Morning Word

DA Appoints Republican Legislative Candidate as Special Prosecutor to “Rust” Case

Feds award NM $6.4 mil in jobs competition

DA appoints special prosecutor for Rust case

First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies announced yesterday she has appointed Andrea Reeb, who retired in March as DA for the Ninth Judicial District and is a Republican legislative candidate in the November election, as a special prosecutor for her office’s Rust investigation. No charges have been brought as of yet in the case following last year’s Oct. 21 fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding of Joel Souza on the Rust set. In a statement announcing the appointment, Carmack-Altwies said she was providing an “official update” to “dispel any rumors” about the case. She said her office “will begin the screening process and any necessary follow-up investigation” once it receives the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office “completed investigation.” To date, she says, the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office has received “portions” of the sheriff’s office investigation “but is still awaiting the balance of supplemental reports including”: FBI firearm and tool mark analyses; forensic testing on the firearm itself; the forensic download from Suffolk County Police Department of Baldwin’s phone; and the pathology report from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator. “Once SFSO receives those—and any other outstanding items—and completes its supplemental reports, the screening process will begin, and my team and I will make a charging decision,” the statement reads. Reeb’s appointment, she notes, will help “expedite” that review. “To remain transparent to the local and national community, the FJDA will proactively disseminate information as it becomes available.” Meanwhile, a California judge yesterday rescheduled a civil suit for Rust script supervisor Mamie Mitchell’s lawsuit against Baldwin and other producers for Sept. 28.

US Sens. Heinrich, Luján introduce fire cost-waiving bill

Legislation introduced this week by US Sen. Ben Ray Luján and US Sen. Martin Heinrich, both New Mexico Democrats, would waive cost share requirement for Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire victims in the federal Emergency Forest Restoration Program. The program, administered by the US Department of Agriculture, provides payments to eligible owners of nonindustrial private forest land in order to carry out emergency measures to restore land damaged by a natural disaster. The bill would expand the program to cover 100% for people impacted by the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. As Reuters recently reported, government officials have told some community members they would need to pay for a share of recovery on private land, despite President Joe Biden’s assurance the federal government would cover 100% of the cost, given the US Forest Service’s culpability in the fires. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has also written to US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting the USDA provide funds to New Mexico ranchers, farmers and landowners impacted by wildfires. “It’s clear there needs to be a strong federal response as our communities have already begun the recovery process, and waiving cost-share payments is one area in particular where an immediate impact will be felt,” Luján said in a statement regarding the new legislation. “Under current restoration guidelines, the federal government is only required to cover 75% of the cost for extreme events, forcing our local governments and New Mexican farmers and ranchers to pay out of pocket for the remaining damages. This is unacceptable for a fire started by the Forest Service, and that’s why I am leading this bill to ensure New Mexicans can be made whole once again.”

NM receives $6.4 mil for jobs initiative

A Northern New Mexico consortium of organizations received $6.4 million through the US Department of Commerce’s $500 Million Good Jobs Challenge, funded through the American Rescue Plan. The Commerce Department announced the 32 winning projects yesterday, which were selected from more than 500 applicants. As described in a news release, the projects “will solve for local talent needs and increase the supply of trained workers and help workers secure jobs in 15 key industries that are essential to US supply chains, global competitiveness, and regional development.” In the case of New Mexico, the $6.4 million was awarded to the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District to create the Northern New Mexico Workforce Integration Network, a health care, building and construction workforce training program. Partners in the project’s health care arm include Santa Fe Community College, Holy Cross Hospital, Santa Fe Recovery Center and Presbyterian Hospital in Española. A program description says the “partnership will invest in mirroring Arizona’s Clinical Education Consortium system that streamlines student pathways into clinical on-the-job training.” The Workforce Integration Network will also have a construction focus through a partnership with the Regional Development Corporation and employers such as Arpad Builders, Northern Rio Arriba Electric Cooperative, and Bradbury Stamm Construction. The funding comes as Bureau of Labor Statistics show New Mexico with the highest unemployment rate among states, based on June rankings. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the funding “transformative” in a news conference yesterday. “This is a state that has really struggled based on the rural nature of our populations and the fact that we are a sparsely populated state,” she said. “Really growing and diversifying our economy so that it meets the needs of those families and workers where they are has been a challenge for decades.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported Aug. 3

New cases: 874; 594,632 total cases

Deaths: six; Santa Fe County has had 330 total deaths; there have been 8,267 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 179. Patients on ventilators: eight (Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center Marketing, Communications & Public Relations Director Arturo Delgado tells SFR the hospital has seven COVID-19 patients and has not seen any monkeypox cases yet).

