MON: Judge Rejects State's Bid To Dismiss Landmark Education Suit, + More

Jun 29, 2020

New Mexico Judge Rejects Bid To Dismiss Education Case - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

A New Mexico judge has rejected a motion by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to dismiss a landmark education lawsuit that was filed against the state.

The Democratic governor had argued that her administration was on its way to addressing the ruling and that the case should be dismissed.

The 2018 ruling that New Mexico failed to provide children with sufficient education as required by the state constitution has brought racial and socioeconomic inequity to the forefront in a state where per-student spending and educational achievement hover near the bottom of national rankings.

The lawsuit filed by Hispanic and Navajo plaintiffs successfully argued that the state failed most schoolchildren, especially English-language learners and Indigenous and low-income children. It was filed in 2017 when Republican Susana Martinez was governor.

The 2018 verdict by the late Judge Sarah Singleton ordered the state to fix funding and inequality issues by April 2019.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, supported the lawsuit during her gubernatorial campaign and dropped an appeal of the lawsuit that was mounted by Martinez' administration when she took office. Her motion seeking to dismiss the case came later.

A lawyer for the state argued that the Lujan Grisham administration has taken significant steps to address the court's order during the 18 months that she has been in office.

First District Judge Matthew Wilson credited the state for taking what he called "immediate action," but ruled that the increases in funding and changes so far were not substantial enough to end the court's involvement in the case.

"The state cannot be deemed to have complied with this court's orders until it shows that the necessary programs and reforms are being provided to all at-risk students to ensure that they have the opportunity to be college and career ready," Wilson told lawyers and about 200 people watching the hearing via a video broadcast and listening on phone lines due to COVID-19 closures.

In asking Wilson to dismiss the case, Lujan Grisham said she was trying to maintain the independence of the Public Education Department.

Virus Raises Stakes In New Mexico Landmark Education Lawsuit - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press/Report For America

A New Mexico judge will reconsider a 2018 ruling that found the state failed to provide children a sufficient education as required by the state constitution. 

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham argues her administration is on its way to addressing the ruling and the case should be dismissed. 

The lawsuit has brought racial and socioeconomic inequity to the forefront in a state where per-student spending and educational achievement hover near the bottom of national rankings. 

Newly appointed state District Court Judge Matthew Wilson will consider dueling motions Monday to dismiss or more aggressively enforce the ruling.

The coronavirus pandemic has raised the stakes, decimating government revenues that could be used to address the exacerbated inequities facing low-income and rural students who are often Indigenous.

A fifth of all students lacked internet access at home when New Mexico schools shut down due to COVID-19, according to a March survey cited by legislative researchers. Only half of students in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools had internet access.

Schools around the state say they rushed into action after the shutdown and got students laptops and internet access at home. There's hope that the inequities will be less severe in August when schools restart on a hybrid schedule with most students attending two days per week.

New Mexico Governor Signs Bill To Help Financial StrainAssociated Press

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed a measure that would temporarily forgive tax-interest penalties during the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill signed Monday also will boost temporary state payments to cities hit hard by the economic downturn. The measure was passed during the recent special legislative session.

For New Mexicans unable to pay their taxes on time, the bill temporarily waives interest and penalties on late payments.

State officials say taxpayers must still file their tax returns in a timely manner, but payments may follow at later date. New payment deadlines have been set for April 2021.

The measure was among eight pieces of legislation that lawmakers passed during the recent special session, which focused primarily on solvency issues for state government.

Lujan Grisham still has to act on the budget bill as well as legislation that would mandate police body cameras for nearly all state and local law enforcement officers.

Deaths Of 2 Mexican Gray Wolves Investigated In New MexicoAssociated Press

Wildlife managers are investigating the deaths of two Mexican gray wolves found in May in New Mexico.

The team that oversees recovery of the endangered species in New Mexico and Arizona has documented a dozen mortalities among the wild population over the first five months of this year.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the pack's alpha male was the 21st wolf to be shot by the government since reintroduction of the species began in the Southwest U.S. two decades ago.

The organization also said it's the fifth to be shot by federal employees this year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which leads the interagency recovery team, is under a court order to rewrite the rule governing management of the wolves.

Thousands of comments were submitted before the June 15 deadline. The federal agency is expected to issue a draft rule and an environmental impact statement later this year, triggering another public comment period.

NMSU Investigates Cyberattack On University FoundationAssociated Press

New Mexico State University and the school's foundation say they're investigating a cyberattack on the foundation's computers. University officials said Monday that unusual network activity was first noticed last week.

There's no evidence of any data theft, but officials say they're still investigating. The NMSU Foundation is looking to hire an external cybersecurity forensics company to determine exactly what occurred and confirm the security of the network.

The foundation is made up the Office of Alumni Relations and the Office of University Advancement. Its network is separate from the university.

Navajo Nation Reports 55 More COVID-19 Cases, 1 More DeathAssociated Press

The Navajo Department of Health has reported 55 additional positive cases of coronavirus on the Navajo Nation with one more known death.

That pushes the total of positive COVID-19 cases on the reservation to 7,469 as of Sunday night with the death toll now at 363.

Preliminary reports from 12 health care facilities indicate about 5,082 people have recovered from COVID-19. Tribal health officials say 53,913 people have been tested for the coronavirus so far.

