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MON: Longtime state senator who advocated for children, families and history dies, + More

Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, D-Dona Ana, smiles at the opening of the legislative session at the Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2007. Garcia, a former state senator who served 24 years in the New Mexico Legislature where she was known as a champion of historic preservation, families and children, has died. She was 87. (AP Photo/Jeff Geissler, File)
Jeff Geissler
Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, D-Dona Ana, smiles at the opening of the legislative session at the Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2007. Garcia, a former state senator who served 24 years in the New Mexico Legislature where she was known as a champion of historic preservation, families and children, has died. She was 87. (AP Photo/Jeff Geissler, File)

Longtime New Mexico state Sen. Garcia dies at age 87; champion of children, families, history - Associated Press

Mary Jane Garcia, a former state senator who served 24 years in the New Mexico Legislature, where she was known as a champion of historic preservation, families and children, has died. She was 87.

Garcia, a Democrat who served as majority whip during one stretch, represented District 36, including Doña Ana County and Las Cruces, from 1988 to 2012.

She died peacefully while surrounded by her family on Friday after entering hospice care in December, the county said in a statement on behalf of her family.

"Her community service extended across many areas of advocacy to include at-risk youth programs, animal rights, border health issues, education, historic preservation projects, human trafficking, subdivision, and welfare reform," the county said.

In recent years, she had been observed participating in cleanup days, clearing trash at the village's historic cemetery, the county said.

State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, a fellow Democrat who now holds the District 36 seat, said Garcia was "a tremendous cultural and historic preservationist who worked for decades to preserve the history of her beloved community, the Village of Doña Ana, and cared deeply for her constituents."

"New Mexico has lost one of its great public servants," he said in a statement.

A businesswoman, Garcia had been a co-owner of Billy the Kid's Gift Shop in Mesilla and the Victoria's Lounge bar in Las Cruces. From 1966 until 1972, she served as an administrative assistant for the U.S. military and a medical volunteer in Saigon during the Vietnam War.

She earned degrees in anthropology from New Mexico State University and published, as her master's thesis, the first document history of the village of her birth.

New Mexico justices hear challenge to public health ban on guns in public parks and playgrounds - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Advocates for gun rights urged the New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday to block emergency orders by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham restricting people from carrying guns at public parks and playgrounds in the state's largest metro area and address gun violence as a public health crisis.

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday without issuing a ruling in a lawsuit brought by Republican state legislators, the National Rifle Association and several residents of the Albuquerque area that include retired law enforcement officers, former federal agents, licensed firearms instructors and a gun-shop owner.

The state's legal standoff is one of many — from an Illinois ban on high-powered rifles to location-based restrictions in New York — since a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year expanded gun rights and as leaders in politically liberal-leaning states explore new avenues for restrictions. A California law was set to take effect Jan. 1 banning firearms in most public places, but a legal challenge has held up implementation.

Lujan Grisham, a second-term Democrat, first invoked the orders in response to a spate of shootings that included the death of an 11-year-old boy outside a minor league baseball stadium.

Supreme Court justices questioned attorneys for more than an hour as they weighed whether to rein in the governor's use of emergency powers to restrict firearms. Outside the courthouse, there was an unusually heavy police presence with New Mexico State Police vehicles lining the street.

"It seems to me that there are guardrails, so to speak. … You have to say the nature of the public health emergency," Justice Michael E. Vigil, told an attorney for the governor. "Where is the statistical information showing that gun violence in public parks in Albuquerque and in Bernalillo County is a problem? There's nothing in these declarations that show that."

Justice Briana Zamora said New Mexico lawmakers have given the governor broader emergency powers in comparison with many states. She also sounded a cautionary note on executive authority.

"If we allow this, what are we not allowing?" she asked.

The high court adjourned without setting a deadline or a decision.

The petitioners say Lujan Grisham has overstepped her authority as governor in violation of the Second Amendment and that gun violence and drug abuse don't qualify as public health emergencies that can limit access to firearms even temporarily.

They accuse the governor of infringing on the Legislature's authority and overriding gun regulations that have been refined over the course of more than a century, including concealed handgun laws. The state Republican and Libertarian parties also support the legal challenge.

"The executive orders are so far outside and so contrary to the emergency statutes that, in their entirety, they are invalid — by trying to declare a state of emergency base on 'gun violence' and 'drug abuse,'" attorney Jessica Hernandez argued Monday on behalf of gun rights advocates.

