TUES: Bill To Boost Early Education Funding Advances, APS Appoints Elder As Superintendent, + More

Mar 16, 2021


New Mexico Senate Advances, Increases Childhood Funding Bill - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

With less than a week remaining in the New Mexico legislative session, state senators are hashing out a proposal that could change the way education is funded for decades by increasing withdrawals from a unique $20 billion public endowment.

The initiative advanced Tuesday toward a Senate floor vote that would tap the trust fund to increase spending on preschool and K-12 education by about $250 million a year. Legislative approval would send the proposed constitutional amendment to a statewide vote.

The Land Grant Permanent Fund currently pays out 5% of its average five-year balance, mostly to K-12 schools. Oil income and investment gains doubled the value of the fund over the past 11 years.

Lawmakers in the Senate want to distribute more of the gains to children now by increasing the withdrawals to 6.25%.

Child well-being in the state is ranked near-last in the nation, and early childhood education advocates argue that universal preschool, home visits to new parents, and other programs can reverse the trend.

But older students are struggling, too. State courts ruled as recently as last summer that K-12 schools are underfunded. High school graduation rates are also near-last, despite gains in recent years.

Democrats in the Senate finance committee voted Tuesday to advance an additional 1.25% from the fund each year, splitting it with 0.75% targeting early childhood education programs, and 0.5% to K-12 schools.

Early childhood education is not currently one of the 21 beneficiaries in the fund.

The amendment was a compromise between Democrats who wanted a 1% increase aimed solely at early childhood programs and those who wanted some portion of the funds to support K-12 education.

The amendment also included a provision to stop the new 1.25% distribution if the fund ever shrinks to $17 billion.

Republicans in the committee voted against the measure over concerns that the endowment could be drained too quickly, in part because current projections assume stable oil and gas revenues.

Albuquerque Schools Board Appoints Elder As SuperintendentAssociated Press

The Albuquerque Public Schools board has named Scott Elder as superintendent of New Mexico's largest school district, a post he has held on an interim basis since last summer.

The board's announcement of Elder's appointment Monday noted his work helming the district during the pandemic and also said Elder was "has committed to making APS classrooms culturally and linguistically responsive."

APS plans to reopen all of its schools by April 5.

Elder took over on an interim basis with the retirement of Raquel Reedy.

Elder was selected by the board after a lengthy search process initially launched after Reedy announced in October 2019 that she would retire. The replacement process later was suspended and then restarted.

The board's selection on a permanent appointment was recently delayed while the district waited for results of FBI background checks for the finalists.

Elder is a New Mexico native and graduate of the University of New Mexico.

Before becoming interim superintendent, Elder worked nearly three decades with APS as a teacher, principal and district administrator.

Navajo Nation Reports 2 New Cases Of COVID-19, 1 More Death Associated Press, KUNM

The Navajo Nation on Tuesday reported two new cases of COVID-19 and one more death.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe's pandemic total to 29,957 confirmed cases and 1,219 known deaths.

The Navajo Nation had a soft reopening Monday with 25% capacity for some businesses under certain restrictions.  Still, mask mandates and daily curfews remain.  

The Navajo Department of Health has identified two communities, Baca Prewitt and Coyote Canyon, as having uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 from Feb. 26 to March 11.

That compares with 75 communities that were identified in January as having uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus.

New Mexico state health officials announced 186 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the total number to 188,664 since the pandemic began.

There were also 7 additional deaths, including a man in his 30s from Bernalillo County who had underlying health conditions. The number of deaths of New Mexicans related to COVID-19 is now 3,860.

Cowboys For Trump Leader Won't Resign His Otero County Post Associated Press

Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin has said he will not resign his seat on the Otero County Commission as he awaits trial in connection with the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.

The Alamogordo Daily News reported Griffin made the declaration in response to a press release issued last week by county commissioners Gerald Matherly and Vickie Marquardt calling for Griffin's resignation.

The topic took up more than an hour of the commission's meeting last Thursday after it was placed on the agenda for discussion. Matherly attempted to have it removed from the agenda, but was overruled. Marquardt defended the letter and reasons for requesting it.

"Starting last June, when you went off 100% Cowboys for Trump, I felt like you left the County behind," said Marquardt, who is in his first year as a commissioner. "I don't feel like you are earning your paycheck."

Griffin, who is in his third year as a commissioner, said the press release asking for his resignation violated the New Mexico Open Meetings Act on rolling quorums.

