NM enacts laws fortifying LGBTQ+ protections
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday signed two bills that strengthen protections for New Mexico’s LGBTQ+ community. House Bill 207 expands the scope of the state’s Human Rights Act and clarifies that its discrimination protections apply to all state departments, agencies, institutions and “political subdivisions,” aka counties, cities and public contractors. The law also revises for greater inclusivity the definitions within the HRA for sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disabilities. “No one should be denied public services simply for being who they are,” co-sponsor state Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, said in a statement. “While hundreds of bills have been introduced across the country to restrict the rights of queer and trans people, New Mexico is committed to making our state a safer place for everyone by closing a loophole to ensure our taxpayer dollars cannot be used to discriminate against our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors.” HB 31 removes requirements for legal names changes to be published in newspapers. “People seeking name changes are often doing so for reasons of personal safety or so they can live authentically as themselves,” sponsor state Rep.Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, said in a statement. “Removing this antiquated publishing requirement protects New Mexicans’ privacy and allows them to safely move on with their lives.” Both bills take effect June 16.
Rust hearing scheduled for today
Last week, Alec Baldwin’s lawyers said in a legal brief they did not object to First Judicial District Mary Carmack-Altwies appointing a new special prosecutor in the Rust case, following Clovis Republican state Rep. Andrea Reeb’s withdrawal. Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys, however, do object. The DA has charged both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed with involuntary manslaughter in the Oct. 21, 2021 fatal on-set shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. In a brief filed on Friday, Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys argue that New Mexico’s special prosecutor statute requires the state to demonstrate that it “cannot” prosecute the case for “ethical reasons or other good cause” before it may appoint a special prosecutor. “The state has fundamentally misunderstood the language and purpose of the state,” the brief reads. “The statue is not designed to give district attorneys a taxpayer funded supplemental ‘war chest’ to prosecute cases involving ‘high profile’ actors or individuals, adding firepower but allowing the district attorney and her assistant to remain on the case. Instead, the statute is expressly designed to authorize the appointment of a special prosecutor to take over a case where the district attorney cannot prosecute for ethical reasons or other good cause. Here, there is neither.” In her brief, Carmack-Altwies addresses both the appointment of a special prosecutor, as well as whether her office can “maintain an active role” in the prosecution and act as co-counsel. Both are appropriate, the brief argues, “because these cases do not involve a situation in which [the DA] appoints a special prosecutor due to a conflict or for other ethical reasons, and instead is appointing a special prosecutor for “other good cause,” namely insufficient staffing to prosecute the Rust cases “without jeopardizing any of other equally important pending criminal cases.” As of press time, the hearing was scheduled for 10 am this morning and will livestream to the New Mexico Courts YouTube channel.
After the fire
As the one-year anniversary of the onset of the Hermits Peak wildfire approaches (April 6), NBC News visits Mora County to survey the damage done to residents’ lives. The story opens with Benito Sanchez, who has lived with his 100-year-old grandmother in an Albuquerque hotel room for the past year. “Let’s just say everything you’ve ever accumulated was all of a sudden gone in one day because someone lit a match and it wasn’t an accident,” Sanchez tells NBC News. Both Hermits Peak and the Calf Canyon fire, with which it merged, began as types of controlled burns lit by the US Forest Service and, at more than 341,000 acres by the time it was contained in August, became the largest forest fire in New Mexico’s history. The damage to homes, businesses and nature itself has irreparably changed the area, its residents say, with many noting insufficient compensation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Tito Naranjo, 85, and his wife, for instance, lived in an adobe home on 100 acres. His house burned down, he says, but FEMA denied his application for emergency help saying he didn’t permanently live there. “We got absolutely nothing from FEMA,” Naranjo said. “Not one penny.” The Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act made $2.5 billion available to residents who experienced loss as a result of the fire; the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been staffing a local claims office it says will open soon. In an interview FEMA published last week, the office’s new deputy director, Jennifer Carbajal, said “transparency” would be one of the office’s most important values: “Residents are justifiably upset,” she said. “Things have taken longer than we like but of course in a disaster it’s never going to be fast enough. So, we need to be able to say, ‘this is what we’re working on right now, we’re going to be forthcoming with what’s happening; feel free to bring your concerns forward so that way we can identify what the issue is and see if we can fix it.’”
