MON: Feds admit 2022 fire was sparked by forest service, + More
US Forest Service burn started wildfire that nearly reached Los Alamos, New Mexico, agency says — Associated Press
The U.S. Forest Service says its own prescribed burn started a 2022 wildfire that nearly burned into Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The Cerro Pelado fire burned across more than 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) and crept within a few miles of the city of Los Alamos and its companion U.S. national security lab.
Investigations traced the outbreak of the wildfire in April 2022 under extremely dry conditions to hidden, smoldering remains of a prescribed burn of forest debris commissioned by the Forest Service earlier in the winter.
The revelation prompted immediate rebukes against the Forest Service by New Mexico political leaders.
The federal government already has acknowledged that it started the largest wildfire in state history that charred more than 530 square miles (1,373 square kilometers) of the Rocky Mountain foothills east of Santa Fe, New Mexico, destroying homes and livelihoods.
Southwestern Regional Forester Michiko Martin said the Cerro Pelado fire west of Los Alamos was caused by a so-called holdover fire that stayed hidden but hot for months.
"A holdover fire is a fire that smolders undetectably," Martin said in a statement. "In this case, despite being covered by wet snow, this holdover fire remained dormant for considerable time with no visible sign of smoke or heat."
Biden administration sues Texas governor over Rio Grande buoy barrier that's meant to stop migrants — Paul J. Weber, Valerie Gonzalez, Associated Press
The Justice Department on Monday sued Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott over a floating barrier that the state placed on the Rio Grande to stop migrants from crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.
The lawsuit asks a court to force Texas to remove a roughly 1,000-foot (305-meter) line of bright orange, wrecking ball-sized buoys that the Biden administration says raises humanitarian and environmental concerns. The suit also claims that Texas unlawfully installed the barrier along without permission near the border city of Eagle Pass.
The buoys are the latest escalation of Texas' border security operation that also includes razor-wire fencing, arresting migrants on trespassing charges and sending busloads of asylum-seekers to Democratic-led cities in other states.
In anticipation of the lawsuit, Abbott sent President Joe Biden a letter Monday that defended Texas' right to install the barrier. He accused Biden of putting migrants at risk by not doing more to deter them from making the journey to the U.S.
"Texas will see you in court, Mr. President," Abbott wrote in his letter.
The Biden administration has said illegal border crossings have declined significantly since new immigration rules took effect in May.
The Justice Department warned Texas in a letter last week that the state had until Monday to commit to removing the barrier or face a lawsuit. The letter said the buoy wall "poses a risk to navigation, as well as public safety, in the Rio Grande River, and it presents humanitarian concerns."
The state deployed the buoys without notifying the International Boundary and Water Commission or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Mexico's secretary of state asked the federal government to intervene, saying the barrier violates international treaties.
Gonzalez reported from McAllen, Texas.
New Mexico high court ruling makes it easier for domestic violence victims to get protection orders — Associated Press
The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Monday that state law does not require victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to show an immediate threat of harm to obtain an order of protection from their alleged abusers.
In a unanimous opinion, the court said "there is no language that indicates that a petition must state why a petitioner needs the order, or even language that requires proof of a petitioner's need for the order."
New Mexico law provides for protective orders for domestic abuse by household members such as a spouse or former spouse.
The law's definition of domestic abuse also covers stalking and sexual assault by someone who isn't a member of the victim's household.
The court reached its decision by interpreting the language of the statute, concluding that victims must show "past or present domestic abuse" but not "a threat of future harm."
The justices ruled in the case of a woman who, after turning 18 years old, sought a protective order against a man who allegedly had sexually abused her since she was the age of 12. A temporary order of protection was granted, but a permanent order was denied because a hearing officer concluded the woman had failed to prove the alleged abuser posed an immediate danger. The older man had not contacted her in more than a year, except for an encounter at church when the two did not speak.
