father and son and two other unidentified men to shoot at the officials' homes between early December and early January. The shootings followed his unsuccessful Republican bid for a district long considered a Democratic stronghold. He claimed the election was rigged.
Peña's defense attorney has raised questions about the credibility of a confidential witness who shared information with authorities, saying some of the statements used in a criminal complaint were contradictory. She also has argued that her client's criminal history did not involve any violent convictions or crimes involving firearms and that he has not been in trouble with the law — other than two traffic citations — since his release from prison in 2016.
Court records show Peña was incarcerated for several years after being arrested in 2007 in connection with what authorities described as a smash-and-grab burglary scheme that targeted retail stores. His voting rights were restored after he completed probation in 2021.
Court documents show more time is be granted to prepare for trial, with the court citing extensive discovery that will include electronic evidence and the high volume of witnesses who will need to be interviewed.
The list of potential witnesses includes dozens of police officers, forensic experts and some of the elected officials whose homes were shot at.
Authorities said the shootings began Dec. 4, when eight rounds were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa. Days later, state Rep. Javier Martinez's home was targeted. On Dec. 11, more than a dozen rounds were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley.
The final related shooting, targeting state Sen. Linda Lopez's home, unfolded in the midnight hour of Jan. 3. Police said more than a dozen shots were fired, including three that Lopez said passed through her daughter's bedroom.
Health care fund could grow specialty medical services in rural New Mexico - By Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico
UPDATE: The Senate passed Senate Bill 7 on a 28-8 vote with bipartisan support Wednesday. It now heads to the House for consideration.
When Melinda Montoya worked as a physical therapist in Shiprock, she saw patients that drove hundreds of miles for specialized medical care.
Medical services and access to them for people that live in rural New Mexico is another burden on top of everything else Montoya said her patients experience daily.
“People barely can meet their own needs, like for food, housing,” she said. “To use an extra, however many miles they need to go on gas — especially with gas prices now — it’s almost unattainable.”
Legislation that could send millions of dollars to health care providers across dozens of rural counties where nearly 800,000 New Mexicans live is moving along in the Roundhouse.
The Rural Health Care Delivery Fund intends to allow providers in rural areas to apply for grant funding that could go toward starting up new facilities or expanding services at those that already exist.
It quickly got through the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday and now heads to the floor next. The proposal is one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s legislative priorities.
Sen. Liz Stefanics (D-Cerillos) is the sponsor of the bill. She said this legislation could help solve issues people face to access non-basic medical care.
Stefanics said if more specialty services can be set up in rural areas, people wouldn’t have to worry about long drives to get kidney dialysis or orthopedic surgery, for example.
She added that the legislation could help solve post-surgery care, too. Patients often need physical therapy, a consistent and weekly commitment, but she said that’s another service lacking in rural areas.
“Yes, people might come to the big cities for specific surgeries, but what happens when they go home?” she said. “They need the aftercare.”
Stefanics sponsored the bill in part, too, because she wants to meet the need for more behavioral health and substance abuse services in New Mexico’s rural areas.
A previous version of the bill would’ve allowed the agency to give out up to $350,000 per year from a pot of $200 million. The committee substitute of the bill that passed doesn’t specify how much the fund is.
All but five counties in New Mexico could be eligible for those dollars. This is not money for Las Cruces, Albuquerque or Santa Fe. The legislation specifies that only health care providers serving counties with a population of less than 100,000 can apply. That would amount to 28 counties, totaling nearly 800,000 New Mexicans, according to a 2020 U.S. Census — about 38% of the state’s population.
Sen. Crystal Diamond (R-Elephant Butte) was the only committee member to vote against the bill on Tuesday. The only comment she made during the meeting was to confirm that the bill would only cover new or expansive health care services, not anything that already exists.
A BARRIER THAT’S HUNDREDS OF MILES LONG
Montoya said New Mexico is densely populated in a few areas, like Albuquerque or Santa Fe. This creates an assumption that people have to travel for specialized services, which is currently largely true.
She said hospitals need different, specific equipment that usually isn’t available in rural areas. That makes it less likely that physicians want to work there, she added, not to mention a lack of access to other non-medical services.
“It’s really hard to live somewhere out in the middle of nowhere where there’s not resources,” Montoya said.
Plus, she said, there are housing shortages in these non-metropolitan areas, like in Socorro or Roswell. She said there needs to be affordable housing as part of provider recruitment strategies.
