THURS: ​​Treasurer says governor overstepped authority on aid funds, + More

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Treasurer says governor overstepped authority on aid funds - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico's state treasurer says the governor of New Mexico is overstepping her authority in deciding independently how to spend more than $1 billion in federal relief without legislative approval or accountability, in court filings obtained Wednesday.

In a Supreme Court briefing, Democratic State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg has sided with a pair of legislators who say that the Legislature's core authority over state spending decisions is being overridden by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. 

Republican Senate minority leader Gregory Baca of Belen and Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque have asked the Supreme Court to intervene to rein in the governor's authority to spend without legislative approval. The governor's office is preparing its response.

Eichenberg, thrust into the controversy as guardian of state treasury accounts, said that the federal relief legislation signed by President Joe Biden in March assigns broad discretion to states on how to allocate spending, discretion that shouldn't be left to the governor alone.

"To hold otherwise will eliminate constitutionally sourced legislative authority ... and allow disbursement of public funds without necessary oversight and public accountability," the treasurer's briefing says.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for reelection in 2022, has used the relief funds to replenish the state unemployment insurance trust and underwrite millions of dollars in sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated, asserting that relief spending is the responsibility of the executive branch, not the Legislature. Decisions are pending on more than $1 billion in federal relief.

Baca and Candelaria have asked the high court to block the governor's spending authority. Eichenberg says he will defer to the court.

"The federal government cannot, by allocation of funds, endow the governor — even a well-intentioned governor acting in the aftermath of a public health emergency — with powers greater than those granted by the state Constitution," the state treasurer's office said.

A former state senator, Eichenberg was reelected to second term as treasurer in 2018.

US nuclear repository completes key mining project - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

After seven years of mining, federal officials say work to carve out the eighth disposal area at the U.S. government's underground nuclear waste repository is complete. 

Managers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant are planning to use the space beginning next year. Workers still need to run power to the excavated area known as Panel 8 and install air monitors and chain link to protect the walls. 

Constructed in a deep layer of salt in southern New Mexico, the repository entombs the radioactive remnants of decades of nuclear research and bomb-making. That includes special boxes and barrels packed with lab coats, rubber gloves, tools and debris contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive elements.

Having enough space for the waste became more of an issue in 2014, when a radiation release contaminated parts of the underground facility and forced an expensive, nearly three-year closure. Some parts of the repository became off-limits. The incident also delayed the federal government's cleanup program and prompted policy changes at national laboratories and defense-related sites across the U.S.

State regulators currently are weighing a permit change that some critics say could open the door to expanded operations at the repository. A decision is expected later this year.

The repository has been in operation for more than two decades, having received nearly 13,000 shipments. The idea is that the shifting salt will eventually encapsulate the waste after the underground vaults are filled and sealed.

Reinhard Knerr, a manager with the Department of Energy's Carlsbad Field Office, said the completion of Panel 8 was a long time coming but that it will be ready just in time. Panel 7 is expected to be full by April.

The rooms that make up Panel 8 are 300 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 15 feet high. Officials say laser measuring devices were used to guide the mining machines that cut the salt and large trucks were used to take the material to a hoist for transport to the surface.

Officials say more than 157,000 tons (142,428 metric tonnes) of salt were mined during the project.

The next project for the mining machines will be carving out drifts, or passageways, that will connect with a utility shaft that's under construction.

Boy reportedly taken to Mexico after mother's killing 'safe' – Roswell Daily Record, Associated Press

A young Roswell boy said by authorities to have been taken to Mexico by his father after the killing of the boy's mother has been found safe, New Mexico state police said.

The state police's brief emailed announcement Tuesday said Osiel Ernesto Rico "has been located safe" and that an Amber Alert issued for him in 2020 has been canceled. The announcement said requests for additional information should be directed to the FBI. 

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher told the Roswell Daily Record that the agency was not commenting on the case "at this time."

