TUES: Lawmakers Assign $1.6B In Relief Funds, Transition Begins To 10-Digit Phone Dialing, + More

Mar 23, 2021

New Mexico Legislature Assigns $1B In Federal Relief Funds - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico's Legislature is asserting its budgetary authority over $1.6 billion in new federal aid that dwarfs year-to-year spending adjustments, setting an agenda for economic recovery that Gov. Lujan Grisham could challenge with her veto pen.

Congress and President Joe Biden approved the $1.9 trillion relief package this month that funnels billions of dollars directly to New Mexico's state government, school districts and local governments.

A state Senate finance committee quickly channeled about $1 billion of that economic relief to accounts and initiatives that avoid future payroll tax increases on businesses, underwrite college tuition for in-state students and backfill lost income at state museums and more.

A final budget bill approved by the legislature devotes federal relief of $600 million to replenishing the state's unemployment trust fund. The fund began borrowing from the federal government last year to fulfill unprecedented unemployment claims.

Lawmakers earmarked another $6 million for the state fair in Albuquerque, along with $14.5 million to bolster spending at state parks, historic sites and New Mexico's world-renowned public museum system. Those facilities were closed down for much of the past year as a health precaution against the pandemic, suspending income from admission fees.

The state's lottery tuition fund is slated to receive $100 million that could make it cheaper if not tuition-free for thousands of residents to attend public colleges for years to come.

The scholarship, underwritten by lottery ticket sales, covered around $4,500 in tuition costs for New Mexicans in the current school year or about half the cost of attending the University of New Mexico. The award was 100% in the past.

Separately, the legislature also boosted general fund spending on lottery scholarship payouts and the governor's own supplementary "opportunity scholarship" program for college attendance free of tuition and fees.

Lujan Grisham says her office will taking a "hard look" at the Legislature's priorities for spending federal relief. She has line-item veto authority to delete any provision of the Legislature's budget bill.

"It's premature to tell you what we'll do," the governor said regarding federal relief spending at a news conference Saturday at the close of the regular annual legislative session.

On the proposal to put federal aid toward student aid, the governor said "that may not be the best community effort, particularly since we got $18 million in opportunity scholarships in addition and $15 million in lottery scholarships" from the state's annual general fund spending.

Some states are only beginning to sort out spending priorities for federal funds.

In neighboring Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis on Monday announced a statewide tour to hear from residents and gather ideas on how to spend the state's $3.9 billion share of federal relief to the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The new round of federal pandemic relief comes with fewer restrictions on spending by state and local governments as they cover increased expenditures, replenish lost revenue and mitigate economic harm from COVID-19. That can include investments in infrastructure or aid to households, businesses and nonprofits.

New Mexico would devote about $50 million to spending on Medicaid. Local enrollment has soared amid the pandemic in the federally subsidized health insurance plan for residents living in poverty or on the cusp.

The Legislature and Lujan Grisham shared major priorities in a budget bill that would increase state general fund spending to $7.45 billion for the fiscal year staring July 1. That's a nearly 5% increase of $375 million over current fiscal year spending.

Colorado Shooting Victims: Store Staffers, Cop, Photographer - By Jennifer Peltz, Corey Williams And Heather Hollingsworth, Associated Press

Three of the victims of a shooting at a Colorado supermarket were gunned down while putting in a day's work.

Another was a police officer who raced in to try to rescue them and others from the attack Monday that left 10 dead. A picture of the victims began to emerge Tuesday, when the suspect in the killings was booked into jail on murder charges after being treated at a hospital.

Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold said Officer Eric Talley was the first to arrive after a call about shots being fired and someone carrying a rifle.

Talley graduated from high school in Albuquerque in 1988. The school superintendent expressed condolences and praised "the example Officer Talley leaves us all."

Talley was "by all accounts, one of the outstanding officers" in the department, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said.

Talley's father said his son — who had seven children, ages 7 to 20 — was a devoted father who "knew the Lord."

"When everyone else in the parking lot was running away, he ran toward it," Shay Talley said.

"We know where he is," he added. "He loved his family more the anything. He wasn't afraid of dying. He was afraid of putting them through it."

'Significant Late Season Storm' Forecast For New MexicoAssociated Press

Much of New Mexico was blanketed by winter weather warnings and advisories as forecasters warned that snow in mountains and rain in valleys developing could make driving conditions hazardous in some areas through Wednesday.

The "significant late season winter storm" was expected to produce strong canyon winds with blowing snow in the Albuquerque area and potentially damaging winds in the Rio Grande Valley, National Weather Service said Tuesday.

Moderate to heavy snowfall was forecast for much of northern and central New Mexico through Wednesday, with up to 18 inches expected over the highest peaks of the central mountain chain.

