FRI: Court Details How State Can Enforce Health Order As Virus Cases Break Another Record, + More

Nov 6, 2020

Court Details New Mexico's Authority To Enforce Health Order - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court says state officials have the power to impose civil penalties as they enforce mandates that are part of public health orders.

The unanimous written opinion was issued Friday. It provides more detailed legal reasoning for the court's oral decision made in August in a case brought by businesses that challenged fines imposed by the state amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had petitioned the court to resolve the dispute.

Lujan Grisham on Thursday warned that more restrictions could be imposed as early as next week and that she plans to keep working on enforcement.

State health officials on Friday reported another daily record for COVID-19 cases with 1,287 new infections and six additional deaths.

A total of 1,088 New Mexicans have died from causes related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

The Department of Health has identified at least one positive COVID-19 case in residents and/or staff in the past month at 90 long-term care facilities.

Lujan Grisham said she has been disappointed in enforcement, pointing to businesses and country clubs in Albuquerque and elsewhere that hosted Halloween parties despite the ban on gatherings.

New Mexico health officials have reported escalating rates of spread along with record numbers of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths related to the virus. The number of people needing to be hospitalized also has been growing. Health care officials say they are running out of room and staff.

In the opinion, the court concludes that the Legislature gave the governor and other state officials power to enforce public health order restrictions on businesses through a provision in the Public Health Emergency Response Act. The court says the act provides for daily fines of $5,000.

The business owners claimed Lujan Grisham's administration overstepped its authority in imposing fines higher than $100 citations.

Democrat Says Redistricting Process Will Be Fair, Open - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A top-ranked Democrat offered assurances Friday that legislative districts will be redrawn in a "fair, open, and transparent process" as the Legislature initiates the redistricting process.

New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf made the remarks on Friday amid criticism for earlier remarks about redrawing the 2nd Congressional District after the defeat of the district's incumbent Democratic congresswoman.

Democrats retained substantial majorities in the Legislature in Tuesday's election.

The election was the last before U.S. House and state legislative districts across the nation must be redrawn to balance the number of residents based on the 2020 census.

New Mexico's voting districts were drawn in 2012 by a state district court after former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a plan from a Democratic-led Legislature.

The court's goal was to minimize partisan leanings and keep intact communities with similar cultural, economic or geographic concerns.

 

Some New Mexico Races Still UndecidedAssociated Press

It still was too early to call races for one Senate and two House seats, including the contest in rural south-central New Mexico between incumbent Democrat Willie Madrid and Republican Ricky Little, both of Chaparral.

Automatic recounts appeared likely in the House races between incumbent Democrat Marian Matthews and Republican Robert Godshall for an Albuquerque-based seat and the open Senate race between Democrat Siah Correa Hemphill of Silver City and Republican James Williams of Quemado.

Secretary of state's office spokesman Alex Curtas said county clerks have completed the initial ballot-counting process.

Exact results can change as provisional ballots are verified and tallied in the weeks leading up to certification of the election.

New Mexico Agency Settles Air Pollution Case With Gas PlantAssociated Press

The New Mexico Environment Department says it has reached a settlement with the operator of a gas plant near Farmington over alleged statutory, regulatory and permit violations.

The agency says CCI San Juan LLC has agreed to pay a $950,000 civil penalty.

The company was cited for emitting more than 1.6 million pounds of pollutants over a two-year period. The emissions included hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.

State officials say failure to comply with emissions limits results in harmful levels of pollutants that can affect public health and the environment.

Forecasters Say More Snow Headed To New MexicoAssociated Press

Forecasters with the National Weather Service say New Mexico is in line for some more snow.

Two storms are expected to hit northern and central parts of the state through Monday night. The first will bring high winds and some snow to the northern mountains starting Saturday night. The next storm will bring more snow with cooler temperatures starting Sunday night.

This follows an epic storm that blew through New Mexico in late October. Record snowfall was widespread during that event, providing some relief to persistent drought conditions.

Overall, precipitation was below normal in the central and southern parts of the state for October and predictions say chances are greater for below normal precipitation in the upcoming months.

