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FRI: Time’s run out for radiation act, Legislators upset with Gov's proposed bill, + More

Sen. Ben Ray Luján praised the President’s efforts to bring more investments and jobs to New Mexico, but also urged the President to sign legislation to help secure funds for the Trinity downwinders in August of 2023. The Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act it set to sunset this weekend.
Gino Gutierrez
Source New Mexico
Sen. Ben Ray Luján praised the President’s efforts to bring more investments and jobs to New Mexico, but also urged the President to sign legislation to help secure funds for the Trinity downwinders in August of 2023. The Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act it set to sunset this weekend.

Time’s run out for the Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act - Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico

A federal program to apologize and acknowledge the harms of radiation exposure is out of time, and for those looking for justice from the federal government, the window for inclusion is getting smaller.

The Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act begins to expire today, with the U.S. Department of Justice accepting applications postmarked June 10.

The fund was created in 1990 in response to growing lawsuits from communities around nuclear test sites, as well as from uranium miners and their families about the cancers, diseases, and other harms.

RECA pays lump sum compensations for people who lived and worked in the nuclear program and developed cancers or diseases linked to radiation exposure. It is only limited to civilians living in specific counties in Arizona, Utah and Nevada, uranium miners, millers and transporters before 1971 and federal workers on above ground nuclear test sites.

The Senate passed a bill 69-30 in March, which would broaden the program for downwinders across states and territories, increase protection for uranium workers through 1990 and increase the amount of money paid to families. That proposal would keep the program alive for another six years.

For the people and families left out of RECA, they say Congressional inaction on RECA is further injustice.

“It’s been a lot of stress, and just such an enormous disappointment,” said Tina Cordova, a founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.

The group has long fought for inclusion of people and families who lived around the Trinity Test Site in the Jornada Del Muerto, who have never been compensated.

Last week, Republican House leadership had a reversal on their recent RECA position, first saying they would only bring a vote to extend the current program, and then walking the vote back later in the day.

Objections from GOP leadership start and end with concerns about the costs of expanding the program.

Since the move last week, there has been no support for RECA mentioned by House leaders, despite calls from their Missouri Republican colleagues asking for a standalone vote to keep the program.

Source NM sat down with Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D- N.M.) who co-sponsored the RECA expansion in an interview for NM in Focus. Luján gave an update to RECA’s status, and also said why this fight was so personal to him.


This has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Danielle Prokop: Thank you so much for joining me today, Senator Luján.

Luján: It’s good to be with you as well. Danielle, thanks for having me.

Prokop: I want to bring us right into today. Things are clearly fluid on RECA on Capitol Hill, but the fund is set to expire this week. Can you tell me what’s happening?

Luján: Well, right now, I’m very proud that the United States Senate has passed the amendments to expand RECA, not once but twice. With a historic 61 vote, only to be followed with 69 members, Democratic and Republican members voting to expand RECA. Both those initiatives passed the Senate, while one of those was a standalone bill and it currently sits in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The program is scheduled to expire June 7, so sometime between June 7, and Monday, June 10, is when the date sunsets on this particular program.

There have been several of us that have been advocating for the use of tools to one, expand the program by passing the standalone legislation, which would also extend the date. And number two, if the legislation to expand RECA is not brought to the floor before its sunsets, then pass legislation that would expand the program as well.

And I’m engaging in more and more conversations, Senator Hawley is engaging in conversations. I’ve been proud to be working with leaders like Senator Crapo of Idaho, as well as Senator Heinrich of New Mexico as well. And one way or another, we will fight to expand this program or fight to expand it. And if we do this correctly, we’ll be able to yield both.

Prokop: Wonderful, thank you. This brings us right into last week, House Republican leadership flip-flopped on RECA for saying they would not support yours and Senator Hawley’s bill but then later walked back that vote to extend the current program for two years.

Can you explain for people who aren’t watching this closely why advocates are calling that a victory?

Luján: Well, number one, I’m concerned of the fact that the House of Representatives has yet to hold a standalone vote on expanding RECA, especially when it received 69 votes in the U.S. Senate, with a strong bipartisan vote the strongest it’s ever had.

Number two, we’re seeing momentum every day. And I believe that we would see that same momentum repeated on the House floor if only it was given an opportunity to be voted on.