NMSU hires new basketball coach
New Mexico State University’s beleaguered basketball team—whose season was suspended and coach fired last month in the wake of a hazing scandal—has new leadership. On Friday, NMSU Director of Athletics Mario Moccia announced the hiring of Jason Hooten as the Aggies new coach, replacing Greg Heiar; Hooten comes to New Mexico from Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas, where he spent the last 19 years coaching. Hooten joins NMSU at a particularly fraught time for NMSU athletics. Prior to the hazing/suspension situation, the school made national headlines after last November’s fatal shooting by NMSU forward Mike Peake of University of New Mexico student Brandon Travis. “I think they made a statement when they hired a guy like me,” Hooten said during a pep rally yesterday, noting: “No matter when you take over, or what the situation is, you have an opportunity to build a culture. This is a culture time. A new culture needs to be built, and a new start and a new beginning.”
COVID-19 by the numbers
Reported March 24: New cases: 167; 673,712 total cases. Deaths: six; Santa Fe County has had 401 total deaths; 9,098 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 73; patients on ventilators: four
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent March 23 “community levels” map shows DeBaca County has turned red, indicating high COVID-19 community levels (categories that weigh both hospital and case metrics). The CDC recommends people living in red counties take a number of precautions, including wearing masks. The current map also shows four counties (twice as many as last week) are now yellow, with medium levels: Cibola, Quay, Curry and Roosevelt counties. The rest of the state remains at 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.
The New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group has reportedly ended its ongoing “soil stories” podcast series, but you can take a listen to a recent “best of” roundup chosen by host Carrie Core and watch them in their entirety here. And, as long as we’re looking back and thinking about the dirt, no time like the present to revisit the nine-part Veggie Gardening 101 series from Master Gardener Jannine Cabossel, aka The Tomato Lady, for those starting their first vegetable gardens (and, don’t forget, the Southside Library (6599 Jaguar Drive) just reopened its Seed Library, operated by the Santa Fe Extension Master Gardeners’ Seed Stewards.
Harjo remembers “Remember”
To mark last week’s publication of former US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s (Muscogee Creek Nation) new children’s poetry book, Remember, Publisher’s Weekly shares a discussion between Harjo and the book’s illustrator Michaela Goade. Among other topics, Goade asks Harjo about the history of the book’s poem, “Remember,” which Harjo wrote as a student in the early 1970s at the University of New Mexico. Harjo, who was initially a studio arts major, says she “never had any notion [she] would wind up writing poetry or being a poet,” but met around that time several Native poets with whom she became close, including novelist Leslie Marmon Silko. “My poetry emerged from working for Native rights as part of the UNM Native student club, the Kiva Club,” Harjo says. “Writing poetry surprised me. It was like painting on paper with words. The poem ‘Remember’ came near the end of my time at UNM, when I had changed my major to creative writing. I was asked what I would tell a younger Native poet. In my experience, in any of the creative arts, we are working directly with a larger, wiser field of meaning. This field crosses time and place. The poem came from here. It was something I needed to know as I moved forward.”
ICYMI, last week’s “severe” geomagnetic storm—which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration rated a four out of five—made for some incredible sky watching here in New Mexico. “We were not expecting that level of storm by any means,” Bill Murtagh, program coordinator at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, tells the Washington Post. “A lot of variables come into play. … It’s difficult to get people spun up for the aurora because so often things don’t work out much more often than they do.” Space.com highlights some of the images skywatchers captured in New Mexico, such as this dazzling one photographer Lauren Thompson captured “somewhere between Pecos and Las Vegas” and this one from Tim Baca in Central New Mexico.”
The National Weather Service forecasts a sunny, chilly, breezy day, with a high temperature near 42 degrees and west wind 5 to 15 mph increasing to 15 to 25 mph in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 35 mph. Tonight’s low temperature could drop down to 12 degrees. Looking ahead, temps could rise into the low 60s mid-week and then drop down again—we even have a tiny chance for more snow come Friday (and all this moisture may mean we have transitioned from a La Niña to an El Niño climate pattern—here’s a more involved explanation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Speaking of snow, ICYMI, Ski Santa Fe on Friday reported receiving more than four feet of snow this month. With conditions “as good as they get,” the ski basin has extended its season to April 16, and will hold Slush Cup 2023 on Saturday, April 15 to celebrate.
Thanks for reading! The Word rewarded herself for finishing her taxes by reading the tax-related stats in April’s Harper’s Index (because she is not among the apparent 69% of Americans who don’t know the deadline for filing).