FRI: State Officials Want Answers On Federal Vaccine Rollout Plan, + More

Jan 15, 2021


New Mexico Seeks Answers On Federal Rollout Of Vaccine Doses - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico officials said Friday that they were disappointed to learn that the state may not get as many vaccine doses as promised by the federal government just days ago.

New Mexico is not alone as uncertainty over the pace of federal COVID-19 vaccine allotments has triggering anger and confusion in some states. Oregon's governor claims that efforts to increase vaccinations have been thrown into disarray because of deception by federal officials.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and top health officials had said at a briefing Thursday that they expected more vaccines to be available in the coming weeks and months and that the goal was to begin vaccinating the general public by mid-2021.

The focus has been on health care workers, first responders, nursing home residents and staff and just recently people over age 75. Younger people who have preexisting conditions that put them at risk also are on the list.

"New Mexicans deserve clarity and transparency from the federal government about the vaccine rollout," said Matt Bieber, a spokesman with the state Health Department.

Bieber said state officials were trying Friday to get more information about New Mexico's allocation.

The state has one of the best vaccination rates in the U.S., with more than 108,000 shots being administered so far. Nearly 153,500 doses have been shipped to the state.

State officials have credited the success to a novel registration system that requires residents to sign up. They are then notified when they become eligible for a shot and appointment slots are scheduled. Nearly 430,000 residents — roughly one-fifth of the population — have registered.

The state will continue distributing vaccine to the most vulnerable New Mexicans as supplies arrive, Bieber said.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 161,800 this week as officials reported an uptick in new infections. Another 38 deaths were reported Friday, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to more than 2,870.

Meanwhile, Santa Fe has been ordered to repay its employees for some of their lost wages after hundreds of city workers were furloughed when the pandemic took hold last March.

The New Mexico Public Employees Labor Relations Board said in a ruling this month that the city had engaged in unfair labor practices by failing to properly notify workers of the furloughs, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

It is unclear how much the city is expected to pay. Union officials estimate the cost could be about $1 million.

Santa Fe Ordered To Pay Furloughed Workers For Lost WagesSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A regulatory agency in New Mexico has ordered the city of Santa Fe to repay its employees for some of their lost wages after hundreds of city workers were furloughed when the coronavirus pandemic began in March.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the New Mexico Public Employees Labor Relations Board said in a ruling earlier this month that the city engaged in unfair labor practices by failing to properly notify workers of the furloughs and must now provide compensation.

It is unclear how much the city is expected to pay. Gil Martinez, vice president of the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, estimates the cost could be about $1 million.

The ruling came after a city workers union complaint last year argued that the lowest-paid employees suffered the biggest hits from furloughs. The city in April approved a plan to initiate four-hour-a-week furloughs for 868 workers and 16-hour weekly furloughs for 180 others until the end of June.

Assistant City Attorney Christopher Ryan declined to comment on the decision.

"Everyone is thrilled," Martinez said. "They are still not going to believe it until they see it."

Assistant City Attorney Christopher Ryan declined to comment on the decision.

"Once an order is issued by the Board, the City will evaluate it internally to determine next steps to include discussions on settling the remaining issue and whether and when to appeal the matter to District Court," the city attorney's office said in a statement.

States Declare Emergencies, Close Capitols Ahead Of Rallies - By David A. Lieb, Associated Press

Governors in some states have called out the National Guard, declared states of emergency and closed their capitol buildings over concerns about potentially violent demonstrations.

Though details remain murky, demonstrations are expected at state capitols beginning Sunday and leading up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday.

State officials are hoping to avoid the type of mob violence that occurred last week at the nation's Capitol, which left five people dead, including a police officer.

Some state legislatures also have canceled or limited their work next week because of security concerns.

Governors in Maryland, New Mexico and Utah all declared states of emergency ahead of potential demonstrations. Fencing was installed in a wide radius around the New Mexico Capitol. Utah's order allows authorities to close the Capitol grounds through next Thursday, the day after Biden's inauguration.

