FRI: People’s Forum urges NM lawmakers to call for ceasefire in Gaza, + More
People’s Forum urges NM lawmakers to call for ceasefire in Gaza - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
Twin measures introduced in the New Mexico Legislature that urge the state’s congressional delegation to call for a ceasefire in Gaza have sat untouched by the powerful lawmakers responsible for giving them a hearing.
In response, a coalition of 19 organizations and five lawmakers from across the state held a two-and-a-half-hour “People’s Forum” at the state capitol to hear testimony that they said would be given in an official hearing.
On the House side, representatives Eleanor Chávez (D-Albuquerque), Patricia Roybal Caballero, Angelica Rubio (D-Las Cruces), Susan Herrera (D-Embudo) and Miguel P. García (D-Albuquerque) are sponsoring House Memorial 8.
House Memorial 8 was sent to the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 22 and has not budged. That panel is headed by Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos).
Chavez said the memorial is “still sitting in the House.” So, she and the organizers decided to hold a people’s hearing in the Rotunda on Friday.
“This is the people’s forum,” said Samia Assed, with the Southwest Coalition for Palestine. “The voting power is with us.”
The event came as the U.S. Congress was expected to vote on an emergency funding bill that includes aid to humanitarian relief in Gaza, and billions more in military aid to Israel.
Chavez encouraged the crowd to contact U.S. Sens. Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich to support an amendment to remove the funding for Israel. Yesterday, Luján and Heinrich voted to continue debate on the emergency spending bill in the Senate. They each have said that any version of this bill passed by Congress must include humanitarian aid for Gaza.
Rubio expressed issues with the Congressional spending bill. She said she is horrified that the U.S. government is funding a genocide in Gaza, and militarization along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We have the money, we just choose not to invest it in our own communities,” Rubio said.
In the Senate, Sens. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque) and Pete Campos (D-Las Vegas) are carrying Senate Memorial 6.
Lopez said the measure has not gotten a hearing. It was referred to the Senate Rules Committee on Jan. 25, and has sat there since. The committee is headed by Sen. Katy Duhigg (D-Albuquerque).
Source New Mexico left messages with both Duhigg and Chandler about why the bills are not receiving a date on their committee’s calendar. We will update if they respond.
“They should be hearing us, because that’s what we elect them for,” Lopez said. “May our voice be heard in the halls of Congress, and in the White House and all those appointees to the federal government: we need a ceasefire now.”
As Roybal Caballero expressed disbelief at the lack of an official call from her fellow lawmakers for a ceasefire in Gaza, she looked up from the Rotunda at the upper floors of the New Mexico Legislature.
“Those of you that are not moved by these atrocities, perhaps it’s time to visit your faith, your pastor, your guide, whoever that might be,” Roybal Caballero said. “Something has got to move you. Something has got to move this Roundhouse, something has got to move the White House. Something has got to move Congress, something has got to move the Senate.”
Roybal Caballero encouraged the crowd to contact their state lawmakers.
“What are we afraid of?” Roybal Caballero asked. “I want us to understand how important it is for us — especially those of us in decision making bodies such as this Roundhouse — to be courageous and take a vote on the House floor on the House memorial.”
Assed addressed lawmakers who haven’t called for a ceasefire: “you’re going to have to reckon with your conscience, your morality.”
Plan to shift CYFD oversight stalled – Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News
An effort to shift oversight of New Mexico’s troubled child welfare agency from the executive branch to an independent commission appears to be dead in the water.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the sponsor of the joint resolution, Democratic Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, says opposition by Gov. Michelle Luján Grisham likely scared off lawmakers. The bill was to be considered this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The joint resolution would have gone directly to voters if both houses passed it.
Ortiz y Pino told KUNM earlier this year the Children, Youth and Families Department was in a death spiral. CYFD has drawn criticism over a lack of transparency, housing children in its offices and putting foster teens in a facility for kids with histories of mental illness and violence.
Ortiz y Pino spent much of his career at CYFD. He criticized recently confirmed Secretary Teresa Casados as having no background in this field, which he says has hurt recruitment efforts.
Casados told lawmakers she opposed the idea of an independent commission because the structures would create barriers to collaboration with other agencies and Native American tribes.
Bill to fund geothermal energy production heads to Senate floor - Bryce Dix, KUNM News
A bill that would fund geothermal energy production across New Mexico passed with flying colors in the House of Representatives this week.
The legislation would funnel cash into a grant and loan program headed by the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD).
Geothermal is a type of energy found in the Earth's crust. Usually, it is harvested by drilling deep into underground reservoirs to tap steam and very hot water to generate electricity.
