Latest New Mexico news, sports, business and entertainment at 11:20 a.m. MST
- VOTING RIGHTS-NEW MEXICO
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's top election regulator and governor wants to designate Election Day as a state holiday to encourage voting and make it easier to request and cast ballots by mail. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a news release Thursday that the proposal responds to "a wave of anti-democratic sentiment nationwide," discriminatory ballot access policies in other states, and a refusal by Republicans to fortify voting rights at the federal level. The two Democrats are seeking reelection this year. Separately, Lujan Grisham signed a new political map for the state Senate.
- VIRUS OUTBREAK-NAVAJO NATION
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — The Navajo Nation reported 294 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday, but no deaths for the second time in the past three days. Tribal officials say the latest numbers pushed the number of cases on the vast reservation to 42,324 since the pandemic began. The latest count includes 59 delayed reported cases. The known death roll remains at 1,592. Tribal officials say the omicron variant was detected on the Navajo Nation by Monday and the cases totals have jumped since then _ from 10 on Monday to 35 on Tuesday to 168 on Wednesday. The reservation covers 27,000 square miles and extends into parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
- BUDGET SURPLUS-NEW MEXICO
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's governor and leading state legislators are proposed a $1 billion increase in general fund spending for the coming fiscal year. The budget proposals unveiled on Thursday call for a spending boost of about 14% aimed at shoring up access to health care, improving public education and providing new investments in child wellbeing and public safety. The lead budget-writing committee for the Democrat-led Legislature outlined its spending priorities ahead of a 30-day session starting Jan. 18 that focuses primarily on spending and taxation. Leading legislators say they have a rare opportunity to change the course of education and the state economy.
- NEW MEXICO WIND PROJECT
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A California-based renewable energy company says work is complete on four wind farms in New Mexico that total more than a gigawatt of capacity. Pattern Energy officials announced Thursday that the Western Spirit Wind project has started commercial operations. The company had billed it as the largest single-phase construction of renewable power in the U.S. The wind farms span three counties in central New Mexico and will be capable of churning out enough electricity to power roughly 365,000 homes. Power purchase agreements are in place to serve several California utilities. Pattern Energy also plans $6 billion in projects in New Mexico over the next decade.
- COMMUNITY SOLAR-NEW MEXICO
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has until April to finish crafting rules for the state's new community solar program. The commission has held several workshops and meetings over the past year as part of the process. They were set to hear from members of the public Thursday, but only two people signed up. Commission staff said most have submitted their comments in writing. Advocates have said the goal is to ensure all communities that want access to renewable energy can connect through community solar, especially low-income households and underserved areas.
- SPACEPORT-WHISTLEBLOWER LAWSUIT
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The former chief financial officer for the New Mexico Spaceport Authority has filed a whistleblower lawsuit. Zach DeGregorio alleges he was forced to resign after raising concerns about financial malfeasance. DeGregorio also claims top officials committed securities fraud by refinancing spaceport gross receipts tax bonds under false pretenses. He also says in the lawsuit last week that secret meetings were held between state officials and Spaceport America's most notable tenant, Virgin Galactic. The lawsuits lists officials including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes and members of the spaceport authority board. A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham says her office will not comment on pending litigation.
- MONEY LAUNDERING SENTENCE
ALBUQUERQUE N.M. (AP) — A former New Mexico Taxation and Revenue employee has pleaded guilty to wire fraud, identity theft and money laundering. Prosecutors say 45-year-old George Martinez of Albuquerque was indicted by a federal grand jury last March. They say Martinez pleaded guilty Wednesday to 42 counts each of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft and six counts of money laundering. According to the indictment, Martinez was accused of using his position as a unit manager at the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department to fraudulently alter tax refunds and direct nearly $690,00 to bank accounts that he controlled between May 2011 and July 2018. Prosecutors say Martinez faces up to 32 years in prison when he's sentenced.
- VIRUS OUTBREAK-NEW MEXICO
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Only a couple of school districts and a handful of individual schools in New Mexico are pausing in-person learning for a week amid rising COVID-19 cases. That's according to data collected by the Public Education Department based on voluntary reporting by schools. New Mexico's largest districts have plans aimed at keeping kids in the classroom this semester. And state health officials said during a briefing Wednesday that the classroom is probably the safest place for children. Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase did acknowledge that the challenge might be having enough staff if teachers miss work. Like other states, New Mexico is seeing more cases due to spread of the omicron variant.