Morning Word

Legislature Kicks Off 56th Session at Noon

ABQ police arrest failed GOP candidate for shooting at Dems’ homes and offices

Legislative session begins

The New Mexico Legislature kicks off its 60-day 56th session at noon today with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State address. The public can attend the opening ceremonies and subsequent meetings and hearings at the state Capitol, aka the Roundhouse, located at the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta. You can also view these events online in real-time and afterward through the Legislature’s web viewer. To track specific bills throughout the session, register for My Roundhouse. You can also search for legislation by bill number, keyword, subject and sponsor. Search for your legislator here. You can find the daily schedule for committee hearings and the like here. View the legislative social calendar here. In its list of priorities for the session, Common Cause New Mexico includes modernizing the legislative process with more staff, longer sessions and compensation for legislators, along with more improvements to the state’s campaign finance laws and disclosure acts. Lawmakers will be discussing how to allocate funds (read the governor’s budget recommendations for the 2024 fiscal year here and the Legislative Finance Council’s recommendations here), while tackling a slew of bills related to the economy, crime, housing, abortion, the environment and more. SFR will have a look at the top issues in tomorrow’s paper and online editions. Legislative Council Service Director Raúl Burciaga told lawmakers yesterday visitors will not be required to wear masks at the Roundhouse, nor will staff be checking vaccination cards. Visitors will, however, have to pass through metal detectors.

ABQ police arrest former GOP candidate in Dem shooting case

Albuquerque Police yesterday announced they had arrested Solomon Peña, whom Police Chief Harold Medina described in a news conference as the likely “mastermind” in the recent shootings at local lawmakers’ homes and offices. Police arrested Peña yesterday afternoon, the Albuquerque Journal reports, after a SWAT team served a search warrant at a condominium complex near the ABQ BioPark Zoo. APD Acting Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock said yesterday “a multitude of technologies,” including firearm and cell phone records, as well as surveillance footage, led to the arrest of Peña, who ran a failed race as a Republican candidate for House District 14 in November’s general election; On Twitter, Peña denied losing and said the election had been rigged. Another post indicates he attended the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, DC. Mayor Tim Keller said at yesterday’s news conference the evidence regarding Peña demonstrates “what we had all feared and what we had suspected—that these shootings were indeed politically motivated. They were dangerous attacks not only to these individuals…but, fundamentally, also to democracy.” According to the criminal complaint, police charged Peña with four counts of shooting an an occupied dwelling; shooting at or from a motor vehicle; attempted aggravated battery with a deadly weapon; and four counts of conspiracy as well as criminal solicitation. In short, police believe Peña paid four men to shoot at the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators, and was present for at least one of the shootings. Police also charged Peña as a felon in possession of a firearm; he served more than seven years in prison after being convicted of more than a dozen theft-related felonies. “I commend the Albuquerque Police Department, State Police, the Bernalillo County Sheriff and the District Attorney’s Office for a successful partnership to apprehend the suspected perpetrator,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “There is no place in our society or our democracy for violence against any elected official or their families, and I trust the justice system will hold those responsible for such attacks to full and fair account.”

SFPS, city partner on student work program

Santa Fe Public Schools and the City of Santa Fe say its “work-based learning partnership” is profiting both students and employers in the area. According to an SFPS news release, the Santa Fe City Council at its Jan. 11 meeting approved a $797,600 contract for the program, which pays student interns $14 an hour for the next two years using American Rescue Plan Act funds for youth workforce development. The city says it is New Mexico’s only municipality to use the funds in partnership with the public schools. The program, Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez says in a statement, “continues to soar” and is “meeting employability needs across many sectors, which is a benefit to employers and students.” City Youth and Family Services Director Julie Sanchez, who is overseeing the contract with Economic Development Department Director Rich Brown, described the program as “a critical link from classroom knowledge into real world application; not only do students gain new skills but they are paid for the invaluable time it takes to practice and apply those new skills in a professional setting. Work-based learning programs give young adults the opportunity to dream and build next steps for future career planning.”

