WED: Amazon Building Albuquerque Fulfillment Center, State Studies Single Payer Health Care, + More

May 27, 2020

Amazon Fulfillment Center To Bring Jobs To AlbuquerqueAssociated Press

Amazon has announced that construction began on a fulfillment center in Albuquerque that is expected to bring 1,000 jobs to the region.

The company said work has begun on the 465,000-square-foot multi-level center. It will use robotics to help employees fulfill orders for small items such as books, electronics and toys.

The facility is scheduled to open by the end of 2021. The Bernalillo County Commission approved a $6.5 million series of infrastructure upgrades Tuesday in the Upper Petroglyphs Industrial Park including street improvements, lighting and paving.

Bernalillo County Commission Chair Lonnie Talbert says this project represents further investment in the industrial region. 

Other large employers in the area include Tempur-Pedic, FedEx and Shamrock Farms.

An Amazon spokeswoman says employees will make $15 an hour and are expected to go through safety training.

Auditor Looking Into State Purchase Of MasksAssociated Press, Santa Fe New Mexican, Las Cruces Sun News

The New Mexico state auditor's office is looking into a $1.6 million purchase of masks at a significantly higher cost than the normal list price.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported the state Health Department bought the masks from a Chinese company in April as demand for personal protective equipment skyrocketed.

Officials with the Department of Health said the lack of a coordinated federal purchasing systems for states meant New Mexico had deal with demand for PPE in other states and other countries.

State officials reported an additional 127 coronavirus cases Wednesday, bringing the total to more than 7,250. McKinley and San Juan counties account for more than half of those infections. More than 200 people remain hospitalized and nearly 330 people have died.

Doña Ana County now has 439 cases and the County Commission voted 3-2 on Tuesday to give the Sheriff's Office authority to enforce a state requirement that people wear face coverings when out in public.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported a violation of the ordinance could bring with it a fine of up to $300, but Sheriff Kim Stewart said she opposes the ordinance.

New Mexico Governor Slammed For Buying Jewelry Amid ClosuresKRQE-TV, Associated Press

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is being criticized for a jewelry purchase from a store in Albuquerque that had closed its retail locations after she issued a public health order prompting the closure of all non-essential businesses.

The governor's office says the transaction was done remotely and didn't violate the order.

But Republicans are calling Lujan Grisham's behavior hypocritical and dishonorable. They say the jewelry purchase exemplifies recent weeks of harsh and inequitable treatment of small businesses at a time when the governor was telling people to stay home and only go out for essential items such as food.

The jewelry purchase was first reported by KRQE-TV. It said Lujan Grisham called an employee at Lilly Barrack in April and bought jewelry over the phone.

Management said the employee went to the store, got the jewelry and placed it outside the door of the store where someone who knew the governor picked it up.

While curbside delivery wasn't allowed until earlier this month, the governor's office claims no rules were broken.

Former Spy, Issues Of Trump Loyalty Weigh In New Mexico Vote - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico is deciding on final contenders in open races for a U.S. Senate seat and a congressional slot that last changed hands a dozen years ago.

The retirement of Sen. Tom Udall has thrown open a window of opportunity for U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the presumptive Democratic Senate nominee in an increasingly blue state.

Former CIA operative Valerie Plame is competing in the seven-way Democratic primary to succeed Luján in the northern 3rd Congressional District.

Other candidates have connections to Hispanic political traditions and Native American communities.

Three Republicans are competing for the U.S. Senate nomination to take on Luján in the fall.

Loyalty to Trump also is a major theme in the Republican primary for a swing district in southern New Mexico, where first-term Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small won by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2018 against state Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo.

In the state Legislature, prominent Democratic lawmakers including Senate President Mary Kay Papen are confronting primary challenges with all the seats in both chambers up for grabs. Democrats hold a 46-24 majority in the state House and a 26-16 advantage in the Senate.

Congressman Urges New Mexico To Extend Mail-In Vote DeadlineAssociated Press

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján is urging New Mexico´s top election regulator to provide more time for people to submit absentee ballots by mail in the June 2 primary.

On Wednesday, he cited the delayed delivery of some absentee ballots in Santa Fe County and proposed that regulators allow ballots be counted if they are postmarked on the final day of the June 2 primary and arrive afterward.

Under current procedures, ballots must reach election authorities by 7 p.m. on June 2. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says the state's election codes do not give her the authority to extend the deadline.

New Mexico To Allow Limited Patio Dining At RestaurantsAssociated Press

Limited outdoor dining will be allowed at New Mexico restaurants beginning Wednesday.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office said Tuesday she'll be amending the public health order, clearing the way for patio dining at restaurants as long as it's limited to 50% of an establishment's outdoor seating capacity.

