WED: Half Of New Mexicans Get First Shot, Governor Signs Bill Eliminating Police Immunity, + More

23 hours ago

New Mexico Leads Vaccine Rollout With 50% Getting 1st Shot - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico health officials on Wednesday reported more progress in getting residents vaccinated as the state continues to lead the U.S. in the vaccine rollout.

State Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said 50% of residents 16 and older have received their first shot and 31% are fully vaccinated. The latest figures come as other states look to expand distribution beyond health care workers and other priority groups to meet an April 19 deadline from the Biden administration.

While New Mexico opened up eligibility Monday, Collins said priority will still be given to those who are 75 and older and other senior citizens who have chronic conditions that put them at greater risk.

State officials also said more vaccine clinics are planned, including a dozen in southern New Mexico. They're also working with health care providers to target people who are home-bound, noting that about 1,000 doses have been administered so far to people in that group.

Despite the progress, the officials stressed that vaccinations along with continued public health restrictions such as mask-wearing will be important as COVID-19 variants emerge. They said the state's color-coded risk system for counties will likely remain in place at least through late May or early June depending on spread rates and daily case totals.

As of Wednesday, 10 of the state's 33 counties were classified as yellow, meaning there are more restrictions on commercial and day-to-day activities amid higher virus risk.

"I think we want to move in a general direction that takes everybody forward. I think the vaccine is the thing that's going to help us to do that, and I think that we just keep what we've got in place as a backstop in case in the unfortunate event that we would have to move back into it," said Dr. David Scrase, head of the New Mexico Department of Human Services.

The New Mexico National Guard is operating a vaccine distribution center in Albuquerque, which U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich toured Tuesday.

The distribution effort will benefit from funding included in the federal government's most recent pandemic relief package, specifically $20 billion that the New Mexico Democrat says will supercharge vaccine distributions nationwide.

The recovery package also included $50 billion for testing, genomic sequencing of variants and contact tracing.

New Mexico also will get nearly $7 million in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That's on top of nearly $21 million previously awarded to the state Department of Health. The extra money is the result of the U.S. government waiving all cost-sharing requirements related to the federal disaster declaration that was issued last year.

Heinrich and fellow U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan announced the additional funding Wednesday, noting that many communities have taken on unprecedented costs to ensure public health and safety.

"FEMA's cost-share requirements had kept New Mexico's state, local and tribal governments from receiving the full, federal support they needed," Heinrich said.

The New Mexico National Guard has completed more than 1,230 missions amid the pandemic and has logged more than 1.6 million miles along with the Civil Air Patrol. The Guard also has set up and helped staff more than 200 drive-thru testing sites around the state, collected over 300,000 specimens, vaccinated more than 35,000 people and delivered tons of food, water and protective gear to communities.

Over 1,020 Guard soldiers and air personnel have been involved in pandemic-related missions since March 2020, officials said.

New Mexico Eliminates Police Immunity From Prosecution - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed civil rights reforms Wednesday that eliminate police immunity from prosecution in state courts, in response to protests and concerns about police brutality that have swept the nation.

Lujan Grisham signed the Democrat-sponsored bill amid the trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on murder charges in the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd. Video of Floyd, losing consciousness while pinned to the pavement by police officers, triggered a national reckoning over racism and police brutality.

¨This is not an anti-police bill," Lujan Grisham said in a news release. "This bill does not endanger any first responder or public servant — so long as they conduct themselves professionally within the bounds of our constitution and with a deep and active respect for the sacred rights it guarantees all of us."

The Democrat-sponsored legislation has implications for an array of state and local government agencies across New Mexico, from school districts to sheriffs´ departments.

Liability for misconduct that violates individual rights will fall upon government agencies and not individual public employees — with damage awards capped at $2 million.

The bill was backed by an unusual coalition of advocates for policing reforms and social justice causes. They include the civic-minded founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and the conservative-backed nonprofit group Americans for Prosperity, supported by billionaire Charles Koch.

Local governments and law enforcement leaders lobbied aggressively against the legislation, dubbed the New Mexico Civil Rights Act. Civil rights complaints already can be brought in federal court, with unlimited awards for damages.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis last year enacted police accountability legislation that eliminated the qualified immunity defense that protects police from misconduct lawsuits, and similar measures are under consideration in several states.

Sponsors of the New Mexico legislation include state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces and House speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe.

An unresolved ethics complaint by a former state judge accused Egolf of failing to disclose that his law firm handles civil rights litigation and allegedly stands to profit from the legislation to end police immunity. Egolf called the accusations frivolous and denied any violation of the state's Government Conduct Act.

The Legislature sidelined several other proposed policing reforms, including a bill aimed at greater independence in misconduct reviews by police licensing authorities.