LFC: Homelessness has declined but more support needed

While the number of homeless people in New Mexico has declined by one-third over the last decade, the state still needs more support for those at risk for homelessness, according to a Legislative Finance Council report released yesterday to lawmakers. The report updates legislators on the LFC’s ongoing program evaluation on homelessness and housing supports. According to the report, homelessness overall has declined by 28% in New Mexico over the last decade and poverty has decreased by 3.1%, but there were still at least 2,600 homeless individuals on a single night in 2022. The state has also improved at providing emergency shelter since 2018, however, “a shortage of affordable housing units in New Mexico illustrates a need for some additional long-term solutions, including permanent supportive housing and related support services,” the report says. In addition, “increased transparency and outcomes regarding existing investments in housing support programs” is needed. LFC staff will be working over the next few months “to define the gap between need, availability, and affordability, particularly for households with incomes at or less than 30% of area median income” and will present that information and “a broader suite of recommendations for the state’s housing and homelessness support programs” at LFC’s first interim meeting.

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported Jan. 13: New cases: 219; 662,301 total cases. Deaths: 12; Santa Fe County has had 384 total deaths; 8,891 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 82. Patients on ventilators: two

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Jan. 12 “community levels” map shows two counties (versus one last week) categorized as “yellow”—medium risk—for COVID-19: De Baca and Hidalgo. The rest of the state—including Santa Fe County—is green, aka has low risk. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.

Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via; Check availability for additional free COVID-19 tests through Project ACT; CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453. DOH encourages residents to download the NM Notify app and to report positive COVID-19 home tests on the app.

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

Listen up

This week’s snowfall doesn’t just bode well for folks heading up the mountain to recreate—winter precipitation figures mightily in the water conditions come spring and summer. In the most recent episode of Our Land, host and environmental journalist Laura Paskus talks with hydrologist Angus Goodbody from Water and Climate Services at the National Water and Climate Center, and Jaz Ammon, a water supply specialist with the New Mexico Snow Survey Program, about current conditions in the Rio Grande Basin.

The truth is (still) out there

Just before the end of the year, President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023, authorizing $858 billion in defense spending that provides raises for military service personnel; provides support for Ukraine; and sends millions to New Mexico’s nuclear and military sites. The bill also requires the Defense Department to take a second look at unidentified aerial phenomena—aka UFOs—specifically one dating to 1945 at which time, some accounts claim, “a large, avocado-shaped object struck a communication tower in a patch of New Mexico desert now known as the Trinity Site, where the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated that July” (thus pre-dating the 1947 Roswell incident). As New York Magazine details, the review comes via an amendment from US Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-WI, and “tasks the newly formed, Orwellian-named All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) to review any program or activity that was protected by restricted access that has not been explicitly and clearly reported to Congress.” The results, due within 18 months, could purportedly be significant. “The American public can reasonably expect to get some answers to questions that have been burning in the minds of millions of Americans for many years,” Christopher Mellon, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, tells the New York Times. “If nothing else, this should either clear up something that’s been a cloud hanging over the Air Force and Department of Defense for decades or it might lead in another direction, which could be truly incredible. There’s a lot at stake.”

Where the bison, pronghorn and javelina roam

Gayle MacDonald, a feature writer for Canadian daily newspaper The Globe and Mail, visits New Mexico to view what happens “when conservation and capitalism collide.” MacDonald joined “an intimate group of conservationists, eco-luxury travel advisers, biologists and local politicians” who toured several of the properties that comprise the Ted Turner Reserves, described by MacDonald as “the regenerative-tourism division of Turner Enterprises, whose sole purpose is to connect guests with nature and to show them that private lands can play a crucial role as guardians of imperiled species.” The tour includes the Ladder, “a 156,000-acre ranch Turner bought in 1992, which is now open to guests,” in Caballo, where guests can stay in a four-bedroom home decorated by Turner’s former wife Jane Fonda. They also visit the 360,000 acre ranch Armendaris in south central New Mexico, where the first thing MacDonald notices “is that the ranch sign is riddled with bullet holes.” When she asks why, she’s told: “Every sign in New Mexico has to be shot.” Bullet holes aside, the story expresses deep appreciation for New Mexico’s natural beauty and Turner’s conservation mission. As for the capitalism, Jade McBride, president of Ted Turner Reserves, says the properties are part of the 84-year-old’s “succession” plan as he’s intent on ensuring their solvency: “Eco-tourism, or nature tourism, is just one more way for Ted to reach that goal,” McBride says.

Grab a hat

The National Weather Service forecasts an 80% likelihood of more rain and snow showers today before 2 pm today, then rain showers likely between 2 and 5 pm, with a high temperature near 42 degrees and southeast wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southwest 15 to 20 mph in the afternoon. Chances decrease to approximately 30% for more snow showers tonight, mostly before 8 pm.

Thanks for reading! The Word enjoyed this viral video of aspiring child performer Nathan Broxton singing along to the new Matilda musical, along with the feel good story that followed.

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