“People going to go work in Roswell, they have a really hard time finding housing, or finding affordable housing, despite whatever they’re willing to pay to get those providers out there,” she said.
The legislation’s funding wouldn’t cover housing expenses. Montoya said maybe it could help providers get funding to do specialty clinics once a month or so in rural areas, at least.
A DESERT OF BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CARE
Lawrence Medina is the executive director of the Rio Grande Alcoholism Treatment Program Inc. He said there’s a huge issue with substance use all around New Mexico, and this legislation could help with that.
“We’ve always had a problem with substance use disorder and mental health,” he said.
Medina said there are not enough residential treatment centers in the state, which officials often say are too expensive to run.
“That’s not right,” he said. “We do need to have public policy that creates more treatment centers, especially in rural and frontier areas.”
There needs to be more focus in general on treating people, he said, and figuring out why people have substance use disorders. He added that there are social and institutional inequities that have led to bad policies that are particularly harmful for people of color and in poverty.
“When you don’t (give) access to people to detox centers, residential treatment centers, transitional living and even crisis stabilization units, we just see kind of the revolving door to the jail and the hospitals,” Medina said. “And it’s very costly.”
He said officials need to figure out how to help individuals within the judicial system so recidivism rates are lowered. “It’s cheaper to help them than to lock them up,” he said.
Medina referenced Lujan Grisham’s inaugural address in January where she said the state will focus on fighting the opioid epidemic and expanding health care services. He said New Mexicans need to now hold the governor and the state’s policymakers accountable to that.
There are still other issues, though.
Medina said there are immediate concerns that need to be addressed, like the health care worker shortage, that play into this bill’s efficacy. Montoya, who worked in a rural region hundreds of miles west of Medina, also saw a lack of workers in rural New Mexico.
“We are in a public and health crisis today that we can no longer ignore,” Medina said.
New Mexico nomination spurs concerns among Native Americans - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
New Mexico's governor is standing firm in her decision to nominate a former tribal leader who once faced sexual assault charges to head the state's Indian Affairs Department, fueling anger among Native American advocates who have been working to address violence and missing persons cases within their communities.
The advocates are pushing a state Senate committee to hold a confirmation hearing for James Mountain, just as the panel has done for others in Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's cabinet. Not doing so means Mountain won't be publicly vetted like other top officials but still can serve in the job.
"With the confirmation hearing not happening, we're silencing entire communities who were ready to say what needs to be said — and now we don't have that opportunity," said Angel Charley, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women.
Democratic Sen. Katy Duhigg, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, wouldn't say whether she will put Mountain on the agenda before the legislative session ends March 18.
Concern over Mountain's nomination erupted last week during a meeting of the state's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force. Some members threatened to resign.
The governor's office pointed out that charges against Mountain were dismissed in 2010 after prosecutors said they didn't have enough evidence to go to trial, and it urged those raising concerns about his past to "respect the judicial process and acknowledge the results."
The question of whether Mountain could effectively lead an agency charged with advocating for New Mexico's 23 sovereign tribal nations comes as momentum grows nationwide for officials to take on more homicide and missing persons cases in Indian Country.
This week, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland hosted the first in-person session of the Not Invisible Act Commission in Washington. The commission will be holding field hearings across the U.S. later this year as it develops recommendations for preventing and responding to violence that has disproportionately affected trial communities.
New Mexico created its own task force in 2019, and legislation was signed in 2022 to bolster efforts in the state through data collection and streamlined communication among law enforcement agencies.
Some task force members are concerned the progress made over the last two years could be jeopardized, given the discord over leadership of the Indian Affairs Department.
Sen. Shannon Pinto, a Democrat who represents a district that includes the Navajo Nation, has vowed to fight Mountain's nomination.
"There's not any compromise for me to support this confirmation in any manner," she said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. "It's just not something that can happen right now. This is not the time. This is not the place. This is not a position that can be compromised."
The governor's office did not answer questions about whether it has had any meetings or whether it sought input from Native American communities when choosing a successor for Lynn Trujillo, who stepped down as secretary in November before taking a job with the Interior Department.
Mountain did not directly address the concerns about his nomination, but the Indian Affairs Department said he was looking forward to doing interviews following his confirmation hearing. The agency, however, did not know when or if such a hearing would be scheduled.
Mountain has defended himself, telling the online outlet New Mexico in Depth that he dedicated himself to reestablishing connections and confidence among tribal communities.
