Bill to help stop minors from accessing firearms heads to NM governor – Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico

Gun safety legislation is on its way to the governor’s desk for a signature.

Bennie’s Bill, which would make it a crime for allowing a firearm to be accessible to a minor, passed with concurrence through the House by a vote of 34-28 on Wednesday evening.

The bill was named after Bennie Hargove, a middle school student whose classmate fatally shot him in 2021 using his father’s gun.

This bill would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to negligently have a firearm be accessible to a minor, and a fourth-degree felony if the minor who uses the gun significantly harms another person or themself.

There’s a list of exceptions, including if the gun was kept in a locked container, securely stored or in an inaccessible location; if a firearm was used in self-defense; or in the case of an illegal entry on someone’s property.

A Senate amendment included in the bill that passed from Sen. Steven Neville (R-Aztec) last week added an exception that would allow a minor to use a firearm for hunting, recreationally or any other lawful purpose.

Rep. Stefani Lord (R-Sandia Park) asked repeated questions about the extent and technicalities of this clause.

Rep. Pamelya Herndon (D-Albuquerque), the bill’s sponsor, went back and forth with her colleague about the amendment before she said Neville could better explain the proposal.

However, Sen. Neville wasn’t present at the House floor meeting.

“I’m actually trying to get honest answers so when I go home and explain this, I want to make sure that none of our parents are committing a crime,” Lord said. “I don’t want that to happen.”

Lord asked if she should just wait for Neville to come to the House floor. In response, House Speaker Javier Martinez (D-Albuquerque) told someone to call Neville.

Martinez recommended that Lord continue with her questions and reminded the representatives that the bill still has to be signed by the governor and will take several months to even become law.

“We’ve got plenty of time to get a one-pager from the senator as to the technical aspects of this amendment,” Martinez said. 

Santa Fe delays possible plan to rebuild a Civil War obelisk – Associated Press

The Santa Fe City Council has decided to delay a decision on a controversial plan to rebuild a Civil War obelisk.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that dozens of community members opposed to having the Soldiers’ Monument reconstructed voiced their concerns for hours at a public meeting Wednesday.

The council had been set to discuss and potentially adopt the contentious plan opposed by the Santa Fe Indigenous Center and Southwestern Association for Indian Arts and other groups.

The Santa Fe Plaza centerpiece dates back about 155 years, but was destroyed by protesters during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally in 2020.

All that remains standing is the base of the monument that is currently covered by a wooden box, according to the New Mexican.

Initially built as a tribute to Civil War Union Soldiers, an engraving dedicated the monument to the “heroes” who died in battle with “savage Indians.”

Some residents gathered outside City Hall carrying banners and signs, including one that said: “Santa Fe City Council perpetuates violence against Indigenous peoples.”

Albuquerque looks to Santa Fe to help set up rules to purchase and redevelop Walmart property – By Maddie Pukite, Source New Mexico

City officials in Albuquerque want to purchase the Walmart property set to close on March 10 near San Mateo and Central.

It’s unclear how much it will cost for the city to acquire the property, which is still owned by Walmart.

The company has yet to offer to sell it, according to City Councilor Pat Davis, who said he is working with Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s office to design plans to purchase the property.

Davis said that the city could reallocate money to fund a purchase, but it is seeking other funding opportunities through the state legislature as well.

In a press release, the City wrote, state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Albuquerque) and state Rep. Janelle Anyanonu (D-Albuquerque) are working to secure capital outlay appropriations for this project.

City officials hoped that capital outlay appropriations would be secured via House Bill 505, otherwise known as Capital Outlay Projects.

The current version of the bill appropriates more than $40 million dollars for Bernalillo County, specifically projects in Albuquerque. At this time, the bill does not have money for projects that could lead the city to purchase the Walmart property.

HB 505 is set to be heard in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee on March 10. It seems unlikely that any funding from this bill will go to pay for this project.

Albuquerque officials said another proposal, Senate Bill 251, otherwise known as the Metro Development Act Changes, could offer additional funding sources for redevelopment projects on the site.

The bill unanimously passed the Senate on March 6 and is waiting to be introduced into the House. It was amended to include a provision that would require the state Finance Authority to approve any transactions by the city.

SB 251 would create additional methods to fund redevelopment projects across the state, including the city’s Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency.

Redevelopment projects can be done in designated redevelopment areas, according to Terry Brunner, the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency Director. The Walmart property resides in the International District, which is designated as the Near Heights area.

