TUES: State Seeks 12,000 Students As Virus Deaths Hit New Record, + More

Nov 17, 2020

Amid Record Virus Deaths, New Mexico Looks For 12k Students - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

New Mexico has hit a new high in virus deaths and infections.

On Tuesday, the state reported a record 2,112 known new cases of the virus, bringing the total case count to over 67,000.

Officials also reported a record-high 28 deaths in a single day. The death toll now stands at 1,264.

Meanwhile, education officials are working to locate 12,000 students who have disappeared from public school rolls and haven't said why they left.

Schools in New Mexico are funded based on the number of students they have on the 40th day of the school year, so the emerging exodus could result in a decline in school funding.

The Public Education Department is trying to track down those 12,000 students and enroll them if possible.

The numbers are usually released in December, but media and state legislators have been pushing for an earlier release to assess the potential impact of the pandemic on future education funding.

With the vast majority of schools in New Mexico stuck in online-only learning, many parents have given up on public school.

State lawmakers are considering legislation to keep funding stable despite drops in enrollment during the pandemic.

Parents who fail to enroll their children in some form of school may run afoul of state laws, but state officials are trying to take a soft approach. Child welfare and law enforcement agencies have largely avoided  fining parents under truancy laws, focusing on welfare checks that result in referrals to public services.

New Mexico Wary Of Oil Downturn As Agencies Trim Budgets - By Morgan Lee and Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

State legislators are keeping a wary eye on trends in oil prices and production as the number of active drilling rigs and new wells has plummeted from pre-pandemic levels, threatening a crucial source of state income amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A report from the budget and accountability office of the Legislature found that drilling for new petroleum wells in New Mexico's share of the Permian Basin declined precipitously.

Spending cuts are proposed next year at a variety of state agencies to help conserve financial resources.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she wants to call a special legislative session to provide new economic relief to the unemployed and hard-hit businesses.

New Mexico typically relies on income from the oil and natural gas sectors through a variety of taxes, royalties and lease purchases for more than one-quarter of its annual general fund budget.

New Mexico has imposed a two-week stay-at-home order that suspends most non-essential business activity through Nov. 30, as California, Oregon, Michigan and Washington state also renewed efforts to combat surging coronavirus infections.

Democratic State Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming, who ends a 32-year legislative career in December, urged his successors and the governor to find new revenue sources for the state that are more reliable than oil.

State Agency Serving Elderly Proposes Spending CutsAssociated Press

The agency in charge of serving New Mexico's elderly proposed a 5% spending reduction, at a legislative hearing Tuesday.

The largest savings at the Department of Aging and Long-Term Services would come from a reduction in costs for adult protective services, which investigates neglect and abuse of the elderly. Some funds would be made up by leveraging federal Medicaid dollars.

The department purchased computer tablets for elderly residents at all 71 nursing homes and 250 assisted living facilities in the state. Those residents were cut off from in-person visits by relatives and state welfare advocates as a precaution against COVID-19 infection under emergency health restrictions.

In a presentation to state lawmakers on Tuesday, the agency reported that more seniors are requiring help to ensure they don't go hungry.

At the same time, the Department of Public Safety is seeking legislative approval to boost pay for state police officers, emergency dispatchers and transportation inspectors.

The agency said its overall budget request of $152.8 million next year would represent a 3.4% decrease from current annual spending.

The state held an estimated $2.1 billion in financial reserves at the start of July to fill any potential shortfalls for current annual spending obligations of $7.2 billion.

State economists say general fund income may range from $6.8 billion to $7.6 billion during the coming fiscal year.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has directed state agencies to reduce spending requests by up to 5% for the budget year that begins in July 2021 to conserve resources.

New Mexico Ski Resorts Will Delay Opening Amid PandemicAssociated Press

Multiple ski resorts in New Mexico have delayed opening in response to state-mandated COVID-19 lockdown orders that went into effect on Monday.

The regulations by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are expected to continue through Nov. 30.

Ski Santa Fe and Taos Ski Valley were originally scheduled to open on Thanksgiving Day. Ski Santa Fe General Manager Ben Abruzzo says the resort now plans to open as soon as it can.

Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort would have become the first ski resort in the state to open its doors on Friday. Marketing Manager Christiana Hudson says staff are now preparing to increase safety measures.

Abruzzo said Ski Santa Fe also has implemented additional safety measures, spending more than $250,000 in changes which included online ticketing, outdoor seating areas and social distancing on lifts.

Details Emerge From Federal Raid On Navajo-Area FarmsAssociated Press

The U.S. attorney's office says it destroyed a quarter-million plants during marijuana eradication efforts at 21 farms in the Shiprock area of the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico.

A Monday news release from federal prosecutors says the raids by U.S., state and tribal law enforcement took three days to carry out and involved more than 1,100 makeshift greenhouses.

