TUES: State Council Creates $100M Business Recovery Fund, + More

Mar 24, 2020

New Mexico Creates Coronavirus Business Recovery Fund - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico's State Investment Council has approved the creation of a $100 million business recovery fund to help companies with 50 or more employees meet payroll obligations and avoid layoffs amid economic turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic as the number of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico reached 100.

The council overseen by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham controls a $23 billion portfolio of investments that support public education. On Tuesday, it voted unanimously to channel assets from the state's Severance Tax Permanent Fund to provide emergency recovery loans.

Some council members object to offering emergency loans to employers who are headquartered outside the state and worry that $100 million line of credit is inadequate.

Larger diversions from the Severance Tax Permanent Fund or Land Grant Permanent Fund would require a state constitutional amendment that involves approval by the Legislature and a statewide vote.

The new program is designed to complement other state and federal economic rescue efforts.

New Mexico Top Court Halts Evictions During CoronavirusAlbuquerque Journal

The New Mexico Supreme Court has put a temporary hold on eviction proceedings during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the court issued the order Tuesday. It covers anyone who is facing eviction due to their inability to pay rent. Tenants will need to provide proof that they cannot pay rent.

The court had previously implemented other measures in response to the pandemic, including giving people additional time to pay fines and fees and requiring the use of audio and video teleconferencing for court proceedings that need to continue.

However, a court spokesman told the Journal it is possible a tenant will have to show up for a court proceeding if a landlord initiates it.

The order will be in place until the court withdraws it.

New Mexico Bans Nonessential Business Activity, Outings - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has announced a sweeping new public health order that aims to keep most residents at home, prohibits public gatherings of more than five people, and halts nonessential business activity that can't be done from remotely, in efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor said the new restrictions, which take effect this morning, are the rough equivalent of a ‘shelter-in-place’ order, carried out through the administration's authority to limit private and public business activity.

Positive tests increased to 83 cases, with nine hospitalizations and three people that are experiencing acute respiratory problems requiring ventilator equipment. 

The virus is spreading in Albuquerque and Santa Fe on its own without links to travel and outside infection.

Lujan Grisham said people who flout the directives may be subject to citations or possible criminal prosecution.

She said the new restrictions don't dis-courage people from leaving home to exercise outdoors or to go buy food, gas, and essential supplies — but that large families should avoid shopping all together.

The order primarily affects storefront retail businesses, and orders the state's non-essential workforce to perform their duties from home.

Exceptions to the restrictions are set out for those including healthcare institutions, assisted living facilities, and auxiliary businesses that support them and their workers — including child care facilities. 

Stores that stock groceries and beverages - including liquor - will remain open, along with their extended supply chains. 

Funeral homes, laundromats and hardware stores will remain open.

Lujan Grisham said the suspension of K-12 classroom education is likely to extend beyond the initial three-week order. 

Dead Snowmobile Rider Was Seeking Treasure In Utah ParkDenver Post, Associated Press

Two snowmobile riders from Colorado were searching for an elusive treasure when they became stranded and one died in a Utah park.

The Denver Post said the pair set out from the Denver area March 17 to search for Forrest Fenn's treasure. The eccentric New Mexico antiquities dealer had said he hid the bounty rumored to be worth around $2 million somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.

Authorities say the snowmobilers carried candy bars and a couple of bottles of water, but at some point there was not enough snow on the ground and they pressed forward on foot.

Police Say Man Arrested After Inconsistent Suicide Death Report – Associated Press

New Mexico authorities have arrested a man on murder charges after police say they found inconsistencies in a suicide report.

KRQE-TV reported that Lea County deputies responded to an alleged suicide Sunday at an Albuquerque home where they found 36-year-old Christopher Matthews with a gunshot wound.

Authorities say Matthews was pronounced dead after being taken to the hospital. Investigators say the scene was processed and four residents who lived at the home were later interviewed.

Deputies say they arrested 27-year-old Jimmy Griffin Jr. after he gave inconsistent and conflicting information. Online court records don't list a defense attorney for Griffin who could comment on his behalf.

Trump Agencies Steadily Push Rollbacks As Pandemic Rages - By Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press

The Trump administration is steadily pushing major public health and environmental rollbacks toward enactment. It's rejecting appeals that it slow its deregulatory drive during the coronavirus crisis.

One Environmental Protection Agency rule would require disclosure of the raw data behind any scientific study used in rulemaking. That includes confidential medical records opponents say could be used to identify people. State and local officials have asked the EPA to delay action on that rule while Americans struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EPA has refused, saying it's open for business as usual. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey says federal agencies should suspend steps toward enactment for any nonessential rule changes during the pandemic.

The Interior Departmentis moving ahead with a measure that would greatly ease protections under the more than century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Interior closed the 30-day comment period for the change as scheduled last week. Critics say the changes could devastate threatened and endangered species and speed an already documented decline in U.S. bird populations overall.

Interior also ticked off required procedural steps in March on a development plan for land surrounding New Mexico's Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a World Heritage site at the center of a long debate over oil and gas development, among other projects.

Santa Fe Police Sued In Elderly Woman's Freezing DeathSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

The family of a 92-year-old woman who froze to death in Santa Fe has filed a lawsuit saying Santa Fe police did not try hard enough to find her. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports a lawyer for Antonia Garcia's family said last week they believe she may have gotten lost while on her way to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in March 2019.

The wrongful death complaint filed in state District Court says a neighbor called police around 11:25 p.m. that day to say she saw an elderly woman leaning against a metal post.

But court documents say the dispatcher and police officers treated the call as "a low priority call." A city spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Survey Eyes Internet Access, Cell Service On Navajo NationFarmington Daily Times, Associated Press

Navajo Nation residents are being asked to fill out a survey about internet access and cellular service on tribal land.

The Farmington Daily Times reports an ad hoc group comprised of tribal government employees and technology professionals is conducting the survey and will use responses to develop a strategic broadband plan for the nation's largest Native American reservation.

Magellan Advisors CEO Courtney Violette says the goal is to design a network capable of delivering a minimum of 25 megabits per second to every person on the Navajo Nation.

The Federal Communications Commission's definition for broadband is a minimum of 25 megabits download and three megabits upload.

Caretaker Seeks To Transform Albuquerque 'Kress' Building - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The caretaker of a mid-century S.H. Kress building in downtown Albuquerque on the historic Route 66 is seeking to renovate the building and transform it into an art gallery. 

The Albuquerque Journal reports caretaker Victoria Van Dame has started the process of renovating and cleaning out the property owned by Anna Muller, who moved to California for health reasons. 

The building has been empty for decades, and its trademark curved windows have long since been covered. 

Van Dame says she wants to restore the building and create a gallery that draws in creatives across all fields — visual, music, performance arts, and the culinary arts.

Native Americans Put Digital Spin On Traditions Amid Virus Indian Country Today, Associated Press

People across Indian Country are organizing online social-distancing powwows and posting videos of healing dances to offer support during the coronavirus pandemic.

Indian Country Today reports community song and dance have always been a part of health and prayer for Native people. And now they're putting a digital spin on these traditions.

Jingle dress dancers are sharing videos on YouTube and Facebook from Montana, Arizona, the Dakotas and elsewhere. And Facebook groups like Social Distance Powwow are connecting dancers, vendors and others. The jingle dress — or zibaaska'iganagooday, the dress of exploding sound in the Ojibwe language — in particular has a long history of healing.

Earlier this month, the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque announced the cancellation this year of what organizers bill as North America's largest powwow that typically draws thousands of indigenous people together from around the globe.