New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Melanie Majors said that is probably not the case because press releases are not subject to the regulations in the act and do not need board approval for dissemination to the public.

Griffin also took the time to answer, line by line, the allegations made in the statement, including denying that he "called for violence" and was involved in the riots at the Capitol.

Griffin argued that a statement he made while speaking at a rally in Truth or Consequences — "... the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat" — was misconstrued as calling for violence against the Democratic Party. He also denied that other statements he made were meant to incite violence.

Griffin also defended his criticism of the playing of the Black National Anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing" at national sporting events by telling players to "go back to Africa." He argued the statement was not racist but said the song itself was.

"It was said to those Black NFL football players that were kneeling at our flag and wanting to play something as racist as a Black National Anthem. There's nothing any more racist than a national anthem that only recognizes people by the color of their skin. What a racist thing that they want to do," he said.

Griffin was arrested in January and charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority and was held in a Washington jail for about three weeks before returning to New Mexico pending trial.

Griffin has denied the federal charges that he knowingly entered barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent to disrupt government as Congress considered Electoral College results.

Griffin is banned from visiting Washington outside of court proceedings, must surrender his passport and must not possess a firearm.

Paul Sanchez, member of the Committee to Recall Couy Griffin, informed the Otero County Commission that a recall lawsuit was filed and Griffin had been served notice of the lawsuit prior to the meeting last week.

Sanchez said it would take "some months" to come to a resolution.

US Seeks More Time To Rewrite Mexican Wolf Management Rules - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

U.S. wildlife officials are asking a federal judge for more time to rewrite rules that guide management of Mexican gray wolves in the wild.

The population of endangered predators is starting to rebound despite many hurdles since releases began more than two decades ago.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contends that progress is being made under the current rules and that extra time is needed to gather more data and to conduct public meetings. The agency also said its short-staffed.

Environmentalists are opposed to more delays, saying the agency has had nearly three years to draft a final rule.

Bryan Bird with Defenders of Wildlife said he believes the Fish and Wildlife Service wants to get recovery right but a 14-month extension isn't necessary.

He said the approach needs to focus on reducing livestock losses, releasing bonded wolf pairs from captivity and expanding the recovery area to include more northern reaches of the Southwest.

But ranchers are worried their concerns are being ignored as the legal maneuvering continues.

Livestock deaths spiked in 2018 and 2019 and more than 150 cattle kills were confirmed last year. They said that's despite changes to grazing rotations, moving cattle to other pastures when wolves are around and using riders on horseback, flagging and firecrackers to scare away the animals.

Court Overturns Order On Cause Of Albuquerque Lawyer's DeathAssociated Press

The New Mexico Court of Appeals has overturned a District Court judge's order requiring the state Office of the Medical Investigator to rule that the cause of a prominent Albuquerque attorney's 2010 death was unknown.

The Court of Appeals' ruling Monday said the judge abused his discretion by ordering the Office of the Medical Investigator to change its finding that lawyer Mary Han's death was a suicide as police believed.

Han was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in a vehicle in her garage, and her estate contended that police violated state constitutional protections for Han as a crime victim when her death was investigated.

New Mexico Hires Pitino, As Minnesota Aims Higher Once Again - By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer

Richard Pitino was hired on Tuesday as New Mexico's head coach, hours after Minnesota finalized his firing following eight seasons with the Gophers.

Lobos athletic director Eddie Nuñez picked the 38-year-old Pitino to be the 22nd head coach in the history of their program. He's replacing Paul Weir, who went 58-63 in four seasons.

New Mexico last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2014, in head coach Craig Neal's first year. The Lobos, playing in the Mountain West Conference, went three times in six seasons under Neal's predecessor, Steve Alford.

Pitino took Minnesota to the NCAA Tournament twice. Over his eight years in the rugged Big Ten, the Gophers were 54-96 in conference play with only three regular season finishes higher than 10th place. The son of Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, who's back in the NCAA Tournament this year with Iona, Richard Pitino had one season of prior experience as a head coach at Florida International when he was hired at Minnesota.

 New Mexico Budget Plan Advances Toward Senate VoteAssociated Press

A budget bill is advancing toward a Senate vote in New Mexico that would boost public salaries, shore up spending on public education and provide at least $400 million in state spending on economic relief measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate finance committee voted 6-4 with majority Democrats in support and Republicans in opposition to endorse amendments to a House-approved budget plan for the coming fiscal year.