An approved bill from Republican Sen. Stuart Ingle and Democratic Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup increases potential financial payouts to relatives of police officers who are killed in the line of duty to $400,000 from $250,000.

The bill, still awaiting the governor´s signature, would ensure some new training for police officers related to methods for de-escalating conflicts and interacting with people experiencing mental health problems.

Oklahoma Opens COVID-19 Vaccinations To All StatesAssociated Press

Oklahoma will begin providing COVID-19 vaccinations to residents of any state because both the vaccine supply and the number of vaccinated Oklahomans have increased.

Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said Wednesday that the state had reached a point where other states' residents may be vaccinated starting Thursday.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Oklahoma has received more than 2.9 million vaccine doses and has administered more than 2.1 vaccinations. The state has about 4 million residents.

A portion of far northeast New Mexico borders Oklahoma.

Man Charged In Shooting Death At New Mexico Train Station - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

A man has been charged in a fatal shooting at the South Capitol rail station in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Police say 22-year-old Matthew Arellano was arrested near his home Tuesday evening. He is scheduled for an arraignment Wednesday on charges of murder and battery with a firearm.  

Police Capt. Anthony Tapia identified the man killed as 24-year-old David Hernandez. The name of a 38-year-old man hospitalized after the shooting has not been released. Tapia says a witness heard an argument at the station over drug prices before shots were fired.

The suspect and victims are from Santa Fe.  Court officials say Arellano did not have a lawyer listed for him ahead of the arraignment.

Latter-Day Saints To Build New Church Temple In FarmingtonAssociated Press

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced plans to build a new temple in Farmington, New Mexico making it the second temple in the state.

The Farmington Daily Times reports Church President Russell Nelson made the announcement Sunday that the new temple in Farmington will be one of 20 newly planned temples being built worldwide and one of nine in the U.S., including locations in Grand Junction, Colorado; Helena, Montana; and Yorba Linda, California.

The only other temple in New Mexico is in Albuquerque and was dedicated in March 2000 after being announced in 1997. A timeline for the new temples was not immediately announced.

Decision Strikes Key Parts Of Native American Adoptions Law - By Kevin Mcgill Associated Press

Parts of a federal law giving Native American families preference in the adoption of Native American children were effectively struck down Tuesday by a sharply divided federal appeals court, a defeat for tribal leaders who said the 1978 law was important to protecting their families and culture.

The complex ruling from 16 judges of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a lower court's finding that the Indian Child Welfare Act's preferences for Native American families or licensed "Indian foster homes" violate constitutional equal protection requirements.

It also said some of the provisions of the law "unconstitutionally commandeer" state officials' duties in adoption matters.

However, the full implications of the decision on adoptive children in this and future cases were not immediately clear. Some of the key points were the result of 8-8 votes. The lack of a majority meant the lower court's ruling prevailed on those points, but that no binding precedent was set by the appeals court.

Attorneys for both sides were reviewing the 325 pages late Tuesday. The case could wind up at the Supreme Court.

The 1978 law has long been championed by Native American leaders as a means of preserving Native American families and culture. In arguments last year, an Interior Department lawyer said Congress passed the law after finding that adoption standards at the state level were resulting in the breakup of American Indian families.

Opponents of the law include non-Native families who have tried to adopt American Indian children in emotional legal cases.

"Our clients brought this case to protect their families from being torn apart by a discriminatory federal law," Matthew D. McGill, lead attorney for the plaintiff families, said in an email. "We are very pleased that today's ruling has confirmed that ICWA's discriminatory placement preferences are unconstitutional."

Multiple couples seeking to adopt Native American children, a woman who wishes for her Native American biological child to be adopted by non-Natives, and the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana were among the plaintiffs challenging the law.

The Tuesday evening ruling marked a reversal for the appeals court. A three-judge panel voted 2-1 to reverse the district court and uphold the law in 2019. But a majority of the 17-member court agreed to rehear the case. With one member recused, 16 judges heard arguments in the case last year.

The resulting decision included multiple partial dissents and partially concurring opinions. On some issues, a majority of the court agreed. On others, the court tied, meaning the original district court decision on the issue prevailed, although the appeals court ruling on the issues won't be considered precedential in future cases.

New Mexico Signs Family Tax Credit And 99 Other Bills - By Cedar Attanasio And Susan Montoya Associated Press / Report For America

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday signed into law a measure that supporters are billing as the most progressive shift in the state's tax structure in years. 

It's one of 100 bills the governor has signed so far this week ahead of a Friday deadline tied to the end of the legislative session that crafted them. Lujan Grisham has approved changes in healthcare, education and voting. Some of the bills she signed also expand or elevate the input from underrepresented groups to the administration.

