WED: State Shatters Daily Virus Case Record, Navajo Nation President Condemns Census Halt,+More

Oct 14, 2020

New Mexico Shatters Its Record For Confirmed COVID-19 CasesAssociated Press

New Mexico has shattered its previous record for confirmed COVID-19 cases amid fears the state is experiencing a second wave of the deadly virus.

Health officials reported Wednesday that the state recorded 577 new coronavirus cases. That breaks last week's record when it recorded 488 new cases in a single day.

New Mexico has now had a total of 34,290 COVID-19 cases.

The state Department of Health on Wednesday also reported three additional deaths in New Mexico related to COVID-19. The number of deaths of New Mexico residents related to COVID-19 is now at 921.

The new cases come as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Tuesday she would renew public health restrictions and warned that more stringent rules could be imposed because of a rise in cases.

New rules limit gatherings to five people or less and reduced hotel capacities.

New Mexico Names Leader Of Indigenous Education Reform - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

Former Navajo Nation legislative staffer LaShawna Tso has been selected to lead New Mexico's Indian Education division.

Wednesday's announcement by the state Public Education Department marks the end of a months-long search. She will fill a key role in a state where 11% of the population is Native American.

As assistant secretary of Indian Education, Tso will oversee New Mexico's compliance with a court order that stems from a sweeping lawsuit that accused the state of failing to provide a sound education to vulnerable children from minority communities, non-English speaking households, impoverished families and students with disabilities.

A judge dismissed Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's  motion to dismiss the lawsuit in June, ruling that the state has not implemented the necessary reforms to provide an adequate education to Native Americans and other students.

Tso will lead policy development and monitor reforms that will require coordination with entities ranging from the Legislature to school boards around the state and tribal governments.

Tso previously served as the chief of staff in the Navajo Nation's Office of the Speaker, where she specialized in policy development and intergovernmental issues.

US Attorney General Touts Success Of Federal Crime Fighting - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

U.S. Attorney General William Barr says the federal government's efforts to crack down on violent crime in Albuquerque and other U.S. cities is paying dividends.

He visited New Mexico on Wednesday to provide an update on Operation Legend, which was launched earlier this year by the Trump administration in honor of a Kansas City boy who was killed in June.

Officials said Kansas City has seen a 30% reduction in violent crime. Barr noted that Albuquerque has a crime rate between three and four times the national average. He said violent crime is solvable and the priority has to be getting chronic offenders off the streets.

Federal cooperation with local authorities in New Mexico is nothing new, but Democrat leaders voiced concerns when the operation was first announced in July, fearing that federal agents would target protesters. Authorities say the focus has been on drug and firearm cases and other violent crimes.

Federal officials also said Wednesday that the city of Albuquerque has yet to accept a nearly $10 million grant that was awarded earlier this year for hiring an additional 40 police officers.

However, city officials took issue with that claim, saying the City Council passed a resolution to accept the funding and Mayor Tim Keller signed it weeks ago.

Former Interim Navajo President And New Mexico Lawmaker DiesAssociated Press

Thomas Atcitty, a former interim Navajo Nation president and longtime New Mexico state representative, has died.

The tribe says Atcitty died Sunday of natural causes. He was 86. Funeral services are scheduled Wednesday in Shiprock, where Atcitty lived most of his life.

He is being remembered for his leadership and compassion for Navajos. Atcitty served as the tribe's vice president from 1995 to 1998. He was elevated to the top post after then-Navajo President Albert Hale resigned rather than face allegations he abused a tribal credit card.

Atcitty's time as president was short-lived. Within months, the Navajo Nation Council removed him from office for accepting free trips and golf games from companies doing business with the tribe while he was vice president.

Atcitty said accepting business gratuities didn't violate rules and argued a golf game isn't tangible.

He called the council's action unfortunate and said he held no grudges.

Before working for the tribal government, Atcitty served seven terms as a New Mexico state representative, from 1980 to 1994. He previously oversaw Navajo Community College — now Diné College, the first tribal college on a Native American reservation.

Atcitty helped establish the college's Shiprock campus and pushed for the creation of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, made up of tribal colleges and universities across the country, Joe said.

Atcitty also served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

 

New Mexico Governor Renews Restrictions As Virus Cases Rise - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she will renew public health restrictions and is warning that more stringent rules could be imposed due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.

The regulations she announced Tuesday will take effect Friday. They'll include limiting gatherings to five people, a mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors from high-risk states regardless of receiving a negative test result, reduced hotel capacities and a 10 p.m. closure for any food or drink establishments that serve alcohol.

State health officials have reported more than 33, 710 cases since the pandemic began, with 355 cases added to the tally Tuesday. Officials report 918 residents have died.

Without a vaccine, the governor said there are only a few tools to fight the virus, such as wearing masks, staying home as much as possible and avoiding groups of people.

The state for several weeks has missed benchmarks set by health officials for reopening, including virus spread and positivity rates and daily case totals. Hospitalizations also have increased.