The boy's father, Jorge Rico-Ruvira, is charged in state District Court with first-degree murder in the January 2020 strangulation of Isela Mauricio-Sanchez, 27. He's also charged with child abuse.

According to online court records, an arrest warrant for Rico-Ruvira remained active as of July 14, the latest item in the case's docket.

Rico-Ruvira is charged in U.S. District Court with flight to avoid prosecution. The case docket contains no entries since mid-2020.

Airman convicted of kidnapping, killing Mennonite teacher - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Sasha Krause loved words. She loved learning and translating them into different languages. She loved reading them in nursery rhymes and assembling them into poetry.

She wrote about her purpose in life, her unwavering faith, the possibility of dying young and the glories of heaven — all of which have taken on new meaning to her family after her death last year, said her father, Bob Krause.

On Wednesday, a jury in Arizona found U.S. Air Force airman Mark Gooch guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder in Krause's killing. The two didn't know each other and lived hundreds of miles apart but shared an upbringing in the Mennonite religion. Krause committed to the church, while Gooch did not.

Krause, 27, was last seen in January 2020 at the church in her tight-knit Mennonite community outside Farmington, in northwestern New Mexico, where women wear head coverings and long dresses and men don plain, button-up shirts. She had been gathering material for Sunday school.

Her body was found more than a month later in a forest clearing outside Flagstaff, Arizona, nearly 300 miles (480 kilometers) away. A camper collecting firewood spotted Krause face-down among pine needles near a national monument. Krause's wrists were bound, and she had been shot in the head.

Gooch was raised in a Mennonite community in Wisconsin, where he worked on his family's dairy farm and went to school through eighth grade. He later rejected the religion and joined the U.S. Air Force. 

During his trial, half the courtroom was filled at times with Krause's parents and others who shared in the conservative Christian faith, including the general manager of the Farmington publishing ministry where Krause worked. Paul Kaufman said Wednesday his heart goes out to both families, and the community doesn't want to be vindictive toward Gooch.

"We desire his complete repentance, that he would turn from darkness to light," Kaufman said.

Gooch, 22, faces up to life in prison at his sentencing, set for Nov. 24. Coconino County Attorney William Ring said his office will seek swift justice and thanked the jury for its service.

"Through some hard work, the community will be a safer place tonight," he said in a statement.

Jurors heard 10 days of testimony from those who knew Krause and investigated her disappearance. They heard from ballistics experts who disagreed on whether the bullet taken from her skull was fired from a .22-caliber rifle Gooch owned. They heard from Gooch's father, Jim, but they did not hear from the defendant.

Gooch showed no emotion when the verdict was announced. He stood in a military stance, with one hand resting over the other behind his back. As he left the courtroom, he looked at two family members who sat behind him. They declined to comment.

Coconino County Superior Court Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols separately convicted Gooch of a misdemeanor charge of theft, related to Krause's belongings.

Gooch's attorney, Bruce Griffen, tried to raise reasonable doubt among the jury by pointing to a lack of forensic evidence and to testimony about another car seen in the Mennonite community the day Krause went missing. He said Gooch was peaceful and volunteered information to a detective who interviewed him at Luke Air Force Base in metropolitan Phoenix, where he was stationed.

"The circumstantial evidence from my perspective was substantial, and the jury perhaps concluded that the circumstantial evidence was enough to outweigh those problems," Griffen said Wednesday.

Sean Clements, a spokesman for the air base, said proceedings would begin soon to discharge Gooch from the Air Force following his conviction.

Jim Gooch testified that his son left the Mennonite faith and joined the military because he lacked a converted heart — words that prosecutor Ammon Barker drew on during closing arguments. 

"What the scripture says is you turn from darkness to light," Jim Gooch said. "What it says is you've decided to follow the lord with your entire heart and with the tenets of the scripture would call for."

Krause taught school for six years at a Grandview, Texas, Mennonite community before moving to Farmington less than two years before she died. She was a person of deep faith who found great joy in working with children and learning, her father told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"She was always studying something, especially languages, which came almost naturally to her," he said. "She loved words: big words, funny words, poetry, classics and nursery stories — very word-oriented but not garrulous."