The Navajo Nation stretches into northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.

Supreme Court Declines To Hear Border Wall ChallengeAssociated Press

The Supreme Court is leaving in place a decision that rejected environmental groups' challenge to sections of wall the Trump administration is building along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The high court on Monday declined to hear an appeal involving construction of 145 miles of steel-bollard walls along the border in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.

Environmental groups had challenged a federal law that allows the secretary of Homeland Security to waive any laws necessary to allow the quick construction of border fencing.

Environmental groups argued that violates the Constitution's separation of powers. But a lower court dismissed the case.

New Mexico Health Agency Reports 173 Additional Virus Cases Associated Press

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Mexico is approaching 12,000.

State health officials on Monday reported an additional 173 cases, bringing the statewide total since the outbreak began to 11,982. Bernalillo and Doña Ana counties, which are the state's most populous, accounted for nearly half the additional cases reported Monday.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned last week that she was pausing plans for another phase of economic reopening because the numbers were trending up.

She blamed lax personal behaviors and urged people to stay at home, avoid gatherings and to wear masks when out in public.

The number of infections is thought to be higher because many people haven't been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

New Mexico's infections include about 900 state and federal inmates who are being held at lockups around the state. Facilities in Otero County are among the hardest hit.

State health officials also reported an additional death, bringing the total of people in New Mexico who are known to have died from the virus to 493.

New Mexico Reports 192 Additional COVID-19 Cases And 1 Death - Associated Press

Health officials in New Mexico reported 192 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday with one additional death. 

That raises the state's totals to 11,809 confirmed cases with at least 492 known deaths. 

The bulk of the reported additional cases were in Bernalillo County (45) San Juan County (34), McKinley County (28) and Doña Ana County (27). 

The Navajo Nation on Sunday reported 55 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total for the reservation to 7,469. The nation also reported one more death related to coronavirus, bringing the total to 363. 

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

New Mexico Official Says No To Working With US Border Agency - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The head of the New Mexico State Land Office on Friday declined to add her signature to the renewal of a cooperative agreement with U.S. border authorities.

Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said she instead is siding with community members who urged her not to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection over concerns about discrimination against people of color along the Mexican border.

Garcia Richard and fellow Democrats in New Mexico have been critical of the Trump administration’s border policies. 

The agreement, first executed in 2015 under the Obama administration, also covers Arizona, California and Texas and involves other federal land management agencies, state historic preservation offices and tribal governments in California, Arizona and Oklahoma.

Garcia Richard contends that other tribes that have expressed cultural ties to the border region haven’t been included. Her office pointed to the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe and Mescalero Apache, among several others.

Aside from voicing her support for tribes, she said she stands by immigrants, refuses to support federal immigration authorities’ operations along the border and opposes the construction of the border wall.

New Mexico Hospitals To Resume Patient Visitations - Associated Press

Hospitals in New Mexico have started to loosen restrictions that kept family and friends from visiting patients. 

San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington says patients who have not tested positive for COVID-19 will be allowed one visitor. 

Robert Underwood, chief medical officer at San Juan Regional Medical Center, said the move could help patients in the healing process.

Visitations are still prohibited for patients who have tested positive. 

Lovelace Medical Center, Presbyterian and the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque have also announced similar visitation policies with only one visit each day with facial covering and screening requirements. 

 

Fracking Pioneer Chesapeake Files For Bankruptcy Protection - By Cathy Bussewitz And Tali Arbel AP Business Writers

Chesapeake Energy, a shale drilling pioneer that helped to turn the United States into a global energy powerhouse, has filed for bankruptcy protection. 

The Oklahoma City-based company said Sunday that it was a necessary decision given its debt. Its debt load is currently nearing $9 billion. It has entered a plan with lenders to cut $7 billion of its debt and said it will continue to operate as usual during the bankruptcy process. 

The oil and gas company was a leader in the fracking boom, using unconventional techniques to extract oil and gas from the ground, a method that has come under scrutiny because of its environmental impact.

Other wildcatters followed in Chesapeake's path, racking up huge debts to find oil and gas in fields spanning New Mexico, Texas, the Dakotas and Pennsylvania. A reckoning is now coming due with those massive debts needing to be serviced by Chesapeake and those that followed its path. 

More than 200 oil producers have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past five years, a trend that's expected to continue as a global pandemic saps demand for energy and depresses prices further. 

4 Albuquerque Fireworks Displays Planned To Avoid Gatherings  - Associated Press

Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are teaming up to stage July Fourth fireworks displays in each quadrant of the metro area to encourage residents to avoid congregating in any one area while restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak remain in effect. 

A statement released Saturday said the planned multiple displays are intended to allow residents to watch the fireworks from home. 

The four fireworks displays will launch from the Ladera Golf Course, North Domingo Baca Park, the Los Altos Golf Course, and Tom Tenorio Park.  

The announcement said the sites will be closed to the public several hours ahead of the planned launch time of 9:20 p.m. for safety reasons, and it said the city ""is strongly discouraging residents from gathering near the launch sites."

Also, law enforcement officers will be at each launch site and street parking around each one will be restricted in the hours leading up to the launch time and during the event.