TUES: Lawmaker Announces Run For Bernalillo County Sheriff, + More

Aug 11, 2020

New Mexico Lawmaker Resigns, Will Run For Bernalillo Sheriff - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

New Mexico state Rep. Patricio Ruiloba has resigned from his Albuquerque-area seat and says he will run for Bernalillo County sheriff.

The Democrat told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he submitted his resignation letter and will begin organizing his campaign.

The 53-year-old retired Albuquerque police officer says he has been urged to run for sheriff by residents concerned about rising crime and conflicts between law enforcement and communities of color.

Current Democratic Sheriff Manny Gonzales has faced criticism for a rise in deputy shootings and for stalling on requiring deputies to wear body cameras. He cannot seek reelection due to term limits.

Gonzales can't run for sheriff again because of term limits and said he is considering a run for mayor of Albuquerque.

No other candidates have publicly announced their intent to run for sheriff.

Last month, Gonzales was criticized after telling reporters he was looking to partner with a company so deputies can put smartphones in their vests and record video.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signed a bill requiring all law enforcement to wear body cameras. But Gonzales calls the current technology archaic and says it's too costly.

The Albuquerque reports two Black women from Wisconsin are suing Gonzales and two deputies, alleging racial and religious profiling during a traffic stop in 2017.

The sheriff's office declined to comment to the AP on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit came about five months after Bernalillo County reached a $100,000 settlement with another Black woman who filed a lawsuit against the sheriff's office after she was pulled over three times in 28 days by the same deputies named in the new lawsuit.

Meetings Cancelled As New Mexico Agency Stretches Resources - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A panel that oversees water quality and permitting issues across New Mexico has been forced to cancel another meeting.

The reason is the state Environment Department doesn't have the staff needed to organize meetings for the boards and commissions under its umbrella.

That means it could be September before the Water Quality Control Commission meets again, putting on hold decisions about everything from lower financing rates for rural water projects to enforcement actions against polluters.

New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney says years of austere budgeting has left his agency in a "deep hole" with few resources in the face of more responsibility.

The state Environment Department over a four-year period marked a decrease of almost 10% in federal funding along with a nearly 15% reduction in state general funds. The amount collected from fees — which accounts for more than three-fifths of the agency's budget — was down by more than 3%.

New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney said the agency hasn't been able to raise its fees in over 10 years for most of its programs, adding to the crunch of less federal and state funding while permitting and enforcement responsibilities are growing.

Navajo Nation President Asks Trump To Commute Death SentenceAssociated Press

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has asked President Donald Trump to commute the death sentence of a Navajo man convicted in the 2001 killing of a fellow tribal member and her 9-year-old granddaughter.

Nez cited the tribe's longstanding opposition to the death penalty in a July 31 letter to Trump that asks for Lezmond Mitchell's sentence to be reduced to life in prison.

Mitchell is the only Native American on federal death row. Tribal officials and even the victims' family opposed his death penalty, despite the grisly nature of the killings.

The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment on the clemency request.

Mitchell is scheduled to be executed on Aug. 26 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terra Haute, Indiana, where he's being held. He was among the first male inmates scheduled to be put to death after the U.S. Justice Department announced last year that the federal government would resume executing death row inmates for the first time since 2003.

2nd Suspect Hospitalized In Case Where Child's Remains Found - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A judge has ordered the hospitalization for mental health treatment of a second member of an extended family confronting firearms, kidnapping and terrorism-related charges.

The case stems from a 2018 raid on a remote compound in New Mexico where a child's decomposed body was discovered.

Court records on Tuesday show 42-year-old Lucas Morton was found incompetent to stand trial by a federal judge and should be committed to a medical center for treatment.

The case against Morton and four co-defendants revolves around the abduction and death of a 3-year-old boy and allegations of plotting against government institutions.

Albuquerque Police Fatally Shoot 2 Men In Separate IncidentsAssociated Press

Authorities say Albuquerque police fatally shot two men during separate incidents a few hours apart.

Deputy Police Chief Harold Medina said police fatally shot one man early Tuesday during an exchange of gunfire after a home invasion and that another man was fatally shot Monday evening when police responded to an altercation between neighbors.

In that case, the original caller had told dispatchers that a neighbor had pointed a gun at him. At least one officer who responded to the scene opened fire, hitting 48-year-old Jose Vallejos at least once.

Authorities said a firearm was found at the scene.

New Mexico Reports Another 202 COVID-19 Cases, 3 DeathsAssociated Press

New Mexico health officials on Tuesday reported another 202 COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to more than 22,640 since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Another three deaths were also reported, bringing that tally to 693. The additional deaths include men in their 40s from San Juan and McKinley counties as well as a woman in her 50s from Luna County who had underlying conditions.

The state Health Department's latest modeling report indicates the statewide increase in daily case counts is continuing to decline and that the highest percentage of cases — about 19% — are among people between 25 and 34 years old.

The data also shows that people 45 and older make up the highest percentages of new hospital admissions each week, even though officials say hospitalizations have been steadily declining since mid-July.

There are now 134 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, with one-fifth of them requiring ventilators.