The other concern that many of us had is when the senator from Utah worked to offer some amendments. His amendments would have number one left out an expansion with uranium mine workers, which would not have been included and would have left out most of the country that the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act includes, which is all of New Mexico including Missouri, and other states as well, expanding this for an additional two years the way that it was being promoted by the senator from Utah raised concerns. Therefore, the senator from Missouri objected to that as well. But nonetheless, we are all working on my office included, working with advocates to see what must be done, so that we can all work together and work together to be able to protect and expand RECA.

Prokop: In the leaving behind of the standalone vote, has there been any guarantees from Republican leadership that they will bring your bill and Senator Hawley’s bill to the floor in the House?

Luján: I very much appreciate that. Well, the senator from Kentucky, the Republican leader, Mr. McConnell voted against the provision when we were fighting to include it in the National Defense Authorization Act. I did see the support from Leader McConnell when this was a standalone bill in the Senate, and we earned his vote as well.

That shows Republican leadership support in the Senate.

I’m very concerned still about where things stand in the US House of Representatives. Namely, because the National Defense Authorization Act was kept out of a negotiated National Defense Authorization Act, the RECA was when it should have been included there and should have gone to the President.

At that point. Most observers, including myself will point to Republican leadership that were responsible for the removal of that package. Well, now I’m very proud that we not only have the support of Chuck Schumer, the Majority Leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader in the Senate, as well as support for the President of the United States Joe Biden.

Prokop: But not in the House?

Luján: I have not seen the support of Speaker Johnson yet. I’m very proud that we do have the support of Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

I’m confident that if this bill was brought to the floor, that we would be able to earn every Democratic vote, therefore only needing a handful of Republican colleagues, and many of them are already voicing and showing support for this package.

Prokop: So I’m going to move into the story of Downwinders. Here, people across the country are encountering downwinders in this legacy of nuclear contamination for the first time, it’s really come to the fore in the public consciousness. For many New Mexicans, this story spans generations. I want to bring it a little bit back to your story. You fought for RECA for a long time, what is your personal connection to this issue?

Luján: Well, I’ve had the honor of learning about the injustices and challenges that families have been faced with, from families in New Mexico. Leaders like Tina Cordova, or Phil Harrison, and so many others, whose families have been fighting this for decades. They continue themselves to fight the harms that were created from being exposed. In the case of Tularosa, New Mexico, families like Tina Cordova’s, those families were never warned about the first atmospheric test in the country.

And it was in a little bitty community in New Mexico, the Trinity test site, where the U.S. government as a matter of fact lied to these families, years later and said that it was simply a munition drop. Not that it was a nuclear atmospheric test.

Kids thought that it was snowing, they were playing in the ash. Families started to get cancer and chronic ailments at record paces. And we’ve continued to see that for decades.

I learned from them why it was important to fight for all of these initiatives.

At the same time, my father, who would not benefit from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, passed away 12 years ago, he had his own cancer fight. My dad was not a smoker. But my dad, sadly, was exposed to bad things that caused that cancer while he was at the national labs as an ironworker as a welder. And I saw the fight that my mom and he faced every day. And I saw firsthand what families go through.

That experience with mom and dad, and my dad’s fight as well, whose life was taken sooner than it ever should have, coupled with what I learned from people and leaders like Phil, and Tina taught me the importance of fighting for this.

I’ve made this commitment that as long as I have the honor of serving in the House and in the Senate, or in whatever form or fashion, that I would fight to correct this wrong.

And this is an injustice that was created by the United States of America, and the United States needs to settle up and help these families to the maximum extent that they will be able to.

Because while no one will be made whole, Danielle, I believe the federal government should be helping make these families as whole as possible.

Prokop: I want to thank you for sharing that. You have been a long and steady advocate for expanding RECA since your time in the House and again in the Senate. You also support the work of the National Laboratories, including plutonium pit production at Los Alamos. How do you square these things?

Luján: Well, one when there was a responsibility that United States have for national security purposes, or early on, there was a lack of protection for families.

Whether it was uranium mine workers, who sometimes were working and in corridors, where they would flood them out, to try to keep the particulate of the uranium ore down, which would only make people more sick. There was no protection, protective gear and things of that nature. There was no warning to families downwind of nuclear testing as well. That was a liability created by the federal government.

And I believe that those families need to be made whole, just as some families receive benefits. When the legislation was originally created in 1990 and amended in 2000. I work every day around Los Alamos National Laboratory to ensure that we have more protections for workers and for families. I fight every day for the protection of a program that the Department of Labor administers to help families they’re get health care and benefits, if they get sick as well. And I raise this every time I get a chance. So the more that we can do to expand the mission at Los Alamos National Laboratory with supercomputing with working spaces like climate awareness, biosciences and things of that nature — is something that I advocate for.

