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FRI: Proposal for renewable energy office headed to gov’s desk, NM seeks to limit cop cam access, + More

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Proposal to create permanent renewable energy office headed to governor’s desk - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

The New Mexico state agency tasked with managing state-owned lands could have a permanent division devoted to renewable energy if Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs into law a proposal passed by the New Mexico Legislature on Thursday.

House Bill 95 would formally establish an office of renewable energy within the New Mexico State Land Office. The Senate on Thursday afternoon passed the legislation in a 27-8 vote.

It had already passed the House, so it is now headed to the desk of Gov. Lujan Grisham.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard established an informal renewable energy office in 2019, said Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-Las Cruces), who carried the bill through the Senate.

The office has shepherded geothermal, wind and solar projects, Hamblen said. The state land office has 39 active long-term renewable energy leases including 27 for wind projects and 12 for solar projects, and 33 lease applications under review, according to legislative analysts.

However, without making the renewable energy division part of state law, it “could be dissolved by future state land commissioners,” according to the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

The bill would make the division formal, and make renewable energy part of the state land office’s mission, Hamblen said.

Even with a formal renewable energy office in place, legislative analysts wrote that “future state land commissioners could eliminate or greatly reduce renewable energy development.”

“If we are going to continue to work on diversifying our revenue, providing jobs to those moving from the oil fields to the solar fields, and to maximize the financial impact on our public schools, this is a benefit to our entire state,” Hamblen said.

The agency also has offices devoted to commercial, agricultural and oil & gas activities, Hamblen said.

The State Land Office raised $2.4 billion for New Mexico schools in 2022, Hamblen said. Of that, $12 million was from renewable energy, she said.

New Mexico seeks limits on release of police body-cam video — Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico's House of Representatives has endorsed new limitations on public access to police body-camera video when it captures images of nudity, violence, injury or death.

The 46-19 vote Thursday sent the bill to the Senate for consideration. Proponents of the initiative include the New Mexico State Police and associations representing county and municipal governments, including sheriffs' departments.

New restrictions would be placed on access to police lapel-camera video that shows acts of extreme violence, injury or death unless an on-duty officer "is reasonably alleged or suspected to have caused the great bodily harm."

The proliferation of body-worn cameras by law enforcement personnel across the country has put the use of force by police on public display with profound consequences, such as responses to images of the fatal arrest of Tyre Nichols in Memphis on Jan. 7.

New Mexico lawmakers in 2020 enacted legislation requiring that all state and local police officers wear body cameras in response to concern about excessive use of force by law enforcement, with the exception of tribal governments.

Mary Fan, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law and expert on police body-camera policies, said the proposed exemptions in New Mexico are moderate in comparison with many state and local jurisdictions, including some that require court approval for access to video recorded by police.

"A concern in various jurisdictions that do make camera footage a public record is the risk that (someo) may post a person's worst moments on YouTube," said Fan, noting that video of police responses to domestic violence incidents are of particular concern. "There needs to be a balance to protect against, essentially, voyeurism."

The New Mexico initiative sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Debra Sariñana and Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, both of Albuquerque, adds several exceptions on access to law enforcement documents and recording that are otherwise open to public inspection.

Exemptions for police body-camera video includes recordings that reveal intimate body areas, confidential police sources and tactics, or scenes in which people are notified of the death of a family member.

Some videos with sensitive content would still be made available where problematic images can be obscured with editing tools. And video still would be available for on-site viewing at government offices with a prohibition or copying or recording video files.

The bill contains a long list of other exemptions to open-records law, including information about government computer and information technology systems, as well as private business information related to marketing and advertising campaigns for the state.

A legislative panel held a hearing Monday with the opportunity for comment on a rewritten bill that was not made public until later. No objections were raised by an open-records watchdog group.