In defining what constitutes a public health emergency, the governor asserts that both gun violence and drug abuse "comfortably fall within" the category because of extremely dangerous conditions posed by weapons and toxic chemical agents posing an imminent threat to many New Mexico residents.

The temporary orders don't violate constitutional rights, she says.

"Those are the powers that the governor has, and those are the powers that she was reelected to use, again, in consultation with her public health experts about what constitutes an emergency," said Holly Agajanian, chief general counsel to the governor.

Separately, a federal judge has allowed enforcement of the gun provision to continue while legal challenges run their course. The October ruling by U.S. District Judge David Urias marked a victory for Lujan Grisham.

The governor's orders, first issued on Sept. 8, 2023, sparked public protests among gun rights advocates and additional legal challenges in federal court that are still underway.

Initial restrictions on carrying guns were scaled back from the original order that broadly suspended the right to carry guns in most public places, which the Bernalillo County sheriff and Albuquerque's police chief had refused to enforce.

The governor's health order includes directives for gun buyback efforts, monthly inspections of firearms dealers statewide, reports on gunshot victims at New Mexico hospitals and wastewater testing for indication of illicit drug use at public schools.

Longtime NRA leader Wayne LaPierre resigned before Monday's start of a civil trial in New York over allegations he treated himself to lavish perks at the expense of the powerful gun rights group.

PNM plans to change rates – yet again - KUNM News, Albuquerque Journal

The Public Service Co. of New Mexico is planning on changing its rates in 2025 just shortly after the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected an increase in rates this year.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, PNM plans to file the new rate change application soon, but didn’t specify when.

As a result of the PRC’s decision, New Mexico customers could see a decrease in their monthly bills – though the utility is still calculating how customers will be impacted in the future. Changes could be as soon as the next billing cycle.

Last week’s decision rejects a nearly 10% residential base rate increase to recover a $15.3 million revenue deficit for investments in the Four Corners Power Plant in San Juan County and the Palo Verde Generating Station based in Arizona.

PNM can appeal the decision by Feb. 10. The company told the Journal it’s considering its next steps, including a potential appeal of “certain issues” in the final order.

New Mexico attorney general says fake GOP electors can't be prosecuted, recommends changes - By Susan Montoya Bryan and Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico's top prosecutor said Friday that the state's five Republican electors cannot be prosecuted under the current law for filing election certificates that falsely declared Donald Trump the winner of the 2020 presidential race.

However, Democratic Attorney General Raúl Torrez is making recommendations to state lawmakers that he says would enhance the security of the state's electoral process and provide legal authority for prosecuting similar conduct in the future.

New Mexico is one of several states where Republican electors attempted to cast ballots indicating that Trump had won, a strategy at the center of criminal charges against Trump and his associates. Democratic officials launched separate investigations in some states, resulting in indictments against GOP electors.

Fake certificates were submitted in the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In New Mexico and Pennsylvania, fake electors added a caveat saying the certificate was submitted in case they were later recognized as duly elected, qualified electors. That would only have been possible if Trump had won any of several dozen legal battles he waged against states in the weeks after the election.

Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce said Friday that the state faced numerous election challenges that had the possibility of going before a court. Therefore, he said the GOP electors cast their votes by the deadline written within federal statute in the event the election outcome changed.

"AG Torrez agrees that the Republican electors did not violate the law, but now he wants to criminalize the process used by both Democrats and Republicans," Pearce said, referring to the 1960 presidential election in which Democrat electors in Hawaii cast votes for John F. Kennedy despite that state initially being called for Republican Richard Nixon.

In 2020, President Joe Biden won the vote in New Mexico by roughly 11 percentage points — the largest margin among the states where so-called fake electors have been implicated.

In December, a Nevada grand jury indicted six Republicans with felony charges of offering a false instrument for filing and uttering a forged instrument, in connection with false election certificates. They have pleaded not guilty.

Michigan's Attorney General filed felony charges in July 2023 against 16 Republican fake electors, who would face eight criminal charges including forgery and conspiracy to commit election forgery, though one had charges dropped after reaching a cooperation deal. The top charge carried a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Three fake electors also have been charged in Georgia alongside Trump and others in a sweeping indictment accusing them of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to illegally overturn the results of the presidential election. They have pleaded not guilty.

Among those accused in a Fulton County indictment is Santa Fe attorney and former law professor John Eastman.

