WED: Governor Signs Police Body Camera Bill, COVID Cases Surpass 14,000, +More

Jul 8, 2020

New Mexico Mandates Police Body Cameras In Wake Of ProtestsAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed legislation to require that police officers wear body cameras as a deterrent against excessive use of force.

Signed Wednesday, the policing reforms apply to local and state law enforcement officers with the exception of tribal agencies.

The legislature, led by Democrats, approved the bill in June during a four-day special session. Gov. Lujan Grisham first called for the body camera requirements amid demonstrations set off by George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces has invoked the death of Antonio Valenzuela at the hands of Las Cruces police officers in a video-recorded encounter in February that has led to a charge of involuntary manslaughter against one officer.

Police agencies that flout the new body-camera requirement can be sued for withholding evidence.

Until now, at least a half-dozen sheriff's departments in New Mexico have gone without body cameras — including the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department that oversees the state's most populous county encompassing Albuquerque.

New Mexico Court To Hear Arguments Over Public Health Order - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

It will be up to the New Mexico Supreme Court to decide a case over the state's authority to enforce certain provisions of public health orders amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Arguments will be presented during an Aug. 4 remote hearing. About a dozen business owners and companies sued in May, challenging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's authority to levy hefty fines for violating public health orders.

The plaintiffs say state law authorizes fines of $100 or less in such cases, not the $5,000-per-day penalty cited by state officials.

Initially filed in the state's 9th Judicial District, the lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction barring the state from threatening to impose the larger fines. She has declined to reopen any more of the economy because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases. 

New Mexico on Wednesday reported an additional 290 cases, bringing the total to 14,017. Eight more people died as well, bringing that total to 527.

Bernalillo County had the biggest number of new cases at 99, followed by Doña Ana County with 53.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Gov. Lujan Grisham called on cities and counties to enforce a statewide mandate to wear mask.

Attorney General Hector Balderas confirmed violating the mandate is a petty misdemeanor subject to a $100 fine, six months in jail, or both.

Governor's Vetoes Could Cost New Mexico Tribes Some Funding - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press/Report For America

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham used her veto power to preserve executive control over hundreds of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funding in the budget solvency bill she recently signed. 

The move could mean less financial assistance for some Native American communities. 

State lawmakers during the special session had prioritized the communities by setting aside $23 million for tribal governments and another $15 million specifically for northwest counties with large Indigenous populations. That was in addition to allocating the federal funds statewide based on population numbers. 

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokesperson for the governor, said the administration is working on a formula to ensure distribution is equitable.

Some local leaders are hoping to be consulted before a decision is made. 

The governor also used her veto power to restore $30 million in lawmaker-approved cuts to ensure money still flows to signature initiatives in education and early childhood development.

The line-item veto allows the governor to essentially edit a bill by striking out words or numbers, as long as nothing is added. The tactic avoids an outright veto, which would send the bill back to the Legislature where it could be overridden.

House Speaker Brian Egolf barely mentioned the vetoes in a recent video address. Instead, he celebrated the Legislature's work to maintain funding for government programs despite an anticipated 25% loss in revenue due to COVID-19.

Funding Approved For Housing In 6 New Mexico Communities - Associated Press

The New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority has approved more than $74 million for eight housing developments in six communities around the state. 

The funding comes through the federal low-income housing tax credit program. 

Officials said the projects will result in more than 260 new apartments in Sunland Park, Mescalero, Acoma Pueblo and Albuquerque. 

Another 202 apartments will be renovated in Los Lunas and Albuquerque.

In addition to providing much-needed housing in the communities, officials said construction activity from the developments is expected to generate $33 million in income for the communities and support hundreds of jobs.

The federal tax credit program is designed to spur investment in the development of rental housing for families with low to moderate incomes. 

State officials said the tax credits are the most important resource available for creating affordable housing. Most of New Mexico's affordable housing developments are funded primarily through tax credit awards.

States Sue US Department Over Virus Relief Funds For Schools - By Olga R. Rodriguez And David Eggert Undefined

California, Michigan and three other states, including New Mexico, are suing the U.S. Department of Education over pandemic relief funds. 

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday, the attorneys general of California and Michigan say the department run by Secretary Betsy DeVos is attempting to take pandemic relief funds away from K-12 public schools and divert them to private schools. 

New Mexico, Maine, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have joined the lawsuit. 

