- PANDEMIC SCHOOL SPENDING
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico education officials are beginning to spend $1.5 billion in federal pandemic relief set aside for school districts and the Public Education Department. The Legislative Finance Committee said in a release Thursday that school districts have spent around 4% of the funds so far. They've got plenty of time to budget the three rounds of relief money, which have deadlines between the fall of 2022 and 2024. School districts say they've spent millions on laptops for students, safety equipment for schools, and hazard pay for frontline workers. They're also planning to use the money to ramp up summer programs and tutoring.
The federal agency that oversees U.S. nuclear research and bomb-making has signed off on the first planning and design phase for a multibillion-dollar project to manufacture key components for the nation's nuclear arsenal. The plan calls for making at least 30 plutonium cores per year at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico. The National Nuclear Security Administration says design and construction could cost upwards of $4 billion initially. Watchdog groups say that's roughly double the projections made just last year. They also have concerns about the lab's safety and security record. The lab is scheduled to hold a community meeting Thursday evening.
- STATEHOUSE REOPENS-NEW MEXICO
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico state Capitol building has reopened to the public as the COVID-19 pandemic eases. It was closed to the general public for four consecutive legislative sessions. About 50 visitors wandered the corridors of the circular Statehouse on Wednesday as the doors were unlocked to all visitors for the first time in roughly a year. They were asked to wear masks and most if not all abided. Legislators shifted last spring to mostly virtual committee hearings as the pandemic took hold. Voting even took place remotely from outside the Capitol among members of the House of Representatives.
- VIRUS OUTBREAK-NAVAJO NATION
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — The Navajo Nation on Wednesday reported 15 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths. Tribal health officials say the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago now is 30,485 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The number of known deaths remains at 1,273. The tribe reported no coronavirus cases and no COVID-19 related deaths on Tuesday. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says the tribe is moving closer to herd immunity.
- VIRUS OUTBREAK-NEW MEXICO
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she expects the state to reopen by the end of June, when 60% of residents are predicted to be fully vaccinated. She made the announcement Wednesday, proclaiming that the state was conquering COVID. New Mexico has been racing to get more people vaccinated. The latest state data shows more than 41% of residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated. But some people still don't want to be vaccinated. Researchers at University of New Mexico Health Sciences have been awarded $1.4 million in federal funding to explore why as part of a national effort.
- NEW MEXICO WILDFIRE
THREE RIVERS, N.M. (AP) — Rain and snow helped crews working to keep a wildfire from spreading in forested mountains in south-central New Mexico. The fire was located west of the Ski Apache ski resort in the Sacramento Mountains and its size was estimated at 12,000 acres, with containment around 5% of its perimeter as of Wednesday. The fire has reached the scar from a previous wildfire, meaning there was less live vegetation to burn but more dry debris on the forest flood, officials said. The fire started Monday and its cause remained under investigation. Evacuation notices were lifted Tuesday for most areas near the fire.
- WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT
CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico has announced plans to replace diesel vehicles and equipment with electrical and battery-operated components as part of a larger effort to improve airflow in the underground nuclear waste repository. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is the only repository for nuclear waste disposal in the U.S. Carlsbad Nuclear Task Force Chair John Heaton said the group is working on multiple projects to enhance workforce safety, including converting all vehicles to electric. Heaton said reducing diesel equipment could also cut down on risks like fires or environmental contamination.
- 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.