“Geothermal power is probably one of the most natural, clean sources of energy,” said bill sponsor Democratic Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero.
House Bill 91 would set aside $25 million for EMNRD’s Energy Conservation and Management Division to create the geothermal projects development fund and the geothermal projects revolving loan fund.
That cash could also be used to provide grants up to $250 thousand for cost-benefit studies and other initiatives. Eligible recipients include state universities, political subdivisions of the state and Native American tribes or pueblos.
This push comes as a groundbreaking geothermal project in Utahreached a significant milestone last year when scientists got one step closer to potentially generating a continuous flow of hot water to produce power.
The bill passed on a bipartisan vote of 60-5 and now heads to the Senate floor.
New Mexico legislators seek endowment to bolster autonomous tribal education programs - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press
New Mexico legislators would create a unique educational endowment of at least $50 million to help Native American communities create their own student programs, including efforts to teach and preserve Indigenous languages, under a proposal endorsed Thursday by the state House.
The bill from Democratic legislators with ties to tribal communities including the Navajo Nation and smaller Native American pueblos won unanimous House approval on a 68-0 vote, advancing to the state Senate for consideration. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently voiced support for the initiative.
Sponsors say the endowment would help reverse the vestiges of forced assimilation of Native American children, including the legacy of at U.S.-backed boarding schools, and fulfill the state's commitment to Native American students in the wake of a landmark state court ruling.
"What this does is it pushes back against 200-plus years of federal policies that sought to erase Native Americans from this nation and says, 'Well, we know how to school, to teach our children best,' " said Rep. Derrick Lente, a resident and tribal member of Sandia Pueblo and lead cosponsor of the initiative. "They know that language is important."
New Mexico is home to 22 federally recognized tribal communities, and the Oklahoma-based Fort Sill Apache Tribe also has land holdings in southern New Mexico near Deming. The U.S. Census indicates that Native Americans make up about 11% of the state population, both on and off reservation lands.
An appropriation from the state general fund would establish the "tribal education trust fund," with annual distributions to tribal communities set at roughly 5% of the fund's corpus — about $2.5 million on a balance of $50 million.
Under an agreement that Lente helped broker, tribes would determine how the money is divvied up among Native American communities using a "unanimous consensus process of consultation, collaboration and communication ... with the option of appointing peacemakers in the event of a dispute regarding the formula."
New Mexico lawmakers currently have a multibillion-dollar budget surplus at their disposal — a windfall linked to oil and natural gas production — as they craft an annual spending plan and search for effective strategies to raise average high school graduation rates and academic attainment scores up to national averages.
At the same time, state lawmakers have been under pressure for several years to resolve a 2018 court ruling that found New Mexico has fallen short of its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education to students from low-income households, Native American communities, those with disabilities and English-language learners.
"More important than the money — of $50 million — is the idea that a trust fund be established, and sovereign nations be named as the beneficiaries on behalf of their children," said state Rep. Anthony Allison of Fruitland, who is Navajo. "Our dream is that this is just the beginning, and that future generations will benefit from our dreams and our vision on their behalf."
Lente said he continues to push for a larger, $100 million contribution by the state to the endowment.
New high school graduation requirements head to the governor’s desk - By Danielle Prokop,Source New Mexico
A bill updating high school graduation requirements for New Mexico students passed the state Senate floor in a 40-0 vote, and is now headed to the governor’s desk. It’s the second bill passed by both chambers this session.
An amendment on the bill that wanted to require a standalone semester of financial literacy for students to graduate failed by a narrow margin of 19-22 after debate on the floor. The vote colored outside of party lines, with both Republicans and Democrats voting on either side of the measure.
House Bill 171 updates the standards and courses that determine if students can graduate from a New Mexico high school. This includes:
- Removing the aptitude test and adding an additional semester of social sciences requirements.
- Charter schools or school districts must determine two units of the 24 units required for graduation.
- State education officials will have to put out rules to local districts about revising course offerings.
- The law would allow electives in Career Technical Education, internships or project-based classes to count towards core requirements for graduation.
- Removes the requirement that a student must take an Advanced Placement, honors, dual credit or distance learning class.
- Algebra II is not required for graduation, but must still be offered in all schools.
The bill keeps the total number of credits to graduate at 24, the same as current graduation requirements. It does remove a state requirement for exit exams to “demonstrate competency,” in addition to coursework.
Students are still required under federal laws to take proficiency exams in 3rd, 8th and 11th grades, according to a Legislative Education Study Committee analysis of the bill.
If signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the new standards would apply to students entering ninth grade in the 2025-2026 year, who graduate in 2029. The legislature last updated graduation requirements in 2007 for students who started high school in the 2009-2010 school year, according to bill analysis.
Lujan Grisham vetoed a similar bill brought in 2023, saying in herveto message that the bill “weakened graduation standards,” and asked lawmakers to work the administration on a new bill.
Sponsors of the bill included current and retired teachers, such as sponsor Rep. Andrés Romero (D-Albuquerque), Sen. Bill Soules (D-Las Cruces) and Senate Pro Tempore Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque).
FINANCIAL LITERACY FIGHT
In the Senate Education Committee and spilling onto the Senate floor, was a fight over an amendment to mandate students take a half-semester standalone financial literacy course as a graduation requirement.
Incommittee hearings earlier this week, education lobbyists and students supported the measure to add an extra financial literacy requirement.
Small school superintendent and teachers’ union representatives testified that adding the requirement may be difficult for smaller schools, and that new social studies incorporate financial literacy into schoolwork.
Romero, a social studies teacher at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School in Albuquerque, said those standards went into effect this year, adding financial literacy concepts in kindergarten to 12th grade.
One supporter for financial literacy standalone classes was New Mexico State Treasurer Laura Montoya, appearing before the Senate Education Committee earlier this week.
“You didn’t give students an option whether or not they should be in geometry or in Algebra, but you want to give them an option as to whether or not literacy is better for them,” Montoya said. “We all know that financial literacy is better for them because [we] may have messed up our credit score or someone else’s credit score close to us.”
DEBATE MOVES FROM THE COMMITTEE TO THE FLOOR
In the floor vote on Wednesday, both Stewart and Soules said the governor was not asking for a financial literacy requirement.
“Some of our members have been called by our treasurer and told that the governor wants to amend the bill, and that’s not true,” Stewart said. “I called the governor’s office and they said I could say that on the floor of the senate.”
A spokesperson for Lujan Grisham said Stewart’s statement was accurate.
Soules urged the body to reject the amendment, saying that districts could adopt standalone financial literacy requirements for graduation, and that financial literacy is part of required coursework for high schoolers when they take government, civics and personal economics.
The new requirements would allow for the half-year elective financial literacy course to now be counted towards math credits, Stewart said.
Soules said the bill was the product of four years of work, and that it had support from superintendents, school boards, teachers’ unions and other education groups.
“We have not updated the requirements for high school graduation in almost 20 years, the world has changed,” he said.
Sen. Martin Hickey (D-Albuquerque) added the amendment on the floor, he said adding one semester of financial literacy offers “fundamental life skills” to high school students, and that too few students are learning it without a one-semester focused course.
“I’ve had 30 years of continuous education, I never learned any of this stuff,” Hickey said. “I got taken by loans, paid a lot more money, had credit card fees.”
Lawmakers such as Sen. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque), Sen. Bill Sharer (R-Farmington) and Sen. Joe Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) voiced their support for the amendment.
Sharer, after giving an overview of financial literacy talks he’s given, said it will help students achieve their goals.
“We’re not a poor state, we act like a poor state,” Sharer said. “And we act like a poor state because too many of us don’t understand that money is just a tool, and how you use that tool is important.”
In the debate’s conclusion, Soules said that financial literacy is crucial and said that students are receiving that through the new social studies coursework.
“Every student, 100% of them will be getting financial literacy through this program,” he said. “The changes to the standard occurred less than a year ago, they are brand new.”
Former New Mexico House speaker faces lawsuit from investors – Santa Fe New Mexican
Former House Speaker Brian Egolf and his wife, Kelly Egolf, are facing a lawsuit from investors in a cold-pressed juice company who say the couple defrauded them out of millions of dollars.
The Santa Fe New Mexicanreports the suit was filed this week in District Court by prominent residents who invested in Verde Juice to the tune of about $4 million. They include businessman Bob Vladem whose name graces the new Vladem Contemporary Museum, real estate mogul Ed Berman, oil and gas attorney Dan Perry, and philanthropist Gail “Peaches” Gilbert.
The suit alleges the Egolfs conspired to deceive investors and move company assets without their consent or approval. Through their attorney the couple denied wrongdoing and said they took actions to save the juice company after investors voted to kill it.
The suit also lists 20 unnamed people who the complaint states could become defendants. Also named is Invictus Unlimited LLC, a company organized by Brian Egolf that purchased the assets of the juice company in June 2023.
Landlords in Albuquerque and Roswell ordered to pay to resolve alleged tenant abuses - KUNM News
Two landlords in Albuquerque and Roswell have been ordered by a court to pay tenants for overcharging them.
