Abortion/gender-affirming care bill heads to governor
On Friday night, the state House of Representatives concurred with Senate amendments to House Bill 7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Freedom Act, marking its final legislative hurdle before reaching Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. The bill, which the governor championed this session, will bar public bodies from discriminating against individuals’ health care on the basis of gender and from refusing or blocking their access to reproductive health care. Those measures became needed when, in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade last June, several New Mexico cities passed ordinances banning abortion. The bill also bars interference with gender-affirming health care. “All of us deserve to be able to get the health care we need, when we need it—without the fear of persecution or prosecution,” lead sponsor state Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, said in a statement. “Tonight, we are one step closer to making sure New Mexico stands up for our core values of respect, understanding, and community by protecting access to lifesaving reproductive and gender affirming care in every corner of our state.” The bill, however, may still face legal challenges. The Guardian reports Texas anti-abortion activist Mark Lee Dickson, who has been leading the so-called “sanctuary cities for the unborn” movement, intends to legally challenge HB 7 and argue “the federal anti-obscenity law at the heart of the ordinances should be enforced across the US. He hopes that the fight over local ordinances turns into a court battle that culminates in a national ban on abortion.”
Another high-stakes bill—the $9.57 billion state budget—passed the Senate last night on a 25-16 vote, and now returns to the House for approval of Senate amendments. Those changes, however, came late and, Republicans complain, secretly. All Senate Republicans voted against the General Appropriations Act of 2023, which is the largest budget in state history and close to 14% larger than last year’s. “The word ‘historic’ may be a bit overused when talking about legislation, but in this case I think it’s more than appropriate,” Senate Finance Chair George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said in a statement. The Senate also passed and sent to the governor, at about 2:15 am today, SB 64, which will end life sentences in prison for juveniles. A recent ProPublica investigation revealed the state Corrections Department has actually lost track of approximately two dozen of such inmates.
Vacation-town housing company eyes Santa Fe
Forbes magazine highlights Santa Fe as one of the “most popular second home markets” in the US, along with scenic spots like Kaua’i County in Hawaii and New Jersey’s Cape May. “While the real estate boom of 2021 and 2022 may be calming down, the effects of the pandemic-fueled buying frenzy have proven long-lasting in many parts of the country—in particular for second home and vacation markets that emerged as buyers sought more inventory and more reasonable pricing,” Forbes notes (the data comes a Pacaso report on 2022 luxury homes). As for Santa Fe: “Those who fall in love with the New Mexico capital will find themselves in an increasingly competitive market,” the magazine writes. “In the past five years, Santa Fe has seen its real estate market explode, with prices almost doubling and inventory plummeting.” To that end, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports Santa Fe’s housing shortage could make a good fit for a start-up company that helps convert short-term rentals and empty second homes into rentals for local workers via incentives. Approximately 15% of Santa Fe’s homes are currently empty, according to the story. “We are expanding to other markets,” Placemate co-founder and CEO Colin Frolich, a former AirBnb product marketing manager, tells the paper. “Definitely Santa Fe is on our radar.”
DOH cancels disability contracts, investigates allegations
The state health department on Friday announced it has terminated agreements with four organizations that provide services to just over 700 people on the developmental disabilities waiver and is “investigating allegations of misconduct that resulted in severe and life-threatening injuries to a client.” The providers include: At Home Advocacy, Inc. and Lynn Barbour in Albuquerque; A New Vision Case Management in Corrales; and Sylvester & Company of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. “The egregious failure by these agencies to ensure the wellbeing of our disabled clients warranted immediate action to safeguard residents,” DOH Secretary Patrick Allen said in a statement. “Anyone charged with protecting the most vulnerable New Mexicans is held to the highest standard, and we will hold anyone that abuses that responsibility to full account.” According to a news release, none of the direct care personnel allegedly involved in these cases are currently working with clients and the providers under investigation are required to transition all clients receiving services to other provider agencies no later than April 30, 2023. Meanwhile, DOH’s Developmental Disabilities Supports Division will conduct face-to-face visits with the family-living clients weekly until the transitions are complete. “We are doing all we can to help ease the disruption and distress caused to residents and their families as we transition them to new providers,” Allen said.
