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Local and State News

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


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Economic analysts say that New Mexico is risking a public backlash and possibly overlooking recovery opportunities by not conducting an economic analysis of its pandemic-related health restrictions. State and independent analysists told a panel of legislators Friday that consumer confidence is key to the state's recovery as time goes on. Staff at the budget and accountability office of the Legislature said the state should consider incorporating more economic indicators into its pandemic policy decisions and build an economic dashboard to better track progress of economic recovery. The administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is taking a cautious approach to lifting health restrictions and reopening the economy.


LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico magistrate court judge has ruled there is probable cause to charge a former Las Cruces police officer in the choking death of a Mexican American man. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports Third Judicial District Court Judge Casey Fitch ruled this week there was enough evidence to order former Las Cruces Police officer Christopher Smelser to stand trial for second-degree murder. Smelser is accused of the Feb. 29 chokehold death of Antonio Valenzuela after he fled from a traffic stop. Smelser's attorney, Amy L. Orlando, said Smelser had been trained to use the hold and the murder charge was a political move.


FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — Body camera footage released by officials has shown that a New Mexico man who was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy did not have a firearm as he claimed to after committing a crime spree. The San Juan County Sheriff's Office on Thursday released the video showing the fatal shooting of suspect Marco Benito. He was killed by police on Aug. 31 after he reached his right hand into a bag during a confrontation. An investigation by the San Juan County Regional Officer Involved Shooting Taskforce determined that the deputy used his weapon in accordance with sheriff's office's policy.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Voting rights organizations in New Mexico have announced a nonpartisan voter protection program intended to make it easier for people to report election interference and seek out consultation on other problems at the polls or with absentee ballots. On Thursday, Common Cause New Mexico and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico said they are establishing a hotline in English and Spanish that will be staffed by attorneys, law students and those with a legal background who are familiar with the New Mexico Election Code. President Donald Trump continued his assault on the integrity of the U.S. elections during the first presidential debate this week.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A Latino congressman and mainstay of Democratic politics in northern New Mexico is vying for an open U.S. Senate seat against a television-savvy Republican challenger with household name recognition as a former network meteorologist based in Albuquerque. The race between U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of Nambe and first-time candidate Mark Ronchetti is testing the statewide appeal of a six-term congressional Democrat who signed Obama's health care overhaul and is fighting to preserve it in the age of COVID-19. Ronchettti is running as a "faith, family and freedom" Republican with a tough-on-crime platform, condemning career politicians and toxic politics in Washington.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico activists are scheduled to hold a rally to support a proposal that would change how active duty service members file sexual harassment and assault claims. The "I am Vanessa Guillen Act Rally" slated for Saturday in Albuquerque seeks to pressure the state's congressional delegation to endorse the measure. Under the proposal, the active duty service members would be allowed to file sexual harassment, and assault claims to a third-party agency instead of their chain of command. The proposal is named after Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen. The 20-year-old was killed and dismembered by a fellow soldier at Fort Hood.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A state panel that oversees water quality and permitting issues across New Mexico has approved lower interest rates for a program that helps finance water projects. The Water Quality Control Commission made the decision during a recent meeting. The loan program funds improvements for wastewater treatment plants, water conservation efforts and agricultural management. New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney says many communities were waiting for the change since it allows greater access to capital for such critical projects. The agency estimates that up to 400 communities could benefit. Under the change, the maximum interest rate was slashed by more than half to just 1%.


FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Cities across the U.S. Southwest recorded their driest monsoon season on record this year. Some locales received only a trace or no rain. The seasonal weather pattern that runs from mid-June through September brings high hopes for rain and a cooldown in the desert region. But like last year, it largely was a dud, leaving the region parched and prolonging the drought. Las Vegas tied a record set in 1944. Phoenix's monsoon season wasn't the driest, but the city had its hottest one on record. Weather forecasters say the upcoming winter likely won't make up for the precipitation deficit.