- CHILD WELFARE-TRANSPARENCY
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says he's concerned about government employees potentially deleting public information without going through a legal process. He confirmed Wednesday that he's reviewing claims that the state's child welfare agency has been encrypting and routinely deleting its communications. The practice was first reported by Searchlight New Mexico, a nonprofit investigative journalism group. Republican lawmakers have asked for an investigation over transparency concerns. Critics say the practice could hamper investigations into how the state cares for children. The agency is defending the practice, saying it's a way to protect against cybercrime as more work is done virtually amid the pandemic.
- SUPREME COURT-NEW MEXICO
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil is retiring from the New Mexico Supreme Court at the end of June after more than eight years at the high court. Vigil's departure from the bench was announced Tuesday and triggers a vetting process for her successor by a bipartisan nominating commission. Her successor stands for partisan election in 2022. Vigil wrote the lead majority opinion in 2019 that set aside the death penalty for the final two inmates awaiting execution a decade after the state's repeal of capital punishment. She also authored recent opinions on utility regulation amid the state's transition away from coal-fired power plants.
- CHILD CARE SETTLEMENT
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's Early Childhood Education and Care Department has settled a lawsuit with anti-poverty groups, cementing access to child care subsidies for low-income residents. Under the agreement reached last week, households can qualify if they earn up to 200% more than the poverty line, which is income less than $52,400 for a family of four. The lawsuit was filed in 2018 against then-Gov. Susana Martinez after requirements for child care subsidies were tightened without following the public rulemaking process. The settlement follows a rocky year during the pandemic in which some child care centers closed and others struggled to retain staff because of distancing requirements, health risks, and low wages.
- ALBUQUERQUE CRIME-CAMPAIGN
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The union that represents Albuquerque police officers has launched a campaign aimed at highlighting the city's persistent crime problems. The Albuquerque Police Officers' Association is using billboards and television, radio and social media ads to urge the public to tell city leaders that the focus should be on crime rather than wasting money on oversight by the U.S. Justice Department. The Albuquerque Journal reports that the $70,000 campaign comes several months before a mayoral election in which crime already has emerged as the biggest issue. Union president Shaun Willoughby said the union has not yet considered who it will endorse.
- INDIGENOUS-VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Advocates who work in Indigenous communities in New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation say cases of domestic violence increased over the past year. They pointed to the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic. They said lockdowns and stay-at-home orders made it difficult for victims to access help and forced advocacy groups and social workers to be more creative when finding solutions. Their testimony came Tuesday during a virtual summit on ending violence against Indigenous women and children. Tribal leaders and officials from around the state are participating in the two-day event. Some expressed hope about the potential of the federal government doubling funding to address the problem.
- TRIBAL LANDS
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Interior Department officials have moved to reverse policies adopted under former President Donald Trump that Native American leaders said were hindering efforts by tribes to establish, consolidate and govern their homelands. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued an order Tuesday that allows regional officials within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve the transfer of off-reservation land into trust for tribes. Under Trump, those decisions were made in Washington and critics said that effectively froze some land transfers. Putting land into trust gives the federal government legal title, while tribes or individual members can use the land for their own interests and not have to pay state and local taxes.
- PRISON RATS-NEW MEXICO
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A mental-health worker at a state prison in western New Mexico is alleging in a lawsuit that she was harassed and threatened by superiors after reporting details of an apparent rodent infestation. The lawsuit under the state's Whistleblower Protection Act was filed Tuesday on behalf of social worker Nicole Ramirez. Ramirez says she was met with disciplinary measures after complaining of health conditions at the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility. The Corrections Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment by phone and email. Advocates for improved prison conditions say supervisors of the 390-bed facility have failed for years to resolve a rat and mouse infestation.
- INTERNET BLIMP STUDY
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico is investing in a study to see if blimps can deliver high-speed internet to rural areas. Officials confirm that a $3.2 million contract is in the works with Sceye (SKY'), an airship company with ties to Switzerland and Moriarty. It would launch airships rigged with internet devices from a hanger in Roswell and pilot them remotely. The New Mexico Economic Development Department says it's financing the study to find cheaper and faster ways to expand the state's weak broadband infrastructure laid bare by the pandemic. State officials estimate that traditional fiber cable expansion would take years and cost around $5 billion.