A district court adopted the hearing officer's dismissal order. The Supreme Court affirmed a state Court of Appeals decision that reversed the district court in Bernalillo County. A temporary order of protection will remain in place pending the outcome of the proceeding.
South Valley neighborhood asking for air quality rule – KUNM News, Albuquerque Journal
Dozens of people spoke at a public meeting last week arguing for or against a rule mandating a minimum air quality standard for a South Valley neighborhood that’s been choking on industrial fumes for decades.
The Albuquerque Journal reports supporters included conservationists, and scientific experts, but mainly consisted of the local residents who live in the Mountain View neighborhood, situated between i-25 and the Rio Grande river, near the Rio Bravo Generating Plant.
Opponents mainly consisted of the owners of the massive industrial businesses that are producing the very pollution that rallied the neighborhood to begin demanding change.
The city said the neighborhood was “overburdened” by pollution as far back as 2004, and the situation has only worsened with time.
Opponents say the quality standard would stifle economic development, and hurt job growth.
Calls for a more independent harassment review process in NM Legislature remain unmet - Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico
Lawmakers are gathering all over New Mexico for months to come to discuss priorities for the next legislative session. Much like the 2023 Legislature, some lobbyists still feel unsafe at these meetings around the state’s public servants.
Very little has changed since the last session, despite calls for more safety and accountability measures for lawmakers.
And after a senator who’s had allegations against him in the past for sexual misconduct presented all day long at an interim committee meeting last week, lobbyists are raising their voices again for change in the Legislature.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) led a long discussion on firearm rules and legislation last week, a priority of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for the 2024 legislative session.
The same day as the presentation, lobbyists and advocacy organizations released a statement saying Ivey-Soto still shouldn’t be part of committees, if in the Senate at all. He’s on three interim committees and two full Legislature committees.
Jessie Damazyn, a spokesperson for the coalition pushing for Ivey-Soto’s removal, said in a statement that the women who came forward, and all New Mexicans, “deserve better than this.”
“Last year, multiple women courageously came forward to publicly share their stories of abuse at the hands of a powerful legislator, and to this day, he still has yet to be held accountable for his actions,” Damazyn said.
A private investigation was conducted. The final report was never publicly released, but a leaked copy showed the investigator believed there was probable cause that at least two instances of Ivey-Soto’s conduct violated the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy.
Ivey-Soto told Source NM that the leaked report didn’t show the full picture and the legislative investigatory committee tasked with making a recommendation of whether or not to pursue further action didn’t find probable cause to do so.
Now, a year-and-a-half later, he said, the people calling for his removal are still getting a platform.
“What analogous scenario is there where there’s no probable cause and a year-and-a-half later, these people still have a voice?” he said.
Lan Sena is the policy director for the Center for Civic Policy, a nonprofit organization often speaking up about bills or other legislative matters. She said people who have alleged that Ivey-Soto has acted unprofessionally around them could still have to testify before him in committees.
She said it’s a slap in the face, especially as a survivor herself.
“This is the way we make a living. This is how we advocate on the community’s behalf,” she said. “And we’re still met with just an unsafe environment, whether it is the Roundhouse or interim committee.”
Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said she’s also one of many women who’s come forward at great personal risk to confirm that Ivey-Soto “has disrespected, bullied and abused women.”
She said he shouldn’t have given the firearm presentation last week at all.
“I find it morally repugnant to see him put in a new position of power,” she said.
Ivey-Soto said when he was presenting, the committee didn’t take any public comments and there was no opportunity for anyone to testify, so nobody had to speak before him anyway.
When Source NM asked if the concern is valid for future committee sessions, Ivey-Soto said people made illegitimate allegations based on no probable cause.
If the legislative subcommittee had found probable cause, a legislative ethics subcommittee would’ve set a formal hearing for the matter. Ivey-Soto said he didn’t get that.
“I was deprived of the opportunity to clear my name,” he said.
Sena said she has to train not only her own staff members but also other nonprofits on how to be safe in the Roundhouse.
