FRI: $37M Requested From State Education Agency After Federal Deadline Missed, + More

May 28, 2021

New Mexico Education Agency Missed Deadline, $37M Requested - Associated Press

The New Mexico Public Education Department has missed a deadline to submit school funding data to the federal government by three days, which could cost the state millions of dollars.

The U.S. Department of Education has now asked the state to transfer more than $37.5 million from a state reserve fund by the end of the month to make distributions to local education agencies, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

The shortfall came after the state Public Education Department in March 2020 missed a deadline to submit an application seeking federal approval to take credit for federal aid in the state's public schools funding.

The Gallup Sun first reported that federal education officials informed the state on April 15 that the late submission meant that the department could not consider the federal aid already made to local school districts in offsetting the funding for the current year.

Faatimah Muhammad, director for the federal Impact Aid Program, said in the letter that his agency had originally approved the state Public Education Department request, but the decision was later revoked. 

Public Education Department Cabinet Secretary Ryan Stewart was not immediately available for comment but said in a statement that when the department submitted its impact aid calculations for spring 2020, they were told the submission was timely.

"We are shocked by this reversal a year later," Stewart said. "In short, we dispute (the federal education department's) assertion and are exploring legal options and next steps."

Public Education Department spokesperson Judy Robinson said on Wednesday that the $37.5 million requested from the state would supplement the current year's state appropriation to include additional payments to districts and charter schools that normally receive federal Impact Aid.

It is unclear which school districts might get the money and when.

State Deputy Treasurer Sam Collins Jr. told The Journal that the Legislative Finance Committee suggested waiting to see if the state Public Education Department would appeal the decision before releasing the money. 

Congress has provided financial assistance to school districts through the Impact Aid program since 1950. The funding is intended to provide additional support to districts for lost revenue. 

Court Affirms Convictions In Albuquerque Police Officer's Death - Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has affirmed the convictions of a man in the fatal shooting of an Albuquerque police officer in 2015.

In a unanimous opinion Thursday, the state's high court rejected Davon Lymon's arguments on appeal challenging his convictions of first-degree murder, evidence tampering, forgery, receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle, and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer.

In 2019, Lymon was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for the murder plus 11½ years for the other charges. 

The sentence in the state case is to be served after Lymon finishes a 38-year sentence imposed in a separate federal prosecution on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Police officer Daniel Webster was shot as he tried to handcuff Lymon, who was stopped while driving a motorcycle that police dispatchers reported was stolen. 

In his appeal, Lymon argued that the trial court judge improperly asked the jury to clarify its preliminary verdict forms concerning the first-degree murder charge, wrongly denied a request for a new trial based upon possible juror misconduct and should have instructed the jury about self-defense. 

City Of Farmington Asks Residents To Reduce Water Use By 10% - Associated Press

City officials in New Mexico have approved a measure urging residents in Farmington to reduce their water usage by 10% as drought conditions continue throughout San Juan County. 

The advisory, which asks residents to voluntarily reduce their water use to ease demand on the city's water system, will go into effect June 1, The Farmington Daily Times reported.

City officials say the water level at Lake Farmington, where the city's water is stored, remains at nearly 100%. However, community works director David Sypher told councilmembers that stream flows are at 37% of average, and a lack of snowpack runoff is likely to prevent the city's water supply from being replenished.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the snowpack for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins was only 40% of normal and 27% of average as of Wednesday.

About half of San Juan County is characterized as being in exceptional drought, the most extreme category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The rest of the county is in extreme drought or severe drought, the next two worst categories.

City officials said there are several ways residents can reduce their water consumption, including reducing landscaping and lawn watering, avoiding washing hard surfaces such as sidewalks, repairing indoor and outdoor leaks promptly and limiting shower time and laundry usage.

Doug Emhoff Campaigns With Democrat In New Mexico Contest - By Alexandra Jaffe And Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, campaigned Thursday with a Democratic congressional candidate in New Mexico, marking his first such trip on behalf of a candidate.

Emhoff appeared with Melanie Stansbury, the Democrat running in Tuesday's special election for New Mexico's 1st Congressional District. The safe Democratic district came open after Rep. Deb Haaland became President Joe Biden's Interior Department secretary.

Emhoff told a crowd of labor union members and other supporters that Stansbury was a "serious public servant" who if elected could help get the Democrats' jobs plan to the president's desk. He and state Democratic Party officials acknowledged during the rally that Democrats hold a thin margin in Congress.

