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Latest New Mexico news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 a.m. MDT

Navajo Nation eases COVID restrictions; mask mandate remains

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — The Navajo Nation has loosened coronavirus pandemic restrictions to allow more people into businesses and to gather socially and for outdoor events. The tribe has been more cautious in reopening than the states that surround it. Residents and visitors on the Navajo Nation are still required to wear a mask when in public. Tribal President Jonathan Nez says the new guidelines for businesses, schools and gatherings are based on a consistent decline in daily coronavirus cases since a large spike in January after the holidays. Businesses, including the tribe's four casinos, now can operate at 75% capacity, up from 50%.

New Mexico inmates outline abuse in civil rights lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — More than a dozen inmates who were transferred following a riot at a New Mexico lockup in 2020 were allegedly abused and terrorized by state correctional officers. The allegations are outlined in a lawsuit filed Tuesday by a watchdog organization and a civil rights attorney. The inmates claim their rights to due process and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment were violated by a deputy warden and others at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility. The state Corrections Department said it will investigate the allegations. The case comes as the federal government faces more pressure to reform its own prison system and as advocates push for more oversight at the state level.

New Mexico legislature approves payments to offset inflation

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic lawmakers are pushing for one-time payments to New Mexico residents of $500 per individual or $1,000 per household to offset steep prices for fuel and raging inflation. The aid package won legislative approval Tuesday and goes to the governor for consideration. The bill would distribute nearly $700 million to adult residents of all income levels. Republicans in the legislative minority warned that rebates would only stoke inflation further. Fuel prices are taking a bite out household finances at the same time that New Mexico state government is experiencing a financial windfall linked to record-setting oil production.

Agency: New Mexico pot legalization doesn't change US law

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Border Patrol says agents at checkpoints in New Mexico will continue to enforce a federal law making possession of marijuana illegal even though the state has legalized recreational marijuana. A spokesman for the agency's El Paso Sector said Tuesday that means agents will still regard marijuana as contraband and seize it. New Mexico's legalization of recreational marijuana took effect Friday, but a Border Patrol statement explained that marijuana remains a prohibited drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The El Paso Sector includes New Mexico and the two most western of Texas' counties, including El Paso.

Albuquerque council nixes veto of repeal of plastic bag ban

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Albuquerque City Council has voted to uphold a previous decision to repeal an ordinance banning grocery stores and other retailers from distributing single-use plastic bags. The council voted last month to eliminate the ban, prompting a veto by Mayor Tim Keller, but the council's 6-3 vote Monday night overrides Keller's veto. Supporters of the ban cited environmental reasons. Opponents said it inconvenienced shoppers. The ban took effect Jan. 1, 2020 after being approved in 2019. The council also authorized creation of marijuana smoking lounges though public consumption of marijuana would remain illegal. A state law legalizing recreational marijuana took effect Friday.

Trial opens for police officer charged with storming Capitol

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jurors have heard conflicting explanations for why an off-duty police officer from Virginia entered the U.S. Capitol during last year's riot. A federal prosecutor said Tuesday that former Rocky Mount police officer Thomas Robertson stormed the Capitol because he believed the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from Donald Trump and he wanted to interfere with the certification of President Joe Biden's electoral victory on Jan. 6, 2021. But a defense attorney said Robertson only entered the Capitol because he wanted to retrieve a fellow officer who had entered the building before him. That other former officer, Jacob Fracker, pleaded guilty to a riot-related charge and could be a key witness for prosecutors.

GOP blocks Senate COVID bill, demands votes on immigration

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans have blocked a Democratic attempt to begin Senate debate on a $10 billion COVID-19 compromise that is just a day old. The GOP wants to entangle the bipartisan pandemic package with an election-year showdown over immigration restrictions that poses a politically uncomfortable fight for Democrats. The COVID-19 bill would provide money for treatments, vaccines and testing. But a Democratic move to push the measure over a procedural hurdle failed 52-47, with all 50 Republicans voting no. As a price of their support, they want Democrats to give them a vote on an amendment that would keep Trump-era immigration restrictions from expiring next month.

Afghan evacuees mark first US Ramadan with gratitude, agony

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (AP) — Afghan families evacuated to the United States when the Taliban regained power are celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. They are doing so with gratitude for their safety, but also the agony of knowing their relatives back home are still in harm's way. Ramadan is a time of fasting, worship and togetherness with family and friends. But for those rebuilding their lives in the U.S., the holiday is bewildering and bittersweet knowing their loved ones are still under the repressive Taliban regime. Most fled because working with Americans during the war made them Taliban targets. But in the chaotic withdrawal, they left behind close-knit families and their cheerful, prayerful feasts.