The U.S. Attorney of New Mexico announced the tenants were voucher holders under the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, known as Section 8. That means they were only meant to pay 30% of their income towards rent, and federal funds would cover the difference.
The Roswell landlord, an apartment complex operator named Turnaround Properties, collected more. It also turned down a refund request from the tenant, who has physical and cognitive limitations. It will pay a $30,000 settlement.
The Albuquerque landlord Santana Ortiz collected excess rent payments from a tenant and concealed a sham lease agreement from the local housing authority. He will pay a $12,000 settlement.
Attorney Thomas Prettyman, who represented both tenants on behalf of New Mexico Legal Aid, said in a release his organization hopes these cases will discourage other landlords from breaking the rules so Section 8 remains affordable for those who need help.
Storms dump heavy snowfall in northern Arizona after leaving California a muddy mess - By Walter Berry and John Antczak, Associated Press
Heavy snow shut down parts of major interstates in northern Arizona on Thursday while low-lying clouds delayed dozens of flights in Phoenix, after storms earlier this week battered California and left a muddy mess.
The mountainous region of northern Arizona recorded 2 feet (61 centimeters) of snowfall or more in some locations with more expected into the weekend. Snow, ice and whiteout conditions forced partial closures of Interstates 40 and 17 in and around Flagstaff, northern Arizona's largest city. I-17 later reopened but portions of I-40 remained closed Thursday night.
Dennis Fritsch, a trucker, was enroute from Georgia to Reno, Nevada, where he has a delivery due Friday. He pulled over at a truck stop along I-40 in Bellemont, Arizona, anticipating the roadway would be shut down after the temperature dropped and the sun disappeared.
"It's pretty brutal, actually," he said.
Longtime Bellemont resident Rick Schuler, who was clearing his and a neighbor's driveway, was taking it in stride as his dog, Dakota, ran around in deep snow.
"Just enjoying this beautiful weather, plowing snow, playing with the dog, enjoying it," he said.
Schools around northern Arizona, including Northern Arizona University, called snow days.
Farther south, rain hit the state's desert regions. A low cloud ceiling briefly shut down all flights in and out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport — the state's largest airport. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for 45 minutes Thursday morning, delaying more than 100 flights, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. The rainy weather also disrupted the first-round play at the Phoenix Open golf tournament.
In California, the clear skies over most of the state were welcomed after days of wind, rain and heavy snowfall that caused power outages, street flooding and hundreds of destructive mudslides. The extremely wet weather marked a major turnabout from a very slow start to winter.
It was prime ski weather in the Sierra Nevada, where more snow fell Thursday at one Lake Tahoe ski resort and at Mammoth Mountain south of Yosemite National Park. Mammoth had already reported as much as 5 feet of snow since Sunday.
An area east of Los Angeles, aptly named Snow Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains, got almost as much snow as parts of the eastern Sierra, the National Weather Service said. Several times, snow completely buried an eagle named Jackie, whose care for three eggs in a nest is widely watched via a webcam, the Friends of Big Bear Valley said on its Facebook page.
The five-day rainfall total in downtown Los Angeles topped 9 inches (23 centimeters), more than half of the 14.25 inches (36 centimeters) it normally gets per year, while other parts of the city received more than a foot (30 centimeters).
Meanwhile, the risk of avalanches in the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles kept searchers from continuing the hunt for a woman who vanished Sunday while hiking alone on Mount Baldy. San Bernardino County authorities say Lifei Huang, 22, of El Monte was last heard from Sunday afternoon as a storm moved into the area. Baldy is known to be treacherous in winter and last year claimed the lives of several hikers, including actor Julian Sands.
The exceptional precipitation in California began last weekend, when extraordinary low pressure spinning off the coast hauled in an atmospheric river. Northern California was blasted with fierce winds, and the huge plume of moisture then rained on the south for days.
A new front then roared down the California coast on Wednesday, unleashing downpours and damaging winds that included a weak tornado near Grover Beach in San Luis Obispo County.
State officials tallied nine storm-related deaths, not including five Marines killed in the crash of a military helicopter late Tuesday night east of San Diego. Officials have not said if the weather was a factor.
The storms also spawned destructive mudslides — more than 500 in the city of LA alone, where at least 16 buildings have been deemed uninhabitable and 33 others have been yellow-tagged, meaning residents can go in to retrieve belongings but cannot stay. Experts say soils are so saturated the threat of landslides will persist.
Antczak reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Bellemont, Arizona, and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this story.