A redevelopment project could occur at the site if the city purchases the property from the corporation, according to Brunner.

“We’ll take a portion of the city that’s blighted or underdeveloped, and declare it a Metropolitan Redevelopment area, which gives us the ability to use our special incentives and work to try to get more commercial activity in that area,” Brunner said.

Ideally, Julie Bettencourt, a community organizer in Albuquerque, said that if the city obtains that property they would want to see something that is affordable.

Also something that is accessible in other ways. Bettencourt referenced Thrift-A-Lot, a thrift store that recently closed, as an example.

“They had a lot of stuff in the back that they would give out to unsheltered folks who came in who needed it. And they worked with people on, like, their prices. Stuff like that needs to exist to help people out,” Bettencourt said.

If a project is undertaken by the city it is not expected to be completed quickly, according to state Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-Albuquerque), an SB 251 sponsor.

She said this is in order to allow time for the project to collect input from the community and local businesses.

“This is not something that happens overnight. This is something that is for best practices, is something that is done over a long period of time,” Hamblen said.

The Albuquerque Development Commission has a Citizen Advisory Board that is intended to play a role in deciding how the projects unfold, Brunner said.

Enrique Cardiel, a community organizer in the International District, said the city needs to involve the neighborhood’s input in the process.

“Address the needs of the working class community that lives around and uses that Walmart. If it becomes an upscale development that really doesn’t replace what is about to be lost,” Cardiel said.

If a housing redevelopment project is done at that location, Bettencourt said they hope it is more in tune with community needs and given more attention than other housing programs the city has attempted before.

“They are pumping so much money into resources, but these rapid rehousing and renters assistance programs just aren’t getting the proper attention,” Bettencourt said.

SB 251 will allow redevelopment projects the city wants to fund through local, state and county taxes, as opposed to only being able to utilize money from the city’s property taxes, according to Brunner.

The money would not cause an increase to residents’ taxes, according to Hamblen, but rather diverts money that would otherwise go to the state.

The bill is intended to give the communities more authority in how the funds are used, she said.

The additional funds will allow the city to be able to undertake more projects at once, according to Brunner.

If a housing, retail or redevelopment project starts, it would include community input from the start, she said.

A redevelopment project does have options to create affordable housing on the site, Hamblen said.

Past investment projects from the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency included utilizing a tax abatement for the development of the Broadstone Nob Hill Apartments and a $1.2 million redevelopment at the Rail Yard, according to the agencies 2022 annual report.

“The key thing is we could easily slide into this whole different direction of putting in high-end stuff there. Hopefully we avoid that,” Cardiel said.

Bettencourt and Cardiel both want the city to prioritize the needs of the International District community members through affordability and encourage more grocery stores, pharmacies and banking options.

Only if Walmart sells the property and the city can make the purchase, of course.

“People need things. And we need to make sure that we have the resources and accessibility and even if the city ends up buying that space it’s very difficult to trust them to do the right thing with it,” Bettencourt said. “Because their attempts to use stuff don’t always go as planned.”

New Mexico knocks off Wyoming in MWC Tourney opener Associated Press

Jaelen House had 28 points in New Mexico’s 87-76 win against Wyoming on Wednesday night in an opening-round game in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

House added seven rebounds, six assists, and three steals for the Lobos (22-10). Jamal Mashburn Jr. scored 22 points and added six rebounds. Morris Udeze was 6 of 14 shooting and 3 of 6 from the free throw line to finish with 15 points, while adding 11 rebounds.

Hunter Maldonado finished with 36 points for the Cowboys (9-22). Wyoming also got 15 points from Jeremiah Oden. Xavier Dusell also had 15 points.

Judge orders halt to fast releases at US border with MexicoBy Elliot Spagat And David Fischer Associated Press

A federal judge Wednesday ordered the Biden administration to end the expedited releases of migrants who enter the United States illegally from Mexico, potentially straining already stretched holding facilities.

The order won’t take effect for a week to give the government time to appeal. The Homeland Security and Justice departments had no immediate comment.

In declaring a key administration tool illegal, U.S. District Judge T. Kent Wetherell II offered a scathing review of President Joe Biden’s border policies in a 109-page opinion, which followed a January trial in Pensacola, Florida.

The administration has “effectively turned the Southwest Border into a meaningless line in the sand and little more than a speedbump for aliens flooding into the country,” he wrote.