Albuquerque Councilor Accuses Former Lawmaker Of AdvancesAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Albuquerque City Councilor Lan Sena is accusing a former Democratic state lawmaker of making unwanted sexual advances toward her when she served as a campaign staffer in 2019.

Sena this week issued an open letter through an attorney, saying Abbas Akhil needed to be held accountable for his actions.

Akhil's attorney told the Albuquerque Journal that the allegations were false and that the former lawmaker would present his defense at an appropriate time.

Akhil recently wrapped up his first and only term in the state House of Representatives. Sena joined the City Council last March when Mayor Tim Keller appointed her to an open seat.

Sena said in her statement that the incident happened May 16, 2019, when she was Akhil's campaign treasurer.

Expansion Could Bring Football Back To WAC This Fall In FCSAssociated Press

Football is returning in the Western Athletic Conference. It will be at the Championship Subdivision level this time.

The league announced it would add four schools from the Southland Conference and one from the Big Sky to bring its membership to 13. The five new members will join Dixie State and Tarleton State in the WAC's seven-team football league that could begin as soon as this fall. The new members are Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin from the Southland and Southern Utah from the Big Sky.

The WAC will be split into two divisions for sports other than football, men's basketball and women's basketball. One division will be made up of the Texas schools. The other division will include Southern Utah, Dixie State, New Mexico State, Grand Canyon, California Baptist, Seattle and Utah Valley.

New Mexico Declares Security Emergency Ahead Of Inauguration - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency in response to credible intelligence about threats of violence at statehouse buildings across the country and deployed members of the New Mexico National Guard to Washington for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration next week.

The declaration by the Democratic governor came Thursday as fencing was installed in a wide radius around the Capitol building in Santa Fe and an adjacent annex.

The Legislature is set to convene Tuesday, the day before Biden's inauguration. Leading legislators say they are taking the prospect of violence seriously.

The declaration authorizes the deployment of the state's National Guard and makes financial resources available to state and local agencies that respond to possible emergencies.

The order describes the violent insurrection Jan. 6 at the nation's Capitol and says, "there is credible intelligence that threats of similar riots exist and are likely to occur at the capitol buildings and other prominent government buildings in 50 states either before or on January 20, 2021."

Normally buzzing with lobbyists and members of the public, the Legislature's circular "Roundhouse" has been closed since the start of the pandemic to stem the spread of the virus.

Even though most legislative business has been moved to public video conferences, law enforcement has been making plans to bolster security at the Capitol.

State police who oversee the site are coordinating security with local law enforcement agencies to provide a response should any gatherings become violent.

Couy Griffin, founder of the Cowboys for Trump support group in New Mexico, said he will travel to Washington with a rifle in the trunk of his vehicle and handgun under the seat to take a stand in support of gun rights and against the election of Biden. Griffin says the election was fraudulent and "stolen by communist China."

An ardent Trump supporter and Otero County commissioner, Griffin used a public commission meeting in southern New Mexico to announce his plans to be in Washington on Inauguration Day, reciting the make and model of firearms that he plans to take.

Griffin was in the crowd outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He says he tried to lead a prayer session and did not go inside as a mob stormed the building.

New Mexico Governor Sees Light At The End Of Pandemic Tunnel- By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and top public health officials pointed Thursday to a recent bump in COVID-19 cases and stressed that more people need to get tested so the state can quickly identify where outbreaks are happening as they try to curb the spread of the virus. 

However, the governor also said during an online briefing Thursday that she's optimistic given that the rate of positive tests is much lower than it was just a couple months ago when New Mexico saw a dramatic spike. She also noted the state's progress with vaccine distribution. 

So far, more than 412,000 people — nearly one-fifth of New Mexico's population — have registered on a state website that was created to help manage the distribution of shots by notifying people when they are eligible and helping with scheduling. It's the only type of COVID-19 vaccine registration program of its kind in the nation.

So far, more than 100,000 doses out of the 153,000 that have been shipped to the state have been administered, according to the state's new public vaccine dashboard. Over one-third of those were administered within the last week.