The tax legislation expands rebates and tax credits for working families by increasing the benefits and broadening eligibility.

According to state data, nearly 200,000 New Mexicans claimed the Working Families Tax Credit in 2019. For this tax year and the next, the credit will increase from 17% to 20% of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. It's scheduled to go up again in 2023 to 25% of the federal credit.

As for the Low-Income Comprehensive Tax Rebate, the new law will increase that up to $730, depending on income and family size. The previous maximum was $450.

"We know these programs are among the most effective anti-poverty efforts we have," the governor said. "Expanding them means we can lift more families out of poverty and strengthen the safety net for the most vulnerable people in our community."

Democratic Rep. Javier Martinez said that after decades of unfairness in the tax code and one of the toughest financial years on record, the legislation will infuse $100 million per year into low-income communities.

Here's a look at other bills Lujan Grisham signed in the last 48 hours.

HEALTHCARE

One health-related law curbs hospitals' ability to sue patients over medical debt they cannot pay.

Another changes the composition of the state's maternal mortality review committee by guaranteeing that the offices of Native American and African American affairs nominate two members each. Black and Indigenous women are three times more likely to die from childbirth, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The governor has already signed into law a measure that enshrines access to abortion. She is expected to sign another bill that creates a legal pathway for the terminally ill to die with assistance, on their own terms.

EDUCATION

On Monday, Lujan Grisham signed high-profile education funding and anti-discrimination bills that protect the interests of Native American students and others. 

She also signed bills to streamline transfers between community colleges and four-year colleges in New Mexico and let home school students qualify for state university subsidies without taking the GED.

On Tuesday, she signed into law a new sexual abuse and reporting requirement aimed at reducing abuse in schools. The measure follows a rise in liability costs related to abuse settlements following rapes committed by teachers. 

Military families will find it easier to enroll their children in school next year, thanks to two bills that identify servicemember-friendly schools and reduce the burden of enrolling in a school when moving from out of state. 

ELECTIONS

The results of the 2020 Census will lead to drawing new lines for electoral districts across the country. On Tuesday, Lujan Grisham signed a bill that creates a non-partisan redistricting committee to draw those lines.

The redistricting committee could still be overruled by the Democratically-controlled legislature. But some Republicans hailed the move as "a step in the right direction."

The redistricting bill also requires the Secretary of State to produce and share publicly a database of lines drawn during the state's redistricting. These district map "shapefiles," which aren't currently published, could form the backbone for maps made by election officials, political parties and issue advocates in 2022.

Judges will be able to access publicly funded campaigns in the next election, after Lujan Grisham signed what is likely the first bill in the nation to extend public financing to lower court races. 

Another law will further protect access to polling places by residents of tribal nations and require that-minute consolidations or closures have the consent of tribal leaders. The measure enshrines the ability of tribes to close polling places to non-members during a public health emergency, as happened during the pandemic in November of last year.

RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA

Lujan Grisham has more time to consider signing a recent package of bills that legalize cannabis because they were passed by the Legislature during a separate legislative session.

She is expected to support the bills but could make tweaks by crossing words out using what's known as a line-item veto.


 

Tribes Talk Priorities With 'Formidable Guardian' Haaland - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Native American leaders told U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland they see her as a "formidable guardian" and steward of their interests Tuesday during the pueblo woman's first official trip to her home state, an emotional visit that focused on pandemic relief and underscored the significance of her confirmation.

Dozens of tribal leaders gathered in the courtyard of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque for a discussion with Haaland, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico Indian Affairs Secretary Lynn Trujillo and members of the state's congressional delegation.

Tribal leaders told the group their prayers were answered when Haaland was chosen to head the Interior Department, which has broad authority over Native Americans. Haaland is the first-ever Native American cabinet secretary.

She wiped tears from her eyes during her introduction and received a standing ovation.

"Help is on the way," she told the group — a refrain that Joe Biden's administration has been echoing from coast to coast during the many visits White House officials and others have been making to tout the federal government's latest COVID-19 relief package.

Haaland reiterated that every federal agency must recognize its responsibilities to tribes. She also acknowledged the devastating effects of the pandemic on New Mexico's pueblos and said the Interior Department also lost employees to COVID-19.

She placed her hand over her heart as she listened to stories from pueblo leaders and took notes.

"I thank all of you for doing such an amazing job and getting your communities here in New Mexico vaccinated," Haaland said. "I know how difficult it has been to keep our people safe and healthy during this terrible pandemic."

More broadly, Haaland pressed for addressing climate change and moving toward a clean energy economy.

Tribal governors told Haaland that protecting Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico is a top priority, saying they are frustrated that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management hasn't done more to stem oil and gas development.