Wetherell, an appointee of President Donald Trump, criticized a decision to stop building a border wall, end a policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court and shift enforcement priorities. He also faulted the administration for ending family detention at the border, a decision that officials have begun to reconsider.

“Collectively, these actions were akin to posting a flashing ‘Come In, We’re Open’ sign on the southern border,” Wetherell wrote.

Wetherell’s language echoed Republican talking points heaping blame for all the border’s ills on Biden. While numbers have soared in the last two years, similar challenges dogged his predecessors, Trump and Barack Obama.

“Today’s ruling affirms what we have known all along, President Biden is responsible for the border crisis and his unlawful immigration policies make this country less safe,” said Ashley Moody, Florida’s Republican attorney general, who sued on behalf of the state in 2021. “A federal judge is now ordering Biden to follow the law, and his administration should immediately begin securing the border to protect the American people.”

At issue is the administration’s growing use of parole to quickly remove migrants from Border Patrol custody to pursue their immigration cases. They are typically told to report to immigration authorities in two months and tracked with a mobile device.

The Border Patrol paroled 572,575 migrants last year, including a record-high 130,563 in December. Parole plunged 96% to 5,225 migrants in January after the administration announced measures aimed at deterring Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans from crossing the border illegally and instead seek protection by applying online, finding a financial sponsor and entering the U.S. at an airport.

Parole is far faster than the time-consuming job of agents issuing notices to appear in immigration court. It has dramatically alleviated overcrowding at Border Patrol facilities, which hovered around 12,000 toward the end of last year but fell below 5,000 in January.

Immigration advocates warned that Wetherell’s ruling could exacerbate conditions.

“Should it take effect, this decision will mean greater health and safety risks for detained migrants and greater pressure on our agents at the border,” said Jennie Murray, president of the National Immigration Forum.

New Mexico lawmakers seek assurances amid prescribed burns – By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation are looking for assurances from the U.S. Forest Service that the agency is taking preventative measures to ensure that future prescribed fires don’t turn into disasters.

They sent a letter this week to Forest Chief Randy Moore, pointing to the largest wildfire in state history that was sparked last year by the federal government. It charred more than 530 square miles (1,373 square kilometers) of the Rocky Mountain foothills, destroying homes and livelihoods.

“A disaster of this proportion cannot happen again,” U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Gabe Vasquez wrote.

The letter comes as the agency moves ahead with a $1 billion investment to reduce the risk of wildfire across 45 million acres (182,109 kilometers) in the Western U.S. It’s a massive undertaking that involves more than 20 landscapes that are considered at highest risk. They stretch from arid New Mexico and Arizona to Idaho and Montana.

The New Mexico lawmakers said they understand the role that prescribed fires will play as land managers look to restore overgrown and unhealthy forests amid climate change.

Still reeling from the damage caused by the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon blaze, they told Moore that trust can be restored in the agency’s methods through communication with communities about upcoming burns — and by explaining how protocols have been modified to ensure prescribed fires remain contained.

“The U.S. Forest Service admitted fault, but we have a long way to go before they regain the trust of New Mexicans,” Leger Fernández said in a statement. “This letter requests that the (Forest Service) clearly explain what they plan to change to prevent another grave error like this. Our lands, forests, waters and communities cannot afford anything less, and our people deserve it.”

Moore has yet to issue a formal response to the lawmakers, but he promised in an address earlier this year that collaboration with communities and Native American tribes is a priority for the Biden administration.

Prompted by the New Mexico blaze, the agency last spring halted all prescribed burn operations for 90 days while it conducted a review of procedures and policies. By the end of the moratorium, managers learned that they can’t rely on past success, and must continuously learn and adapt to changing conditions, Moore said.

A report on the cause of the New Mexico fire pointed to a series of missteps by the agency, most notably that officials underestimated the amount of timber and vegetation that was available to fuel the flames — and the exceptional, dry conditions that had been plaguing the area for years.

Federal agencies have completed reviews of more than 30 fires between 2017 and 2022, including three in New Mexico.

In 2005, the federal government conducted what officials at the time called the first known attempt to take a comprehensive look at escaped prescribed fires and near misses, reviewing 30 cases to discover recurring lessons, and whether there were emerging trends or gaps in knowledge.

Common problems with the burn plans included complexity, risk assessments and the lack of fire behavior calculations — similar to the issues encountered years later with New Mexico’s historic fire.

