MON: Supreme Court Overrides Judge And Keeps Indoor Dining Ban As COVID Cases Pass 17,000, + More

Jul 20, 2020

Supreme Court Grants Governor’s Request For Stay On Dining Case KUNM, Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The State Supreme Court has granted a stay requested by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham after a district judge issued an order that would have allowed indoor dining despite a public health order issued by the governor.

The action by the state’s high court leaves the emergency public health order from July 13 in effect. The Albuquerque Journal reports the court ordered the parties to file their arguments within a week.

Judge Raymond Romero in Eddy County suspended the state's prohibition of indoor restaurant service that was reinstated this month in response to surging coronavirus infections.

Lujan Grisham filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court following Romero’s order.

A hearing is scheduled on July 30 to consider objections by several restaurants and the New Mexico Restaurant Association to the state's ban on indoor dining.

Local restaurants say the industry has not had a significant role in the spread of the coronavirus and that businesses that pose greater potential risks have fewer restrictions.

Health orders from the administration of Lujan Grisham are being challenged in court on several fronts as businesses fight for economic survival amidst the pandemic and business restrictions aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.

State health officials on Monday reported an additional 255 COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 17,215 since the pandemic began. Another seven deaths also were reported, increasing that tally to 578.

New Mexico Governor Urges Restaurants To Abide By Indoor Ban - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged restaurants to abide by her administration's emergency health restrictions that prohibit indoor dining service, even as a state district court judge suspended the ban.

Monday's temporary order from Judge Raymond Romero in Eddy County suspends the state's prohibition of indoor restaurant service pending a July 30 hearing.

A spokesman for Lujan Grisham says indoor dining is risky but restaurants assert that the industry hasn't had a significant role in the spread of the coronavirus.

State health officials on Monday reported an additional 255 COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to 17,215 since the pandemic began. Another seven deaths also were reported, increasing that tally to 578.

The state's ban on indoor restaurant dining was reinstated this month in response to surging coronavirus infections, and the governor petitioned the state Supreme Court on Monday to overrule the lower court and sustain her restrictions.

A group of restaurant owners and the New Mexico Restaurant Association allege that indoor dining restrictions are unwarranted amid the pandemic and discriminatory because gyms, hair salons and churches continue to operate indoors.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said restaurants present distinct risks and urged people to abide by the ban on indoor service.

Several restaurants have continued to provide indoor service in open defiance of state health orders. Food service permits were suspended last week at seven restaurants in Farmington, Hobbs and Carlsbad that declined to halt dine-in service that regulators describe as a "substantial danger" to customers.

In court filings, restaurant representatives have said the industry accounts for eight COVID-19 investigations out of more than 440 in the state. Employment in the state's restaurant sector has plunged from about 82,000 to 50,000, the lawsuit said.

Judge Blocks New Mexico Ban On Indoor Restaurant DiningAssociated Press

A New Mexico district court judge has temporarily blocked a ban on indoor dining service at restaurants and breweries.

The temporary order on Monday from Judge Raymond Romero in Eddy County suspends the state's prohibition of indoor restaurant service that was reinstated this month in response to surging coronavirus infections.

A hearing is scheduled on July 30 to consider objections by several restaurants and the New Mexico Restaurant Association to the state's ban on indoor dining.

Local restaurants say the industry has not had a significant role in the spread of the coronavirus and that businesses that pose greater potential risks have fewer restrictions.

Health orders from the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are being challenged in court on several fronts as businesses fight for economic survival amidst the pandemic and business restrictions aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.

Romero's temporary restraining order notes that the governor and health officials did not respond to the lawsuit concerning indoor restaurant dining as of Monday morning.

Study Finds More Money Likely Needed For Universal Health Care - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Consultants have outlined for New Mexico's Legislature the financial consequences of adopting a state-administered universal health insurance program for all residents.

They say in a final report released Monday that such a system would improve affordability for low-income households. However, premiums for other families, employer contributions and payroll taxes likely would go up to pay for what could be a multibillion-dollar shortfall over the first five years.

The analysis also says the state's uninsured rate would likely fall below 1% and that the use of health care services would likely increase as the vast majority of residents turn to public insurance. 

The analysis by Maryland-based KNG Health Consulting says New Mexico's effort to shift to a single-payer system would be the most ambitious state-based health reform ever carried out in the U.S. 

The study looked at four scenarios that included a range of premium and cost sharing alternatives. Two of the scenarios also relied on stemming the growth of provider and hospital reimbursement rates.

The effect on employers would depend on how policymakers implement contribution requirements, including the level of contribution and which employers would be exempt, the study notes.

While the goal is to have all New Mexicans insured, the study acknowledges that the gains in coverage may be overstated since many uninsured residents are already eligible for Medicaid.

Several states have contemplated universal health care as they deal with legal and financial hurdles while seeking to consolidate federal tax subsidies and spending on Medicare, Medicaid and health care exchanges.

States Try Again To Block Coal Sales That Trump Revived - By Matthew Brown, Associated Press

A coalition of states is renewing its push to stop the Trump administration from selling coal from public lands after a previous effort to halt the sales was dismissed by a federal judge.

Joined by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and several environmental groups, Democratic attorneys general from California, New York, New Mexico and Washington state filed a lawsuit challenging the administration's coal program in U.S. District Court in Montana.

They allege the administration acted illegally when it resumed coal sales that had been halted under Obama due to climate change and other concerns.

Under Trump, the Department of Interior lifted a moratorium on federal coal sales and concluded they have limited environmental impacts.

The case is among scores of legal challenges that environmentalists and their political allies have launched to counter the Trump administration's push for more domestic energy production and less stringent regulations.

Interior Department spokesman Conner Swanson panned the lawsuit as a "laughable attempt" to revive an issue that the court already addressed.

New Mexico Approved To Use Stored Water Under CompactAssociated Press

New Mexico has received permission from neighboring states to access stored water after little rainfall, low runoff and high temperatures dried out some sections of the Rio Grande.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the state can now access more than 12 billion gallons stored in the El Vado Reservoir.

The water is stored under the Rio Grande Compact agreement between New Mexico, Texas and Colorado. A district water official said supply for part of the Rio Grande valley would have run out without this approval.

The agreement requires New Mexico to deliver a certain amount of water to Elephant Butte Reservoir each year but all three commissioners from each state waived the requirement.

Irrigation district CEO Mike Hamman said the water will be a lifesaver for farmers after irrigation deliveries were stopped earlier this summer because of low natural river flows.

Agencies are expected to hold back on using the stored water if the region receives significant rainfall.

New Mexico Charting Surge In Coronavirus Around Albuquerque - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press 

State health officials are charting a recent surge in coronavirus cases in the Albuquerque area as New Mexico nears 17,000 reported cases of COVID-19. 

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday the number of infections tallied by the New Mexico Department of Health nearly doubled from mid-June to mid-July in Bernalillo County. 

That includes the state's most urban area, and compares with a 60% increase statewide over the same period. 

State Human Services Secretary David Scrase calls it an almost a vertical line uptick in recent cases, and says it might stem from Fourth of July gatherings.

New Mexico state health officials on Sunday reported two additional COVID-19 deaths and 241 additional confirmed cases, increasing the statewide death toll to 571 and the total number of cases to 16,971. 

New Mexico Universities Face Prospect Of Budget Challenges - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Officials say the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University face the prospect of major budget challenges. 

State funding has been reduced in the fiscal fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and reduced energy prices. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that UNM likely faces a $22 million cut in state funding while NMSU will have about $20 million less to spend in the current fiscal year because of reduced state funding, revenue losses from lower enrollment and other circumstances.

The universities' fiscal troubles stem partly from spending cuts approved last month by legislators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to help close a budget gap caused by the pandemic and falling oil revenues.

UNM President Garnett Stokes said it remains to be seen what the effects will be and that the numbers are subject to change partly because of uncertainties about possible losses of out-of-state and international students.

However, NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu said the anticipated loss in revenue represents enormous budget challenges.

Albuquerque Offers Restaurants Funding To Expand Outdoor Seating Options - Associated Press

Albuquerque has created a grant program to help restaurants, cafes and breweries struggling to stay open during the pandemic to set up outdoor dining space on sidewalks and in parking lots and other spaces.

Mayor Tim Keller announced Saturday the $200,000 federally funded program run by the Economic Development Department will provide grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 to purchase or rent tents.

“For local restaurants, cafes and breweries, this isn't just a question of getting through a couple months of restrictions anymore, this is about bracing for the long haul," Keller said in a statement.

Democrat Leger Fernandez Has Big Money Edge In US House Race - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez has a massive money edge over a poorly funded Republican opponent going into a general election for an open U.S. House seat in northern New Mexico. 

Federal records show Leger Fernandez raised $335,959 from mid-May to June 30 following a grueling Democratic primary. 

According to records, she has just $232,855 cash-on-hand, reflecting the expensive Democrat primary where Leger Fernandez defeated a number of candidates. 

But records show Republican opponent Alexis Martinez Johnson raised less than $10,000 during the same time period. She only had $6,102 cash-on-hand. 

In recent days, Johnson has garnered attention for side-stepping statewide health orders and campaigning in Santa Fe Plaza without a mask. 

She was later cited for not following the mask requirement to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The state fine is $100.

Charges Dropped Against Teen In New Mexico School Shooting - Associated Press

A teen accused of firing a gun at a New Mexico high school last year on the anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, shooting has been released and his charges have been dismissed. 

Sandoval County District Attorney Lemuel Martinez said last week state health officials and the children's psychiatric hospital refused to treat the suspect, who was 16 at the time of his arrest. 

The teen had been found incompetent to stand trial. 

Martinez says state law mandates that a suspect be released if there is no place to treat their competency. 

Police said the teen opened fire at V. Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, before running away. No one was hurt.

After the teen was arrested, he gave officers a "to-do list" he had in his pocket indicating he wanted to kill his ex-girlfriend, kill other people and then kill himself, according to a police affidavit.

The Associated Press is not naming the suspect because of his age. He faced charges of attempting to commit murder and unlawfully carrying a deadly weapon onto school grounds.

New Mexico City Considers Flouting Health Order And Seeking Damages From Governor - Roswell Daily Record, Associated Press

The Roswell City Council will consider directing the city manager to not enforce the governor's emergency health orders and investigate options for legal action against New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The Roswell Daily Record reports five council members asked that the proposed directives be placed on the agenda for a special meeting scheduled Thursday for budget and year-end fiscal matters.

The first item would direct City Manager Joe Neeb "to not enforce emergency orders issued by the governor concerning COVID-19 through any of the city departments," while the second would direct Neeb to investigate litigation options against the governor "for damages to the city of Roswell caused by emergency orders concerning COVID-19."

New Mexico's Lt. Gov. Wants Stadium's 'Chief Wahoo' Dropped

New Mexico's lieutenant governor has called on the high school baseball team he once coached to remove its stadium's logo of a Native American caricature. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Lt. Gov. Howie Morales asked the superintendent of Cobre Consolidated School District in Grant County to remove the "Chief Wahoo" logo from the main sign at Cobre High's baseball stadium in Bayard, New Mexico. 

A similar logo was used by Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians until 2018 but still remains at the high school stadium, which is named after Morales. 

The lieutenant governor said the school's athletic teams, called the Indians, have a new logo that is not Chief Wahoo, but there's been no update to the stadium sign.

Morales coached Cobre's baseball team to a state title in 2008 and retired shortly after, as he became a state senator representing District 28.