- VIRUS OUTBREAK-MANDATORY VACCINATION
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A corrections officer is suing a New Mexico county over a requirement that first responders and other Dona Ana County employees be vaccinated. Isaac Legaretta says in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court that forcing employees to take vaccines that aren't yet fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration violates federal law. Legaretta is facing termination for declining a vaccination. His attorney is seeking an injunction to keep the county from firing or disciplining the officer before a ruling is issued. County officials are defending the policy, saying it's aimed at ensuring a safe workplace and protecting inmates.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Maine Sen. Susan Collins says she will support New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to be Interior secretary. Collins is the first Republican senator to publicly back Haaland, who's set to become the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency. The announcement Wednesday makes Haaland's confirmation by the Senate nearly certain and follows Haaland's endorsement last week by Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Collins says she differs with Haaland on several issues but appreciates her role in helping to lead House passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, a landmark conservation law that Collins co-sponsored.
- PANDEMIC RELIEF-NEW MEXICO
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Democratic governor has signed economic relief legislation that provides $600 rebates to low-income workers and a tax holiday for restaurants that have been hobbled by aggressive pandemic health restrictions. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday signed two bills that are part of an ambitious economic recovery package. The newly signed bills also would provide loans of up to $150,000 to business that lost income in 2020. New Mexico state finances and trust funds are rebounding amid a surge in oil production and prices, along with a boost from 2020 federal relief. Lujan Grisham says she hopes the relief reaches people who need it most.
- INTERNET ACCESS-NEW MEXICO
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico legislators are advancing bills that would modernize efforts to expand access to high-speed internet service as online schooling during the pandemic exposes infrastructure gaps. The state Senate on Wednesday endorsed a bill that creates a centralized office for broadband internet access. Outside of New Mexico's metro areas, internet access can be slow, expensive, or simply not available. Proposals from House and Senate lawmakers would set up a centralized clearinghouse within state government for improving internet access — following the example of many other states that address broadband internet through one agency.
- SPACEPORT AMERICA-NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
SIERRA COUNTY, N.M. (AP) — Spaceport America has named New Mexico native Scott A. McLaughlin as its new executive director. The company announced the appointment on Tuesday. McLaughlin served as the director of business development at Spaceport America prior to being named interim executive director in July 2020. He has worked at several government agencies including the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as in the private sector with tech and engineering companies. McLaughlin graduated from New Mexico State University with a degree in electrical engineering. Spaceport America is a federally licensed launch complex situated on 18,000 acres adjacent to the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico.
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Policing reforms are making for strange bedfellows in New Mexico as the co-founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and the conservative-backed nonprofit group Americans for Prosperity lobby for a bill to eliminate police immunity from lawsuits on civil rights violations. Ice cream entrepreneurs and civic activists Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield on Tuesday joined an online news conference to promote the proposed policing reforms that would allow civil right lawsuits against local officials in state courts. Cohen says he hopes the bill will be approved and serve as a model for police accountability movements in other states.
- ONLINE SCHOOLING-LAWSUIT
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Accusations of civil rights violations have been filed against the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education on behalf of students who cannot return to in-person learning. In documents obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, attorneys are seeking as much as $1.8 billion on behalf of the district's nearly 90,000 students to cover private school tuition, citing constitutional guarantees to an adequate education. Many New Mexico school districts have opted not to dramatically increase in-person learning despite approval from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman Monica Armenta declined to comment because the situation involves pending litigation.
- LEGISLATURE-LOAN REGULATIONS
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A bill capping interest rates at 36% annually for short-term, low-dollar loans has cleared the New Mexico Senate. Democrats say it will further reduce lending they describe as predatory. Republicans and one Democrat opposing the bill called it out of touch, arguing that on a monthly basis, the bill will cap loans to 3% and largely eliminate access to credit for the poor and unbanked. Currently, lenders can charge as much as 175% on loans of $5,000 or less. Supporters of the bill say that local nonprofit organizations and credit unions are increasingly lending to those in need.