"I am committed to making things right and continuing the healing process with our community members, advocates and legislators," said Mountain, who served two terms as governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo.
Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque previously oversaw the Senate confirmation process for nearly two decades and is a member of the state's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force.
"To have somebody sitting in charge of the department with that type of a history is not good," she said. "It's not good. It hurts the women and much of the work."
The governor's office declined to say if it had considered others for the post.
For Charley, the nomination has been disheartening. She questioned whether the vetting process should have been more inclusive given the importance of the state agency.
"This is bigger than one person," she said. "We're trying to remind folks that this is an opportunity to improve an entire system for our communities. And so transparency with the nomination process and the governor's office could have and would have saved our community a lot of pain right now if we had that in place."
Associated Press writer Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contributed to this report.
New Mexico lawmakers contemplate election-security measures - By Morgan Lee Associated Press
New Mexico legislators are contemplating a long list of new security safeguards in response to drive-by shootings on the homes of lawmakers in Albuquerque, threats against election officials and anxiety about firearms at polling sites.
The initiatives would remove home addresses of some elected officials from government websites, provide felony sanctions for intimidation of election regulators, suspend disruptive poll observers and ban firearms at polling places with few exceptions.
With House votes pending on several election-security measures, Democratic House Speaker Javier Martínez favors changes.
"The trust that many of us had has been broken a little bit," Martínez said. "The people who have to go work in these polling locations, I feel, are already underpaid, overworked, underappreciated. I don't know why we would put them in positions where they feel vulnerable."
One bill would protect election officials, from the secretary of state to county and municipal elections clerks, from intimidation — defined as inducing or attempting to induce fear. New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver last year reported threats against her to the FBI and went into hiding previously, while county clerks have reported threats and harassment in recent years.
A violation would be punishable as a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison. The state Senate endorsed the proposal on 38-0 vote, with House deliberations now pending.
Another bill would allow elected and appointed government officials to designate their home address as confidential on election and financial disclosure forms, prohibiting publication on government websites or disclosure through public records requests.
That measure was introduced by a Republican lawmaker and supporters include Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque. Police say a gunman fired multiple rounds from a pistol into Lopez's home, where her 10-year-old daughter was sleeping — during a series of drive-by shootings in December and January at the homes of Democratic elected officials in Albuquerque.
"I understand the issue on transparency, but the day and time that we're in, we really have to rethink what we are doing," said Lopez, who voted in favor of confidential addresses.
Prosecutors allege the attacks in Albuquerque were orchestrated by an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the New Mexico House, Solomon Peña, who had refused to accept his loss in last fall's election. Police say Peña hired four people to shoot at the homes of four Democratic lawmakers. Peña has pleaded not guilty.
There were no injuries, but the attacks provided a violent reminder that the false claims about a stolen election persist in posing a danger to public officials and democratic institutions.
Melanie Majors, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said that confidential addresses would make it more difficult to confirm whether candidates and elected officials live in the district they claim to represent. Property records would still provide public information about home ownership, though not necessarily residency.
"How do you know that the elected individual lives in the district in which they are registered?" Majors said. "We believe that information should be public."
Other states including Oklahoma allow judicial officials to keep home addresses confidential.
A New Mexico elections bill from Democratic state Sens. Katy Duhigg of Albuquerque and Leo Jaramillo of Espanola would require training for election watchers and challengers who observe voting activities. Observes removed for minor breeches of conduct would have to sit out the next election cycle too.
Poll challengers and watchers have traditionally functioned as an essential element of electoral transparency at polling locations, acting as the eyes and ears of major political parties to help ensure that the mechanics of voting are administered fairly and accurately. But election regulators in several states have grown weary of aggressive poll watchers.
Leading Democratic legislators also are backing a bill to prohibit firearms at all New Mexico polling places during elections, with exceptions for law enforcement and privately contracted security. Under current state law, firearms can be carried openly or with a concealed handgun permit at voting locations that aren't on school grounds.
The bill passed the state Senate on a 28-9 vote that divided Republicans, with some arguing that concealed weapons make polling places safer.
New Mexico would join at least 12 other states that prohibit guns and weapons at polling places, including neighboring Texas and Arizona.
19 wild cows killed in US aerial shooting operation - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
A specialized team of wildlife managers has killed 19 wild cows in the Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico as part of a contested project to rid the area of the unauthorized animals.
The three-day operation used a helicopter and high powered rifles to take out the cows in a rugged area where federal officials and environmentalists say the animals have been trampling stream banks, damaging habitat for other species and ruining water quality.
