FRI: Conceptual Redistricting Maps Emerge From Citizens Board, + More

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Conceptual Redistricting Maps Emerge From Citizens Board - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A citizens advisory committee to the New Mexico Legislature on political redistricting endorsed a set of conceptual maps Thursday to circulate for public comment.

The committee is forging toward an Oct. 15 deadline for outlining redistricting map proposals that will inform the Legislature's decisions later in the year. 

As of Thursday, the Citizens Redistricting Committee was still waiting to receive crucial recommendations from alliances of Native American communities. New Mexico has 23 federally recognized tribes.

"These concepts are built largely on the testimony we received," said Edward Chávez, a former state Supreme Court justice and chairman of the redistricting committee. "The public is still going to have the opportunity to comment on each of these concepts, to actually take one of these concepts and modify it."

The actual line-drawing will be done by the state's Democrat-led Legislature, which could hew to the committee's recommendations — or ignore the suggestions and use its overwhelming majorities to create districts that help Democrats win elections for years to come.

States, including New Mexico and Indiana, are using citizen advisory boards on redistricting to temper political inclinations without taking powers away from state lawmakers. Judges might wind up using the advisory maps to resolve redistricting lawsuits.

The New Mexico Legislature plans to convene in December to redraw boundaries for the state's three congressional districts, 112 legislative seats and a public education commission that oversees public charter schools.

Proposed adjustments to a congressional swing district in southern New Mexico are under special scrutiny. Last year, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell ousted a first-term Democrat from the 2nd District seat.

The citizens committee advanced seven concepts for reshaping congressional districts. They all retain a compact central district in and around Albuquerque, with two sprawling districts that span the north of the state and the south.

"There was a significant population who spoke about maintaining the core of the existing districts, a lot of Hispanics from the north talking about northern New Mexico and the common culture of Native Americans and the Hispanics" said Brian Sanderoff, a pollster and consultant on the redistricting effort. "We heard people from Albuquerque saying that it is a community of interest."

This year marks the first time in at least 30 years that the redistricting process in New Mexico has been overseen by both a Democrat-led Legislature and Democratic governor. Republicans control the process in 20 states, including Florida, Texas and North Carolina.

The once-a-decade redistricting process has ramped up with the recent release of 2020 census data showing how populations have changed in neighborhoods, cities and counties since 2010.

U.S. House and state legislative districts must be redrawn to rebalance their populations. But mapmakers can create an advantage for their political party in future elections by packing opponents' voters into a few districts or spreading them thin among multiple districts — a process known as gerrymandering.

University Researchers Analyze Pretrial Releases Amid Debate - Associated Press

Amid debate over New Mexico's system of releasing felony defendants, University of New Mexico research indicates that just under 5% of Albuquerque-area defendants awaiting trial commit violent crimes while free from jail.

Findings from the university's Institute for Social Research's analysis of more than 10,000 felony cases in Bernalillo County also included that less than 1% of people on pretrial release were arrested for a first-degree felony while on pretrial release, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

A senior state courts official said the research indicates that the vast majority of defendants don't commit new crimes pending trial but the top prosecutor for Bernalillo County and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham say its still troubling that some defendants commit crimes while free.

Administrative Office of the Courts Director Artie Pepin said the research "validates the pretrial justice improvements underway in New Mexico,.""

District Attorney Raul Torrez said through spokeswoman Laura Rodriguez that the few violent crimes committed by people on pretrial release are "an unacceptable price for our community to pay." 

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said it "can still be utterly devastating to a family or a community" when 5% of felony defendants are arrested for a violent crime on pretrial release.

New Wargaming Facility Being Built For Air Force Laboratory - Associated Press

Construction has started at Kirtland Air Force Base for a new digital laboratory for advanced wargaming and other simulation and analysis work involving laser weapons and space vehicles.

The Air Force Research Laboratory' s $6 million Wargaming and Advanced Research Simulation Laboratory is intended to spur strategies involving innovation, speed and partnerships within the laboratory, said Col. Eric Felt, director of the Space Vehicles Directorate. 

"With digital engineering we can explore more concepts faster, without waiting for the "real thing" hardware," Felt said in a statement. 

According to Teresa LeGalley, the Directed Energy's program manager for wargaming modeling and simulation, the WARS Lab will include an auditorium with over 90 workstations with capability to collaborate with other Department of Defense agencies.

The lab is expected to be ready for occupancy in the spring of 2023, and will replace a facility more than 15 years old, officials said.

Navajo Nation Reports 54 More COVID-19 Cases, 2 More Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Thursday reported 54 more COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe's totals to 33,394 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,428 known deaths from the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

Navajo officials are urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks while in public and minimize their travel. 

Officials said all Navajo Nation executive branch employees will need to be fully vaccinated against the virus by the end of September or submit to regular testing.

The new rules apply to full, part-time and temporary employees, including those working for tribal enterprises like utilities, shopping centers and casinos. 

Any worker who does not show proof of vaccination by Sept. 29 must be tested every two weeks or face discipline.

The tribe's reservation is the country's largest at 27,000 square miles and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.