FRI: Rep.-elect Herrell To Object To Electoral College Results, Inmates Win Right To Med Pot, + More

Jan 1, 2021

New Mexico's Herrell To Object To Electoral College Results Associated Press

U.S. Rep.-elect Yvette Herrell of New Mexico says she'll be among Republican members of Congress who will formally object on Wednesday to the certification of the Electoral College tally of votes.

Herrell said Thursday on Facebook that she would vote against certifying the Electoral College results in which President-elect Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump, the Roswell Daily Record reported.

Herrell in November unseated first-term incumbent Democrat Xochitl Torres Small to represent the 2nd Congressional District in central and southern New Mexico.

Herrell is set to be sworn into office on Sunday, three days before House and Senate hold a joint session to certify the vote results.

Marg Elliston, chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, accused Herrell of spreading misinformation about the election, and putting her own beliefs over the will of the voters.

New Mexico went for Biden in the November's presidential election which gave the Democratic nominee an Electoral College margin of 306 to 232 over Trump.

Albuquerque Inmates’ Right To Medical Marijuana Affirmed Associated Press

A state district judge in Albuquerque has ruled this week that the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center should not penalize medical marijuana patients under its custody or supervision for using the drug.

District Court Judge Lucy Solimon said the order, issued Tuesday, applies specifically to the Metropolitan Detention Center southwest of Albuquerque.

The decision stems from a drunken driving case where Albuquerque resident Joe Montaño, 49, who was convicted and sentenced to 90 days of house arrest in October 2019, was thrown in jail in November 2019 for having medical marijuana as a licensed patient. He was released in January 2020.

Court records show Montaño has had a valid medical marijuana card since 2015.

New Mexico legalized marijuana for medicinal use in 2007, but county attorneys argued that because it’s still illegal federally, Montaño’s use of marijuana was in violation of his agreement to comply with all city, county, state and federal laws.

Montaño’s attorney, Democratic state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, said the ruling creates a precedent that licensed patients must be allowed access to medical cannabis regardless of if they are at home or in a prison cell.

It is unclear whether correctional facilities statewide would voluntarily comply with the order.

New Mexico Reports 1,286 Additional Virus Cases, 25 DeathsAssociated Press

New Mexico on Friday reported 1,286 additional known COVID-19 infections and 25 deaths, raising the statewide totals since the pandemic started to 144,142 infections and 2,502 deaths.

Counties with triple-digit increases in cases included Bernalillo (316), Dona Ana (160), San Juan (155) and Sandoval (108) while the additional deaths were reported in 12 counties spanning New Mexico from Cibola, McKinley and San Juan counties in the northwest to Eddy, Lea and Roosevelt counties in the southeast.

Most of those who died were in their 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s but several were in their 40s and 50s.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Judge: Groups Can't Challenge Endangered Species PlansAssociated Press

A judge in Montana has ruled an environmental group has no legal standing to challenge the specifics of recovery plans for endangered species.

The case began with a 2014 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity that asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revise and update its then-21-year-old species recovery plan for threatened grizzly bears in the contiguous United States.

Federal wildlife managers declined and the Center took the issue to court. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled Dec. 23 that endangered species recovery plans are guidelines, not rules that can be challenged in court.

Although Fish and Wildlife denied the 2014 petition, the agency did update recovery plans for grizzlies in the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems in 2017 and 2018.

In 2019, a federal grizzly bear biologist concluded that reintroduction of grizzly bears in Colorado's San Juan and California's Sierra Nevada ranges would likely fail due to a lack of core habitat.

City Spends Virus Relief Funds As New Mexico Cases Mount - Associated Press

Albuquerque city officials said Thursday they've used all of the coronavirus relief money received earlier this year from the federal government.

City finance officials said the municipal government has spent or otherwise applied $150 million in relief aid in an effort to meet the original Dec. 30 spending deadline. 

The city focused much of the funding on shifting employees from jobs that were limited by the pandemic into roles directly related to supporting relief efforts. The city applied $120 million, or 80% of the funding, to personnel costs.

In addition to personnel, the city used the money on direct economic relief, including $11.2 million for business grants and $2.5 million in emergency grants for vulnerable residents. Another $3 million went to assist people living on the street, including hand-washing stations and portable toilets.