The U.S. Forest Service had estimated there were as many as 150 of the unauthorized cows in an area along the Gila River.
The agency said Tuesday that searches were conducted with the naked eye and through thermal imagery. The crew spotted significant numbers of elk, deer, javelina and even rabbits — but no additional cattle were found following the operation.
The carcasses will be left in the forest to decompose and the Forest Service plans to monitor the area.
Ranchers had opposed the project, saying rounding up the animals and removing them would have been a more humane way to clear them out of the wilderness. They accused the Forest Service of violating its own policies, but a federal judge denied their request to sideline the project, saying the cows were indeed feral and the Forest Service had the authority to kill them.
Gila Forest Supervisor Camille Howes said a combination of ground-based and aerial removal efforts since October 2021 have substantially reduced the feral cattle population.
"We are committed to removing these feral cattle as safely, efficiently, and humanely as possible to ensure a Gila Wilderness that is safe and resilient for generations to come," she said in a statement.
She also said the Forest Service is committed to working with the ranching community and will coordinate with permittees to remove any branded cattle from areas where they're not supposed to be.
Ranchers have said fewer people are maintaining fences and the rural neighbors who used to help corral wayward cows are gone. Some have left the business because of worsening drought, making water scarce for cattle, and skyrocketing costs for feed and other supplies.
Increased use of public lands — including hunting and hiking — also has resulted in knocked-down fences, the ranchers said. Elk, too, are to blame for damaging fences meant to keep cows in check.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham even weighed in on the fight over the Gila's wild cows, saying last week that the federal government needed to do a better job of listening to residents.
The Forest Service on Tuesday reiterated its position that killing the cows was "the most efficient and humane way to deal with this issue."
States consider 'safe injection sites' to prevent overdoses - By Jesse Bedayn Associated Press/Report For America
In a Colorado mountain town, Christine Collins injected herself with black tar heroin while hanging out with friends in her cozy basement a few days after her 30th birthday. Sitting beneath a Happy Birthday sign with hearts scrawled in colorful sharpies, she overdosed.
She awoke to the screams of her friends who fumbled to administer doses of naloxone, which reversed the overdose and pulled Collins back from near death. She has seen dozens of friends wake up from overdoses, and known dozens more that never did.
Such scenes of terror have increasingly played out from Denver's snow-filled streets to rural towns in West Virginia, with drug overdoses killing over an estimated 100,000 people in 2021, according federal health official's latest data. That's roughly one overdose death every five minutes.
The snowballing death toll has pushed lawmakers in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada to consider joining New York and Rhode Island in allowing what are often called "safe injection sites." Also called "overdose prevention centers," these are places where people can use drugs under the supervision of trained staff who could reverse an overdose if necessary.
Lawmakers in Colorado's Democrat-controlled Legislature are set to discuss the controversial proposal Wednesday as the measure faces steep odds amid broad backlash from police, Republicans, and lingering questions about whether the sites are even legal in the United States.
The idea of sanctioning the use of drugs including heroin and methamphetamine on these sites — an about-face from the long-waged war on drugs — has garnered stiff pushback.
"You're basically sending a message that, 'Hey, it's okay to do this,' which has a negative impact on the users' health, it encourages the drug dealer, and then it still provides that danger to the rest of the community," said Colorado Rep. Gabe Evans, a Republican and former police officer.
But proponents argue it's an imperative first step to tackling drug use, with many repeating a one-argument refrain.
"You can't enter treatment if you are dead," said Dr. Joshua Barocas, an associate professor at the University of Colorado who studies substance use disorder. "All the data suggests that people are going to do drugs regardless... All we are trying to do is reverse the harm that could come from what people are already doing."
The trend is growing internationally with centers in Canada, Australia and Europe, but in the U.S. questions remain over whether the Department of Justice will permit such programs amid pushback that the sites merely enable illegal drug use and attract the ancillary crime.
Last year, the Justice Department told The Associated Press it was "evaluating" such facilities and talking to regulators about "appropriate guardrails." The department did not immediately respond to requests for updated information from the AP this week.
Being open to evaluating the sites marks a shift from the Justice Department's posture under former President Donald Trump, when the department fought against such a proposal in Pennsylvania, arguing that such facilities violate a 1980s-era law which bans operating a place for taking illegal drugs.