State general funds spending would increase by $373 million to $7.45 billion under the proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1.

State spending on public education would increase by 5.8% to $3.35 billion. Public schools in New Mexico rely almost entirely on state spending for operations.

Senate amendments include a $1 million financial lifeline to the athletics department at the University of New Mexico, $750,000 toward the state government transportation fleet as it accelerates the transition to electric vehicles and $2 million toward tourism marketing in the wake of severe financial losses in the hospitality sector.

Approved pandemic relief measures include a tax holiday to restaurants and rebates of up to $600 to low-income residents.

House-approved tax reforms that are under study in the Senate would reduce state income by an estimated $52 million.

Congressional Race To Succeed Deb Haaland Takes Shape - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Deb Haaland's departure Tuesday from Congress to serve as U.S. Interior Department secretary triggers a special election to choose a successor, starting with a rarely invoked nomination process that relies on a small group of major-party political insiders.

Haaland, a tribal member of Laguna Pueblo, delivered an emotional farewell address to the House of Representatives, reflecting on her opportunity there to act as a role model to "little girls everywhere." Haaland's initial election to Congress in 2018 and Monday's Cabinet confirmation set new milestones for Native American women in U.S. government.

The New Mexico secretary of state's office is likely to schedule a special general election on a Tuesday in June to fill Haaland's congressional seat.

Republican, Democratic and possibly Libertarian party nominees will be chosen by fewer than 200 members of the parties' central committees.

First Congressional District voters rejected the Democratic nominee under similar procedures in 1998 to elect Heather Wilson, and rebuffed another Democratic central-committee pick in 1997 when Rep. Bill Richardson left the state's northern 3rd Congressional District for the post of U.N. ambassador.

The 1st Congressional District has grown increasingly progressive since then, electing Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham — now governor — three times and Haaland twice, with a 16% margin of victory in 2020.

In Bernalillo County, the district's core population base, Donald Trump won just 36% of the vote in 2021. The district also encompasses rural Torrance County and portions of Sandoval and Valencia counties.

Former State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn Jr., who won statewide election in 2014 as a Republican to oversee the state's mineral leasing programs that help fund public school education, has collected thousands of signatures to run for the congressional seat as an independent, son and campaign manager A. Blair Dunn said.

A. Blair Dunn said the campaign will focus on libertarian themes of restraint in government spending and criminal justice reforms that including cannabis decriminalization.

A bipartisan proposal to hold district-wide primary elections to nominate major-party candidates has stalled in the Legislature.

Co-sponsors include a prominent contender for the GOP congressional nomination, state Sen. Mark Moores, a former football lineman at the University of New Mexico.

Republican contenders also include talk radio show host Eddy Aragon, attorney and Clovis native Jared Vander Dussen and Michaela Chavez, a bookkeeper who unsuccessfully ran last year for state Senate.

Contenders for the Democratic nomination include state Reps. Melanie Stansbury, Georgene Louis and Patricia Roybal Caballero, along with state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez. Trial attorney Randi McGinn and Victor Reyes, the former legislative liaison to Gov. Grisham, also are seeking the nomination.


New Mexico Legislators Close In On Budget Agreement - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Lead state budget negotiators are rewriting spending plans to quickly tap federal pandemic relief money and shore up unemployment insurance, student financial aid, Medicaid insurance, teacher pensions and select state agency budgets.

New Mexico's lead Senate budget committee on Monday put the finishing touches on proposed amendment to a spending plan for the coming fiscal year that starts on July 1.

The amended plan would increase general fund spending by 4.8% over current annual spending obligations to $7.45 billion, a $373 million increase.

The panel plans to vote Monday or Tuesday on amendments that funnel $600 million in federal relief toward the state's indebted unemployment fund.

New Mexico state government expects to receive $1.63 billion directly from the landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill approved by congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden.

The committee's endorsement would send the budget bill to the Senate floor for a decisive legislative vote. The bill addresses most spending priorities outlined by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who can veto any portion of the bill.

Proposed Senate budget amendments would boost student financial aid programs, including the governor's signature tuition-free college program for in-state students, by $21.5 million.

Another $50 million in federal relief would cover state Medicaid obligations as enrollment surges in the federally subsidized health insurance program for the poor.

Another proposed committee amendment funnels about $32 million toward a 1% increase in retirement contributions for educators and K-12 school staff. That sweetens the taxpayer contributions for teacher retirements to 15.2% of salary in efforts to pay down multi-billion unfunded pension obligations.