Forest officials said Wednesday that the planning process for prescribed fires now includes a new template that addresses findings in the 2022 review. Part of that calls for plans to be validated and updated to ensure that the information is current, and the most recent science and modeling is incorporated.

For the most complex projects, there’s a new requirement to have additional personnel and equipment on site within 30 minutes. Those contingency resources can help reinforce firelines and mop up.

Drought conditions are also a mandated part of the discussion, and managers have a checklist to go over daily with an agency administrator. Additionally, human factors such as pressure, fatigue and experience are considered, officials said.

Just weeks ago, the Santa Fe National Forest delayed a project to burn debris piles in northern New Mexico due to snow and wind. Managers promised that the burned piles would be monitored closely, and every precaution would be taken to ensure the piles are out before the arrival of spring winds and warming trends.

“As we resumed our prescribed fire programs, we were met with a cooler and wetter winter than last year,” said Ivan Diego Knudsen, a spokesperson for the Southwest region. “The precipitation is much needed, but it can hamper our plans as fire managers prepare for their projects.”

Federal maps show there are pile burns and other prescribed burn operations planned or currently underway across the West.

Between October and the beginning of February, the agency reported that about 515 square miles (1,334 square kilometers) have been treated with prescribed fire — and that number is expected to grow once the results from recent projects in the southern and eastern U.S. are added.

In the Southwest, which includes grasslands in Oklahoma and Texas, prescribed fire has been used on about 32 square miles (83 square kilometers) since the moratorium was lifted last fall.

Lawmakers pass legislation through the Senate specifying standards of political conduct – Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico

Legislative efforts to ensure professionalism and safety in the Roundhouse are making their way through Santa Fe.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 5 unanimously, with eight legislators excused and one absent representative not voting.

This legislation reorganizes the Governmental Conduct Act, laying out professional political standards.

It specifies that sexual acts are among money and other things of value that can’t be traded for votes by legislators or other resources.

It also puts forth other political conduct public and private officials must adhere to, like revolving door policies that favor former employees. That would mean the state can’t take action for the purpose of benefiting someone who used to work there, for example.

The legislation would increase the maximum total civil penalty for violations in the bill from $5,000 to $10,000.

Sponsor Rep. Kathleen Cates (D-Rio Rancho) said this legislation was spurred because the New Mexico Supreme Court held in the recent case State vs. Gutierrez that New Mexico’s main anti-corruption provisions aren’t specific enough to be criminally enforceable.

Rep. Charlotte Little (D-Albuquerque), a cosponsor, said this legislation strengthens the Governmental Conduct Act “in ways that are long overdue” and will help stop unethical practices.

“It is sad that we must put into statute that a lawmaker cannot demand sexual acts for a vote,” she said. “But here we are.”

Rep. Reena Szczepanski (D-Santa Fe) is another sponsor and said this bill would put into statute what it means for a lawmaker to serve the public.

“We all serve here in the public trust, and we take an oath of office. We took that oath on the opening day,” she said. “And what this legislation does is it breathes life into that oath of office.”

An amendment from Rep. James Townsend (R-Artesia) was tabled that would’ve singled out lobbyists in the bill, specifying that they can’t pressure lawmakers into political acts or offer them sexual favors or other things of value.

Cates said what Townsend tried to do with the amendment is excellent, but the bill is about governmental figures, not lobbyists.

“I am so happy to hear that my very valued colleague is thinking about ethics and being able to make sure that we are communicating to the voters of the state that this is an important value for all of us,” she said.

The floor also approved an amendment clarifying definitions.

CHANGING THE COMPLAINT PROCESS

Szczepanski is also sponsoring House Bill 169, which would allow anyone who files a complaint with the Legislative Council Service during the interim session not to be bound to a confidentiality agreement. Currently, only the person accused can speak up about these investigations.

The legislation passed the House and is waiting to be heard by the Senate Judiciary, its second Senate committee.

“I just think it’s really important that we have an ongoing focus on making sure the Roundhouse is respectful and that people from every corner of the state can be here and feel safe and respected,” Szczepanski said.

She said it used to be difficult to know even where to bring a complaint. Now, she said, people tend to undermine how hard it can be to speak up.

“It’s really hard to come forward with a complaint — very, very difficult,” she said. “You’re facing potential ramifications for your employment, in your personal life. You’re facing embarrassment.”

Szczepanski said she’s been working on issues related to the anti-harassment policy since 2017. She previously worked as a lobbyist and staffer at the Roundhouse.