Case rates: According to the state health department’s most recent report on geographical trends for the seven-day period of July 25-31, McKinley County had the highest daily case rate per 100,000 population: 68.2, followed by Roosevelt County at 66.8 and Doña Ana County at 55.2; Santa Fe County’s case rate was 42.2, a decline from 46.6 last week. The state recorded 6,300 total cases statewide over the seven-day period, a 5% decrease from the week prior.

Acting Health Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase will provide updates on both COVID-19 and monkeypox (New Mexico has 10 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) at 11 am today, which will stream live on the DOH Facebook page and with Spanish translation on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s YouTube channel.

Community levels: The CDC’s most recent update for COVID-19 “community levels,” which will update later today, shows improvement from the week prior for the state overall. The CDC framework combines case rates with two hospital metrics and shows, for the seven-day period of July 21-27, 11 counties—six fewer than last week—have “red” or high levels. Santa Fe County remains “yellow” or medium. Seven counties—three more than last week—now have “green” or low levels. The CDC’s recommendations include indoor masking for people living in counties with high community levels. The community levels page has accompanying recommendations at the bottom of the page. The CDC also provides a quarantine and isolation calculator.

Resources: Vaccine registration; Booster registration Free at-home rapid antigen tests; Self-report a positive COVID-19 test result to the health department; COVID-19 treatment info: oral treatments Paxlovid (age 12+) and Molnupiravir (age 18+); and monoclonal antibody treatments. Toolkit for immunocompromised individuals. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453. Vaccines for children: Parents of children ages 6 months to 5 years can now schedule appointments for vaccinations at VaccineNM.org.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Listen up

As the prevention specialist for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Mo Lewis provides training and technical assistance to sexual assault coalitions, health departments and other community organizations around the country. On the most recent episode of the sexual-violence prevention podcast Both/And, Lewis talks with host Jess Clark, director of Sexual Violence Prevention for the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, on a variety of topics, including “new ways of looking at prevention tools, and how those tools intersect with anti-oppression efforts.” As always, the episode features an interesting conversation, great music and some cool links.

Hispanics under-represented in cannabis industry

Axios Latino Editor Astrid Galván and race and justice reporter Russell Contreras delve into the state of play for Latinos in the cannabis industry, looking at the five Albuquerque middle-school teachers who recently opened a dispensary, La Tiendita de Motita. The women belong, the Axios story notes, to a small demographic: The National Hispanic Cannabis Council reports Hispanics account for just 5.7% of licensed cannabis business owners. Financing is one barrier—the Albuquerque teachers cashed out retirement accounts and sold some of their assets to start their venture. Axios also spoke with state Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, about the loans available to micro-producers and retailers, as well as ways in which the state’s Cannabis Regulation Act was designed to attract first-time growers, he says (cannabis micro-businesses, some will recall, felt left behind after a bill that would have raised their plant counts died in a legislative session earlier this year).

NM shrooms

“Cream-colored stems elongate in clusters, punctuated by the brown speckled caps of chestnut mushrooms. On the rack above them, the bluish gray bells of oyster mushrooms fan upward. Another shelf over, the lion’s mane mushrooms grow more voluminous, their shaggy spines clumping together so they look like fluffy white clouds.” That’s the poetic lede Priscilla Totiyapungprasert penned for a fascinating El Paso Matters profile of Full Circle Mushrooms, a specialty mushroom farm based in La Mesa, New Mexico. Founded by Ximena Zamacona, a chemist from Mexico, the farm also composts the sawdust blocks used in the mushrooms’ “fruiting chambers,” which in turn go “to fruit and vegetable farms to improve water retention and release additional nutrients in the soil.” That’s where the “Full Circle” concept comes into play. “Full Circle Mushrooms is committed to closing the loop of a low carbon footprint system that not only produces food this area is not used to seeing (mushrooms in a desert) but transforming most of its elements into compost, which in return helps with carbon capture,” the company’s website notes. The El Paso Times’ story takes a deep dive into the science behind that goal, as well as the economics of scale for mushroom farmers.

Rain check

Chances for rain today look decent, with the National Weather Service forecasting a 60% chance for precipitation, with showers and thunderstorms likely to start after noon, some of which could produce heavy rain. It will otherwise be partly sunny with a high near 85 degrees. We may see more rain tonight, Friday and all weekend long.

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