The money helped the city avoid employee cuts and service reductions and expand operations, including eviction prevention, meal delivery for homebound seniors and operating costs associated with increased use of city parks. 

Federal legislation had restricted how local governments could spend the money, requiring that it go only to expenditures related to COVID-19 that were not already included in budgets before March 27. 

While the city has not completed the account reconciliation outlining all final spending from the relief law, other planned expenditures included mobile Wi-Fi units, assistance for organizations helping domestic violence survivors, grants for artists and a new projector for the city's emergency operations center.

State Reports 41 More COVID Deaths On Last Day Of 2020Associated Press

New Mexico health officials on Thursday reported an additional 1,684 confirmed COVID-19 infections, pushing the statewide total since the pandemic began to 142,864.

Another 41 deaths were reported, leaving the state to finish the year with 2,477 people who succumbed to the virus.

State officials continued to encourage people to get tested and to sign up for a vaccination, as planning is underway for distribution once more doses become available.

“I’m as glad to say goodbye to 2020 as anybody,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a tweet. “But please be careful celebrating tonight. COVID hasn’t gone anywhere. Don’t risk your health — or your neighbor’s health.”

Traditional New Year's celebrations around the state, such as the annual “Chile Drop" in Las Cruces, were taking place virtually.

Navajo Nation Reports 287 New Virus Cases, 23 More Deaths - Associated Press

Officials on the Navajo Nation are reporting 287 new cases of the coronavirus and 23 more deaths.

Thursday's figures come on top of 225 new cases the tribal government reported Wednesday along with two additional deaths. 

The new reports bring the total number of cases on the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to 23,090. More than half of those people have recovered, the Navajo Department of Health said. The death toll is 806.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez said the high number of cases reported over the two days is likely due to reporting delays over the Christmas holiday. 

Nez, Tribal Council Speaker Seth Damon and Navajo Area Indian health Service Chief Medical Officer Dr. Loretta Christensen received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine Thursday during a live online town hall to help boost public confidence in the vaccines. Several other members of the Navajo Nation Council were also inoculated. 

Residents Rank Priorities For Next Albuquerque Police ChiefAssociated Press

The results of a recent online survey of some Albuquerque residents show reducing violent crime and police reforms should be among the top priorities for the city's next police chief.

The city released the results Wednesday, saying nearly 2,300 responses were submitted. The city also made public a list of the 39 people who have submitted applications for the position.

The city has held more than 40 community meetings over the last two months focused on the search and will be identifying those candidates most in sync with the community's priorities as the selection process continues.

According to the city, communication, leadership by example and accountability were the attributes most valued by the survey respondents.

Those qualifications considered as very important by a majority of respondents included experience with reducing use of force and procedural justice, crisis management and knowledge of crime prevention and law enforcement strategies.

The top priorities identified by respondents included reducing violent crime, protecting civil rights and improved training for officers.

City officials said they will work with community advocates, law enforcement professionals and business leaders to identify the applicants with the qualities needed to move forward for consideration.

Albuquerque was put in the spotlight earlier this year when President Donald Trump announced it was one of several cities in the U.S. where federal agents would be sent to help combat crime. For years, violent crime, vehicle thefts and shootings had plagued the city.

The police department this week highlighted its efforts to curb property crime, saying there has been a reduction in auto theft of 39% between 2017 and 2019. It also announced earlier this month that it was adding staff to its homicide unit.

Police officials also touted a recent report released by the Major Cities Chiefs Association that showed Albuquerque was one of only two cities that did not experience a spike in violent crime during the coronavirus pandemic.

Aside from addressing crime, the next chief will have to deal with court mandated reforms and a federal monitor who has been tracking the effort.

Stretch Of I-25 Closed In Las Cruces, HAZMAT Tanker Spill - Associated Press

New Mexico State Police shut down a stretch of Interstate 25 in Las Cruces for several hours as a hazardous materials team responded to a rollover crash involving a commercial motor vehicle hauling fuel. 

The driver sustained unknown injuries and was transported to an area hospital Thursday afternoon. 

