MON: New Mexico Hits Stalemate On Cannabis Legalization, + More

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New Mexico Hits Stalemate On Cannabis Legalization - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

State legislators are at a stalemate regarding popular efforts to legalize marijuana in New Mexico with less than a week remaining to send a bill to the governor.

A state Senate panel pulled cannabis discussions off its agenda minutes before a Sunday hearing.

Legislators are searching for common ground among advocates for legalization who say the industry would help New Mexico's economic recovery from the pandemic.

Divergent views on marijuana taxation, licensing and pardon procedures for past convictions are complicating efforts to bring a final bill to a crucial Senate vote.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has set cannabis legalization as a high priority this year as her administration looks for new sources of employment as an antidote to high rates of poverty.

In one camp, Republican state Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell is advocating for a streamlined approach to taxation and regulation aimed at stamping out the illicit market for marijuana and providing easy entry for entrepreneurs.

Successful legislation also is likely to include social justice provisions within a House-approved bill from Democratic state Rep. Javier Martínez of Albuquerque that emphasizes aid to communities adversely affected by marijuana criminalization.

The House-backed bill provides automated pardon and expungement procedures for past marijuana possession charges and convictions. It also would set aside public funds in the future to to underwrite vocation training for cannabis workers, education to prevent substance abuse, and an array of social services in communities battered by policing against illicit drugs.

Legislators have until the close of the regular annual legislative session at noon on March 20 to send bills to the governor. Several diehard opponents to legalization were ousted from the state Senate in 2020 elections. 

Negotiations over a legalization bill have faltered as some incumbent medical marijuana producers insist on price supports and a head start in the licensing process to bring recreational-use cannabis to market.

New Mexico can't approve legislation by ballot initiative and would join a handful of states that have legalized marijuana through the legislative process, including Vermont, Illinois and, soon, Virginia.

Costs To Fortify New Mexico Statehouse: $700,000 And Growing - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Heavy security and fencing that have cordoned off the New Mexico state Capitol and adjacent streets from public access have cost taxpayers at least $700,000 in police overtime, salaries for National Guard troops, equipment rental and other special expenses. 

The unprecedented security measures were instituted by legislative leaders in the Democratic majority in the aftermath of the storming of the U.S. Capitol amid warnings by the FBI about threats to legislatures. 

Republican legislators for weeks have called for an end to the extraordinary security measures outside the building that are making public protests all but impossible.

Republican state Sen. William Sharer of Farmington says the security perimeter is an infringement on political speech as the Democratic majority pushes hot-button progressive proposals.

New Mexico Reports 160 More COVID-19 Cases And 2 More Deaths - Associated Press

Health officials in New Mexico on Sunday reported 160 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and two more deaths. 

The latest numbers increase the state's totals to 188,311 cases and 3,852 known deaths since the pandemic started. Of the additional cases, 45 were reported in Bernalillo County and 29 in Doña Ana County.  

With the slowing of the coronavirus outbreak, Albuquerque Public Schools will resume in-person learning for five days a week on April 5 although students can continue remote learning for the rest of the school year. 

New Mexico's largest school district announced its startup date Friday after the state Public Education Department earlier in the week said all schools were expected to reopen classrooms after spring break.

Navajo Nation Reports 3 More COVID-19 Cases, No New Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Sunday reported three additional cases of COVID-19, but no new deaths. 

The latest numbers pushed the tribe's pandemic total to 29,948 confirmed cases. 

The known death toll remained at 1,218. 

The Navajo Nation is planning a soft reopening Monday with 25% capacity for some businesses under certain restrictions. 

Tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement that health care experts continue to caution everyone about traveling because another surge of the virus could happen.  

Nez says vaccines continue to be administered across the Navajo Nation and tells tribal members to "continue staying home as much as possible, wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings and crowds, and wash your hands often."

New Mexico Demands More Of US When Addressing Nuclear Waste - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The U.S. Energy Department has rolled out its 2021 priorities for cleaning up tons of toxic waste left behind by decades of bomb-making and nuclear research around the country. 

Included is a goal of sending 30 shipments from the birthplace of the atomic bomb — Los Alamos National Laboratory — to the federal government's underground waste repository. 

But some elected officials and watchdog groups say the list is another indication that New Mexico is on the back burner when it comes to cleaning up legacy waste. 

They also are raising concerns that new waste generated by the lab will need to be cleaned up and could further sideline decontamination efforts.

State Rep. Christine Chandler, whose district includes the once secret city of Los Alamos, described the federal government's lack of attention to Los Alamos cleanup requirements as beyond disappointing.

Greg Mello with the Los Alamos Study Group said at 30 shipments per year, it would take at least 30 years to remove existing waste that includes radioactive tools, clothing, gloves and other debris.

There's about 400,000 cubic meters of legacy radioactive waste on lab property, with most buried in disposal areas around the sprawling campus. Some areas have been excavated and closed. There's about 3,500 cubic meters of legacy waste stored above ground that will eventually be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Pointing to past missed deadlines, watchdogs have said the Energy Department has no coherent plan or budget to remove the waste on a reasonable schedule.

1 Complaint On New Mexico House Speaker Still Being Reviewed - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Two of three complaints filed by a retired judge against New Mexico state House Speaker Brian Egolf likely will be dismissed, said a letter the State Ethics Commission sent to the complainant.

The letter on Friday signed by Executive Director Jeremy Farris said the third charge — that Egolf failed to communicate a potential conflict of interest — is still under investigation.

The third complaint will be sent to the commission's general counsel for review, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. 

The two charges that will likely be dismissed are that Egolf used his legislative office for personal gain and that he failed to discharge his legislative duties in an ethical way.

In her complaints, former state Judge Sandra Price said Egolf promoted legislation that would financially benefit his legal practice without disclosing the conflict of interest.

The legislation would allow people to file complaints in state District Court to accuse government of violations of the state Bill of Rights. 

Egolf is a co-sponser of the bill. Currently, such cases are filed in federal court and cite violations of the U.S. Constitution.

Egolf has denied any wrongdoing, and his attorney, Andrew Schultz, has asked the ethics commission to dismiss the complaints.

Egolf has also referred to the complaint a deliberate distraction.

Albuquerque Schools To Resume In-Person Learning On April 5 - Associated Press

With the slowing of the coronavirus outbreak, Albuquerque Public Schools will resume in-person learning for five days a week on April 5, though students can continue remote learning for the rest of the school year.

New Mexico's largest school district announced its startup date Friday after the state Public Education Department earlier in the week said all schools were expected to reopen classrooms after spring break.

The district's Board of Education was briefed on the reopening plan but did not vote on it.

Mask-wearing will be required and social distancing will be expected, interim Superintendent Scott Elder said.

"The reality is that full reentry will create situations in classes where we are unable to keep people 6 feet apart, but we're assured that is OK," Elder said. "But the goal is to maintain social distancing … to the greatest extent possible."

Albuquerque Public Schools officials said they were trying to arrange extensions for teachers in high-risk groups to allow them to wait to return to in-person instruction until two weeks after being fully vaccinated.

FBI Offering Reward For Info About Shiprock Man's 2020 Death - Associated Press

The FBI is offering a $5,000 reward for information in the death of a Shiprock man last year.

Authorities said the body of 30-year-old Isiah Terrell Billy was found in October along Highway 64 near a gas station in Shiprock.

The FBI said the cause of death is pending, but is considered suspicious. 

Albuquerque TV station KRQE reports that the FBI and the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety are investigating the case.