In one instance, 1,000 pounds of processed marijuana was discovered under a tarp.

The news release makes no mention of arrests or charges. In October, more than a dozen people were arrested on drug charges at a motel in the area.

The Navajo Nation just weeks ago sued nearly three dozen people, accusing them of illegally growing hemp or marijuana on the reservation. The lawsuit claims that the operations are contaminating the tribe's water, land and other natural resources.

It was the second such lawsuit the tribe's Department of Justice has filed this year.

The tribe does not have a regulatory system for industrial hemp on the vast reservation that spans parts of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

New Mexico has no legal market for recreational cannabis and limits medical marijuana producers to 1,750 plants per licensed producer.

New Mexico State Basketball Temporarily Moving To Phoenix Associated Press

New Mexico State's men's basketball team will temporarily move to Phoenix due to coronavirus restrictions in its home state.

Deputy athletic director Braun Cartwright says the Aggies are expecting to be in Arizona for five weeks, but could extend the stay. They are hoping to play their first game next week.

Under New Mexico health guidelines, athletic departments currently do not allow full practices, games or workouts exceeding five people. Anyone who travels from outside New Mexico also must quarantine for 14 days.

All players and coaches will continue to be tested for COVID-19 three times a week while in Arizona.

Cartwright said the cost of rooms, facilities, food and testing for the five weeks will be about $79,000.

The women's team is planning to practice some in Tucson, Arizona, and is looking at various places to play, including just over the Texas state line at UTEP.

New Mexico's football team is planning to move to Las Vegas and play a spring schedule.

Albuquerque Seeks Public Input On Next Police Chief - Associated Press

New Mexico's largest city is looking for its next police chief and seeking community input as the process moves forward. Albuquerque staff and a specialist hired to help with the search have been meeting with community members and organizations. They've also posted a survey online to collect comments. Mayor Tim Keller says the city wants to know what residents would like to see in their next police chief. The city has been dealing with high crime rates and its police force has been working on reforms for years under the guidance of the U.S. Justice Department and a federal monitor.


State Lawmakers Say Virus Shouldn't Delay Their Work - Associated Press


Leading Democratic lawmakers are pressing forward with efforts to begin a legislative session in January 2021, as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies and members of a legislative committee were warned of possible exposure to COVID-19 from an individual who tested positive after attending a hearing in the Statehouse. Some Republican lawmakers have suggested the session be postponed until the public can safely attend hearings in-person. New Mexico, California, Oregon, Michigan and Washington state have announced renewed efforts to combat the coronavirus as more than 11 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States.

Panel Recommends Higher Purchase Limits For Medical Cannabis  - Associated Press


A panel of doctors and other health care professionals is recommending increasing the amount of marijuana that can be purchased by participants in New Mexico's medical cannabis program. The advisory board voted Monday in favor of nearly doubling the limit to 15 ounces over 90 days. Supporters say that would at least put New Mexico on par with Nevada and Arizona. They noted other states have much higher limits. The panel also recommended expanding the list of qualifying conditions to include anxiety, attention deficit disorders, Tourette’s and some substance abuse disorders. The state health secretary will have the final say.

Tribal Leaders Tackle Healthcare, Education In Annual Summit - Associated Press

Tribal leaders in New Mexico are meeting this week to share strategies for fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The annual Tribal Leadership Summit is bringing governors from Pueblos and other Native American nations together virtually this year. The summit is an opportunity for tribal officials to meet with New Mexico state officials to discuss issues. This year is focused on COVID-19 and, by extension, the ongoing public health and public education crisis indigenous communities face. The governor of Acoma Pueblo used the forum to protest a reduction in hospital services by the federal Indian Health Service, and thank Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for coordinating this year to bring emergency supplies.

Details Emerge From Federal Raid On Navajo-area Farms - Associated Press

The U.S. attorney’s office says it destroyed a quarter-million plants during marijuana eradication efforts at 21 farms in the Shiprock area of the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico. A Monday news release from federal prosecutors says the raids by U.S., state and tribal law enforcement took three days to carry out and involved more than 1,100 makeshift greenhouses. In one instance, 1,000 pounds of processed marijuana was discovered under a tarp. The news release makes no mention of arrests or charges. In October, more than a dozen people were arrested on drug charges at a motel in the area.

New Mexico Supreme Court Affirms State's Repeat Offender Law - Associated Press

The State’s highest court is upholding the increased prison time for a repeat offender of domestic violence. The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday against an Alamogordo man appealing his heightened jail sentence under the Habitual Offender Act. James Barela pleaded no contest in 2015 to battery against a household member. It was his third misdemeanor domestic violence conviction. He also had a 2010 felony conviction for false imprisonment. State law calls for a defendant with a previous felony that is not a DWI to face up to an additional year in jail. Barela’s attorneys argued the misdemeanor conviction should not have been reconsidered as a felony.