"It's crunch time. Don't look at the polls. Don't look at anything. Act like we're down. There's a sense of urgency, right?" he said, as he pumped up the crowd and asked them to get their friends and family members to vote.

Biden recently endorsed Stansbury, noting her background as a state representative and scientist and declaring in a statement that "she has the grit and determination to deliver real results for all New Mexicans."

Aside from this being Emhoff's first campaign travel for a candidate, it's one of his first forays into campaign politics for the Biden administration; the president and Harris have stayed away from political events since taking office. Emhoff, however, joined new Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison for his first virtual fundraiser in March.

He is otherwise a prolific surrogate for the Biden administration, frequently traveling to sell the president's COVID-19 relief plan and his infrastructure proposal to the American public.

Emhoff visited an Indigenous community in northern New Mexico earlier this year as part of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. On Thursday, he again touted vaccines.

Republican candidate and state Sen. Mark Moores in a statement described Emhoff's latest visit as a photo opportunity, saying that he should have instead visited with local law enforcement about persistent crime in the heart of the district and should have talked with the families of victims.

Emhoff was scheduled to stop by an early voting location Friday to wrap up his campaign swing for Stansbury.

Despite Democratic voters outnumbering Republicans 2-to-1 in the district, which covers New Mexico's most populated area, Stansbury said the race is being watched closely and that "everything is on the line." She reiterated campaign promises to address poverty and homelessness and push for a living wage. 

Navajos Voice Concern Over Plan To Transfer Uranium WasteSusan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

U.S. nuclear regulators are considering a licensing change proposed by a uranium company that would clear the way for 1 million cubic yards of waste to be transferred from a mining area in western New Mexico to a mill site a short distance away as part of a cleanup effort.

But indigenous activists and nuclear watchdogs say the proposal doesn’t go far enough in protecting the area and surrounding Navajo communities from more contamination.

The deadline to comment on a draft environmental review of the proposal was Thursday.

Federal environmental regulators have been working with the Navajo Nation for several years to address contaminated sites near the community of Church Rock.

The mine waste that would be moved to the mill site is made up of soil, vegetation, rock and other debris of varying levels of radioactivity. Officials say the higher-level waste would be disposed of elsewhere.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's review found that there would be only small environmental effects to surface and groundwater supplies, soil and air quality. However, the commission noted high impacts when it comes to environmental justice given that residents in the surrounding area and the Navajo Nation more broadly have been grappling with the legacy of uranium mining and contamination for decades.

Federal officials during previous public meetings and in documents have highlighted that past, namely what was the largest release of radioactive material in U.S. history.

United Nuclear Corp. operated the Church Rock uranium milling facility from 1977 to 1982.

In 1979, the tailings disposal pond breached its dam, sending more than 93 million gallons of radioactive and acidic slurry into an arroyo and other drainages.

Three times the radiation released at the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania, the contamination from the breach in New Mexico affected water supplies, livestock and downstream communities.

Lawyer: Las Cruces Resident Denies Threatening To Kill Biden Associated Press

A defense lawyer for a New Mexico man accused of threatening to kill President Joe Biden says texts the man sent were taken out of context and were “simply political expression."

According to court records, 39-year-old John Benjamin Thornton of Las Cruces was arrested Monday and a criminal complaint alleged he violated federal law by threatening in communications in interstate commerce to injure another person.

Thornton's phone was in Las Cruces when the texts were sent May 18 to people in Florida and Texas, the complaint said.

Bernadette Sedillo, an assistant public defender representing Thornton, said Thursday that he denies allegations made in the complaint by an FBI agent.

“It is very early in the case, but once the facts bear out, they will show a completely different picture," Sedillo told The Associated Press via email.

“The messages attached to the criminal complaint are a few sporadic texts out of many that are out of context," Sedillo added. “This was simply political expression and was never a true threat made by Mr. Thornton."

Navajo Nation Reports 3 New COVID-19 Cases: No More Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Thursday reported three new confirmed COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths.

Tribal health officials said the latest figures pushed the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago to 30,815 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The known death toll now is 1,318.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said people must continue getting vaccinated, wear face masks and practice social distancing. 

"I must also remind our people that following the Memorial Day weekend last year, we experienced an increase in new COVID-19 infections here," Nez said in a statement. "There are variants in every part of the country and here on the Navajo Nation that continue to pose risks for us all."