The proposed changes boosts spending at the state Environment Department and staves off House-proposed spending cuts at the Aging and Long-Term Services Department and the state's cultural affairs agency that stopped collecting museum admissions fees for nearly a year amid public health order closures.

The amended bill would provide a 1.5% pay increase for state agency and K-12 school employees.

State reserves would hold steady about $1.8 billion — or nearly 24% of current annual spending commitments.

The state used $1 billion in reserves to prop up general fund spending during the current fiscal year. State income forecasts have rebounded on surging oil production and market prices for petroleum.

New Mexico Governor Seeks To Offset Biden's Oil Policies - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says nearly three-quarters of $1 billion could be lost over the next four years if New Mexico sees even a 10% reduction of oil and gas production due to President Joe Biden's actions to curb leasing on public lands.

The first-term Democratic governor said Monday in a letter to the president that financial losses of that magnitude would have real effects on the state's ability to achieve goals like universal access to early childhood education.

The governor is asking that New Mexico be granted energy transition credit for actions the state already is taking to address pollution and move toward more renewable energy.

The Democratic-led Legislature also is considering a proposal that would establish a clean fuel standard to address New Mexico's second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions — the transportation sector.

Oil and gas revenues have been key to bankrolling many initiatives in the state as it struggles to diversify its economy.

An analysis by state finance officials show New Mexico stands to lose $709 million between this fiscal year and 2025 if there's a 10% decline in production.

With more than half of all oil and gas wells in New Mexico on federal land, Lujan Grisham noted that any changes to leasing and permitting by federal managers would disproportionally affect the state and push producers to Texas and other states where there are more opportunities on private land.

Oil and gas operators and business groups have concerns about Biden's moratorium on new leases and drilling permits, saying stifling economic development — particularly in rural areas like southeastern New Mexico, which is home to one of the world's most prolific oil patches — will have ripple effects beyond the industry.

But environmental groups have hailed the moratorium as the kind of urgent action needed to slow climate change, which has been linked to drought, forest fires and heat waves.

Haaland OK'd At Interior, 1st Native American Cabinet Head - By Matthew Daly Associated Press

The Senate on Monday confirmed New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary, making her the first Native American to lead a Cabinet department and the first to lead the federal agency that has wielded influence over the nation's tribes for nearly two centuries.

Haaland was confirmed by a 51-40 vote.

Democrats and tribal groups hailed Haaland's confirmation as historic, saying her selection means that Indigenous people — who lived in North America before the United States was created — will for the first time see a Native American lead the powerful department where decisions on relations with the nearly 600 federally recognized tribes are made. Interior also oversees a host of other issues, including energy development on public lands and waters, national parks and endangered species.

"Rep. Haaland's confirmation represents a gigantic step forward in creating a government that represents the full richness and diversity of this country,'' said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

"Native Americans for far too long have been neglected at the Cabinet level and in so many other places,'' Schumer said.

Haaland's nomination has been closely watched by tribal communities across the country, with some virtual parties drawing hundreds of people to watch her two-day confirmation hearing last month.

Supporters projected a photo of Haaland, a two-term congresswoman who represents greater Albuquerque, on the side of the Interior building in downtown Washington with text that read "Our Ancestors' Dreams Come True."

Many Native Americans see Haaland, 60, as someone who will elevate their voices and protect the environment and tribes' rights. Her selection breaks a two-century pattern of non-Native officials, mostly male, serving as the top federal official over American Indian affairs. The federal government often worked to dispossess tribes of their land and, until recently, to assimilate them into white culture.

"It is long past time that an American Indian serve as the secretary of the Interior," said Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, the nation's oldest and largest tribal organization.

"The nation needs her leadership and vision to help lead our response to climate change, to steward our lands and cultural resources and to ensure that across the federal government, the United States lives up to its trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations and our citizens,'' Sharp said.

Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, called Haaland's confirmation "an unprecedented and monumental day for all first people of this country. Words cannot express how overjoyed and proud we are to see one of our own confirmed to serve in this high-level position."

Haaland's confirmation "sets us on a better path to righting the wrongs of the past with the federal government and inspires hope in our people, especially our young people,'' Nez added.

Not everyone was celebrating. Some Republican senators have criticized Haaland's views on oil drilling and other energy development as "radical" and extreme, citing her opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and her support for the Green New Deal, a sweeping, if mostly aspirational, policy to address climate change and income inequality.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Haaland's "extreme views" and support of "catastrophic legislation" such as the Green New Deal would make her confirmation as interior secretary disastrous, harming America's energy supply and economy.