Data from sites both in and outside the U.S. found that they can prevent overdoses, with New York City's centers stopping more than 150 in their tracks within three months of operating. The centers also typically include equipment, such as sterile syringes, and offer resources for drug users to find treatment.
Existing studies, such as a 2021 report from the Boston-based Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, show that sites are linked to fewer ambulance calls — potentially saving tax payer dollars — and didn't metastasize various crime rates in neighborhoods of operation.
In Nevada's Democratic-controlled Legislature a proposal to legalize safe injection sites is on the table but has yet to get a hearing, one year after a similar push failed. In New Mexico, a similar bill faces unknown prospects.
Even while a long list of healthcare organizations have signed on in support of Colorado's bill — including the Colorado Nurses Association, Colorado Psychiatric Society and Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council — the legislation faces an uphill battle.
While Democrats in Colorado hold majorities in both chambers, Gov. Jared Polis has vocalized his concern over the proposal. The governor's spokesperson, Conor Cahill, said in a statement Monday that the governor "would be deeply concerned with any approach that would contribute to more drug use and lawlessness."
Colorado's Democratic leadership in the legislature have signaled interested in the proposal, but they've stopped short of full-blown support.
Republican Evans thinks the solution should be more resources for mental health support and treatment, combined with a firmer law-enforcement response to dealers. Many who are most in need, said Evans, likely won't spend the time hopping on the public bus to an overdose prevention center.
State Sen. Kevin Priola, a former Republican who defected to the Democratic Party last year citing concerns over the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, is one of the bill's sponsors. Priola said he's felt the power of prescription painkillers first hand, having weaned himself early off the drugs following a ski accident that broke his leg.
"I could've been a statistic myself," said Priola, who added that the opposition to such proposals stems from a deep-seated stigma. "People fear what they don't understand, and they've never walked a mile in some of these folks' shoes."
Collins, who is now 33 and clean from heroin, struggles. "I don't make friends anymore because I don't want to see anyone else die," she said.
She has watched the scourge of fentanyl rip through communities as she moved from Florida to Louisiana and finally Colorado and believes legalizing the centers is the bare minimum to keep people breathing.
"I know they say: 'Oh, whatever, it just enables junkies,'" she said. "The fact of the matter is that we may be junkies, but we are somebody's f—cking families."
AP writers Gabe Stern contributed from Carson City, Nevada, and Morgan Lee contributed from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Governor sets gun bill priorities - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News
As some gun bills encounter hiccups moving through the Legislature, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she’s setting priorities with Democratic leadership.
The Albuquerque Journal reports the governor addressed a group of young people advocating for gun restrictions at the Roundhouse Tuesday, assuring them that — despite the challenges — several of the proposals would reach her desk.
Her comments came the day after a bill that would have banned automatic firearms, semiautomatic pistols and hollow-point ammunition stalled in a Senate committee, tabled by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. That signals potential trouble for another bill that would ban AR-15-style rifles.
While Lujan Grisham told the Journal she’d continue to fight for the ban, she also says she’s narrowing her focus to what she called her “must have” gun bills.
Those include a two-week waiting period to purchase a firearm — which is awaiting debate on the House floor — and raising the age to buy or own an automatic or semiautomatic firearm to 21.
Meanwhile, legislation that would prohibit guns within 100 feet of an election polling place and a proposal to require owners to safely store their firearms away from minors both passed out of committees this week.
Police: Motive for Albuquerque double homicide still unknown - Associated Press
Authorities have yet to determine why a man fatally stabbed two people before shooting himself last week at an Albuquerque home.
The offender's name hasn't been released, as his relatives have not yet been notified, police said Monday.
An off-duty state parks ranger found 25-year-old Omar Rodriguez-Hechemendia lying unresponsive in the street Thursday morning. He had been stabbed multiple times and died after being taken to a hospital.
A trail of blood led to a home, where officers found 36-year-old Danay Morales-Hernandez and the offender dead inside, according to police.
Morales-Hernandez was stabbed multiple times, according to an autopsy. A gun was found at the scene and neighbors had reported hearing gunshots that morning.
All three individuals knew each other, according to police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos. No other details of their relationship have been released.
Jury weighs whether Cowboys for Trump flouted campaign law - By Morgan Lee Associated Press
Cowboys for Trump cofounder Couy Griffin confronted a trial by jury Tuesday on charges that he failed to register a political organization without filing related public financial disclosures.
