WED: New Mexico Objects To License For Nuclear Fuel Storage Plan, + More

Sep 23, 2020

New Mexico Objects To License For Nuclear Fuel Storage Plan— Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The state of New Mexico is strongly objecting to a recommendation by federal nuclear regulators that a license be granted to build a multibillion-dollar storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants around the U.S.
State officials in a letter submitted Tuesday to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the site is geologically unsuitable and regulators have failed to consider environmental justice concerns. The letter also reiterates the state's concerns that the storage facility would become a permanent dumping ground for the spent fuel, as the federal government has no permanent plan for dealing with the waste that has been piling up at nuclear power plants.
New Jersey-based Holtec International wants to build what it has described as a state-of-the-art complex near Carlsbad that could one day hold as many as 10,000 canisters of spent nuclear fuel.

Enrollment Drop Could Hurt Funding For New Mexico SchoolsCedar Attanasio, Associated Press

Members of the Legislative Education Study Committee heard pleas Wednesday to keep up school funding, even if enrollment is dropping because of the pandemic.
School funding in New Mexico is determined by the number of students enrolled at the 40-day mark, known by some educators as the “money count.” That count is not yet complete, but preliminary numbers show a significant drop in the state’s largest school district.
Reductions in enrollment are being seen across districts as a significant number of parents put their children into homeschooling, delay enrollment, or struggle to connect with online programs.
In Albuquerque, enrollment has dropped by about 4,000 students, bringing the total to 76,000.
Interim Superintendent Scott Elder said that under the current funding structure, Albuquerque public schools could lose $36 million despite increased costs and a higher student population next year.

3 States Added To New Mexico’s High Risk List— Associated Press

Travelers arriving in or returning to New Mexico from Colorado, Oregon and Rhode Island will be required to quarantine for 14 days in a bid to manage the spread of the coronavirus.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham added those three states to New Mexico’s list of “high risk” states on Wednesday based on coronavirus positivity rates and per capita infections.
In all, there are 39 states on New Mexico’s list of high risk states.
People who can show documentation of a valid negative COVID-19 test taken within the 72 hours before or after entry into New Mexico from another state are exempt from the quarantine requirement.

New Mexico Governor Wants Longer Census Count If Biden Wins–Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says that states may push for a special census enrollment period next year if President Donald Trump leaves the White House.

The comments came at a recent meeting of the governor’s advisory council on racial injustice. A new council meeting was scheduled Wednesday.

A federal judge is weighing whether the 2020 Census count will end early on Sept. 30 or continue through the original Oct. 31 deadline. A coalition of cities and civil rights groups argues that ending the census early will lead to an inaccurate count that overlooks minority communities.

Albuquerque Aims To Save Spirit Of Annual Balloon Fiesta–Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Fall in Albuquerque just isn’t fall without the annual international hot air balloon fiesta. It draws tens of thousands of spectators and pilots from around the globe each October.

Organizers had to cancel this year's event due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Mayor Tim Keller said Wednesday he wants to keep the tradition alive for residents. So local pilots are being invited to launch from city parks, golf courses and other open spaces from Oct. 3-11.

City officials stressed that spectators won't be allowed at the launch sites but that the balloons will be visible from around the city after they lift off.
Despite the small launches being planned by the city, the cancelation of this year's fiesta is expected to have economic consequences. In 2019, the event generated an estimated economic impact on the Albuquerque area of more than $186 million and $6.5 million in tax revenues for the state.


New Mexico Agency To Provide More Help For Child Care AccessCedar Attanasio, Associated Press

The state agency in charge of child care amended rules to allow eligible parents who work or study remotely to receive assistance with child care costs.

The Early Childhood Education and Care Department announced Tuesday that it will permanently add “teleworking” to the definition of employment and “online courses” to the definition of a student parent under subsidy eligibility rules.

The inclusion of remote workers and students is the latest effort by New Mexico officials to support access to child care. That may come rather late for some parents who faced difficult choices on child care weeks ago.

In August, parents scrambled for limited child care when many child care programs ended, along with co-payment waivers for those families that were eligible for subsidies. Weeks later, the subsidies were reinstated.

New Mexico families are eligible for child care subsidies when household income is at 200% or less of the federal poverty level. That's around $52,400 for a family of four.

NM Police Settle For $300K After Detaining Disabled WomanAssociated Press

New Mexico State Police have reached a $300,000 settlement with a disabled woman who accused an officer of grabbing and handcuffing her after she refused to provide ID in 2016.

Jessica Guttman claimed in her 2018 lawsuit that she and two friends were parked on the side of a highway looking at horses when Officer Kevin Smith pulled up with his cruiser's lights flashing and asked what they were doing.

Smith responded following a call from nearby prison officials who were suspicious of the women, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

Guttman, 45, gave her name to the officer and Smith asked to see her ID. Guttman refused and started walking away.

Smith grabbed Guttman’s arms and placed them behind her back while trying to handcuff her.

Guttman fell to the ground and had seizures. She said in her lawsuit she had suffered a traumatic brain injury earlier in her life and has difficulty communicating verbally.

Smith wrote in his report at the time that Guttman “refused to calm down" and that she tried to bite an officer who was attempting to “support her as she thrashed.”

New Mexico Taps Federal Loans To Pay UnemploymentAssociated Press

New Mexico has depleted its unemployment benefits trust fund and begun to use federal loans to keep up with claims.

Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley told a panel of state legislators Tuesday that unemployment trust reserves were exhausted on Sept. 8 and that the state has spent about $35 million in borrowed federal funds on claims. The federal loans if left unpaid can eventually trigger tax increases.

McCamley told a state House committee that the state will eventually need to reduce unemployment benefits, raise payroll taxes or borrow or refinance federal unemployment loans.

New Mexico’s unemployment rate of 11.4% in August exceeds neighboring states as health officials take gradual steps toward reopening the economy and schools.

About 123,000 people statewide are receiving unemployment benefits as of last week in a state of 2.1 million residents. That's up from 9,600 active claims in March before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Albuquerque Police: Overall Crime Down 5% In All CategoriesAssociated Press

Overall crime in Albuquerque is down 5% across all categories in the first six months of 2020, compared with the first half of last year and 15% since 2018, according to police.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Tuesday that violent crime has gone down by only 0.28% from 2019 to 2020 but by 4% over two years.

City police said crimes against property such as arson, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny and robbery have decreased 6% from 2019 to 2020 and 19% since 2018.

Crimes against society such as animal cruelty, drug offenses, prostitution and weapon law violations have gone down 8% from last year to this year and 12% from 2018 to 2020.

Albuquerque’s acting Police Chief Harold Medina attributed the decrease in crime to the hiring of more officers and the department’s crime-fighting tactics.

The Journal said Albuquerque is releasing its crime statistics this year using the National Incident-Based Reporting System, which the FBI will soon require of all police departments for its annual report.