Under a separate bill, state law would no longer automatically presume that police acted in bad faith by failing to comply with policies for body-worn cameras, such as when to turn them on and prematurely erasing video, and liability provisions would be eased but not eliminated for negligently ruining or destroying video evidence. That bill won Senate approval Wednesday on a 41-0 vote.

During the House floor debate Thursday, Republican state Rep. Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad expressed unease with proposed limits on public access to information about government computer and technology systems, including election systems.

"Of course we don't want people hacking into the computer systems. But there are times where there are question marks about how things are actually done, and I think citizens should have the right to look into that and not be precluded," she said.

Bill sponsor Sariñana said the intention is to protect information technology systems.

Santa Fe delays possible plan to rebuild a Civil War obelisk - Associated Press

The Santa Fe City Council has decided to delay a decision on a controversial plan to rebuild a Civil War obelisk.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that dozens of community members opposed to having the Soldiers' Monument reconstructed voiced their concerns for hours at a public meeting Wednesday.

The council had been set to discuss and potentially adopt the contentious plan opposed by the Santa Fe Indigenous Center and Southwestern Association for Indian Arts and other groups.

The Santa Fe Plaza centerpiece dates back about 155 years, but was destroyed by protesters during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally in 2020.

All that remains standing is the base of the monument that is currently covered by a wooden box, according to the New Mexican.

Initially built as a tribute to Civil War Union Soldiers, an engraving dedicated the monument to the "heroes" who died in battle with "savage Indians."

Some residents gathered outside City Hall carrying banners and signs, including one that said: "Santa Fe City Council perpetuates violence against Indigenous peoples."

Albuquerque looks to Santa Fe to help set up rules to purchase and redevelop Walmart property - By Maddie Pukite,Source New Mexico

City officials in Albuquerque want to purchase the Walmart property set to close on March 10 near San Mateo and Central.

It’s unclear how much it will cost for the city to acquire the property, which is still owned by Walmart.

The company has yet to offer to sell it, according to City Councilor Pat Davis, who said he is working with Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s office to design plans to purchase the property.

Davis said that the city could reallocate money to fund a purchase, but it is seeking other funding opportunities through the state legislature as well.

In a press release, the City wrote, state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Albuquerque) and state Rep. Janelle Anyanonu (D-Albuquerque) are working to secure capital outlay appropriations for this project.

City officials hoped that capital outlay appropriations would be secured via House Bill 505, otherwise known as Capital Outlay Projects.

The current version of the bill appropriates more than $40 million dollars for Bernalillo County, specifically projects in Albuquerque. At this time, the bill does not have money for projects that could lead the city to purchase the Walmart property.

HB 505 is set to be heard in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee on March 10. It seems unlikely that any funding from this bill will go to pay for this project.

Albuquerque officials said another proposal, Senate Bill 251, otherwise known as the Metro Development Act Changes, could offer additional funding sources for redevelopment projects on the site.

The bill unanimously passed the Senate on March 6 and is waiting to be introduced into the House. It was amended to include a provision that would require the state Finance Authority to approve any transactions by the city.

SB 251 would create additional methods to fund redevelopment projects across the state, including the city’s Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency.

Redevelopment projects can be done in designated redevelopment areas, according to Terry Brunner, the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency Director. The Walmart property resides in the International District, which is designated as the Near Heights area.

A redevelopment project could occur at the site if the city purchases the property from the corporation, according to Brunner.

“We’ll take a portion of the city that’s blighted or underdeveloped, and declare it a Metropolitan Redevelopment area, which gives us the ability to use our special incentives and work to try to get more commercial activity in that area,” Brunner said.

Ideally, Julie Bettencourt, a community organizer in Albuquerque, said that if the city obtains that property they would want to see something that is affordable.

Also something that is accessible in other ways. Bettencourt referenced Thrift-A-Lot, a thrift store that recently closed, as an example.

“They had a lot of stuff in the back that they would give out to unsheltered folks who came in who needed it. And they worked with people on, like, their prices. Stuff like that needs to exist to help people out,” Bettencourt said.