Tribes' expectations of Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, are wide-ranging, rooted in the federal government's past failures to uphold responsibilities etched in treaties and other acts. While many are hopeful her appointment will open the door to new possibilities, they acknowledge it will take time to address the systemic problems that have plagued their communities for generations.

Haaland is well-versed in the struggles of Indian Country when it comes to things like a lack of basic infrastructure, education achievement gaps, disproportionate health conditions and protecting sacred sites.

In New Mexico, Native Americans make up more than 10% of the population.

Haaland has pushed to ensure tribes are consulted regularly and meaningfully on federal policies and projects that affect them. But some Native Americans see her leadership as a chance to ask for more, to move from consultation to consent and to put more land in the hands of tribal nations either outright or through stewardship agreements.

Zuni Gov. Val Panteah Sr. said he's encouraged that Biden's administration has promised to listen to tribes on how to spend federal virus relief funding and on protecting places like Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah. Haaland is expected to visit the monument later this week.

"This is something that we needed for so long, and it gives us an opportunity to share and recommend and tell these departments that are so vital to our communities what our needs are," he said.

Democrats have billed the money set aside for Native American communities in the $1.9 trillion federal recovery package as the country's largest, single investment in Indian Country.

About $20 billion will go to tribal governments to help them keep combating the virus and to stabilize community safety-net programs.

More than $2.3 billion is specifically dedicated to COVID-19 testing, tracing and vaccination efforts, while $600 million will go toward health facilities construction and sanitation programs.

Another $420 million will boost mental and behavioral health programs, and $140 million will be tapped for tribal technology improvements and tele-health access.

The package also includes money for housing projects, the expansion of broadband access and other infrastructure and educational programs.

Tribal governors also met recently with U.S. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, when he toured a vaccination clinic at Santo Domingo Pueblo in northern New Mexico. They said the pandemic has highlighted the chronic underfunding of the federal Indian Health Service, which provides primary care to millions of Native Americans.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors is made up of tribal leaders from 20 New Mexico pueblos and an Indigenous community near El Paso, Texas.

The group advocates on behalf of Native American issues, ranging from educational equity within public schools to limiting oil and gas development in areas considered sacred.





 

First confirmed Case Of COVID-19 Variant On Navajo Nation - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Tuesday reported three more confirmed COVID-19 cases and one additional death. 

The latest figures bring the pandemic totals on the tribe's reservation to 30,182 cases and 1,259 known deaths. 

On Tuesday, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez announced the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 B.1.429 variant on the Navajo Nation, which came from a test sample obtained in the Chinle Service Unit area.  

The variant was first identified in the state of California and has since been detected across the southwest U.S. 

Nez says tribal members should continue to take all precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Mesa Verde National Park Designated As Dark Sky Park - Cortez Journal, Associated Press

Park officials in Colorado say the Mesa Verde National Park has been designated the 100th International Dark Sky Park. 

The Cortez Journal reported the park said the certification would help foster astronomy-based recreation and tourism while improving energy efficiency and reducing operational costs in the park related to outdoor lighting. 

The designation also serves to highlight the spiritual and practical connections the Ancestral Puebloans had with night skies and stars. 

The multiyear application process included light pollution surveys, light source inventory, reducing outdoor lighting and upgrading essential outdoor lighting with energy efficient bulbs. 

The U.S. National Park Service and the International Dark-Sky Association make the designations.

Mesa Verde National Park joins 169 International Dark Sky Places in 21 countries around the world.

Study: Drought-Breaking Rains More Rare, Erratic In US West - By Matthew Brown Associated Press

Rainstorms grew more erratic and droughts much longer across most of the U.S. West over the past half-century as climate change warmed the planet. 

That's the conclusion of a sweeping government study released Tuesday that finds the situation for the region is worsening. 

The most dramatic changes have been seen in the desert Southwest, where the average dry period between storms increased from 30 days to 45 days since the 1970s. 

The consequences of intense dry periods pummeling areas of the West in recent years have been severe: more intense and dangerous wildfires, parched croplands and not enough vegetation on the landscape to support livestock and wildlife.

Police: Shootings At Santa Fe Station 'Isolated Incident' - Associated Press

A police official says two Santa Fe-area men shot, one fatally, at a commuter rail station were apparently known to the shooter or shooters and investigators were trying to locate a car seen in the area. 

Police Capt. Anthony Tapia said 24-year-old David Hernandez was the man killed Monday while the victim who remained hospitalized in critical condition was a 38-year-old man whose name was not released. 

Tapia said the vehicle of interest — a gray or silver small sedan, possibly a Nissan or Hyundai — was seen in the area with two occupants at about the time of the shootings.

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