State officials also reported that new hospital admissions of patients who are Latino or white are continuing to increase, while admissions of American Indian and Alaska Native patients have been decreasing.

New Mexico Ethics Commission Seeks Subpoena For First TimeAssociated Press

The New Mexico State Ethics Commission is invoking its full investigatory powers for the first time with a request for court approval of a subpoena.

The commission declined to provide any details of the ethics complaint that inspired the investigation.

Commission spokesman Sonny Haquani said that state statute requires a probable cause finding before the commission can disclose details of complaints.  

The seven-member commission fields complaints regarding campaign finances, government contracting, gifts from lobbyists and more.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of the commission in 2018 in the wake of a series of high-profile corruption scandals.

Inaction By Congress Leaves States To Pay For Election Costs - By Christina A. Cassidy, Associated Press

Congress' inability to reach a deal on another round of coronavirus aid means state and local officials could be on their own to deal with the soaring costs of holding a presidential election amid a pandemic.

The coronavirus outbreak has triggered unprecedented disruptions for election officials, many of whom are dealing with staffing shortages and budget constraints.

They're also trying to figure out how to process a flood of absentee ballot requests and deal with a critical loss of longtime poll workers, many of whom are older and fear getting COVID-19 from crowded polling places.

In New Mexico, state election regulators are anticipating a $6 million shortfall without additional funding for the November general election.

Of the nearly $3.9 million New Mexico received in the first round of congressional virus relief, all but $750,000 was spent during the primary, according to Alex Curtas, spokesman for Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

New Mexico Nursing Homes Prepare For Visits Amid New Guidelines Associated Press

The New Mexico Health Care Association and New Mexico Center for Assisted Living say the state's new visitation guidance marks a positive step for residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

As of Monday, facilities in nearly two-thirds of New Mexico's 33 counties could begin providing additional visitation options by arranging outdoor or open-window meetings.

That includes facilities in Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Sandoval counties. Doña Ana County is not on the list.

The health care groups say visitations will help with patient wellbeing while still considering the health concerns associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

New Mexico health officials reported another 132 COVID-19 cases Monday, bringing the total to 22,444. That includes nearly two dozen additional cases in Lea County in southeastern New Mexico, where officials reported that a man in his 20s who had underlying conditions was among those who have died.

'Poor People's Campaign' Eyes Low-Income Voters In 13 States - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

A campaign inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 's last organizing effort says new data suggest low-income voters in key states could swing some U.S. Senate races. 

The Poor People's Campaign said it's using the data to pressure candidates from both parties to focus on poverty and encourage poor and low-income voters in 13 states to register to vote. 

A study released Tuesday by Columbia School of Social Work assistant professor Robert Paul Hartley found that low-income eligible non-voters make up about one-fifth of the total electorate in states like New Mexico, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi. 

It also found that low-income voters are about 22 percentage points less likely to vote in national elections than those with higher incomes.

The voter drive comes after anti-poverty advocates in New Mexico ousted several veteran, moderate Democratic state lawmakers in June after running more progressive candidates.

New Mexico Close To Adopting Oil And Gas Water Rules - Associated Press

New Mexico regulators are close to adopting a set of rules focused on the wastewater that is produced during oil and gas operations. 

The Oil Conservation Commission is expected during its meeting in early September to vote on the final language. 

State officials say the rules would require additional reporting to better track the types and volumes of water used within the industry. They would also clarify the jurisdictions of state agencies when it comes to produced water. 

Environmental groups have been critical, saying the proposed rules do not address concerns about the toxicity and the risks of reusing the water.

State officials have said the proposal would not authorize the use of produced water outside the oil and gas industry. They say the process before the oil commission marks just the first phase, leaving the door open to future rulemaking.

The Environment Department is also developing its own rules to regulate produced water and any potential effects on the environment. 

New Mexico State Fair To Go On As Planned But Virtually Associated Press

The New Mexico State Fair is going all virtual.

Organizers in June had decided to cancel the annual event due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, they announced that the fair will instead be held entirely online.

State Fair General Manager Dan Mourning said the event has always been a celebration of innovation and that fair staff had to pivot this year to come up with creative ways to bring the fair home for New Mexico residents.

There will still be 4-H and Future Farmers of America virtual competitions. There will also be online contests in cake decorating, flower arranging, photography and designing a poster for next year's fair.

Video entries for the various competitions will be accepted until Aug. 31.

Musicians who would have performed live at the fair will do so digitally. Vendors will also be selling merchandise on the fair's web page.

Viewers can check out the event on the fair's website and social media channels.

The fair runs from Sept. 14 through Sept. 20.

Navajo Nation Reports 7 More COVID-19 Cases And 1 More Death - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported seven more cases of COVID-19 and one additional death. 

That brings the total number of people infected to 9,315 and the known death toll to 473 as of Monday night. 

Navajo Department of Health officials said 85,772 people have been tested for the coronavirus and 6,878 have recovered. 

Tribal President Jonathan Nez pointed to the latest coronavirus figures as evidence that most Navajo Nation residents are complying with lockdown orders and the advice of medical experts. 

The Navajo Nation recently changed its 57-hour weekend lockdown to a 32-hour one. The vast reservation covers parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.