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Latest New Mexico news, sports, business and entertainment at 5:20 p.m. MDT


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Enrollment in Medicaid has increased by nearly 7% in New Mexico since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic as employers shed jobs and more families enter into poverty. In a briefing Friday to state legislators, Human Services Secretary David Scrase praised federal legislation that increased the federal matching rate for Medicaid health care and allowed the state to quickly extend no-cost coronavirus testing to the poor and undocumented immigrants. At the same time, he says the current 6.2% boost in federal matching funds is inadequate to keep up with rebounding demand for medical services under Medicaid and could end abruptly at the discretion of federal health regulators.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Crews at the U.S. government's underground nuclear waste repository in New Mexico are starting a new phase of a contentious project to dig a utility shaft. Officials say it will increase ventilation at the site where workers entomb the radioactive remnants of decades of bomb-making. Officials at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant say the $75 million project is a top priority. Adequate ventilation at the repository has been an issue since 2014, when a radiation release forced a temporary closure and contamination limited air flow underground where workers dispose of nuclear waste. Watchdog groups are concerned, saying a final permit for the work hasn't been issued.


BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. wildlife officials are proposing to exempt some areas from habitat protections meant to save imperiled species. Friday's announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would place greater weight on the economic benefits of developments when deciding if land or water should be protected. It's the latest move by the Trump administration in a years-long overhaul of how the Endangered Species Act is used. Wildlife advocates say it could allow more drilling, minin and other activities in areas that are crucial to the survival of dwindling populations of plants and animals. Administration officials say the proposal gives more deference to local community needs. 


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Workers at a New Mexico art collective say they are seeking unionization. Employees at the Santa Fe-based art collective Meow Wolf say Tuesday they will look to unionize under the Communications Workers of America umbrella. The National Labor Relations Board says workers can form a union either by a petition and election or by their employer voluntarily recognizing the union. Meow Wolf's top executives Ali Rubinstein, Carl Christensen and Jim Ward say in a statement that they do not support unionization. The union is currently collecting signatures for a petition, which more than half of collective's employees already have signed. 


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Some grade schools in New Mexico will be allowed to have in-person learning next week, but it's unclear how many are signing up. The majority of counties have low enough COVID-19 case rates to allow for students to attend two days per week. But Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart says the state will not mandate in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic. Many districts have decided to keep schools online-only through the end of the month. Albuquerque Public Schools, the state's largest district, has decided against nearly all in-person learning until January. Stewart says the situation is fluid, and some school boards could announce in-person learning plans for younger students as soon as Friday.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Daimler Trucks and allied vehicle software company Torc Robotics are expanding their testing of self-driving trucks to public roads in New Mexico along major long-haul freight routes. The companies have established a new testing center in Albuquerque, as they begin automated runs for 18-wheel vehicles with autonomous diving technology on the U.S. Southwest's highways — supported by a human driver and a safety conductor. Daimler's Autonomous Technology Group has taken aim at commercializing self-driving trucks within a decade, and the new testing location complements ongoing research on roadways in Virginia with milder weather and fewer steep hills.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Estevan Montoya will remain in jail while he awaits trial on charges he shot and killed former Santa Fe High School basketball player Fedonta "J.B." White. State District Judge T. Glenn Ellington ruled Thursday that Montoya could pose a threat to the public and also could be in danger himself if he were released. Ellington said there were no conditions of release "that would ensure the safety of the community." Montoya's attorney entered a plea of not guilty to charges including first-degree murder. The judge ruled last week that the 17-year-old Montoya will be tried as an adult.


TIERRA AMARILLA, N.M. (AP) — A Rio Arriba jury has found a man guilty of murder in a triple homicide case in northern New Mexico after less than three hours of deliberation. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that 36-year-old John Powell was found guilty Wednesday. He and his 35-year-old brother Roger Gage were accused of fatally shooting two men and a woman in 2018 in a small village home near Dixon. Both men were charged with three counts of first-degree murder along with burglary, conspiracy and tampering with evidence, authorities said. Trial dates for the case against Gage haven't been set. A sentencing hearing for Powell is expected in about 30 days.