While we also have to fight to expand these protections for RECA, I would also remind everyone that a big part of the work that has been done at Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as Sandia and Lawrence Livermore is in the area to be able to advocate for more efforts across the world to be able to help deter, as opposed to just see what could happen, if someone like Russia or someone else would make a horrible, horrible decision.

And so I very much appreciate the training that comes out of Los Alamos and the expertise that is shared around the world, and providing protection to those employees and those workers and those families in the same way that we need to bring justice to these families that were exposed to nuclear fallout and downwind of testing.

Prokop: I’m gonna bring us back here while we just have a few minutes left, Senator, what can New Mexicans expect if Congress kills RECA?

Luján: One, I will fight with everything that I have to ensure that RECA does not expire. While the date sunsets this weekend, I have been assured that there’s still a little bit of time for us to continue to work to get the program extended, while I and others are working to get the program expanded.

If this program sunsets and does not return, families will not be able to apply for new programs that currently qualify. But we’ll be able to have a program that still provide support to those that have, that’s not good enough for me.

So I, and others, are committed to do everything that we can to ensure that this program is going to be in place — for the families that need it most.

Prokop: Thank you for joining us today.

Luján: Thank you for having me.

Both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of guv’s proposals for special session — Susan Dunlap, New Mexico Political Report

This story was originally published by NM Political Report, nmpoliticalreport.com.

A representative from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office outlined on Thursday the bills the governor’s office will back during the upcoming special session, but the proposals upset legislators in the Court, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee on both sides of the aisle.

Earlier this year, Lujan Grisham said she would call legislators in for a special session to start July 18 to address public safety after a spate of gun bills did not pass the 2024 legislature. Holly Agajanian, chief general counsel for the governor, presented primarily one bill Lujan Grisham expects legislators to take up during the special session.

That bill is an assisted out-patient treatment bill proposal that would allow a judge to mandate out-patient treatment, including involuntarily. It would also allow individuals, whether first responders, family members or community members who work with mentally ill individuals on the streets to request involuntary out-patient treatment.

This proposal brought the ire of both Democrats and Republicans sitting on the interim committee.

Some on both sides of the aisle asked why a special session needed to be called for legislation that they believed could, and perhaps should, be addressed during a full session. Even some Democrats had hard words for Lujan Grisham’s proposal.

Other bill proposals Agajanian mentioned for the special session would include prohibiting felons from being in possession of a firearm. Another is expected to address competency for individuals already incarcerated. Another bill that would address individuals loitering on street medians despite a similar bill receiving pushback in the 2024 legislature over its constitutionality. It failed to pass. Agajanian said that the new median bill would contain language that says that in places where a speed limit is more than 30 miles per hour, individuals may not loiter on a median that is 36 inches or less.

State Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena, D-Mesilla, said it was hard for her not to feel the proposals are more about “political wins.”

“I was part of tabling or not passing bills my good friend Representative (Bill) Rehm brought. We put them in the dumpster and now we’re slapping some Democrat’s names on them and plagiarizing Representative Rehm here….Folks have been trying to have these conversations for a long time now and very quickly in a short summer we have to go because New Mexico is in crisis?” She said.

Rep. Alan Martinez, R-Española, asked why the state must spend $250,000 a day for a special session.

“Why not say, you work on a pilot project, we come back in January?” Martinez asked.

Agajanian said that the reason for a special session is because New Mexico is in a crisis in terms of both mental health and violent crime. She said recent reports show that the state has higher than average mental health problems and that it ranks 43rd in the nation for beds available for individuals with mental health issues. She said New Mexico led the nation for violent crime in 2022.

“Against this backdrop the governor has called this special session to deal with this crisis that has come to grip our state,” Agajanian said.

On Wednesday, representatives from a successful assisted out-patient treatment program in Las Cruces spoke to the Courts, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee. But it has 40 individuals participating in it and Agajanian said other jurisdictions are not implementing similar programs.

Several members of the committee expressed concern about the portion of the assisted out-patient treatment program proposal that would allow individuals who have a relationship with the individual suffering mental health problems to seek a process by which the individual could be placed into treatment involuntarily.