The two-day trial began Tuesday with jury selection in state District Court at Alamogordo, the New Mexico community where Griffin served as an Otero County commissioner until he was banished from office last year for his role in the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
In 2019, Griffin forged a group of rodeo acquaintances into the promotional group called Cowboys for Trump, which staged horseback parades to spread President Donald Trump's conservative message about gun rights, immigration controls and abortion restrictions.
But Griffin has resisted pressure to register the group as a political committee, including filing an unsuccessful petition to the 10th District Court of Appeals.
The secretary of state's office prevailed in a June 2020 arbitration decision that ordered Cowboys for Trump to register as a political committee, file expenditure and contribution reports and pay a fine of $7,800.
State prosecutors accuse Griffin of a misdemeanor violation of failing to register as a political group, which is punishable by up to a year in prison and an additional $1,000 fine.
Contacted Monday, Griffin expressed concern that registering Cowboys for Trump as a political group could lead to reprisals against donors.
He invoked free speech protections and said Cowboys for Trump used donations to travel and espouse support for conservative ideals, without raising money for a political candidate.
"All I wanted to do was speak on behalf of an 'America First' agenda, which should all be protected under the First Amendment," he said. "I don't want the state of New Mexico to know who has supported Cowboys for Trump. It's about protecting donors."
Griffin was previously convicted in federal court of a misdemeanor for entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, without going inside the building. Last year, he became the first elected official to be banished from elected office in connection with the attack on the U.S. Capitol building that disrupted Congress as it was trying to certify President Joe Biden's 2020 election victory.
In court testimony, State Elections Director Mandy Vigil said that state regulators typically negotiate with political groups to encourage registration without seeking sanctions.
"We have not had to escalate the process for any other political committee," Vigil said.
Endangered Mexican wolf population makes strides in US - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
Endangered Mexican gray wolves are making more strides, as more breeding pairs and pups have been documented since reintroduction efforts began in the southwestern U.S. more than two decades ago, federal wildlife managers said Tuesday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the results of its annual survey in New Mexico and Arizona, saying this is the first time the population has topped 200 and the seventh straight year that the numbers have trended upward.
In all, at least 241 of the predators were counted, marking a nearly 23% increase over the previous year and a doubling of the population since 2017.
Since the first wolf release in 1998, the program has had its share of fits and starts due to illegal killings, a lack of genetic diversity and legal wrangling over management.
"To go from zero wild Mexican wolves at the start to 241 today is truly remarkable," Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator Brady McGee said in a statement.
The annual count started in November, with members of the interagency field team conducting ground and aerial surveys of a rugged forested area along the Arizona-New Mexico line. Aside from tracking radio-collared wolves, they used remote cameras and collected scat to estimate the population.
The work is done over the winter when the population is most stable.
It's estimated that thousands of Mexican wolves once roamed from central Mexico to New Mexico, southern Arizona and Texas. Predator eradication programs began in the late 1800s and within several decades, the wolves were all but eliminated from the wild.
The rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America, Mexican wolves were listed as endangered in the 1970s and a U.S.-Mexico captive breeding program was started with the seven remaining wolves in existence.
Wolf-livestock conflicts have been a major challenge of the reintroduction program over the past two decades, with ranchers saying the killing of livestock by wolves remains a threat to their livelihood despite efforts by wildlife managers to scare the wolves away and reimburse some of the losses.
Jim deVos, Arizona Game and Fish Department Mexican Wolf Coordinator, said recovery for any endangered species is difficult and this has proven to be the case for the Mexican wolf. Still, he described growth over the last year as stunning.
"By every possible measure, progress was made," he said, pointing to 31 breeding pairs that produced 121 pups, about two-thirds of which survived to the time of the count. The survival rate for pups in their first year is typically around 50%.
The field team was able to capture and collar 21 wolves during the survey. Officials said the additional collars will help them gain a better understanding of wolf activity and help with on-the-ground management.
The cross-fostering of captive bred pups with packs in the wild also has added to the population and has helped to address concerns about genetic diversity. This year, two of the 11 pups that were fostered survived.
Officials also documented the lowest annual total of wolf deaths since 2017 — six in Arizona and six in New Mexico for 2022. In 2020, 29 wolves were reported dead and another 25 the following year.
Environmental groups celebrated the numbers but cautioned Tuesday that more work needs to be done to improve genetics among the wild population and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to allow wolves to roam beyond what they call arbitrary boundaries that have been established for the recovery area.
Citing low survival rates for cross-fostered pups, the groups have been pushing for more family groups — adult wolves with pups — to be released into the wild.