They say the department's interim final rule would allow public schools that charge tuition similar to private colleges to get funds based on the total population they serve. 

DeVos previously said the funding is meant to support all students.

On a call Monday with Vice President Mike Pence and the nation's governors, DeVos said governors have not taken advantage of the funding and so far only $195 million has been used. 

Under the rule issued by DeVos, school districts are ordered to set aside a portion of their aid for private schools using a formula based on the total number of private school students in the district.

The policy has been contested by public school officials who say the funding should be shared based on the number of low-income students at local private schools rather than their total enrollments. 

US Nuclear Lab Investigates Breach At Plutonium Facility - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Officials at one of the nation's premier nuclear labs are investigating the potential exposure of employees to plutonium.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has confirmed that 15 workers are being evaluated after a breach involving a gloved box that was being used to handle the material.

The incident happened in June. According to the report, air monitors sounded when an employee pulled out of the glovebox gloves after weighing and packaging plutonium oxide powder.

The lab says the area inside the plutonium facility was secured and there's no risk to public health or safety.

The lab is preparing to resume and ramp up production of the plutonium cores used to trigger nuclear weapons. It's facing a 2026 deadline to begin producing at least 30 cores a year.

New Mexico Offers $400 Million In Small-Business Loans - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed legislation to offer more than $400 million in low-interest loans to small businesses that have taken a financial hit during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tuesday's approval allows New Mexico businesses to borrow up to $75,000 each from the state's severance tax permanent fund.

Interest from the $5 billion trust fund is traditionally used to retire debt on public construction projects.

Lujan Grisham says the loan program will use the state's wealth to revive crucial small businesses.

The initial repayment period is three years, with a possible three-year extension.

The bill also freezes unemployment insurance rate increases, even as money dwindles in the state's trust fund for income support benefits to the unemployed. The fund can borrow without interest from the federal government when its balance is exhausted.

New Mexico Ads Ask Visitors To Comply With Virus Safeguards Associated Press

The New Mexico State Tourism Department has published advertisements informing residents of neighboring states that visitors should comply with its rules regarding masks and travel.

The advertisements in six newspapers in Texas and Arizona include letters explaining New Mexico has different rules than the other two states.

The tourism department spent $67,000 on the full-page advertisements in major newspapers in Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona and in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas in Texas.

Tourism department spokesman Cody Johnson says the two states were targeted because they recently have experienced surges in COVID-19 infection rates.

Health officials on Tuesday reported an additional 221 positive cases, bringing the statewide total to 13,727 since the pandemic began.

There were also four additional deaths, bringing the total to 519.

New Mexico Utility Unveils Solar Array To Power Facebook - Associated Press

The largest electric provider in New Mexico has unveiled its latest solar array. 

A virtual ribbon cutting ceremony was held Tuesday for the Encino Solar Field, located in Sandoval County west of Rio Rancho. 

Public Service Co. of New Mexico and New Mexico Renewable Development LLC entered an agreement last year to build the 50-megawatt solar array to provide electricity for Facebook's data center near Los Lunas. 

PNM says it's committed to providing emissions-free electricity to customers over the next two decades. 

Facebook has committed to support its operations with 100% renewable energy beginning this year.

With the Encino solar array, the utility said its ownership and power purchase agreements equal 287 megawatts of solar and more than 350 megawatts of wind. Additional renewable resources are expected to come online over the next few years.

Navajo Nation Reports 27 More Coronavirus Cases, 1 New Death - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 27 more coronavirus cases and one additional known death. 

Tribal Department of Health officials say 7,941 people on the vast reservation that spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have tested positive with 379 known deaths as of Tuesday. 

Health officials also say reports from all 12 health care facilities on and near the Navajo Nation indicate 60,323 people have been tested and 5,650 have recovered from COVID-19. 

Weekend curfews are being enforced on the Navajo Nation in an attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

New Mexico Issues Heat Alert As Triple Digits ApproachAssociated Press

Health officials are warning people across New Mexico to be mindful of heat-related illness as the state prepares for a few days of triple digit temperatures.

The Health Department on Tuesday issued an alert, saying the extreme heat is expected to last through the weekend in most of the state.

Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel also used the forecast to remind parents not to leave children or pets in hots cars.

The symptoms of heat stress can include dizziness, nausea, cramping and weakness and can progress to heat stroke and death if left unchecked.