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Local and State News

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


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico is revising its color-coded risk system by adding a new color that signifies when counties can ease even more pandemic-related restrictions. The red-yellow-green system now includes turquoise. State health officials said Wednesday that counties reach that category by meeting certain health criteria for four consecutive weeks. It allows for expanded indoor dining and the operation of entertainment venues like theaters, bars and clubs. All but four of the state's 33 counties already have seen test positivity and new case rates decline and have emerged from the strictest lockdowns — earning favorable yellow, green and now turquoise ratings on the color-coded map.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin says he will vote in favor of New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to serve as interior secretary, clearing the way for likely approval of her nomination as the first Native American to head a Cabinet agency. Manchin is the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He had been publicly undecided through two days of hearings on Haaland's nomination by President Joe Biden. Manchin caused a political uproar last week by announcing plans to oppose Biden's choice for budget director, Neera Tanden, a crucial defection that could sink her nomination in the evenly divided Senate.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Education officials in New Mexico want flexibility in federal testing requirements for students. The U.S. Department of Education said it won't exempt states from testing students, as it did last spring. But it said it would consider allowing tests to be shorter, done remotely and carried out as late as the fall. New Mexico's head of public education says he will likely ask to test fewer students in a representative sample that can be reliable for parents and policymakers. The challenge will be to include students who haven't engaged in virtual learning and may not take tests remotely.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The Democrat-led state House of Representatives has voted to increase state spending on public education, health care and relief to businesses in efforts to chart a financial path out of the coronavirus pandemic. The House endorsed Wednesday a $7.39 billion general fund spending plan for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 on a 60-10 vote with some Republicans in opposition. The budget bill would increase annual general fund spending by $332 million, or nearly 5% of current spending obligations. It now moves to the Senate for consideration and possible amendments. State government income is surging on a rebound in oil prices and increased production.


WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Navajo Nation health officials have reported 20 new confirmed COVID-19 cases with seven additional deaths. The latest numbers released Tuesday night bring the total number of cases on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to 29,576 since the pandemic began. There have been 1,152 reported deaths that were related to COVID-19. The Navajo Department of Health on Monday identified 21 communities with uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 from Feb. 5-18. That's an increase from last week's 15 communities, but down from 75 communities with uncontrolled coronavirus spread last month.


States are not willing to wait for more federal help and have been moving ahead with their own coronavirus relief packages. Maryland and California recently approved help for small businesses, the poor, the jobless and those needing child care. New Mexico and Pennsylvania are funneling grants directly to cash-starved businesses. The spending shows that many states have proved unexpectedly resilient during the pandemic. And it has provided fuel for critics who say they don't need another massive infusion of cash from Congress. The Biden administration's $1.9 trillion relief plan would send hundreds of billions of dollars to state and local governments.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in New Mexico have asked that the state remove protective barriers erected around the state Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection during which supporters of former President Donald Trump broke into the U.S. Capitol building. Republicans in the New Mexico legislature asked the Legislative Council on Tuesday to remove the fences around the facility arguing that "the threat has not materialized." Director of the Legislative Council Service Raul Burciaga says that he is reviewing the request and plans to meet with Democratic leaders to discuss the issue. 


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Army has announced plans to conduct field-testing of a new microwave weapon designed to protect military bases from incoming drones as early as 2024. The announcement came after an on-site demonstration at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. The Albuquerque Journal reported that the system called the Tactical High Power Operational Responder provides protection against multiple targets that simultaneously threaten military installations. Kelly Hammet heads the Air Force Research Laboratory's Directed Energy Directorate that built the system and says the Army intends to invest as a partner starting in October. Field testing will start by 2024 and deployment is not expected until at least 2026.