Lujan Grisham said New Mexico is fast approaching the point when community spread of the virus becomes uncontrollable and the only option is to shut down opportunities for the virus to spread.

Without improvements, the governor's office said the state will again restrict indoor dining service and roll back maximum occupancy allowances at other retail and dining establishments.

The governor is expected to discuss the revised health mandates during a public briefing on Thursday.

Navajo Nation President Speaks Out Against Halt To Census Count  - Associated Press, KUNM

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Trump administration can end census field operations early, in a blow to efforts to make sure hard-to-count communities are included in the crucial tally. 

The Supreme Court ruling came in response to a lawsuit by a coalition of civil rights groups and local governments, including the Navajo Nation. The suit argued that minority and rural communities, such as tribal members, would be missed if the census ended early, on Sept. 30. 

Tuesday’s ruling overturns those of lower courts that ordered the once-a-decade count to continue through Oct. 31. 

In a statement released Tuesday, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said he was disappointed in the decision, which he called the high court’s “failure to acknowledge the federal government’s responsibility to accurately count the Navajo people and many other tribal nations.” Nez encouraged tribal members to complete the 2020 Census online or by phone as soon as possible.

The Census Bureau announced Tuesday that it will accept online submissions and continue making phone calls and door knocking through Thursday, Oct. 15. Paper forms postmarked by Thursday will also be accepted. 

The Census can be completed online in a few minutes at 2020census.gov.

New Mexico Judge Issues Ruling In Marijuana Reciprocity Case - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

A state district judge has cleared the way for hundreds of patients to be re-authorized to participate in New Mexico's medical marijuana program. 

The ruling issued Tuesday stemmed from a challenge of a mandate and subsequent rule adopted by the state health department that placed additional requirements on some patients who have medical marijuana cards from other states. 

Judge Matthew Wilson said the agency's justification for adopting the emergency rule in early October was inadequate and therefore unenforceable. He wrote that neither statutes nor existing rules required that a patient's government issued identification and medical cannabis card be issued by the same jurisdiction where the person lives.

The health department says it will comply with the ruling and that all 323 people affected by the decision will once again be able to buy from licensed cannabis providers in the state. 

Marijuana is only legal for medical use in New Mexico.

Judge Says Victims Can Sue Santa Fe Archdiocese Over Transfer – Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A U.S. bankruptcy judge has ruled clergy sex abuse survivors can file lawsuits alleging the Archdiocese of Santa Fe fraudulently transferred millions to avoid bigger payouts to victims. 

The Albuquerque Journal reports the recent decision by Judge David T. Thuma in the Chapter 11 reorganization case opens the door to what could be a multimillion-dollar boon to hundreds of alleged victims. 

Or it could set off protracted, costly legal appeals that would tap funds that could have paid valid abuse claims. 

Negotiations between the parties have stalled in the nearly 2-year-old bankruptcy case, which the archdiocese filed in late 2018 to deal with a surge of claims alleging childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and other clergy.

An estimated $52 million has been paid in out-of-court settlements to victims in prior years.

Attorneys for the 374 victim claimants filed a motion in June alleging the archdiocese improperly shielded assets in preparation for the bankruptcy filing.

Lawyers for the archdiocese have said that wasn't the intent and argued that permitting inquiry via lawsuits into the transfers would constitute an improper burden on the exercise of religion in violation of federal law.

The archdiocese contends that a decision to incorporate its parishes and set up trusts for the transfer of assets and property was part of a restructuring that began in late 2012. The transferred total was more than $150 million, Thuma's ruling said.

Navajo Nation Reports 9 New Coronavirus Cases, But No Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Tuesday reported nine new confirmed cases of COVID-19 but no deaths. 

The latest numbers bring the total number of cases to 10,737 with the known death toll remaining at 571. 

Tribal health officials say 113,141 people on the reservation have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic started and 7,352 have recovered. 

A shelter-in-place order, mask mandate, daily curfews and weekend lockdowns remain in effect on the Navajo Nation.

New Mexico Voters To Decide Future Of Powerful Commission Associated Press

It will be up to New Mexico voters to decide the future of a powerful commission in charge of regulating utilities and other businesses. 

If approved during the general election, a constitutional amendment on the ballot would change the Public Regulation Commission from an elected panel to one comprised of members appointed by the governor. 

Supporters say the change would insulate the staff from political considerations. Opponents call it a power grab by the governor that would take away the right of voters to elect commissioners. 

The push to reorganize the commission gained steam as the state began implementing a 2019 landmark energy law that involves the closure of a major coal-fired power plant and efforts to address the economic pains, and renewable energy mandates for investor-owned utilities to be carbon-free by 2045.

Decisions related to the Energy Transition Act have resulted in legal challenges involving the commission, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other Democratic lawmakers.

It was an amendment approved by voters in 1996 that created the regulatory commission.

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