If a project is undertaken by the city it is not expected to be completed quickly, according to state Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-Albuquerque), an SB 251 sponsor.

She said this is in order to allow time for the project to collect input from the community and local businesses.

“This is not something that happens overnight. This is something that is for best practices, is something that is done over a long period of time,” Hamblen said.

The Albuquerque Development Commission has a Citizen Advisory Board that is intended to play a role in deciding how the projects unfold, Brunner said.

Enrique Cardiel, a community organizer in the International District, said the city needs to involve the neighborhood’s input in the process.

“Address the needs of the working class community that lives around and uses that Walmart. If it becomes an upscale development that really doesn’t replace what is about to be lost,” Cardiel said.

If a housing redevelopment project is done at that location, Bettencourt said they hope it is more in tune with community needs and given more attention than other housing programs the city has attempted before.

“They are pumping so much money into resources, but these rapid rehousing and renters assistance programs just aren’t getting the proper attention,” Bettencourt said.

SB 251 will allow redevelopment projects the city wants to fund through local, state and county taxes, as opposed to only being able to utilize money from the city’s property taxes, according to Brunner.

The money would not cause an increase to residents’ taxes, according to Hamblen, but rather diverts money that would otherwise go to the state.

The bill is intended to give the communities more authority in how the funds are used, she said.

The additional funds will allow the city to be able to undertake more projects at once, according to Brunner.

If a housing, retail or redevelopment project starts, it would include community input from the start, she said.

A redevelopment project does have options to create affordable housing on the site, Hamblen said.

Past investment projects from the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency included utilizing a tax abatement for the development of the Broadstone Nob Hill Apartments and a $1.2 million redevelopment at the Rail Yard, according to the agencies 2022 annual report.

“The key thing is we could easily slide into this whole different direction of putting in high-end stuff there. Hopefully we avoid that,” Cardiel said.

Bettencourt and Cardiel both want the city to prioritize the needs of the International District community members through affordability and encourage more grocery stores, pharmacies and banking options.

Only if Walmart sells the property and the city can make the purchase, of course.

“People need things. And we need to make sure that we have the resources and accessibility and even if the city ends up buying that space it’s very difficult to trust them to do the right thing with it,” Bettencourt said. “Because their attempts to use stuff don’t always go as planned.”

Ex-Navajo President Zah, guided by love for people, dies - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Peterson Zah, a monumental Navajo Nation leader who guided the tribe through a politically tumultuous era and worked tirelessly to correct wrongdoings against Native Americans, has died.

Zah died late Tuesday at a hospital in Fort Defiance, Arizona, after a lengthy illness, his family and the tribe announced. He was 85.

Zah was the first president elected on the Navajo Nation — the largest tribal reservation in the U.S. — in 1990 after the government was restructured into three branches to prevent power from being concentrated in the chairman's office. At the time, the tribe was reeling from a deadly riot incited by Zah's political rival, former Chairman Peter MacDonald, a year earlier.

Zah vowed to rebuild the tribe, and to support family and education, speaking with people in ways that imparted mutual respect, said his longtime friend Eric Eberhard. Zah was as comfortable putting on dress clothes to represent Navajos in Washington, D.C., as he was driving his old pickup truck around the reservation and sitting on the ground, listening to people who were struggling, he said.

"People trusted him, they knew he was honest," Eberhard said Tuesday.

Zah will be buried Saturday morning at a private service. A community reception will follow just outside Window Rock, Arizona. His family expressed thanks for the outpouring of love and support they've received.

"It's heartwarming to hear from the many people who share stories about Peterson, which provide comfort for the family," they said in a statement late Wednesday.

Aspiring politicians on and off the Navajo Nation sought Zah's advice and endorsement. He rode with Hillary Clinton in the Navajo Nation parade a month before Bill Clinton was elected president. Zah later campaigned for Hillary Clinton in her bid for the presidency.

