THURS: Governor Declares Security Emergency, Albuquerque Looks To Lure Remote Workers, +More

Jan 14, 2021


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 Delivers Two-Thirds Of Available VaccineAlbuquerque Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM

New Mexico has delivered 100,601 doses of the vaccine against coronavirus and officials say they believe the general public could access vaccines by this spring or summer.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that during Thursday’s briefing Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other state officials said the state has administered about two-thirds of the vaccines delivered to the state.

Currently the state is making vaccines available to adults who are 75 or older and the governor anticipates the state can finish vaccinating people in this Phase 1b by the spring.

Federal data indicates New Mexico ranks No. 13 per capita in vaccinations among all states.

There were 29 more deaths tied to coronavirus Thursday in New Mexico, pushing the total to 2,836. Health officials also announced 1,400 more cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, bringing the total to 160,543 since the pandemic began.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Lujan Grisham and the state’s top health officials said more vaccines are on the way and the state will open a new vaccine dashboard soon with updated information.

Campaign Aims To Attract Remote Workers To New Mexico CityAssociated Press

New Mexico's largest city is launching a new marketing campaign to attract remote workers who can do their jobs from anywhere.

Albuquerque's effort also is aimed at getting former residents — also known as "boomerangers" — to move back as a way to boost the local economy.

City officials announced Wednesday that they're partnering with a local firm to highlight Albuquerque as an ideal place for people seeking a more healthy lifestyle with room to grow. They're hoping to capitalize on trends that have been accelerated by the pandemic — namely people wanting to move away from large cities.

Mayor Tim Keller touted the city as less crowded, less stressful and more affordable.

"As a boomeranger myself, I know that these assets, combined with our unique history and diverse culture, can be a huge pull to come back home," he said in a statement. "Newly remote workers are realizing they don't have to be tied to big cities anymore."

The city contracted with Esparza Digital + Advertising to pull together the ABQ Home for Life campaign. It will include digital advertising and social media focused on a handful of key cities such as Houston, Portland and Los Angeles. More cities will be added.

City officials said a dashboard has been set up to collect data and measure the campaign's overall performance.

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 ReformsAssociated 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 CaseAssociated 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.


New Mexico Governor Announces Priorities For Legislation Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is enthusiastically backing recreational cannabis and hoping to crack down on predatory lending as she outlines a list of top priorities for the 2021 legislative session.

The endorsements she made Wednesday include authorization and taxation of recreational cannabis and an effort to shore up abortion rights. Lujan Grisham also wants a proposed constitutional amendment to tap more money for education from a state trust.

The ouster of several conservative Democratic senators in 2020 elections increases chances for those initiatives during the legislative session that starts Tuesday.

For pandemic relief, the governor wants restaurant alcohol deliveries permitted and an overhaul of liquor license regulations.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, also called for adjustments to a small business loan fund that was created in the midst of the pandemic — and received a lukewarm reception from businesses.

The governor's proposal to expand tuition-free college is back with a proposed $22 million allocation to "opportunity scholarships" for in-state students. The Legislature last year downsized the initiative, paying tuition and fees for associate and two-year college degrees only.

On health care, the governor backs the creation of a health care affordability fund that would reduce insurance premiums for some people who buy policies on the federally subsidized exchange established under the Affordable Care Act.

Lujan Grisham also voiced support for a clean fuel standard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. The standard would apply to businesses that refine, blend, produce or import fuel — but not to retailers.

COVID-19 Variant Appears In New Mexico, Health Officials SayAssociated Press

New Mexico health officials say they have detected the first known case of a more contagious variant of COVID-19.

The state Health Department announced Wednesday that a man in his 60s who traveled to the United Kingdom in December has the variant. Officials described the man's illness as mild and said no hospitalization was required.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations related to the coronavirus have decreased. Health officials say some counties have seen improvements in the rate of spread and positive tests.

However, only Harding and Union counties are able to relax some public health requirements. The rest remain in the higher risk category.

Medical officials with some of the state's largest health care providers reported in a briefing Monday that hospitals are still busy but mostly with non-COVID-19 cases.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in New Mexico is approaching 160,000 with 1,151 new cases reported Wednesday. More than 2,800 deaths have been linked to the virus, including 13 additional deaths reported Wednesday.

Navajo Nation Reports 169 Additional Virus Cases, 5 Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Wednesday reported 169 new COVID-19 cases and five more deaths from the coronavirus outbreak. 

The additional cases and deaths increased the pandemic's totals for the tribe's reservation to 25,746 cases and 879 known deaths. 

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 tribe's vast reservation includes parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Navajo Nation, New Mexico Reach Settlements Over Mine Spill - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico have settled with mining companies to resolve claims stemming from a 2015 spill that sent wastewater rushing downstream from the inactive Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado.