NM delegation: $19 mil for clean drinking water
New Mexico communities “on the front line” for drinking-water contamination from so-called “forever chemicals,” aka Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, will receive $18.9 million in federal funding, the state’s congressional delegation announced on Friday. The money comes via the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Emerging Contaminants in Small or Disadvantaged Communities Grant Program, with the 2021 federal Infrastructure Law allotting $5 billion over five years to help such communities. On Feb. 13, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan announced the availability of $2 billion specifically to address emerging contaminants, like PFAS. “Contamination and pollution from these forever chemicals threaten clean drinking water supplies that New Mexico communities depend upon,” US Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, said in a statement. “I am proud to welcome this funding that we secured through the Infrastructure Law to ramp up New Mexico’s urgent efforts to detect pollution and protect our precious water resources from PFAS and other emerging contaminants.” US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-NM, noted in a statement such efforts are particularly necessary in Clovis—impacted by the contaminated groundwater near Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases—and said she and the rest of the delegation are “working so dairy farmers in Clovis are fully compensated for dangerous levels of PFAS that affected their land, water and livelihoods.”
COVID-19 by the numbers
Reported March 10: New cases: 203; 671,132 total cases. Deaths: one; Santa Fe County has had 400 total deaths; 9,062 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 73. Patients on ventilators: six
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent March 9 “community levels” map shows the entire state with green—aka low—levels. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.
Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via COVIDTests.gov; 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.
Yesterday, the state House of Representatives passed on a 50-18 vote the 70-page omnibus tax reform bill under consideration during this year’s legislative session—which includes everything from personal rebates (now at $500/$1,000) to climate change incentives to more health care and child care tax credits. Friday’s New Mexico In Focus segment helps shed lights on the bill’s ins and outs as the Legislature enters its final week (it ends at noon, March 18). Correspondent Gwyneth Doland talks with state Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee and the bill’s lead sponsor; Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Director Camilla Feibelman; and New Mexico Tax Research Institute Executive Director Richard Anklam.
McCarthy on Santa Fe
Actress Melissa McCarthy continues to praise Santa Fe, named by Booking.com—which employed McCarthy in a recent ad campaign—as the top trending travel destination for 2023. On Friday, Condé Naste featured McCarthy in its “How I Travel” series, in which she says of her recent trip to Santa Fe (she stayed at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado): “We had the most ridiculously beautiful, perfect snowfall—as if the Hollywood trucks rolled in and had spun sugar going through sifters. I was like, These pictures are going to look fake! It’s just so pretty. So we got the best of both worlds, because when we came in, there was no snow, so you saw the endless desertscapes and beautiful architecture, and then day two, everything was lovingly dusted with four inches of perfect snow.” McCarthy had visited Santa Fe previously and, in fact, officiated two friends’ wedding here. “I love how much art is there,” she tells Condé Nast. “I love the diversity. I love all of the Native American artwork and history. I have a special spot [in my heart] for that city.” Santa Fe also is the home of Big Nose Kate Whiskey, a company in which McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone are investors.
Meow Wolf goes golfing
Meow Wolf’s next location in the “real” world will be in Texas, come summer. But shortly thereafter, in fall 2023, Meow Wolf also will be found on the mini golf course—the virtual reality golf course, that is. On Friday, entertainment studio Mighty Coconut announced a collaboration with Meow Wolf for its next iteration of its Walkabout Mini Golf, a multiplayer app for VR headsets. “The course will be based on a central world in the Meow Wolf Denver location called Numina— a sentient universe attempting to communicate in the peculiar language of mini golf,” according to a news release. In an interview with CNET, Meow Wolf co-founder and Senior Creative Director Caity Kennedy says the company has “been dreaming about making mini-golf forever. Since a lot of our exhibits are a big thing compartmentalized with a bunch of little things, mini-golf is like a pretty hilarious and very accessible version of that.” The VR version of the Numina exhibition won’t just replicate the Denver version: “There will be a familiar experience that is twisted and freed by the mechanics of virtual reality,” Kennedy says. “People who’ve been to Numina in real life [at Meow Wolf] will see a lot of things that they got to see in real life, but a lot of people who have only seen pictures will get to wander around something akin to the pictures they’ve seen.”
The joys of spring
The National Weather Service forecasts a slight chance of rain and snow showers before 9 am today (possibly right now, but it’s too dark to say for certain. Thanks, Daylight Saving.), followed by a 40% chance of rain showers after noon. Some thunder is also possible. It will otherwise be partly sunny, with a high temperature near 48 degrees and west wind 5 to 10 mph. Tonight, a 50% chance for rain showers mixed with snow after 9 pm. Looks like warmer temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday before another storm front rolls through.
Thanks for reading! The Word senses today may require mindful breathing.