She said there’s a lot more work that needs to be done and anticipates more legislation will come in the future.

There has been some progress in modernizing the Roundhouse, she acknowledged, like getting more representation for women in the Roundhouse in the last four years. And now, she said, there is a lot of strong female leadership in the Legislature that helps with safety, too.

Szczepanski is the majority whip for the House. Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) also serves as the president pro tempore on the Senate side.

“This institution was not created with women or people of color or people who speak English as a second language or any number of diverse people in mind,” Szczepanski said.

Ex-Navajo President Zah, guided by love for people, dies – By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Peterson Zah, a monumental Navajo Nation leader who guided the tribe through a politically tumultuous era and worked tirelessly to correct wrongdoings against Native Americans, has died.

Zah died late Tuesday at a hospital in Fort Defiance, Arizona, after a lengthy illness, his family and the tribe announced. He was 85.

Zah was the first president elected on the Navajo Nation — the largest tribal reservation in the U.S. — in 1990 after the government was restructured into three branches to prevent power from being concentrated in the chairman’s office. At the time, the tribe was reeling from a deadly riot incited by Zah’s political rival, former Chairman Peter MacDonald, a year earlier.

Zah vowed to rebuild the tribe, and to support family and education, speaking with people in ways that imparted mutual respect, said his longtime friend Eric Eberhard. Zah was as comfortable putting on dress clothes to represent Navajos in Washington, D.C., as he was driving his old pickup truck around the reservation and sitting on the ground, listening to people who were struggling, he said.

“People trusted him, they knew he was honest,” Eberhard said Tuesday.

Zah will be buried Saturday morning at a private service. A community reception will follow just outside Window Rock, Arizona. His family expressed thanks for the outpouring of love and support they’ve received.

“It’s heartwarming to hear from the many people who share stories about Peterson, which provide comfort for the family,” they said in a statement late Wednesday.

Aspiring politicians on and off the Navajo Nation sought Zah’s advice and endorsement. He rode with Hillary Clinton in the Navajo Nation parade a month before Bill Clinton was elected president. Zah later campaigned for Hillary Clinton in her bid for the presidency.

He recorded countless campaign advertisements over the years in the Navajo language that aired on the radio, mostly siding with Democrats. But he made friends with Republicans, too, including the late Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain, whom he endorsed in the 2000 presidential election as someone who could work across the aisle.

Zah was born in December 1937 in remote Low Mountain, a section of the reservation embroiled in a decades-long land dispute with the neighboring Hopi Tribe that resulted in the relocation of thousands of Navajos and hundreds of Hopis. He attended boarding school, graduating from the Phoenix Indian School, and rejected notions that he wasn’t suited for college, Eberhard said.

Zah attended community college, then Arizona State University on a basketball scholarship, where he earned a degree in education. He went on to teach carpentry on the reservation and other vocational skills. He later co-founded a federally funded legal advocacy organization that served Navajos, Hopis and Apaches that still exists today.

Despite never having held a major elected position, Zah captured the tribal chairman’s post in 1982, campaigning in a white, battered 1950s International pickup that he fixed up himself, drove for decades and which became a symbol of his low-key style, Eberhard said.

Under Zah’s leadership, the tribe established a now multi-billion-dollar Permanent Fund in 1985 after winning a court battle with Kerr McGee that found the tribe had authority to tax companies that extract minerals from the 27,000 square-mile (69,000 square-kilometer) reservation. All coal, pipeline, oil and gas leases were renegotiated, which increased payments to the tribe. A portion of that money is added annually to the Permanent Fund.

Former Hopi Chairman Ivan Sydney, whose tenure overlapped with Zah’s as chairman, said the two mended the acrimonious relationship between the neighboring tribes over the land dispute. They agreed to meet in person, without any lawyers, to come up with ways to help their people. Even after their terms ended, they attended tribal inaugurations and other events together.

Zah would say “let’s go turn some heads,” Sydney recalled Wednesday after visiting with Zah’s family. “We would go together, sit together and get introduced together.”

Zah sometimes was referred to as the Native American Robert Kennedy because of his charisma, ideas and ability to get things done, including lobbying federal officials to ensure Native Americans could use peyote as a religious sacrament, his longtime friend Charles Wilkinson said last year.

