Latest New Mexico news, sports, business and entertainment at 11:20 a.m. MST

May 21, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says he'll extend the public comment period on a contested plan that will guide oil and gas drilling and other development in an area of New Mexico that includes a national park and locations important to Native American tribes. A coalition of tribal leaders along with the state's congressional delegation, environmentalists and archaeologists had formally requested an extension weeks ago. They've pointed to the disproportionate effect the coronavirus outbreak has had on the Navajo Nation and other Native American communities. Bernhardt tells the Albuquerque Journal that he'll like extend the comment period 120 days. The deadline was May 28.


ESTANCIA, N.M. (AP) — Authorities say a New Mexico woman who tested positive for COVID-19 is facing charges after she refused to quarantine herself and visited a restaurant. KOAT-TV in Albuquerque reports prosecutors recently charged Gina Peterson with public nuisance and violating the state's health order. According to a criminal complaint, the 67-year-old Peterson walked in the Mama Bear's restaurant in Estancia on April 10, announced she had the coronavirus and refused to leave. Documents say she later came back and stayed in the women's restroom until the town's police chief removed her. Peterson is believed to be the first known COVID-19 patient charged in New Mexico for not quarantining herself.


LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — A Texas man is being held without bond as he awaits trial in a vehicle homicide case in New Mexico. Dona Ana County prosecutors say 29-year-old Eric Solis is charged with one count of homicide by vehicle, five counts of great bodily injury by vehicle, one count of aggravated fleeing of a law enforcement officer and driving on a suspended license. Solis, of Odessa, is accused of running a red light in New Mexico's Sunland Park on May 9 and causing a crash that killed an El Paso woman and injured several of her children. Authorities say 32-year-old Danielle Perez died at the scene of the collision that involved four vehicles. 


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she will help make sure that racial- and ethnic-minority voters know about the potential benefits of electing Joe Biden as president. Asked Wednesday at an online news conference whether she would accept a potential invitation to run for vice president in November, Lujan Grisham said she is completely dedicated to her job as governor but also will provide specialized support in promoting Biden's presidential campaign among minority voters. New Mexico has the nation's highest proportion of Hispanic residents — many tracing their local ancestry to the era of Mexican and Spanish rule. Native American's make up nearly 11% of the state population.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham set a June 1 target date to restart dine-in service at restaurants and reopen gyms, hair salons and shopping malls at limited capacity. Those businesses have been shuttered since March to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The governor and top health officials said Wednesday that a seven-day average of daily infections appears to have peaked around the start of the May and that progress has been made on several fronts toward meeting the state's so-called gating criteria for reopening the economy. The governor will call a special session of the Legislature on June 18.


BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Trump administration is giving energy companies temporary breaks on royalties and rent they pay to extract oil and gas from leases on public lands because of the coronavirus pandemic, government data shows. The move is drawing criticism as a corporate handout. A Democratic lawmaker asked for an investigation into how the breaks were awarded. Administration officials say the breaks are being granted only for companies that can show lower royalties are necessary for them to continue extracting fuel from public leases. Royalty rate cuts so far have been authorized for at least 76 energy leases in Utah. More reductions, including in other states, are in the works.


FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — The Navajo Nation's casinos in New Mexico and Arizona are staying closed until at least next month amid the coronavirus pandemic. The decision is in line with the tribe's partial government closure and stay-at-home order that expires June 7. The tribe has three casinos in New Mexico near Farmington, Shiprock and Gallup, and one in Arizona east of Flagstaff. The casinos have been closed since mid-March. Casino officials say employees still are receiving paychecks and have access to mental health and other services.  Meanwhile on Wednesday night, the Navajo Nation reported 100 new cases of coronavirus and two more deaths, pushing the total number of COVID-19 cases now to 4,253 with 146 known deaths.


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico health insurance regulators say statewide enrollment in Medicaid is on the rise as businesses shed workers in response to the coronavirus pandemic. State regulators said Tuesday that Medicaid enrollment increased by roughly 8,650 people in April over the previous month. Colin Baillio of the insurance superintendent's office says the state can expect to see more people shifting from employer-based health insurance to the federally subsidized plan for residents living in poverty or on the cusp, as unemployment swells. The state's Workforce Solutions Department was providing unemployment benefits to roughly 117,000 New Mexico residents as of last week.