"American jobs are being sacrificed in the name of the Biden agenda, and Rep. Haaland couldn't defend it,'' Barrasso said, referring to decisions by President Joe Biden to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and impose a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands.

Barrasso also faulted Haaland's support for continued protection for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region of the Rocky Mountains, despite a recommendation by the Fish and Wildlife Service that about 700 bears in parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho no longer need protections.

"Rep. Haaland has chosen to ignore the science and the scientists of the very department that she is now nominated to lead,'' Barrasso said, calling on Interior to remove protections for the grizzly under the Endangered Species Act.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said she appreciates Haaland's leadership in the House on a range of issues, adding that Haaland's status as a Native American "will give us an extra advantage on (tribal) issues that are so important to Indian Country overall.''

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she had "some real misgivings" about Haaland because of her views on oil drilling and other energy issues, but said Native Alaskans, an important constituency in her rural state, had urged her to back Haaland.

"Quite honestly, we need (Haaland) to be a success," Murkowski said.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said he was disappointed at the rhetoric used by Barrasso and other Republicans. Heinrich, who lives in Haaland's district, said she "always has an open door and an open mind" to a range of views.

'Monumental Day': Indian Country Reacts To Deb Haaland Vote - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

Citizens of tribes across the U.S. cried and clapped in celebration Monday as Deb Haaland became the first Native American confirmed as secretary of a Cabinet agency.

The U.S. Senate voted 51-40 in favor of the Democrat's nomination to lead the Interior Department amid a groundswell of support from tribal members.

Many Native Americans have called Haaland's historic confirmation an answer to their prayers and a long time coming, putting someone they trust in a position to carry forward their hopes and expectations. The Interior Department has broad oversight of tribal affairs and energy development.

Haaland, of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, will resign as a U.S. representative to take the post.

Here are reactions from Indian Country:


Jason Holuby, owner of Oklahoma City-based New Fire Native Design Group, 45. Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma.

"It's a huge opportunity for Indian Country to have someone that's clearly going to be supportive of those things that can improve the lives of Native people."


Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians and the Quinault Indian Nation of Washington.

"The nation needs her leadership and vision to help lead our response to climate change, to steward our lands and cultural resources and to ensure that across the federal government, the United States lives up to its trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations and our citizens."


Marlene Helgemo, pastor of All Nations Indian Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 74. Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin.

"However you do your meditation, pray for Deb. She is going to have the biggest challenges of her life coming forward, and we want to stand with her and beside her to support her. She's going to have some of those days where she's going to wonder, 'how did I get myself into this?' But she's called by the ancestors ... offer up those prayers as you're praying for your family, your friends, pray for Deb. Pray for all of our women leaders who are out there serving us in a variety of capacities. For that, we are so thankful. This is a day of gratitude."


Adam Crepelle, attorney and law professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 34. Houma Tribe of Louisiana

"From a tribal perspective, hopefully when she gets into office, she can roll back some restraints on tribal economic development. Trust lands are super regulated, and it's all federal land. If tribal economies can improve, hopefully that will lead to more funding for schools, tribal police, things like that."


Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

"This is an unprecedented and monumental day for all first people of this country. Words cannot express how overjoyed and proud we are to see one of our own confirmed to serve in this high-level position. It's a wonderful feeling that we can now refer to her as Madam Secretary. Today's historic confirmation sets us on a better path to righting the wrongs of the past with the federal government and inspires hope in our people, especially our young people. It gives us a seat at the table to offer a new and different perspective from a person that has experienced the reality of adversities and challenges of growing up on what federal officials refer to as 'Indian' reservations."


Deborah Dotson, president of the Delaware Nation in Oklahoma.

"Deb Haaland's willingness to work across the aisle and to share a broader view of the issues is a BIG win for Indian Country and for all Americans. My hope is that under Ms. Haaland's tenure, we can have true government to government consultation on the issues that affect Indian Country."

___ Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe of Washington.

"Represent all of Indian Country —very hard thing for one person to do, and I'm just really proud of her and how she's carried that and been willing to step into that role. because sometimes these things are - the creator kind of puts you in a place and says, 'all right, this is your pathway, good luck with that.' And then you just go follow that good red road, as we call it. And she's done a great job of doing that.