Forecasters said October also was warmer in the west and central areas, but near to a little below normal in the east. Record high temperatures were recorded on multiple days during early and mid October, while record low temperatures were set near the end of the month.

New Mexico District Attorney Sued Over Records Request – Associated Press

The Republican Party of New Mexico has filed a lawsuit claiming a district attorney's office violated state public records laws by not providing records related to vandalism at the party headquarters.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday that a man  was arrested in February, but the 2nd Judicial District Attorney's Office dropped the case against him. The party requested the complete case file in June.

The district attorney's office said the records are not subject to disclosure. Party Executive Director Anissa Tinnin was not immediately available for comment.

Democratic-Led Legislature Begins Redistricting Process - Associated Press

Leading state lawmakers are laying plans for the next legislative session in January after an election that ushered in a new slate of progressive Democrats to the state Senate. 

A meeting of House and Senate leaders with legal counsel is scheduled Friday as the Legislature initiates the process of redrawing legislative district boundaries and discusses the executive powers that the governor commands in response to the coronavirus. 

Democrats retained substantial majorities in the Legislature in Tuesday's election. At the same time, several conservative-leaning Democrats won't return to the state Senate next year after primary election losses, including the Senate president and gatekeepers for tax policy and state spending decisions.

Those developments will reshuffle leadership posts and reopen negotiations on changes to state abortion statutes, spending priorities for education and whether to tax and regulate the recreational marijuana market.

It still was too early to call races for one Senate and two House seats, including the contest in rural south-central New Mexico between incumbent Democrat Willie Madrid and Republican Ricky Little, both of Chaparral.

Automatic recounts appeared likely in the House races between incumbent Democrat Marian Matthews and Republican Robert Godshall for an Albuquerque-based seat and the open Senate race between Democrat Siah Correa Hemphill of Silver City and Republican James Williams of Quemado.

Secretary of state's office spokesman Alex Curtas said county clerks have completed the initial ballot counting process. Exact results can change as provisional ballots are verified and tallied in the weeks leading up to certification of the election.

New Mexico Governor Warns Of Critical COVID-19 Situation - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday said the state has recorded its highest daily count for deaths related to the coronavirus pandemic in what has become a "dramatic, critical situation."

She announced an additional 23 deaths during a public briefing, saying that the statewide total now stands at more than 1,080.

More than 10% of those deaths have come in recent weeks as the state has been dealing with a surge of infections, higher positivity rates and more hospitalizations.

Nearly 17% of those who have been hospitalized in the state due to COVID-19 have died, state health officials said. They also reported that the number of deaths has increased 230% in just the last two weeks.

Lujan Grisham said people can't get numb to the data or the threat of the state's health care system being overwhelmed.

New Mexico health officials are partnering with the federal government to expand COVID-19 testing across the southern part of the state.

The state Health Department said the effort is aimed at driving down positivity rates in counties that are currently on the "red" list. Once a county improves, it moves to the "green" list and some restrictions can be relaxed.

Starting Thursday, the Health Department opened 12 new testing sites in areas where positivity rates have skyrocketed. That includes Las Cruces, Clovis, Hobbs, Carlsbad, Portales and several other locations.

The state and its testing partners have processed more than 1.2 million tests since the onset of the pandemic.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales said more testing doesn't lead to more cases. Rather it helps identify who is positive and helps reduce community spread.

2 People Charged In Destruction Of Santa Fe Plaza ObeliskSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Authorities in New Mexico say charges have been filed against two people accused of destroying a monument that had stood at the center of Santa Fe's historic Plaza for more than 150 years.

The Santa Fe Police Department announced Wednesday that a 33-year-old and a 29-year-old both face multiple charges, including criminal damage to property and criminal trespass.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said neither suspect has been arrested as of Wednesday night.

Demonstrators at a rally on Indigenous Peoples Day last month took over the Soldiers' Monument. They used ropes and chains to pull down the obelisk, which some view as a symbol of the oppression of Native Americans.