“As long as someone such as Ivey-Soto remains in the Roundhouse without any form of accountability, we still have to face the question: What will it take?” she said. “How many more women are coming forward each time?”
Ivey-Soto said he doesn’t really feel comfortable either.
“How do you think I feel being in the same room when they show up?” he said. “I don’t exactly feel safe.”
He said there was only one complaint against him. However, a letter in March 2022 alleged eight more incidents of Ivey-Soto acting inappropriately toward women working as lobbyists, though no additional formal complaints were filed.
Ivey-Soto said anyone who hasn’t filed a formal complaint can’t have it both ways, accusing someone of being guilty but not pursuing official action on the matter.
Sena said the survivors are tired.
“Many of us have come forward and not seen any strands of justice,” she said. “And we want to ensure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Harassment issues are happening every single day in the Legislature, Sena said, whether people are coming forward about it or not. Not just lobbyists but also the general public should be concerned about this, she said.
“My question to the public is, if they were to be assaulted or harassed by a member of the Legislature, do they have confidence that they would know what to do? And do they have any confidence that they would get the accountability and justice that they deserve?” she said.
CHANGING THE PROCESS
Sena said she wants to see a transparent investigative process for harassment complaints that’s independent of lawmakers, and puts victims and survivors at the forefront.
Right now, any complaints filed by members of the public against someone in the Legislature are reported to either House or Senate leadership. They investigate the complaint or decide if it should be forwarded to an ethics subcommittee made up of legislative leaders and outside attorneys.
Sena said it’s a process led by legislators, the people “who are perpetuating the harm.” It’s gut-wrenching, she said, especially “when you see no form of accountability.”
“We are the ones that are facing the inequities,” she said. “We are the ones that are facing the injustice and the gaps of the system that they created.”
Ivey-Soto said he’s absolutely in support of an independent investigation and review process for harassment complaints.
He said he’d be interested in being at the table for a bill that would change the process legally but wouldn’t be a sponsor because of the controversy that would likely cause.
“I would absolutely want to contribute to the solutions,” Ivey-Soto said. “But I would also want to be sensitive.”
Other legislation would’ve set in stone additional ethics rules for public employees like elected officials to follow, including that they can’t ask for sexual favors in exchange for a vote or other official favors. The bill got through the House of Representatives unanimously but died after never being scheduled on the Senate side.
When lawmakers amended the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy last year, Ivey-Soto they could’ve done something bolder to ensure that the process of looking into complaints isn’t political.
He said his professional relationships with Senate leadership influenced, for the worse, who was chosen to investigate his case.
“The changes in the policy I don’t think went far enough to ensure that the public should have confidence in what we’re doing,” he said.
Sena said a public space full of public servants shouldn’t be unsafe for the public.
“I think that it is just astounding that we have no checks, no measures of accountability within the Roundhouse,” she said.
She’s not sure if anything will change in the next 30-day session. Sena said she hasn’t heard any conversations about these issues in the interim Legislature, and as long as things stay the same, people remain unsafe.
“I can’t with strong confidence tell anyone, especially staff members, that they will be safe, whether it’s during the interim or during this next session,” she said.
ABQ Housing Authority builds first affordable housing units in 30 years - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News
For the first time in 30 years, the Albuquerque Housing Authority has built new residential housing units.
As the Albuquerque Journal reports, $18 million was sunk into the project in the Santa Barbara-Martineztown neighborhood, replacing 30 units built in the 1970s with 54 new townhouse units.
Though, 24 previous residents had to relocate temporarily through the construction process.
Housing Authority Executive Director Linda Bridge told the Journal the Broadway/McKnight Affordable Housing Development project is quite unusual because it’s geared towards larger families ––something that’s rare to find in projects like these.
Other projects are in the works too, with two other rehabs due for La Plata NW and Veranda NE. Each is approximately 30 units.
States stiffen penalties for fentanyl, despite public health concerns Amanda Hernandez, Stateline Via Source New Mexico
As they struggle to reduce drug overdose deaths, policymakers across the United States are embroiled in a heated debate over creating and increasing criminal penalties related to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that’s up to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Legislators pushing the new wave of criminal penalties say the laws will deter drug distributors and hold offenders accountable. But opponents — including some public health officials — warn of potential consequences such as worsening the opioid crisis and pushing users toward more dangerous synthetic alternatives.
As of this month, 28 states have enacted one or more fentanyl criminal provisions, according to the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association, which researches and drafts potential legislation on public safety and substance use.
In this year’s legislative sessions alone, lawmakers introduced hundreds of fentanyl crime bills in at least 46 state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. While they vary, the bills generally would increase or stiffen penalties for the illegal production, possession and distribution of the substance.
Lawmakers in Virginia designated fentanyl as “a weapon of terrorism,” enacting a bill this spring that makes knowingly manufacturing or distributing substances containing any detectable amount of fentanyl punishable by up to 10 years of jail time.
An Iowa statute, signed into law in May, enhanced the penalties for selling and manufacturing fentanyl, with prison sentences ranging from up to 10 years to up to 50 years. While the bill passed with bipartisan support, some Democrats also proposed that the state improve access to substance use treatment and resources, such as fentanyl testing strips, which remain illegal in Iowa.
Arkansas and Texas are the latest states to pass legislation that makes it a homicide to give fentanyl to someone who then dies of an overdose. About 30 other states and the District of Columbia have laws, known as drug-induced homicide laws, that allow murder prosecutions, even in cases where individuals share drugs socially, if those drugs contain lethal doses.
Texas’ new law imposes harsher penalties, including first-degree felony charges for those involved in manufacturing, distributing or possessing with intent to deliver between 200 and 400 grams of fentanyl, and second-degree felony charges for those involved in manufacturing or distributing fentanyl that results in an overdose.
The law’s supporters say the measure will not only protect Texans from potentially overdosing, but also hold distributors accountable.
“The intent is to deter the behavior and make it to where prosecutors throughout the state can take the sort of action that needs to be taken with this drug,” Texas Rep. David Cook, a Republican who co-authored the bill, said in an interview with Stateline. “This is a necessary measure in order to protect the public safety of our citizens.”
Republican state Rep. Kronda Thimesch, who also co-authored the bill, wrote in an email that the law garnered “overwhelming support” from families, community leaders and law enforcement agencies across the state.
“We have learned from the past that stronger penalties do work. We need to use every resource available to go after drug dealers,” Thimesch wrote.
But critics raise concerns over whether these types of measures truly address the root causes of substance use.
“You cannot deal with fentanyl without dealing with the overall issue of drug addiction and drug usage,” Texas state Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat who voted against the measure, said in an interview with Stateline.
“If you make illegal things that human beings want, you will make things worse,” Wu said. “You will create more organized crime, you will create more unintended consequences, you will create more disparity and destruction in poor communities, because this crap never affects the communities of the people who make the laws.”
Some criminal justice advocates say fentanyl should be treated as a public health issue rather than a law enforcement problem.
By attaching criminal consequences to drug-related incidents, fear and stigma may deter people with substance use disorders from reaching out for help, said Maritza Perez Medina, the director of federal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for reducing criminal drug penalties.
“Public health interventions, things like harm reduction services would actually go a long way in curbing overdose deaths and connecting people to treatment. Unfortunately, that’s not the route that many lawmakers both at the state and federal level are choosing to follow,” Perez Medina said in an interview with Stateline. “There’s still an overinvestment in criminal justice approaches at the expense of public health solutions.”
Criminalization measures also have a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities, which amplify existing racial and socioeconomic disparities, Perez Medina said.
“[These criminalization policies are] also falling on people who are on the lowest level of the drug distribution chain, people who probably also use drugs who would benefit most from public health interventions rather than handcuffs,” she said.
Fentanyl, originally developed in 1959 and introduced in the 1960s, emerged as an intravenous anesthetic and is used particularly to relieve pain after operations, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Fentanyl also serves as a medication for patients with chronic pain who have developed a tolerance to other opioids.
Before 2013, overdose outbreaks linked to illegally manufactured fentanyl were often localized and attributed to specific chemists in Mexico or elsewhere, according to Beau Kilmer, the co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, a nonpartisan research group.
A shift occurred when illegally manufactured fentanyl began flowing into the United States from China in 2013, leading to its widespread distribution, Kilmer said. Over time, dealers mixed fentanyl with heroin and later transitioned to counterfeit pills.
More than 110,500 people in the United States died of drug overdoses in 2022, according to provisional statistics released by the National Center for Health Statistics, a federal agency. Sixty-eight percent, or 75,778, of those deaths involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. The Drug Enforcement Administration also attributes more deaths to illegal fentanyl among Americans under 50 than any other cause of death.
The use of fentanyl laced with xylazine — a cheap animal sedative not meant for human consumption that can cause blackouts and lesions that sometimes result in amputations — also is on the rise, causing growing concerns among policymakers. The Biden administration recently unveiled a plan to curb the growing threat by increasing testing and coordinating standardized data collection to better understand how xylazine-related overdoses are affecting the country.
Several states also have taken steps to restrict access to xylazine, also known as “tranq.” Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro announced the addition of xylazine to the state’s controlled substances list in April, joining Ohio and West Virginia, where similar restrictions have been implemented. Florida already categorizes xylazine as a Schedule I controlled substance.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that drug busts and police crackdowns on dealers may worsen the overdose crisis.
The research, conducted in Indianapolis, identified a pattern where overdose rates involving opioids doubled in the vicinity surrounding a drug seizure and persisted over several weeks. The study suggested that the increase in overdoses may be linked to people seeking alternatives due to the loss of their stable supply, without knowing their tolerance to other opioids that have varying potency.
Some drug policy experts worry that criminalizing fentanyl may push individuals toward more dangerous substances, as suppliers seek to evade law enforcement scrutiny.
“Anytime you ban a drug, if people respond to that at all, they just respond by using a whole different drug. It doesn’t address the issue because it doesn’t address demand, and as long as there is a demand for the drug, there will be a supply for it,” said Katharine Harris, a drug policy fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, in an interview with Stateline.
She also argued that the focus on this substance alone does not address the root causes and complexities of the overdose crisis.
“We’re always going to be one step behind and I feel like that’s what we’re seeing right now with xylazine,” Harris said.
Some states have chosen to pursue alternative approaches. California and North Carolina have embraced harm reduction strategies, such as syringe exchange programs and increasing distribution of naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug. New Hampshire also recently outlined its plan to use $6.5 million to fund programs that aim to treat and prevent substance use in the state.
Missouri recently became the latest state to decriminalize fentanyl testing strips. Only New York City and Rhode Island have legalized “safe injection sites,” where people can use drugs under the supervision of trained staff who can reverse overdoses.
There are more than 1,100 communities nationwide that have committed to creating non-arrest pathways into treatment and recovery to address substance use, according to Zoe Grover-Scicchitano, the executive director of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, which helps law enforcement agencies turn to treatment programs rather than arrests.
“Effective drug policy, including addressing root causes of addiction and supporting harm reduction efforts, requires creating public health and public safety partnerships. Collaboration between law enforcement and other stakeholders can reduce stigma, create more pathways into treatment and reduce overdose deaths,” Grover-Scicchitano wrote in an email.
Former University of New Mexico athletic director found not guilty of embezzlement charges - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
Former University of New Mexico athletic director Paul Krebs has been found not guilty of embezzlement charges that stemmed from accusations that he used public money for a lavish golf trip that he said was meant to strengthen relationships with donors.