Mark Masters, owner of Chloeta, a Native professional services firm in Midwest City, Oklahoma, 38. Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

"The idea of the first Cabinet person that is of an Indigenous background is obviously historic, and the fact that it's Interior is even more important because Interior has a really unique responsibility as compared to other federal agencies. To have someone not just on the Cabinet itself who is Native but to also have someone in such a crucial position who's responsible for managing those trust relationships with tribes and the vast amounts of cultural and natural resources is unprecedented. It's amazing.


Gerald Gray, chairman of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana.

"We are the first peoples of this country. Why does something like this have to take this long?"


Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director of IllumiNative. Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma.

"Finally, a Native woman — a powerhouse and history maker — who will fight to ensure Native issues and voices are heard. Someone who will protect our land and water and is in a position to protect our planet for future generations. She's given us a renewed sense of hope and optimism for the future of this country. This is a major milestone and a step forward in our continued fight to transform the systems who have for centuries been used against our communities."


Matthew L. Morgan, chairman, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.

"She understands sovereignty and appreciates the trust relationship and our nation's treaty obligations. She recognizes the importance of tribal businesses and knows how these businesses can be an economic engine for states, rural regions, and impoverished areas."

New Mexico Senate Passes Aid In Dying Bill - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

The New Mexico state Senate has passed a law that would remove criminal and civil liability for medical professionals who assist in the death of terminally ill patients who have chosen to end their life.

The Elizabeth Whitfield End-of-Life Options Act is named for a former New Mexico judge who testified in support for a right to die for the terminally ill in 2017. She died of cancer the following year.

"She was a judge who could make a decision. And when she did so she did with compassion," said Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivy-Soto, of Santa Fe, a lawyer who argued in front of Judge Whitfield and later counted her as a constituent. "She said 'I implore you to give me the choice that is right for me.'"

Supporters of the measure oppose the term "assisted suicide" because patients with uncurable ailments don't necessarily want to die; they just want to avoid the inevitable pain of their lethal illness.

The law would require a terminal health diagnosis, a physical and mental health evaluation, and a 48-hour waiting period after a lethal prescription is filled. Bill sponsor and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Stefanics said the entire process would take weeks.

GOP members opposed to the bill compared it to the Senate's recent repeal of an unenforceable anti-abortion bill.

"There's elements of partisanship, around this issue, unfortunately, because we do view human life differently," said Republican Sen. and surgeon Gregg Schmedes, who represents suburbs east of Albuquerque and south of Santa Fe.

He argued that the bill could open the possibility of poorer and less medically literate New Mexicans being pressured to end their life, concluding that under the measure, "the poor lose autonomy."

Eight other states have passed similar laws.

If passed, New Mexico would become the second state to pass a right-to-die law where a third or more of adults are Catholic, after New Jersey.

Like abortion, assisted suicide is opposed by the Catholic church.

The Senate passed the bill 24-17, largely along party lines, with Catholics on both sides of the aisle and the vote. Democratic senators Benny Shendo and George Muñoz, both from northwestern New Mexico, also voted against it.

New Mexico Court Upholds Damages Cap In Medical MalpracticeAssociated Press

New Mexico's highest court has ruled that monetary limits on some types of damages due to medical malpractice are not unconstitutional.

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld the Medical Malpractice Act, which maintains non-medical and non-punitive damages at $600,000. The limit does not extend to punitive damages and compensation for medical and rehabilitative care.

The five-member panel argued that a cap on some damages will just be a legal consequence when juries determine amounts to award.

The decision reverses a 2018 ruling made by the Bernalillo County District Court, which declared such caps unconstitutional.

In that case, a woman was awarded $2.6 million in damages in her lawsuit against an Albuquerque doctor and health provider over a botched gynecological procedure. The provider requested a cap on certain damages be applied.

VP Harris, Jill Biden Hit The Road To Promote Relief Plan - By Darlene Superville, Jonathan Lemire and Zeke Miller, Associated Press

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses are hitting the road on a cross-country tour this week to highlight the benefits of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.

The road show started Monday with Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, heading to Las Vegas while first lady Jill Biden visited Burlington, New Jersey.

The president plans to stop in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, and he has an appearance with Harris in Atlanta on Friday. Wednesday sees Jill Biden in Concord, New Hampshire, and Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The stops at vaccination sites, businesses, schools and more are meant to educate the public about different aspects of the giant American Rescue Plan and how the administration says it will help people get to the other side of the coronavirus pandemic.