THURS: New Mexico Governor Says Alarm Bells Are Ringing As Cases Rise, + More

Oct 1, 2020

New Mexico Governor: Alarm Bells Are Ringing As Cases RiseAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned this afternoon that the alarm bells are ringing as the number of COVID-19 cases and the rate of spread are on the rise in the state.


She said the state is trending in the wrong direction and asked people during an online briefing to recommit to wearing masks, staying home and avoiding large gatherings, noting that she doesn’t want another wave of infections or more lockdowns.


She instead floated the idea of people limiting their daily activities rather than going to multiple places in a single day. She said the more interaction people have, the greater the opportunity for the virus to spread.


State health officials on Thursday reported an additional 227 COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to more than 29,660 since the pandemic began. Another five deaths also were reported to bring the death toll to more than 880.


Officials also reported that 86 people were hospitalized, marking a 30% increase over the past week.

School Leaders Outline Crisis To New Mexico LawmakersCedar Attanasio, Associated Press

School leaders on Thursday outlined dire setbacks for New Mexico to meet its obligation under a court order to provide an adequate education for all students.

Panelists told members of the Legislative Finance Committee that the coronavirus pandemic has set schools back in all areas, including meeting requirements to improve instruction for at-risk students.

The education lawsuit covers New Mexico students who are English language learners, Native American and those who have specific mobility or learning impediments.

The challenges extend to rural communities in the corners of the state, where limited internet access is compounding unequal access to education.

While schools have mobilized to bring Wi-Fi hotspots to rural homes, connections are spotty or non-existent in areas without the cell towers needed to power the hot spots.

Around half of Native American children have been unable to connect with online learning this year, according to a report to the Legislative Finance Committee.

In July, state District Judge Matthew Wilson rejected a request from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to dismiss the case, saying the state hadn’t complied with a 2018 ruling to provide “adequate” education as required by the state constitution.

 Deputy Chief At Jail Retires After Using Racial Slur In Text Associated Press

The deputy chief at a New Mexico jail will retire this week after an investigation found that he used a racial slur to refer to an inmate.

Deputy Chief Aaron Vigil of the Metropolitan Detention Center will retire on Friday. He has not worked at the jail since August pending the investigation, said the center's spokeswoman Julia Rivera.

Vigil, who has worked at the detention center since 2018, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Albuquerque Journal.

Rivera said that Vigil used the racial slur in a text message referring to Clifton White, a 36-year-old Black man who was heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement when he was arrested by local law enforcement.

A whistleblower reported the incident in August. The whistleblower said that the text thread was between Vigil and two others from the Albuquerque Police Department and the New Mexico Corrections Department.

New Mexico Senator Seeks Better Air Quality In US SchoolsCedar Attanasio, Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich has introduced legislation aimed at improving air quality in schools.

The Keeping Schools Safe Act would provide $1 billion in grant funding for ventilation and air quality monitoring. It also would mandate the creation of coronavirus-specific technical guidance for heating, ventilation and air condition systems.

Many existing ventilation systems, including in New Mexico schools, are incapable of using filters that eliminate the coronavirus. Ideal updates would introduce filters that could trap virus particles while allowing increased airflow.

Albuquerque Public Schools decided to stay online-only through the rest of the year citing ventilation and other issues.

KOB-TV reported that APS officials estimate improving ventilation systems would cost millions, and there’s no money from the state to do that.

Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, does not have any Republican co-sponsors for the bill. It could join a number of COVID-19 relief bills that have stalled in the Senate.

New Mexico State Will Go Online-Only After ThanksgivingAssociated Press

New Mexico State University has announced that classes will be entirely online after the Thanksgiving break and that the college's fall commencement will not be held in-person because of coronavirus restrictions.

University President John Floros said Wednesday that the university surveyed students, faculty and staff at the Las Cruces campus to gauge their opinions on returning following the break, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

The university received more than 6,600 responses with more than 70% of faculty and staff and 60% of students favoring online-only courses beginning Nov. 30, Floros said. Classes that are currently online are not expected to change.

There will be two weeks left in the fall semester following the holiday and the campus will remain open to provide housing, dining and other services, officials said.

Floros said the university plans to return to in-person classes for the Spring 2021 semester.

The college's satellite campuses are expected to soon announce their plans for the rest of this semester, their fall commencements and their spring semesters.

Tracks, Casinos Push For Gambling Expansion In New MexicoAssociated Press

New Mexico’s commercial racetrack and casino venues have crafted a proposal for an expansion that would including internet gaming, 24-hour casino operations and unlimited video slot machines and table games.

Officials with Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in southern New Mexico are scheduled Thursday to testify before the Legislative Finance Committee about overhauling the industry in the state.

The tracks and casinos say they’ve been hit hard by the pandemic over the last several months, as the state's public health order has kept spectators out of the stands and the casinos have been prohibited from reopening, even at reduced capacities. The revenue from the casinos subsidizes horse racing.

Any changes to gambling regulations runs the risk of nullifying the state’s agreements with Native American tribes that operate casinos. Those compacts, which are not set to expire until 2037, call for the tribes to pay the state a portion of their revenue every quarter.

New Mexico State Government Braces For Financial Pain Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico state government income defied expectations amid the pandemic by increasing slightly during the fiscal year that ended June 30, but economists warned Wednesday of a highly unpredictable future for state finances.