The last stanza in a poem she wrote titled "I do not walk alone" perhaps was about passing in old age, he said, but "it is amazingly apt to what seems to have happened to her."

Sasha Krause wrote:

"When stress + fear shall take their toll

When cruel tyrants grasp my soul

When death + all its horrors roll

I shall not walk alone"

For Sasha Krause's headstone, her family chose the words: "She did not walk alone."

No one saw Krause being taken from the community or killed. When the camper found her body near Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, her wrists were bound with duct tape, she had suffered blunt force trauma, and she had a gunshot wound in the back of her head.

Authorities used cellphone and financial records, and surveillance video to tie Gooch to the crimes. Barker said Gooch was driven by a resentment for Mennonites, partly displayed through text messages with his brothers.

Authorities found inconsistencies in Gooch's story when he talked to a sheriff's detective shortly before he was arrested in April 2020. They said Gooch's cellphone was the only device that communicated with the same cell sites as Krause's phone before her signal dropped off west of Farmington.

Coconino County Sheriff's Detective Lauren Nagele said the hundreds of hours spent on the investigation and the jury's decision brought justice for Krause and her family. 

"The verdict unfortunately cannot bring Sasha back, but it does protect our society by preventing Mark Gooch from ever murdering another innocent person," she said in a statement. 

The San Juan County Sheriff's Office in New Mexico, which investigated her disappearance, said it will pursue a separate kidnapping charge against Gooch since the case originated in that state.

William 'Bud' Davis, former university leader, dies at 92 – Idaho State Journal, Associated Press

William Eugene "Bud" Davis, who was a higher education leader in Idaho, Oregon, New Mexico and Louisiana as well as a college football coach and candidate for U.S. Senate, has died. 

He was 92. 

The Idaho State Journal reports that Davis, who died Sept. 24, became president of Idaho State University in 1965, just two years after the school gained university status. He was 36 years old, making him one of the youngest university presidents in the nation.

"We owe much to his leadership and dedication," current ISU President Kevin Satterlee said in a statement. "Fifty years ago, he saw Idaho State's potential and set us up for future growth and success."

Davis oversaw the completion or start of more than $25 million in enhancement and construction projects that eventually doubled the building square footage on campus, officials said. 

Davis took temporary leave from his position in 1972 to run for the U.S. Senate. While he won the Democratic nomination, he ultimately lost the race to Republican James McClure, who went on to serve three terms.

ISU's Davis Field, which hosts women's soccer and track and field events, is named in his honor.

Davis left ISU in 1975 to serve as the president of the University of New Mexico. He was later named chancellor of the Oregon State System of Higher Education (1982-1988) and then chancellor of Louisiana State University from 1989 to 1997.

In addition to his educational career, Davis served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was a platoon leader in Korea and Japan from 1952 to 1954.

He was also a prolific writer, producing nearly 200 published manuscripts, short stories, magazine articles, scholarly articles and biographies and nine books.

A former high school football coach, Davis in 1962 served as the interim football coach for the University of Colorado. The Buffaloes posted a 2-8 record that year.

A memorial service will be held for Davis and his wife, Pollyanne Peterson Davis, who died last year at the age of 91, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Border residents rejoice as US says it will lift travel ban - By Zeke Miller And Elliot Spagat Associated Press

Beleaguered business owners and families separated by COVID-19 restrictions rejoiced Wednesday after the U.S. said it will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze.

Travel across land borders from Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to workers whose jobs are deemed essential. New rules will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason starting in early November, when a similar easing of restrictions is set for air travel. By mid-January, even essential travelers seeking to enter the U.S., such as truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.

Shopping malls and big box retailers in U.S. border towns whose parking spaces had been filled by cars with Mexican license plates were hit hard by travel restrictions.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said the economic impact was hard to quantify but can be seen in the sparse presence of shoppers at a high-end outlet mall on the city's border with Tijuana, Mexico. The decision comes at a critical time ahead of the holiday shopping season.