The verdict was reached just after 10:30 a.m. Friday following a trial in state district court. Krebs raised his head in relief as the verdict was read, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
"We think justice was done. It was a long, slow process, but we're glad it's over," Krebs' attorney, Paul Kennedy, told The Associated Press in a brief phone call after the verdict. "He's a good man, and it's the correct verdict that he should be acquitted."
Krebs left the university in 2017 amid questions over spending and was later indicted by a grand jury on multiple charges. Weeks before the trial, prosecutors dropped all but two of the embezzlement counts following a review of the case.
State Attorney General Raúl Torrez said in a statement that his office was disappointed by the jury's decision.
"Despite today's verdict," the statement said, "the New Mexico Attorney General's Office remains committed to protecting the public interest and ensuring that public leaders hold themselves to the highest level of integrity and professionalism."
Kennedy told jurors at the start of the trial that Krebs did not commit a crime because he received no financial benefit from the 2015 trip to Scotland.
On Thursday, before the case went to the jury, Krebs took the stand and fielded questions from prosecutors about his lack of knowledge of university policies and his response to media reports about the international trip, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
Krebs, 66, was accused of using university and Lobo Club funds to help pay for the trip, which included himself and family members, several prospective donors, and former UNM men's basketball coach Craig Neal. The Lobo Club is a nonprofit fundraising organization that helps student-athletes.
At the time he announced his retirement in 2017, Krebs was the longest-tenured athletic director in Mountain West Conference history. He was hired by UNM in 2006.
Prosecutors allege that the athletics department paid about $24,500 for golf tours for three people not affiliated with the university or the UNM Association. They also claim that Krebs used $13,625 in university funds to reimburse the Lobo Club for a golf tour package after Lobo Club funds were used to pay a deposit to a travel company.
Many of the witnesses called to the stand explained how the Lobo Club operated and described the inner workings of the accounting procedures for moving money between university departments.
During the trial, Judge Cindy Leos paused the proceedings after learning that at least one television station violated an order by livestreaming while court was in session. She ordered cameras from the local television outlets to be removed from the courtroom.
Leos had issued an order ahead of the trial that set guidelines for media outlets given interest in the case.
New study finds fallout from the Trinity Test reached most of the U.S. – New York Times, KUNM
Anew study on the extent of the world’s first nuclear blast in 1945, which took place in southern New Mexico, found the radioactive fallout reached 46 states, Canada and Mexico.
The New York Times reports the study used state-of-the-art modeling software to recover historical weather data from the Trinity Test.
Lead author Sebastien Philippe with Princeton University says the fallout from Trinity accounts for 87% of radionuclide deposits across New Mexico, which also received fallout from Nevada tests.
The Times reports that the county where Trinity took place, Soccoro, has the fifth highest deposition per county of all counties in the United States.
The article points out there were as many as half a million people living with in a 150-mile radius of the test. Some families were as close as 12 miles, according to the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.
Co-founder of the consortium Tina Cordova welcomed the new study and told the Times she and others have been waiting for affirmation of the stories told by people from the area who saw the test and reported ash falling from the sky for days afterwards.
Civilians were not warned about the test and people near the site have never been eligible for compensation unlike nuclear workers and downwinders in other parts of the West.
DOH and DWS team up to help tribal, rural residents — KUNM News
A new $2.8 million outreach program is coming to tribal, rural and remote communities across the land of enchantment.
A partnership between two state departments seeks to expand outreach and support for unemployment benefits and re-employment services and training for those areas using funds provided by the federal Department of Labor.
The departments of workforce solutions and health will work together to equip and train community health workers on unemployment insurance and employment services, including social safety net programs,according to a press release.
The community health workers will work directly with a workforce solutions employee to help clients applying for benefits, finding a job, or getting support for education and training.
State officials said the health workers are particularly suited to the job as they can provide one-on-one assistance and are already out working in these areas,