Forecasters said travel impacts were likely in mountain passes and along Interstate 25 between Santa Fe and Raton and Interstate 40 between Santa Rosa and Clines Corners.

New Mexico To Begin Transition Into 10-Digit Phone DialingAssociated Press

State utility regulators say New Mexico in late April will start a six-month transition period to prepare telephone callers for when they'll have to include an area code when making local calls.

Starting April 24, callers can start using 10-digit dialing for telephone calls within the state. That will begin the permissive transition period leading up to Oct. 24 when 10-digit dialing will become mandatory, the Public Regulation Commission said Tuesday.

The switch to 10-digit dialing is a result of the Federal Communications Commission's plan to implement a new three-digit number — 9-8-8 — for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, the PRC said in a statement.

The hotline's new three-digit number will make 10-digit dialing mandatory for all local calls in New Mexico's 505 and 575 area codes because some customers' phone numbers start with a 988 prefix.

The commission said the new dialing requirement won't require that phone numbers be changed or affect the price of calls.

However, the commission said automatic dialing equipment such as fax machines, alarm systems and Internet dial-up numbers will need to be be reprogramed to call 10-digit numbers.

Albuquerque Mayor Seeks Reelection; Could Face 3 Contenders - Associated Press

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has formally declared his candidacy for reelection.

Keller, a 43-year-old Albuquerque native, made the announcement Monday.

"We are poised to come out of the pandemic stronger and safer with thousands of new good-paying jobs for working families, revitalized public safety efforts and taking on homelessness, which has been exacerbated by COVID in a real way," Keller said in a statement.

There are at least three possible contenders hoping to unseat Keller. Among those candidates is Nicholas Bevins, a 25-year-old grassroots activist.

"I am running out of a sense of urgency for my generation and future generations who face countless threats such as climate change and economic inequality which are going unaddressed," Bevins said in a statement to Albuquerque TV station KOB.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III has submitted a candidate registration form for the race. But the Albuquerque Journal reports that Gonzales has declined to confirm he's running, saying earlier this month he filed the paperwork to "better explore" a potential run. 

Patrick Ben Sais also has filed a candidate registration for the mayoral race.

Navajo Nation Reports No New Coronavirus Cases And No Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Monday reported no new COVID-19 cases and no deaths. It was the second consecutive day that the tribe has not recorded a coronavirus-related death. 

The death toll remains at 1,233 since the pandemic began with the number of confirmed cases at 30,007 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. 

The Navajo Nation had a soft reopening last week with 25% capacity for some businesses under certain restrictions.  

Still, mask mandates and daily curfews remain. 

Tribal health officials say more than 191,000 vaccine doses have been distributed.

"Once again, the Navajo Nation is exemplifying what can be accomplished when we listen to the public health experts and work together. Our hard work is paying off and our prayers are being answered," tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. "The fight against COVID-19 continues on. Variants continue to be of great concern across the country, especially as we see more and more people travel including students on spring break."

Police: Toddler Fatally Struck By Vehicle Driven By Father - Associated Press

A 2-year-old boy has died after being hit by a vehicle driven by his father in Albuquerque, authorities said. 

Albuquerque police spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said the boy's family was preparing to leave their home Sunday around noon when the child was struck by the car, the Albuquerque Journal reported  Sunday.

Gallegos said the "tragic accident" happened when the boy's mother was loading her other children and items into an SUV when the toddler at her side walked toward a truck the father was driving. 

"When she went to him she saw the child get struck by the truck which was slowly pulling forward," Gallegos said, adding that the child was knocked to the ground and run over.

The boy suffered severe injuries and died at the scene, authorities said. No arrests were made and no citations were given. An investigation is ongoing. 

No further information was made available. 

Police: New Mexico Charges Coming After Killings In 2 States - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Authorities say charges are imminent against a man suspected of killing his ex-wife and three others in New Mexico in a series of slayings that included the beating death of a New Jersey resident he claimed sexually abused him as a child. 

Investigators over the weekend searched a house where Sean Lannon, his ex-wife and their children were believed to have lived in Grants, New Mexico. 

A police official wouldn't specify what investigators were looking for, only that the warrants were for anything of "evidentiary value." 

Lannon is in custody in New Jersey. 

Authorities also are still looking into his claims that he killed 11 other people in New Mexico.

The case began March 5, when the bodies of Lannon's ex-wife and three other people were found in a vehicle in a parking garage at Albuquerque International Sunport. They were identified as Jennifer Lannon, 39; Matthew Miller, 21; Jesten Mata, 40; and Randal Apostalon, 60. 

It's not clear how or when they were killed.