Zah also worked to ensure Native Americans were reflected in federal environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

Zah told The Associated Press in January 2022 that respecting people’s differences was key to maintaining a sense of beauty in life and improving the world for future generations. He struggled to name the thing he was most proud of after receiving a lifetime achievement award from a Flagstaff-based environmental group.

“It’s hard for me to prioritize in that order,” he said. “It’s something I enjoyed doing all my life. People have passion, we’re born with that, plus a purpose in life.”

Zah said he could not have done the work alone and credited team efforts that always included his wife, Rosalind. Throughout his life, he never claimed to be an extraordinary Navajo, just a Navajo with extraordinary experiences.

That resonated with students at Arizona State University, where Zah served as the Native American liaison to the school’s president for 15 years, boosting the number of Native students and the number of Native graduates. Zah also pushed colleges and universities to accept Navajo students — regardless of whether they graduated in the Arizona, New Mexico or Utah portion of the reservation — at in-state tuition rates.

“It’s thousands upon thousands of Native students not only from Navajo who he encouraged to stay in school, seek advanced degrees and was available to counsel when they hit the rough spots,” said Eberhard, who worked for Zah while he was chairman. “He completely altered the way Arizona State University works with Native students.”

Current Navajo President Buu Nygren said he first interacted with Zah as a student at ASU, struck by Zah’s speech that he described as quiet and structured but powerful and vivid.

“To see him on the ASU campus brought a lot of inspiration to myself,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t have gone into construction management if he wasn’t so influential at ASU.”

Zah remained active in Navajo politics after he left ASU, as a consultant to other Navajo leaders on topics ranging from education, veterans and housing.

“He was a good and honest man, a man with heart,” former Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said late Tuesday. “And his heart was with his family, with the people, with the youth and, certainly, with our nation, our culture and our way of life.”

Voting rights bill in New Mexico wins Senate endorsement – By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A Democratic-sponsored voting rights bill aimed at expanding access to the ballot in New Mexico won state Senate approval Wednesday, clearing its last major hurdle in the Legislature.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has expressed support for major provisions in the bill. The 27-14 vote of the Senate was divided along partisan lines with Republicans in opposition and just one absence. House approval of minor Senate amendments is pending before the governor can sign.

New Mexico is one of several Democratic-controlled states where lawmakers are advocating for sweeping voter protections this year, reacting to what they view as a broad undermining of voting rights by the Supreme Court and Republican-led states — along with a failed effort in Congress to bolster access to the polls. Additional New Mexico bills would guard against harassment and intimidation of election workers and ban guns at voting locations.

The voting rights bill would provide automatic voter registration at motor vehicle offices and help restore voting rights to felons immediately after incarceration. It would also streamline the distribution of absentee ballots that can be returned by mail and make absentee ballot voting easier for Native Americans living in remote stretches of tribal land.

Democratic state Sen. Bill O’Neill, of Albuquerque, said current paperwork requirements for voting after incarceration are a “real impediment to people voting after they’ve paid their debt to society.”

He hopes recidivism will decline with changes that offer voter registration as inmates leave prison. At least 14 states have introduced proposals this year focused on restoration of voting rights.

Under the bill, voter registration would also become automatic for U.S. citizens during transactions at state motor vehicle offices. And the secretary of state could eventually expand voter registration services to other agencies, including tribal government and the Human Resources Department that oversees Medicaid and nutritional assistance payments.

Voter registration already is available at motor vehicle offices by choice, requiring some additional steps to complete the process.

Mail-in voting by absentee ballot would require fewer steps, under the bill.

County clerks would distribute absentee ballots automatically in every election to people who sign up for the service. Currently, voters must request an absentee ballot with each election in a voting process that can involve three or four mail deliveries.

Republicans extended debate on the bill for hours with a series of unsuccessful amendment proposals while highlighting the ease of voting under current regulations.

“The truth of the matter is it doesn’t expand voting rights,” said Sen. Cliff Pirtle, a Republican from Roswell. “I don’t believe anybody was prevented from voting that wanted to.”

The bill requires that each of New Mexico’s 33 counties maintain at least two monitored ballot drop boxes. County clerks can request an exemption. Election day would become a school holiday.

The bill also aims to make it easier for people living in remote stretches of tribal land in Native American communities to vote by absentee ballot.

Voters in remote tribal areas sometimes don’t have formal street addresses or receive mail at home. The bill would allow remote voters to designate a tribal government building as a home mailing address for election purposes — including community chapter houses on the Navajo Nation.