State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said she was worried this could violate an individual’s constitutional rights.

State Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, said she didn’t feel she had been presented with “great data that this is a solution that solves this problem and that is data I’d want to see before passing this legislation.”

Duhigg said she found data from other countries with a quick online search that suggests that involuntary mental health treatment could lead to worse outcomes, rather than better ones.

Duhigg asked why the state needed legislative changes in order to establish the assisted outpatient treatment program in every county.

“I have to go back to the fact that I don’t suggest that they don’t have the authority to do it on their own. I’m suggesting, it hasn’t been done. We need to require it,” Agajanian said.

Duhigg said the state “often passes legislation that people don’t do.”

Courts, Corrections and Justice Chair Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, said she was confused over the logistics. She asked if the legislature would be mandating that the judicial branch set up these assisted outpatient treatment programs.

Agajanian said the proposal breaks up the areas for the treatment programs based on the judicial boundaries of the state court system because those are smaller than regional boundaries and that would make it easier for an officer to take an individual suffering mental health problems to treatment rather than to jail.

Agajanian also said the court would have a memorandum of understanding with the county and either Medicaid, private insurance or indigent funds would pay for the treatment.

State Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan, expressed support for holding a special session.

“Nobody wants to get something done. The sky is falling if we go into special session…Who knows what’s happening in Santa Fe or Las Vegas or Grant or Milan. We have no idea if anybody is getting treated or helped. I honestly do not think the sky is going to fall if we do something about this problem,” he said.

State. Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said he has introduced a bill for 15 years prohibiting a felon in possession of a firearm. He said during this past session, that bill passed the House but never made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rehm also said he is an expert witness in traffic crash reintroduction and that he’d like to work with the governor’s office on both the bill prohibiting a felon in possession of a firearm and on the no loitering on a median proposed legislation. Rehm retires at the end of this term.

Duhigg asked if Lujan Grisham would consider adding “serious sanctions” to managed care organizations to provide mental health treatment.

Agajanian said that was “music to my ears” and said she thought Lujan Grisham would be amenable to such a proposal.

The Courts, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee meets again the last week of June. Chandler asked Agajanian if she could have a draft ready of the assisted out-patient treatment bill by the next time the committee meets. Agajanian said she would.

“I don’t envy you,” Chandler said.

Judge dismisses Native American challenge to $10B SunZia energy transmission project in Arizona - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A U.S. district judge has dismissed claims by Native American tribes and environmentalists who sought to halt construction along part of a $10 billion energy transmission line that will carry wind-generated electricity from New Mexico to customers as far away as California.

Judge Jennifer Zipps said in her ruling issued Thursday that the plaintiffs were years too late in bringing their challenge. It followed an earlier decision in which she dismissed their requests for a preliminary injunction, saying the Bureau of Land Management had fulfilled its obligations to identify historic sites and prepare an inventory of cultural resources.

The disputed stretch of the SunZia transmission line is in southern Arizona's San Pedro Valley and passes through an area that holds historic, cultural and religious significance for the tribes.

The Tohono O'odham Nation — along with the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Center for Biological Diversity and Archeology Southwest — sued in January in hopes of stopping the clearing of roads and pads so more work could be done to identify culturally significant sites within a 50-mile stretch of the valley.

California-based developer Pattern Energy called the ruling a win for the region, citing the jobs and billions of dollars in economic development and investment that will result from the project.

"This decision provides assurance moving forward that projects that follow permitting processes and obtain proper approvals will not be threatened years later by baseless legal claims," Pattern Chief Development Officer Cary Kottler said in an email to The Associated Press. "We remain committed to carrying out our work with the same integrity and dedication that has always defined us, including in a manner that is respectful of tribal sovereignty and cultural resources protection."

The tribes did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Tohono O'odham Nation vowed in April to pursue all legal avenues, and environmentalists said an appeal is likely.

"This power company has been working really hard to pretend they can moot the issue by destroying as much as possible as fast as they can," said Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity. "That doesn't work."

SunZia is among the projects that supporters say will bolster President Joe Biden's agenda for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The planned 550-mile conduit would carry more than 3,500 megawatts of wind power to 3 million people.

The tribes asked a federal appeals court to intervene in April, arguing that the federal government has legal and distinct obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act and that the Bureau of Land Management's interpretation of how its obligations apply to the SunZia project should be reviewed.

The U.S. Interior Department, which oversees the Bureau of Land Management, declined to comment on the ruling.