State officials said they are working on adding more providers to the list of those that can administer shots and that the limiting factor in speeding up vaccination across the state will be the supply. They noted that they are expecting more vaccines to be available in the coming weeks as the federal government plans to base allocations partly on how successful states have been in administering those already provided, rather than only on population.

State Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said her agency also is looking at recent recommendations that eligibility be expanded to include people age 65 and older. However, she said the state's goal right now is to finish vaccinating the health care workforce and concentrate on those who are most vulnerable.

New Mexico has recorded more than 161,200 confirmed COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began, with an additional 1,266 cases being reported Friday. Deaths now total 2,874, with with 38 additional deaths Friday.

Officials said while hospitalizations remain down, they are concerned that any increase in cases will again overwhelm the health care system. 

They noted that half of the state's hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages.

Navajo Nation Reports 202 New COVID-19 Cases, 13 More DeathsAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Thursday reported 202 new COVID-19 cases and 13 more deaths from the coronavirus outbreak.

The latest figures increased the pandemic's totals for the tribe to 25,952 cases and 892 known deaths.

The tribe says nearly 220,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 and more than 13,000 have recovered.

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.  

The Navajo Nation's vast reservation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

New Mexico Legislative Priorities Start With Virus, Economy - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico say pandemic recovery will drive their efforts during the upcoming legislative session. They're pledging to pass additional relief to individuals and small businesses.

Democrats in the house say education funding to repair learning loss and get students in classrooms sooner is also part of that effort, as well as support for vaccine rollouts.

The unsalaried Legislature meets for 60-days in odd-numbered years to consider major policy reforms in addition to crafting an annual spending plan.

With solid majorities in the Senate and House, Democrats are expected to push through progressive priorities on civil rights and long-term education funding.

Democrats are proposing a constitutional amendment to pull an additional 1% annually from the balance of the state's $20 billion endowment for education and other public institutions. Approval by the Legislature would send the measure to a statewide vote next.

House Republicans said Thursday that they will be focused on "returning life back to normal as soon as possible" through bills on small-business assistance, the economy and education.

Republican lawmakers have bristled over the governor's pandemic-related health restrictions on businesses and indicate they will seek new legislative authority over public health orders.

State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce recently described opposition to abortion as the "leading social justice issue of our generations."

The session is expected to include discussions on long-term investments in broadband. The pandemic has laid bare the high cost of being a rural state that's behind on high-speed internet access, as 

remote learning and telehealth was hobbled because many residents couldn't connect.

New Mexico Requires Orientation As Part Of Guardian Reforms Associated Press

New Mexico will now require that proposed guardians and conservators participate in an orientation program before being appointed by a judge to make decisions for people who are incapacitated.

The New Mexico Supreme Court issued an order Thursday approving the new rule. It will apply to cases filed on or after Feb. 1.

A steering committee involved with reforming the state's adult guardianship system developed a series of 10 videos covering topics that range from filing grievances to identifying and reporting abuse. Officials said the program builds on reforms enacted by state lawmakers in recent years.

Justice Shannon Bacon said the videos will ensure that people serving in these roles understand their duties and responsibilities under the law.

Court-appointed guardians make personal and health care decisions for individuals who are incapacitated. Conservators are appointed by a district court to manage the finances and possibly the property of an incapacitated person, including those who may have dementia, traumatic brain injuries or mental illness.

New Mexico Wildlife Officer Charged In Decapitated Cat Case – Farmington Daily Times, Associated Press

Authorities in New Mexico have arrested an off-duty wildlife officer on suspicion of decapitating a 9-week-old gray kitten at his home in Bloomfield.

The Farmington Daily Times reported that Jicarilla Apache Game & Fish employee Joseph Weaver was arrested on a fourth-degree felony charge of extreme cruelty to animals.

Bloomfield police said in a statement that officers responded to a home Sunday for a welfare check when they found Weaver's family distraught about the kitten. Police say Weaver's wife told officers that she saw him standing with a pocketknife in his hand and the kitten floating in the bathroom sink.

Weaver's attorney declined to comment on the case.