New Mexico is home to 23 federally recognized Native American communities, including a large portion of the Navajo Nation. Native Americans account for about 12% of the state’s population.

Under the bill, Native American communities also would have greater flexibility in designative voting locations, including ballot drop boxes. Some tribal residents were cut off from polling locations by local emergency lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Democratic state Sen. Shannon Pinto, from the Navajo community of Tohatchi, praised the proposed changes.

“It is very important that we still continue to make progress, that the voices are heard for all people,” she said.

Judge orders halt to fast releases at US border with Mexico – By Elliot Spagat And David Fischer Associated Press

A federal judge Wednesday ordered the Biden administration to end the expedited releases of migrants who enter the United States illegally from Mexico, potentially straining already stretched holding facilities.

The order won’t take effect for a week to give the government time to appeal. The Homeland Security and Justice departments had no immediate comment.

In declaring a key administration tool illegal, U.S. District Judge T. Kent Wetherell II offered a scathing review of President Joe Biden’s border policies in a 109-page opinion, which followed a January trial in Pensacola, Florida.

The administration has “effectively turned the Southwest Border into a meaningless line in the sand and little more than a speedbump for aliens flooding into the country,” he wrote.

Wetherell, an appointee of President Donald Trump, criticized a decision to stop building a border wall, end a policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court and shift enforcement priorities. He also faulted the administration for ending family detention at the border, a decision that officials have begun to reconsider.

“Collectively, these actions were akin to posting a flashing ‘Come In, We’re Open’ sign on the southern border,” Wetherell wrote.

Wetherell’s language echoed Republican talking points heaping blame for all the border’s ills on Biden. While numbers have soared in the last two years, similar challenges dogged his predecessors, Trump and Barack Obama.

“Today’s ruling affirms what we have known all along, President Biden is responsible for the border crisis and his unlawful immigration policies make this country less safe,” said Ashley Moody, Florida’s Republican attorney general, who sued on behalf of the state in 2021. “A federal judge is now ordering Biden to follow the law, and his administration should immediately begin securing the border to protect the American people.”

At issue is the administration’s growing use of parole to quickly remove migrants from Border Patrol custody to pursue their immigration cases. They are typically told to report to immigration authorities in two months and tracked with a mobile device.

The Border Patrol paroled 572,575 migrants last year, including a record-high 130,563 in December. Parole plunged 96% to 5,225 migrants in January after the administration announced measures aimed at deterring Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans from crossing the border illegally and instead seek protection by applying online, finding a financial sponsor and entering the U.S. at an airport.

Parole is far faster than the time-consuming job of agents issuing notices to appear in immigration court. It has dramatically alleviated overcrowding at Border Patrol facilities, which hovered around 12,000 toward the end of last year but fell below 5,000 in January.

Immigration advocates warned that Wetherell’s ruling could exacerbate conditions.

“Should it take effect, this decision will mean greater health and safety risks for detained migrants and greater pressure on our agents at the border,” said Jennie Murray, president of the National Immigration Forum.

Police name suspect in Albuquerque double homicide – Associated Press

Authorities have identified a man who they say stabbed his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend numerous times before shooting himself at an Albuquerque home in late February.

Albuquerque police said Tuesday that Yoel Rodriguez, 48, had been in a long-term relationship with Danay Morales-Hernandez, but they recently broke up. Relatives told detectives that their relationship began in Cuba and the couple later moved to Florida, Texas and then to New Mexico.

Police say Rodriguez found out Morales-Hernandez, 36, was in a new relationship and showed up at the home where she was living with her two daughters and Omar Rodriguez-Hechemendia, 25, who had recently arrived from Los Angeles to visit her.

Rodriguez-Hechemendia had taken one of the girls to school when Rodriguez entered the home and stabbed Morales-Hernandez multiple times. Police said the woman’s 2-year-old daughter was by her side when officers arrived.

After killing his ex-girlfriend, Rodriguez stabbed Omar Rodriguez-Hechemendia multiple times and attempted to shoot him.

Rodriguez-Hechemendia made his way into the street in front of the home, where motorists found him. He was taken to a hospital and later died.

Authorities said Rodriguez was found in the home, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Family members told detectives the couple had a long history of domestic violence, including an incident just months earlier in which Rodriguez was charged for shooting at Morales-Hernandez.

Family members told authorities she did not want to cooperate with prosecutors and dropped her restraining order against Rodriguez because she did not want the father of her children to spend time in prison.


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