In an unusual pronouncement, four government economists said they could not pinpoint how much income the state is likely to receive during the current and coming fiscal years to help sustain public education, health care, public safety and other crucial services.

They instead said general fund income may range from $6.8 billion to $7.6 billion during the coming fiscal year — with current annual spending obligations of $7.2 billion.

The twice-annual revenue forecast ordinarily provides a specific benchmark for state lawmakers as they outline a budget before meeting in January.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has asked most agencies to trim spending proposals by 5% for the coming fiscal year.

12 Democratic Governors Vow That All Votes Will Be Counted - By David Eggert Associated Press

Twelve Democratic governors, including New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, have issued a joint statement defending American democracy, vowing that every ballot will be counted in the election after President Donald Trump sowed distrust during the first presidential debate. 

Trump claimed without evidence Tuesday night that mail voting is ripe for fraud, and he refused to say whether he would accept the results. 

The governors said Wednesday that efforts to toss ballots or refuse a peaceful transfer of power "are nothing less than an assault on democracy." 

Signing the statement were the governors of New Mexico, Michigan, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon, Nevada, and Delaware.

Court Weighs Tribes' Aboriginal Water Claims For Jemez River - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

A decades-long battle over rights to the Jemez River has taken another turn. 

The question before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was whether the mere extension of Spanish authority over the American Southwest centuries ago extinguished the aboriginal water rights of the Jemez, Zia and Santa Ana pueblos. 

In a split ruling published Tuesday, a three-judge panel found that Spain did not take any formal action — such as reducing or altering water use — and therefore never extinguished the pueblos' rights to the Jemez River.

Parties in the case have argued that settling that point could affect the outcome of the litigation.

The case began in 1983 as an action to allocate water rights along the Jemez River. As part of the proceedings, the parties had experts on Spanish law draft reports and testify. Under the lower court's determination, Spain's assertion of sovereignty over the region in the 1500s effectively extinguished the pueblo's aboriginal water rights.

Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich warned that while the majority determined the pueblo's rights were not extinguished, it does not mean the pueblos now have limitlessly expanding water rights. It will be up to the district court to handle further proceedings.

Former New Mexico Pub Owners Forced To Pay $1.4M SettlementAssociated Press

The former owners of a New Mexico restaurant and pub have been ordered to pay almost $1.4 million one year after a judge ruled that they violated a minimum wage ordinance.

Former owners Dennis Bonfantine and Janice Bonfantine will pay servers who worked at the Kellys Brew Pub between 2013 and 2016 for legal costs and compensation, according to the settlement agreement.

The lawsuit was brought by 16 servers who claimed that between 2013 and 2016, they were forced to illegally pay the owners $3 per hour from their tips to cover a 2012 Albuquerque ordinance that raised the minimum wage for tipped employees from $2.13 to $5.25.

Dennis and Janice Bonfantine have not admitted wrongdoing in the case despite agreeing to the settlement, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Some former servers at the Albuquerque restaurant claimed in the suit that occasionally they would owe more than they earned due to the Bonfantines' policy.

More than 110 workers will receive payments worth $902,000 as part of the settlement, with the amount paid dependent on the total hours they worked, said Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney and director for workers’ rights for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. The rest of the settlement will cover legal fees.

Hewlett Packard Gets $105M Contract For New Supercomputer - Associated Press

A $105 million contract has been awarded to Hewlett Packard Enterprise to build a next-generation supercomputer that will be used by the federal government for its nuclear stewardship programs. 

The Crossroads supercomputer will be based at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico. Scientists at Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national labs also will use the machine for work related to the nation's nuclear stockpile and other weapons research. 

Officials say Crossroads will have four times the system performance of its predecessor, the Trinity supercomputer. It will consist of Intel processors that will be able to move data faster.

"This machine will advance our ability to study the most complex physical systems for science and national security," Jason Pruet with Los Alamos' advanced simulation and computing program said in a statement.

Crossroads is funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration. 

It's expected to be installed by the fall of 2021.

Embattled Cowboys For Trump Leader Banned From Tribal Land

The embattled Cowboys for Trump leader who has drawn criticism for racist online videos has been banned from a tribe's reservation in New Mexico. 

The Alamogordo Daily News reports the Mescalero Apache Tribe announced Monday that Couy Griffin is no longer allowed on tribal land following videos disseminated by Griffin via the Cowboys for Trump Facebook page. 

In one video, entitled "Cowboys and Indians," Griffin participates in a traditional Apache blessing where he is seen laughing while an individual off-camera says, "You better go jump on (an expletive) Democrat now … You're protected now." 

Griffin responds: "Bring it on, Nancy Pelosi," in a reference to the Democratic House speaker. 

Another video, since deleted, contains tribal members making accusations against the tribe. 

Tribal President Gabe Aguilar said the content of the videos "harmed the community" and contained false information. 

"Tribal blessings are not comical and are not to be used to make political statements. The Tribe feels like it has no choice but to banish Mr. Griffin," Aguilar said.

In a statement posted on Facebook after the announced ban on Griffin, Cowboys for Trump said it was "proud to stand with and support the great people of the Mescalero Apache Reservation."

Griffin faced criticism in July for telling Black NFL players standing for the Black National Anthem at football games to "go back to Africa." 

The Cowboys for Trump twitter account has since harassed journalists and critics, and supporters have posted racist and anti-Semitic memes.