The obelisk was originally dedicated to Union soldiers who fought Civil War battles in New Mexico and featured an inscription that honored the "heroes" who had fought against "savage Indians."

The Albuquerque Journal reports the word “savage” was previously chiseled away in the 1970s.

Police previously arrested two men following a rally on Indigenous Peoples Day last month that resulted in the obelisk being pulled down.

The case remains under investigation.

Navajo Nation Warns Of 'Uncontrolled' COVID-19 SpreadAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation Department of Health has issued a health advisory warning to residents about the "uncontrolled" spread of the coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases increases.

The department announced Wednesday that 29 communities were affected by the spread throughout the reservation, including in the Arizona communities of Cameron, Leupp, Dilkon, Ganado and Round Rock.

A daily curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. remains in effect on the Navajo Nation. Health officials have said it has had more than 11,900 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 582 deaths as of Tuesday.

First Black State Senator Is Progressive Air Force Veteran - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

A retired Air Force officer from Albuquerque will become the first Black state senator in New Mexico's 108-year history.

In his first attempt at elected office, Democrat and retired Capt. Harold Pope Jr. unseated Republican Sen. Sander Rue, who is white, and held the suburban district since 2009.

Tuesday's election is transforming both chambers of the Legislature to more closely reflect New Mexico's demographics. For the first time, the House will be the majority female, with 37 women out of 70 representatives, up from 32.

It's likely that three more state Senate seats will be held by women, increasing the total to 12, or less than one-third of the 42-person chamber.

On the northwestern reaches of Albuquerque, Pope's district is around 2.5% Black, similar to the low statewide number. Pope made education and the coronavirus, not race, the focal points of his campaign.

In a state legislature known for its ranchers and lawyers, Pope will bring experience as a program manager for the Air Force, where he said he worked to usher multibillion-dollar technology contracts in new satellite and airplane technologies.

That perspective could serve the Senate's collective wisdom as it considers addressing deficiencies in broadband infrastructure laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic that is limiting access to telehealth and online education.

Pope said he's proud to be a "first," though he wasn't aware of the history of Black representation in the Senate until some told him after announcing his run.

 

Confounding Democrats, Trump Makes Inroads With Latinos - By Nicholas Riccardi And Adriana Gomez Licon Associated Press

President Donald Trump and his GOP allies made inroads with Latinos in Tuesday's election that eroded Democratic strength among the nation's second-largest demographic group. 

Not only did Trump win Florida partly from his support in heavily Cuban American Miami, but he also won some heavily Latino areas along the Texas border and helped the GOP keep an open congressional seat there. 

Republicans also defeated a Democratic congresswoman in New Mexico and ate away at Democratic margins among Latinos in Arizona and Nevada. 

The inroads demonstrate the diversity of the Latino electorate and how its members can be far more interested in the economy and jobs than in immigration.

Colorado Agency Says It's Planning On Wolf Reintroduction - By James Anderson Associated Press

Colorado's wildlife agency says it considers a ballot initiative to reintroduce the gray wolf into the state to have passed after a group that opposes the initiative conceded the race and after the agency consulted with the office of Gov. Jared Polis. 

An announcement by Colorado Parks and Wildlife that it would begin planning for an eventual restoration of wolves in the state came even though thousands of ballots are still uncounted and another group opposed to the initiative said it was not conceding. 

Coloradans Protecting Wildlife and the Colorado Cattlemen's Association issued statements saying it appeared that the initiative would succeed. Other opposition groups made no such declaration.

Virgin Galactic Plans 1st New Mexico Space Launch This Month - By John Antczak, Associated Press

Virgin Galactic is planning to launch its first manned test flight into space from New Mexico this month.

The plans were announced Thursday for the spaceflight to be held between Nov. 19 and 23.

The company's spacecraft has conducted two previous test flights from Mojave, California, before moving to its facilities at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

That will be Virgin Galactic's base for launching passengers on brief trips high above the Earth, starting with billionaire founder Richard Branson next year. The date for that event was not specified.

The company also reported progress in construction of its second spacecraft.

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