Tables must be placed at least 6 feet apart, no more than six people may be seated at any single table and no bar or counter seating will be allowed.

New Mexico reported an additional 107 positive tests for the coronavirus Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 7,130.

McKinley and San Juan counties account for more than half of the state's cases. Three additional deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing the state's total to 325. More than 200 people remain hospitalized.

The state Health Department also is reporting new cases among federal inmates being held at lockups in New Mexico. For example, a federal immigration processing center in Otero County has 92 cases while 16 of the federal inmates at the Torrance County Detention Facility have tested positive.

New Mexico Studies Single-Payer Care Amid Pandemic - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Public officials in New Mexico continue to contemplate a possible transition to single-payer health care in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Preliminary results of a study commissioned by New Mexico's Democrat-led Legislature in 2019 were released Tuesday that outline the consequences of combining nearly all financing for health care services behind a single, state-administered payer for all residents. 

Analysts found that significant additional funding sources would likely be needed to fully cover the cost of the plan despite new administrative efficiencies. 

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden opposes single-payer proposals even as the coronavirus reveals shortcomings of the current U.S. medical system.

Comments on the preliminary report for New Mexico are being sought before a final version is submitted to the Legislature's budget and accountability office.

Navajo Nation Has 48 New Cases Of Coronavirus, 1 More Death - Associated Press

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says recent data indicates the coronavirus peak for hospitalizations on the vast reservation occurred from April 21-26, a month earlier than initial projections. 

During a live online town hall on Tuesday, Nez said initial projections showed the Navajo Nation's COVID-19 surge peak would begin the week of May 24. 

Nez says implementing stay-at-home orders and weekend curfews have helped flatten the curve in certain areas of the reservation that covers parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. 

The Navajo Department of Health on Tuesday reported 48 new cases of coronavirus and one additional death. That pushed the tribal numbers to 4,842 cases and 158 known deaths. 

Nez said nearly 15% of tribal members have been tested so far. 

Task Force On Missing Native Americans Resumes Sessions - Associated Press

A presidential task force charged with addressing an epidemic of missing and slain Native Americans is resuming listening sessions. 

The task force held a handful of sessions in person before the coronavirus hit. 

It's now turning to teleconferences and webinars to update tribes on its work and get feedback, starting Wednesday. 

The task force made up of seven federal officials says it's on track to submit a progress report to the White House in November. 

The task force is reviewing cold cases in Indian Country to find ways to improve investigations and respond more quickly to reports of missing Native Americans. 

Various states have formed similar groups to look at what has become an epidemic in Indian Country.

New Mexico Gas Company Building Pipeline To Santa Fe - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Construction has started on a new $60 million pipeline that officials say will provide northern New Mexico with more natural gas. 

The Albuquerque Journal reports the 35-mile pipeline from Bernalillo to Santa Fe is expected to come online in December and increase supply for northern communities. 

The New Mexico Gas Company began work this month on the pipeline, to be laid parallel to the current mainline that now hugs I-25 northward from Placitas to Santa Fe. 

An older line, built by the U.S. Department of Energy in the 1940s, is reaching the end of its useful life and is difficult to replace because it cuts through national forest area, including the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Rough Start To The Year For Mexican Gray Wolves, Cattle - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

One Mexican gray wolf died after being caught in a trap in April. Another was found dead in the wild.

That brings the total to more than a dozen of the endangered predators that have died so far this year in New Mexico and Arizona.

Environmentalists say a combination of lethal management by U.S. wildlife officials and private trapping is making it difficult to recover the species.

But ranchers say they face constant pressure from the wolves. More than two dozen cattle were killed last month.

Officials have started the process of revising their plan for managing wolves in the Southwest. The public has until June 15 to comment on the issues to be considered by officials. So far, nearly 800 comments have been submitted.

Some say it's shaping up to be a deadly year for the wolf following an encouraging survey that found more wolves in the wild last year than at any time since efforts began more than two decades ago to reintroduce wolves along the New Mexico-Arizona border.

Classic Car In Diocese Of Gallup Fundraiser Stolen - Gallup Independent, Associated Press

A Roman Catholic diocese in New Mexico says thieves stole a classic car officials were using to raise money for a vocations program. 

The Gallup Independent reports security cameras from the Diocese of Gallup captured two men in a dark Chevy Silverado stealing the 1966 Plymouth Sport Fury last week. 

Diocese's spokeswoman Suzanne Hammons says the Sport Fury was attached to a trailer and secured to a railing in the Cathedral's parking lot while awaiting transfer to a buyer. 

No arrests have been made. 

The Rev. Matthew Keller started the V8s for Vocations program several years ago to raise funds to educate seminary students studying for the priesthood in the Diocese of Gallup.