Under the settlements announced Wednesday, Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its parent company will pay the tribe $10 million and the state $11 million.

State and tribal officials say they are now waiting on the federal government to take responsibility. A federal contracting crew triggered the spill while working at the site.

The spill released 3 million gallons of wastewater that fouled rivers in three Western states with a plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

The wastewater made its way into the Animas River and eventually down to the San Juan River, setting off a major response by government agencies, the tribe and private groups.

Water utilities were forced to shut down intake valves, and farmers stopped drawing from the rivers as the plume moved downstream.

The tribe said the toxic water coursed through 200 miles of river on Navajo lands.

The tribe's claims against the EPA and its contractors remain pending. About 300 individual tribal members also have claims pending as part of a separate lawsuit.

High Court Delays Decision On Compensation For Business Restrictions - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral arguments as it weighs whether the state must compensate businesses for losses from temporary closures or other public health emergency restrictions.

The five-member court delayed a decision Wednesday until a later date with no firm deadline. A coalition of businesses says pandemic restrictions have effectively seized private property from businesses that might otherwise have taken their own precautions against the spread of COVID-19.

Their multiple lawsuits characterize the state's public health emergency orders as regulatory taking that merits compensation to businesses.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration says property rights come with limitations concerning the safety of others.

More than 2,800 people have died from the coronavirus statewide amid tight restrictions on public gatherings and nonessential business activities across most of the state.

Blair Dunn, an attorney for a coalition of small businesses ranging from an amusement park to a rural auction house, said it's important to allow district courts to review public health orders and decide whether they effectively seize private property without good reason.

State legislators are considering proposals for further economic relief to ailing small businesses and low-wage workers that have labored through the pandemic. A 60-day legislative session is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Police Say Boy Scout From New Mexico Dies Camping In Colorado Associated Press

Authorities in Colorado say a Boy Scout from New Mexico has died after a camping incident over the weekend near the New Mexico-Colorado state line.

The Conejos County sheriff's office said 17-year-old Josh Miko was camping with other troop members when a snow cave collapsed and left him trapped.

Sheriff Garth Crowther said deputies responded to a report from the New Mexico State Police on Saturday around 6:35 p.m. about an emergency incident seven miles north of the state line.

Scouts and adult supervisors dug him out, attempted to resuscitate him and transported him to a nearby hospital in Chama, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Miko was a junior at Los Alamos High School and was involved in Junior ROTC, choir and the German program. Principal Carter Payne described him as a "quiet leader" who had a large group of friends and peers.

New Mexico Land Purchase To Aid With Wildlife Protection Associated Press

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation says the acquisition of nearly 1,200 acres of land near the New Mexico-Colorado border will go a long way to protect a migration corridor for elk and other animals.

The transfer was completed in recent weeks following three years of negotiations with land owners, the foundation and the Bureau of Land Management.

The agency paid nearly $800,000 for four private in-holdings located within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos. The money came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

US Space Command Site To Be Located In Huntsville, Alabama - By Kim Chandler, Associated Press

The U.S. Air Force announced Wednesday that the new U.S. Space Command headquarters will be in Huntsville, Alabama. The state was selected over five others competing for the project, including New Mexico.

Huntsville is known as Rocket City and has long been home to the Army's Redstone Arsenal and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. The role of the Space Command is to conduct operations such as enabling satellite-based navigation and troop communication.

That is different from the Space Force, which is a distinct military service. Space Command currently has a provisional headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and state officials there lambasted the move.

Other finalists for the site were Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, Port San Antonio in Texas and Patrick Air Force Base in Brevard County, Florida. Those site will remain alternative locations until the final announcement.

Colorado officials lambasted the move, saying military officials had recommended to Trump that Space Command remain at the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, but they were "overruled for politically motivated reasons." They did not say what those alleged political reasons were.

Trump won Alabama in the November election and President-elect Joe Biden won Colorado.

California Man Pleads Guilty To Assaulting Flight Attendants Associated Press

A California man has pleaded guilty to assaulting two flight attendants while he was a passenger on a 2019 flight to New Mexico.

Federal prosecutors say 43-year-old Alton James Johnson of Yuba City entered his plea Tuesday. Johnson will remain in custody pending sentencing and prosecutors say he's facing a six-month prison sentence.

The incident occurred on a Dec. 23, 2019 flight from San Diego to Albuquerque. Johnson was accused of repeatedly touching a female flight attendant up and down her legs.  After she told him to stop, Johnson then grabbed the flight attendant inappropriately.  

When a second flight attendant stepped in and asked Johnson not to touch any flight attendants, prosecutors say he forcefully grabbed the second flight attendant by the arm.

According to his plea agreement in the case, Johnson admitting to being under the influence of alcohol but conceded that he was in control of his actions when he committed the assaults.