He recorded countless campaign advertisements over the years in the Navajo language that aired on the radio, mostly siding with Democrats. But he made friends with Republicans, too, including the late Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain, whom he endorsed in the 2000 presidential election as someone who could work across the aisle.

Zah was born in December 1937 in remote Low Mountain, a section of the reservation embroiled in a decades-long land dispute with the neighboring Hopi Tribe that resulted in the relocation of thousands of Navajos and hundreds of Hopis. He attended boarding school, graduating from the Phoenix Indian School, and rejected notions that he wasn't suited for college, Eberhard said.

Zah attended community college, then Arizona State University on a basketball scholarship, where he earned a degree in education. He went on to teach carpentry on the reservation and other vocational skills. He later co-founded a federally funded legal advocacy organization that served Navajos, Hopis and Apaches that still exists today.

Despite never having held a major elected position, Zah captured the tribal chairman's post in 1982, campaigning in a white, battered 1950s International pickup that he fixed up himself, drove for decades and which became a symbol of his low-key style, Eberhard said.

Under Zah's leadership, the tribe established a now multi-billion-dollar Permanent Fund in 1985 after winning a court battle with Kerr McGee that found the tribe had authority to tax companies that extract minerals from the 27,000 square-mile (69,000 square-kilometer) reservation. All coal, pipeline, oil and gas leases were renegotiated, which increased payments to the tribe. A portion of that money is added annually to the Permanent Fund.

Former Hopi Chairman Ivan Sydney, whose tenure overlapped with Zah's as chairman, said the two mended the acrimonious relationship between the neighboring tribes over the land dispute. They agreed to meet in person, without any lawyers, to come up with ways to help their people. Even after their terms ended, they attended tribal inaugurations and other events together.

Zah would say "let's go turn some heads," Sydney recalled Wednesday after visiting with Zah's family. "We would go together, sit together and get introduced together."

Zah sometimes was referred to as the Native American Robert Kennedy because of his charisma, ideas and ability to get things done, including lobbying federal officials to ensure Native Americans could use peyote as a religious sacrament, his longtime friend Charles Wilkinson said last year.

Zah also worked to ensure Native Americans were reflected in federal environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

Zah told The Associated Press in January 2022 that respecting people's differences was key to maintaining a sense of beauty in life and improving the world for future generations. He struggled to name the thing he was most proud of after receiving a lifetime achievement award from a Flagstaff-based environmental group.

"It's hard for me to prioritize in that order," he said. "It's something I enjoyed doing all my life. People have passion, we're born with that, plus a purpose in life."

Zah said he could not have done the work alone and credited team efforts that always included his wife, Rosalind. Throughout his life, he never claimed to be an extraordinary Navajo, just a Navajo with extraordinary experiences.

That resonated with students at Arizona State University, where Zah served as the Native American liaison to the school's president for 15 years, boosting the number of Native students and the number of Native graduates. Zah also pushed colleges and universities to accept Navajo students — regardless of whether they graduated in the Arizona, New Mexico or Utah portion of the reservation — at in-state tuition rates.

"It's thousands upon thousands of Native students not only from Navajo who he encouraged to stay in school, seek advanced degrees and was available to counsel when they hit the rough spots," said Eberhard, who worked for Zah while he was chairman. "He completely altered the way Arizona State University works with Native students."

Current Navajo President Buu Nygren said he first interacted with Zah as a student at ASU, struck by Zah's speech that he described as quiet and structured but powerful and vivid.

"To see him on the ASU campus brought a lot of inspiration to myself," he said. "I probably wouldn't have gone into construction management if he wasn't so influential at ASU."

Zah remained active in Navajo politics after he left ASU, as a consultant to other Navajo leaders on topics ranging from education, veterans and housing.

"He was a good and honest man, a man with heart," former Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said late Tuesday. "And his heart was with his family, with the people, with the youth and, certainly, with our nation, our culture and our way of life."