- VIRUS OUTBREAK-NEW MEXICO
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she expects the state to reopen completely 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.
- 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.