In January 2022, then-New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, had referred the false certificates to federal authorities for investigation. When Torrez took office in 2023, he ordered a state investigation to determine if the electors had committed any crimes.

Torrez's office said investigators reviewed thousands of pages of documents relating to activities in New Mexico and in the other battleground states. They also interviewed the five GOP electors.

New Mexico prosecutors contend that Trump's team provided instructions for completing and submitting the documents. Unlike the certification documents the campaign sent to other states, those used in New Mexico were hinged on Trump winning his challenges.

While saying it was disgraceful that New Mexicans were enlisted in a plot to "undermine democracy," Torrez acknowledged that the conduct by GOP electors in New Mexico was not subject to criminal prosecution.

He's asking Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Democratic-controlled Legislature to amend state election code to give prosecutors more latitude to pursue charges in these types of cases in the future.

Torrez's recommendations include expanding the prohibition against falsified election documents to include certificates related to presidential electors and creating a new law against falsely acting as a presidential elector.

Pearce suggested that pursuing such changes would amount to "unproductive stunts" that divert from addressing crime, poverty and other priorities in New Mexico.

New Mexico legislators back slower, sustained growth in government programs with budget plan - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Leading New Mexico lawmakers on Friday recommended a 5.9% increase in general fund spending for the coming fiscal year amid a windfall in oil-related income, while also sounding a cautionary note on the future of the state's petroleum bonanza and setting aside more money in savings and investment accounts.

The proposal from a lead budget writing committee to the Democratic-led Legislature would increase general fund spending by $566 million to $10.1 billion for the fiscal year running from July 2024 to June 2025. The increased general spending represents a fraction of an anticipated $3.5 billion surplus of state income in excess of current tax obligations.

The budget blueprint would bolster efforts to improve student achievement in public education, buttresses health care for people in poverty or on the cusp as federal support for Medicaid recedes in the aftermath of the pandemic, and provide pay raises averaging 4% to state employees along with compensation boosts at public school and colleges.

Support for childhood wellbeing also figures prominently, including a recommendation to increased spending from an early childhood education trust to expand prekindergarten and home visits from nurses for parents of infants and toddlers. The early childhood education trust was established in 2020 amid an extraordinary surge in oil-related income and already contains roughly $6 billion.

State Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup warned that the state budget is more reliant than ever on income from oil and natural gas — a commodity subject to volatile swings in pricing and production.

"That's a very dangerous situation in the end," said Muñoz, chairman of two lead budget-writing committees. "I think this is a very sound budget. ... It keeps the state of New Mexico able to grow over the next couple years without having massive cuts" later on.

The legislature convenes Jan. 16 for a rapid-fire, 30-day legislative session centered on budget negotiations. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham can veto any and all budget provisions approved by legislators.

Republican state Sen. Pat Woods of Grady said he's urging colleagues in the Democratic majority to be reasonable and slow the pace of recent budget increases.

"Do we even know what we're funding is working?" said Woods, one of 14 GOP senators who are outnumbered nearly 2-1 by Democrats in the chamber. "Do we need to maybe hold off from any more big expenditures to get a general idea of where the funding is working."

Spending on public schools would increase by $243 million, or 5.8%, to $4.42 billion under the proposal from legislators.

The plan also would significantly increase spending on the state courts system, local prosecutors and public defenders amid heightened concerns about crime and gun violence in Albuquerque.

State Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo said the budget plan leaves room for $200 million in tax reductions and incentives.

Lujan Grisham last year used her veto powers to scale back a tax relief package based on concerns it could undermine future spending on public education, healthcare and law enforcement. Vetoed items included reduced tax rates on personal income, sales and business transactions. Credits toward the purchase of electric vehicles and related charging equipment also were vetoed — but are back on the negotiating table this year.

"We're taking a much more conservative approach for our tax proposal this year," said Lente, chairman of the lead House committee on taxation.

A rival budget proposal from Lujan Grisham would increase general fund spending more dramatically by about $950 million, or nearly 10%, to $10.5 billion, with major initiatives to shore up homeownership and affordable housing opportunities.

Both budget proposals signal a likely end to three straight years of bulk state money transfers to New Mexico households. The most recent rebates in 2023 exceeded $600 million in individual payments of $500.

Winter storms dump snow on both US coasts as icy roads make for hazardous travel - By Steve Leblanc, Associated Press

A major winter storm bringing heavy snow and freezing rain to some communities spread across New England on Sunday, sending residents scurrying for their shovels and snowblowers to clear sidewalks and driveways.