APS wants to hear from 1,000 students by August 2026 - Rodd Cayton, City Desk ABQ 

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ

Albuquerque Public Schools students and their families will be asked for more feedback under its Board of Education goals discussed at Wednesday’s meeting.

An ad-hoc committee charged with addressing the district’s community engagement efforts will bring formal adoption of the goals to a future meeting.

School board member Courtney Jackson, who chairs the committee, suggested amending its recommendations and reducing the number of goals from four to three. Jackson said a pair of suggested goals — increasing Native American attendance at engagement and outreach events and creating events designed for students identified in the Yazzie-Martinez decision — seemed redundant. Many of the students in the 2018 decision are Native American, she said.

The other goals are increasing student presence at community engagement events and having each board member attend four outreach events each year.

The committee defines an engagement event as a venue hosted by the board, consisting of two-way communication focused on the community’s vision and values. An outreach event is a similar conversation, but hosted by community members.


During the discussion, board members chose goals of 1,000 students at engagement events and engagement of 2,000 families.

The target date for reaching each of those benchmarks is August 2026. Jackson said the numbers can be adjusted upward if those goals are reached early.

Board member Janelle Astorga, who also serves on the engagement committee, said she’s excited about giving community members more opportunities to be heard.

Board member Heather Benavidez said engagement and outreach events will allow the board to communicate with the community outside board meetings, which she described as businesslike.

Board member Josefina Dominguez said it’s important that members build relationships with the community and understand that will take time.


In her report at the end of the meeting, Board President Danielle Gonzales acknowledged outgoing Superintendent Scott Elder, who is retiring June 30 after 33 years as an APS teacher, principal and administrator.

“His leadership was particularly notable during some unprecedented challenges,” she said. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, he implemented necessary protocols to ensure the safety and continuity of education for our students and staff.”

She also praised Elder’s crisis management skills during a January 2022 cyberattack on the district and his integrity upon discovering alleged embezzlement by Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a now-former APS employee facing state and federal chargesrelated to allegations that she used more than $1 million in vocational education money to benefit her friend’s company.


Gonzales said the board will be seeking community feedback at the Sept. 8 New Mexico United match. The team is celebrating School’s Out Night, to celebrate APS. Board members will meet the public, and the night includes the giveaway of more than 2,000 books and a survey regarding the district’s performance in reading instruction. The survey will also be made available online.


The Board of Education’s next two planned meetings have been canceled due to the Juneteenth and Fourth of July holidays. A special meeting is set for the morning of June 26, immediately after an 8 a.m. finance committee meeting. The next regular meeting is July 17.

This bites: New ankle-biting mosquito may suck ABQ’s summer fun - Elizabeth McCall, City Desk ABQ 

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ 

This summer may bite.

For years the Environmental Health Department (EHD) has relied on part-time, seasonal “mosquito technicians.” This year, after seeing a rise in the city’s least favorite residents, it is looking to hire someone full-time.

While the species was first documented in the city in 2018, the Aedes aegypti population — also known as the yellow fever mosquito — is rapidly growing in the area. The mosquitoes are considered aggressive biters, targeting ankles and elbows and are active during the daytime — unlike other mosquitoes in the city.

“In the last several years this species has become established over much of the metro area and has become problematic in areas that generally have not had mosquito issues in the past,” said Maia Rodriguez, spokesperson for the EHD. “This species is a challenge to effectively control for and is an extreme nuisance with the potential to be a vector.”

The EHD has been approved to receive $12,527 for the new position in its Urban Biology Division. The full-time job will replace the current seasonal positions that require intensive and highly specialized training annually, according to an issue paper that requested the funding.

The department will combine the funding it has for the seasonal positions with the new funding to hire a full-time technician, according to Rodriguez.

However, she said the department will have a seasonal technician this summer because the department won’t receive the funding until mid-summer. The department expects to hire a full-time technician in the fall for next summer.

Rodriguez said this technician will conduct surveillance for the department’s mosquito control program, assist with vector-borne disease investigations and participate in community outreach and education efforts.

Native to South America and Africa, the species are a vector for yellow fever along with other mosquito-borne viruses including Zika, Chikungunya and dengue fever. Since humans are the primary host for these viruses, these mosquitoes thrive in urban areas, especially homes.

These diseases have not been found in New Mexico, according to EHD.

City or county residents can call 311 if they have questions regarding the mosquito species or to request mosquito control services.