In Nogales, Arizona, travel restrictions forced about 40 retail businesses to close on the main strip in the city of 20,000 people, said Jessy Fontes, board member of the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce and owner of Mariposa Liquidation Store, which sells household appliances. His sales fell 60%, and he considered closing but instead cut his staff from seven to two. 

In Del Rio, Texas, Mexican visitors account for about 65% of retail sales, said Blanca Larson, executive director of the chamber of commerce and visitors bureau in the city of 35,000 people.

"Along the border, we're like more of one community than two different communities," she said.

The ban has also had enormous social and cultural impact, preventing family gatherings when relatives live on different sides of the border. Community events have stalled even as cities away from U.S. borders have inched toward normalcy.

In Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where hockey and ice skating are ingrained, the Soo Eagles haven't had a home game against a Canadian opponent in 20 months. The players, 17 to 20 years old, have been traveling to Canada since border restrictions were lifted there two months ago. Now the U.S. team can host.

"I almost fell over when I read it," said Ron Lavin, co-owner of the Eagles. "It's been a long frustrating journey for people on a lot of fronts far more serious than hockey, but we're just really pleased. It's great for the city."

Fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been allowed into Canada since August, provided they have waited at least two weeks since getting their second vaccine dose and can show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Mexico has not enforced COVID-19 entry procedures for land travelers.

The latest move follows last month's announcement that the U.S. will end country-based travel bans for air travel and instead require vaccination for foreign nationals seeking to enter by plane.

The new rules only apply to legal entry. Those who enter illegally will still be subject to expulsion under a public health authority that allows for the swift removal of migrants before they can seek asylum.

Travelers entering the U.S. by vehicle, rail and ferry will be asked about their vaccination status as part of the standard U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection. At officers' discretion, travelers will have their proof of vaccination verified in a secondary screening process.

Unlike air travel, for which proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required before boarding a flight to enter the U.S., no testing will be required to enter the U.S. by land or sea, provided the travelers meet the vaccination requirement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those in use in the U.S. That means that the AstraZeneca vaccine, widely used in Canada, will be accepted.

Officials said the CDC was still working to formalize procedures for admitting those who received doses of two different vaccines, as was fairly common in Canada.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he was "pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner" and lauded the economic benefits of it.

Mexico, Canada and elected officials from U.S. border regions have pressured the Biden administration for months to ease restrictions.

"This is a win for families who've been separated and businesses and tourism industries whose operations have been blocked since the start of the pandemic," said U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, echoing reactions of other federal, state and local officials. 

Mexico President Andres Manuel López Obrador said it took "many meetings to achieve the opening of the border." Bill Blair, Canada's minister of public safety, called the announcement "one more step toward returning to normal."

Cross-border traffic has plummeted since the pandemic, according to U.S. Department of Transportation figures.

The number of vehicle passengers entering the U.S. in Niagara Falls, New York — the busiest land crossing on the Canadian border — fell 83% to 1.7 million in 2020 and has remained low this year.

"Losing those customers over the last 18 months has been one of the primary reasons our hotels, restaurants and attractions have been suffering," said Patrick Kaler, president and chief executive of Visit Buffalo Niagara, the area's tourism agency.

At San Diego's San Ysidro border crossing, the nation's busiest, crossings dropped 30% last year to 18 million. Taxi drivers were largely idled Wednesday on a nearby bridge, including one who did exercises.

COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have dropped to about 85,000 per day, the lowest level since July. Per capita case rates in Canada and Mexico have been been markedly lower than the U.S. for the duration of the pandemic, which amplified frustrations about the U.S. travel restrictions.


Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Rob Gillies in Toronto; Juan A. Lozano in Houston; Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont; Ed White in Detroit, Anita Snow in Phoenix, Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York, Alexis Triboulard in Mexico City and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed.