MON: New Mexico Legislature Backs Mandatory Police Body Cameras, + More

Jun 22, 2020

New Mexico Legislature Backs Mandatory Police Body Cameras - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico's Legislature has approved a proposal to make police body cameras mandatory for nearly all state and local law enforcement officers. 

The Democrat-led House of Representatives voted 44-26 on Monday to send the police accountability reforms to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for consideration. 

The bill provides exceptions for tribal authorities. 

Video must be archived for 120 days, and police agencies that flout the camera requirement could be sued for withholding evidence, under the legislation.

It would permanently revoke certification for police convicted of unlawful use of physical force. 

Republicans largely opposed the bill as hastily written and financially burdensome to law enforcement agencies. 

Backers of the bill invoked the death of Antonio Valenzuela in a video-recorded February encounter with Las Cruces police that has led to manslaughter charges against one officer.

Lujan Grisham has urged the Legislature to seize upon the momentum of demonstrations set off by George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police to enact policing reforms including mandatory body-worn cameras for police.

Man Charged In Oñate Statue Protest Melee To Be Released - Associated Press

A New Mexico judge ruled Monday that a man who opened fire after a fight broke out as protesters tried to tear down a statue of a Spanish conquistador will be released pending trial on charges of aggravated battery and unlawful carrying of a handgun.

The decision came during a detention hearing for Steven Ray Baca, 31. As part of the release conditions, Judge Charles Brown ordered Baca to not attend any protests, nor have contact with any witnesses or carry a weapon.

The charges stem from interactions with three unidentified women during the protest.

Prosecutors have not filed charges related the shooting that injured one man, saying the investigation is ongoing.

Video taken moments before protesters started chasing Baca showed him throwing a woman to the ground after she positioned herself in front of him and began blocking him with outstretched arms.

Virgin Galactic Inks NASA Deal For Commercial Space Flights - Associated Press

Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. has agreed to a deal with NASA to boost commercial human spaceflight to the International Space Station.

Financial terms of the “Space Act Agreement” with NASA were not disclosed, but Virgin Galactic said it would eventually take passengers to the space station. The company said it would recruit candidates interested in purchasing private missions to the space station and provide end-to-end resources and astronaut training.

Last month, SpaceX became the first private company to launch people into orbit when its rocket ship blasted off from Earth. The two Americans aboard could spend up to four months at the space station before returning to Earth in a splashdown at sea, reminiscent of the Apollo program in the 1970s.

Virgin has its own launchpad in the New Mexico desert where parts of the new program with NASA, including astronaut training, will take place.

Robot Helping To Sanitize Albuquerque International Sunport - Associated Press

New Mexico's largest airport has enlisted a robot to help with cleaning in the age of coronavirus.

KOAT-TV reports the Albuquerque International Sunport is employing an autonomous robot to sanitize spaces in the airport.

Airport officials say the robot, dubbed Breezy One, will be employed every night.

The device came from Build with Robotics and Fetch Robotics.

Fetch Robotics officials say it decontaminates spaces of more than 100,000 square feet in under two hours. The robot uses a disinfectant developed at Sandia National Labs.

Navajo Nation Reports 27 New COVID-19 Cases, 1 Death - Associated Press

The Navajo Department of Health has reported 27 new cases of coronavirus on the Navajo Nation and one known death.

That pushes the totals to 6,990 positive COVID-19 cases and 335 known deaths as of Sunday.

Tribal officials also said preliminary reports from 11 health care facilities indicate about 3,603 people have recovered from COVID-19 with one hospital report still pending.

The Navajo Nation has resumed weekend lockdowns with businesses closed as the number of coronavirus cases off the reservation increases, most notably in Arizona.

N.M. House To Reconvene For Votes On Police Reform And Anti-Racism Proposals - Associated Press

The New Mexico House of Representatives postponed voting until Monday on proposals for mandatory police body cameras, small-business recovery loans and a bill aimed at identifying and uprooting institutional racism in state government.

The anti-racism bill from Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez, Rep. Javier Martinez and others also would track workforce racial and ethnic demographics in state government and require anti-institutional racism training.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has encouraged legislators to seize the momentum of demonstrations set off by George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police to enact policing reforms and safeguard civil rights guarantees.

About 30 people gathered Saturday outside the Statehouse in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

A bill was awaiting the governor's signature that would appoint a commission to consider changes to qualified immunity provisions that currently protect police officers from lawsuits, allowing them to be sued for misconduct.

Separately, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has already convened a council on racial justice to prepare an anti-racism agenda for consideration by legislators in 2021.

Legislature Sends Solvency Plan To New Mexico Governor - Associated Press

New Mexico's Legislature on Saturday sent a budget solvency plan to the governor that would mend a multibillion-dollar deficit by scaling back spending increases while tapping federal recovery act money and state financial reserves.

State government finances are reeling from the economic fallout of the coronavirus epidemic and aggressive state emergency health restrictions designed to hold the virus at bay. State economists are forecasting a $2.4 billion decline in state government income through June 2021 amid the economic upheaval.

Senate Democrats joined with a handful of Republicans in a 30-12 vote on Saturday to approve a roughly $7 billion spending plan for the budget year beginning July 1 that scales back state spending by about $600 million. 

State Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming, a leading architect of the budget rewrite, said state spending is slated to increase by 1.5% during the coming fiscal year — far less than originally planned.

The pullback on spending increases goes farther than recommendations from Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has the authority to veto any and all provisions of the budget rewrite.

Many Republican lawmakers said the budget revisions do not go far enough. 

Legislature Approves Bill Aimed At Reliable Absentee Voting And Sufficient Polls On Reservations  - Associated Press

New Mexico's Legislature has approved a bill to ensure adequate voting locations in Native American communities that have been hit hard by the coronavirus. 

The state House on Saturday approved the bill that gives Indigenous nations and pueblos final say before a local polling place can be closed or consolidated. 

The voting initiative also aims to make absentee balloting more reliable by extending mailing deadlines and using postal barcodes to track ballots. 

Some polls were closed for the state's June 2 primary election because tribal communities shut borders to visitors. 

The bill needs Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's signature to become law.

New Mexico Reports 136 New Coronavirus Cases, 3 More Deaths - Associated Press

Health officials in New Mexico are reporting 136 new coronavirus cases around the state and three more known deaths. 

The increases announced Sunday raises New Mexico's total number of cases to 10,565 and the death toll to 469. 

Department of Health officials say 41 of the new cases involve state or federal inmates at the Otero County Prison Facility in southern New Mexico. They say 30 other confirmed cases were reported in McKinley County in northwestern New Mexico. 

Two women in their 50s who were McKinley County residents accounted for two of the three new deaths with the third coming out of San Juan County. 

Health officials say 4,684 people who had COVID-19 in New Mexico have recovered.

Governor Appoints Santa Fe Lawyer To State Court Of Appeals - Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has appointed a lawyer in private practice in Santa Fe to fill a vacancy on the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

Lujan Grisham's appointment of Jane Yohalem to succeed recently retired Judge Linda Vanzi was announced Saturday by the governor's office. 

The announcement said Yohalem specializes in appeals and complex civil litigation and has 44 years of experience in appellate law. 

Vanzi retired effective May 29.

A state screening commission nominated six of the 10 applications for the position.

New Mexico Official Says No Room For Relaxing Amid Virus Threat - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

One of New Mexico's top health officials said about one-quarter of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state involve people who had no symptoms.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase said that percentage represents a huge number when talking about a pandemic.

Scrase said Friday that New Mexico has been able to keep its cases from skyrocketing like Arizona, Texas and other states because it has kept in place the stay-at-home order and established other counter measures aimed at limiting spread.

It could be another two weeks before state officials announce the next phase of reopening, and state public education officials are still weighing options for how classes will resume in the fall.

The easing of some restrictions on June 1 did not appear to overwhelm the state's health care system or "take us beyond where we wanted to go,' Scrase said.

But he still urged caution, saying the curve is more a reflection of social behaviors rather than any changes in the virus itself.