NMSP spokesman Dusty Francisco said the Las Cruces Fire Department's HAZMAT team was called to assist because diesel and gas was believed to be leaking from the tanker. 

Northbound I-25 was closed at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint near milepost 26 . Traffic was being rerouted onto NM 185 — the old highway to Hatch.  One southbound lane reopened shortly after 5 p.m.


Navajo Nation Casinos To Lay Off More Than 1,100 Associated Press

Casinos run by the Navajo Nation plan to temporarily lay off more than 1,100 workers on New Year's Day because of prolonged closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The tribe's Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise announced the decision Thursday night, saying it was left with no choice but to move ahead with the layoffs because of lack of revenue caused by the closures.

The tribe operates four casinos in Arizona and New Mexico and together they employ more than 1,200 people, including more than 775 tribal members. The Gaming Enterprise plans to keep 165 employees on the payroll to ensure essential functions are maintained at the casinos.

Officials had repeatedly warned that layoffs would become necessary if the casinos weren't allowed to reopen at least with limited capacity.

But officials also warned Thursday that permanent closure of the entire operation is possible by the end of January if casinos are not allowed to reopen or if more funding isn't allocated to keep the operation running. The tribe allocated nearly $25 million in federal virus relief funding to the casino operation in August but that money has run out.

The tribe invested $460 million in the casinos and that would be lost if they closed. Closure would also lead to ongoing yearly losses of about $220 million in revenue and economic activity, Parrish said. He said he believes it's possible to safely reopen with reduced capacity even amid the pandemic.

Immigrants Get Help From States, Cheer Inclusion In US Bill - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press/Report For America

Immigrant taxpayers and their families are celebrating a federal relief package that includes spouses and children who are U.S. citizens.

Checks sent out in the spring didn't go to families if one spouse was an immigrant in the country illegally, even if the other was a U.S. citizen or legal resident. About 5 million Americans were left out that way.

But even in the new bill, some 2.2 million U.S. citizen children won't receive a check because they live in immigrant households. In Democratic-controlled areas, officials have targeted rent relief and direct payments to those families.

New Mexico lawmakers are unique in sending federal money directly to immigrants.

New Mexico's effort is unique because it paid applicants through direct deposit, instead of relying on community groups to distribute the funds, like California and Vermont.

Some 15,000 New Mexico residents have received about $465 each from a $5 million fund created by the Legislature.

It's not just immigrants benefiting. The only requirements for the money are being a state resident and having not received a federal check in April, which includes homeless and elderly Americans who didn't get a check because of IRS rules.

After getting about four times the number of applicants that the fund could support, state officials reduced the maximum amount and prioritized the lowest-income households.

The fund faced no resistance from minority Republicans in the New Mexico House, but some of them voted against the entire bill.

Cities also have used federal funds for direct payments to immigrants.

Angelica Rodriguez and her husband are restaurant cooks in Santa Fe and had their hours cut in half. But they have been able to catch up on rent thanks to the city's pandemic relief: a $750 payment last month and $1,500 this month.

She's a member of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Latino-focused group that advocated for the inclusion of immigrants in state relief efforts. It's also educated immigrants about not worrying that pandemic assistance will count against them in immigration applications, which ask about public aid like food stamps.

Despite the city payments, Rodriguez's family still can't afford to fix a broken washing machine and couldn't splurge on Christmas presents this year. She and her husband are in the country without permission while their three children are U.S. citizens.

Albuquerque Man, 21, Charged With Attempted Bank Robbery - Associated Press

A 21-year-old New Mexico man has been charged with attempted bank robbery after he allegedly demanded money from a teller at a bank's drive-through window then fled the scene. 

A criminal complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court says Daniel Hansen of Albuquerque is accused of entering the Bank of Albuquerque on Coors Blvd around 3:45 p.m. on Dec. 16.  

Federal prosecutors say a teller told him that transactions must be handled at the drive-up window so he went there on foot and wrote a demand for money on a withdrawal slip. A teller backed away and activated the security alarm, causing Hansen to flee.

Prosecutors said he later was identified as a suspect through his involvement in an unrelated incident.

It's not clear if he has a lawyer or will be appointed one. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.