Winter storm warnings and watches were in effect throughout the Northeast, and icy roads made for hazardous travel as far south as North Carolina.

The Northeast snow came as a Sierra Nevada storm packing heavy snow shut down a stretch of interstate Saturday and briefly knocked out power to tens of thousands in Reno, Nevada.

More than 11,000 electric customers in California were without power Sunday afternoon.

Some communities in Massachusetts had recorded more than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow by Sunday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Nearly 13,000 electric customers in the state were without power Sunday afteroon.

Hundreds of flights at Logan International Airport were delayed or canceled Sunday according to tracking website FlightAware.

Snow totals were lower for coastal communities, with Boston reporting just a few inches (centimeters). Snow was expected to continue throughout the day.

In Cambridge, where snowfall was lighter, residents quickly ventured out.

"I think it's funny because everyone's been freaking out about it," said Alison Conley, 26, a consultant. "We've been betting as to how much snow we're actually going to have and it's looking like not that much is going to stick."

Conley, who was out walking her dog Sunny, said the possibility that climate change is contributing to relatively warmer winter days in the region — the temperature in Boston is expected to be in the 50s on Wednesday, melting much of the snow — is a concern.

"I think it's super alarming," she said. "It is very weird, but, I don't know, from a selfish side it's like kind of nice to not have snow."

The storm reached into Maine with snow totals of up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) in some places — with locally higher amounts over southern New Hampshire and southwestern Maine. Wind gusts up 35 mph (56 kph) could add to blowing and drifting snow. Moderate to heavy snow was expected to continue in Vermont, with total snow accumulations of 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters)

Major winter storm conditions were expected into Sunday evening, including snow in parts of New England and rain and freezing rain around the central Appalachian mountains.

New York City mainly saw rain, but counties to the north and west recorded double-digit snow totals by Sunday morning. Millbrook in Dutchess County, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of New York, recorded a foot of snow. Port Jervis in Orange County reported 13 inches (33 centimeters).

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Saturday that she expected two-thirds of her state to get 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow or more, "fortunately missing some of our more populated areas downstate, the Long Island and New York City."

In the West, a winter storm warning was in effect through Saturday night in the Sierra Nevada from south of Yosemite National Park to north of Reno, where the weather service said as much as 20 inches (50 centimeters) of snow could fall in the mountains around Lake Tahoe with winds gusting up to 100 mph (160 kph).

The California Highway Patrol said numerous spinouts and collisions forced an hourslong closure of Interstate 80 from west of Truckee, California to the state line west of Reno.

In Arizona transportation officials said several highways in the state's northern reaches -- including Interstate 40 near Williams and State Route 64 near Grand Canyon National Park -- were closed Sunday afternoon due to weather-related crashes and slide-offs from snowfall.

The National Weather Service said Flagstaff was expected to get 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeterds) of snow by Sunday night with Window Rock was forecast to receive 3 to 5 inches (7 to 12 centimeters).

In Nevada, the weather service said the wind chill dropped to 32 degrees at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas around 7:30 a.m. Sunday. Winds were gusting to 37 mph (60 kph). In northern and western New Mexico, wind chills of 10 to 25 degrees below zero (minus 23 to minus 30 Celsius) were forecast for early Tuesday.

The East Coast system was expected to track along the Northeast coast throughout the weekend.

A foot (30 centimeters) of snow was reported in parts of Monroe County, Pennsylvania, and 11 inches (27 centimeters) in New Jersey's Sussex County.

While warnings were being canceled and highway reduced-speed limits and other restrictions were lifted Sunday, motorists were being cautioned about the hazards of spotty freezing rain and black ice in southeast Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey.

In Massachusetts and portions of Rhode Island, the National Weather Service declared a winter storm warning from 4 p.m. Saturday through 1 a.m. Monday, with snow accumulations of between 6 and 12 inches and winds gusting to 35 mph (55 kph).

Ice arrived early Saturday in some western North Carolina and southern Virginia areas, ranging from a fine coating to around a quarter-inch (6 millimeters).

Forecasters also warned of another Northeast storm Tuesday into Wednesday that is expected to drop heavy rain on already saturated ground. They warned of possible flooding and coastal flooding and a threat of damaging winds that could topple trees and power lines.


Associated Press reporters Ron Todt in Philadelphia, Walter Berry in Phoenix, Arizona, and Carolyn Thompson contributed to this report