Morning Word

NM Gov Enacts Universal School Meals

Judge nixes DA’s “Rust” prosecution plan

Gov enacts universal free meals for students

Surrounded by Pinon Elementary School students, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham yesterday signed Senate Bill 4, which will provide universal free meals for children through the Healthy Hunger-Free Students Bill of Rights Act, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Leo Jaramillo, D-Española. That act requires K-12 students to have free breakfasts and lunches starting in the 2023-2024 school year, using approximately $30 million in annual funding; rule-making to determine the standards for healthy meals will happen this summer and be phased in over the next two years. “For many families in communities across New Mexico, access to a nutritious breakfast and lunch will fill an absolutely critical need, given that for some kids these might be the only meals they have for that day,” Jaramillo said in a statement. Padilla noted that with this latest law, New Mexico “continues to set a national example for addressing childhood food and nutrition security.” According to a news release from the governor’s office, New Mexico is now one of four states with universal free meals for students, but SB 4 is the only legislation that includes healthy meal and food waste requirements. “When we feed our children, we’re feeding our future,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “These investments today will yield benefits tomorrow through generations of healthier New Mexicans.” New Mexico ranked 50th for child well being in the 2022 Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count data book; with one in five children in the state living in hunger, according to Feeding America.

Judge nixes DA’s Rust prosecution plan

If First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies needs to appoint a special prosecutor for the Rust case because she lacks sufficient resources in her office to prosecute the case herself, then she can’t be involved. If she wants to be involved, she can’t appoint a special prosecutor. So concluded Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer during a half-hour or so hearing yesterday in which attorneys for Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed argued against the DA’s right to both prosecute the case and appoint a special prosecutor under state law. The state has charged both Gutierrez-Reed and actor/producer Alec Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the Oct. 21, 2021 on-set fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins. Baldwin has not objected to the appointment of a new special prosecutor in the wake of Clovis Republican state Rep. Andrea Reeb’s recent resignation from that role. Carmack-Altwies said yesterday the special prosecutor—for which her office has received more than $600,000 in state funding—is needed to address her office’s lack of staff and heavy caseload, with an anticipated 30% vacancy rate by the end of April. Yesterday’s hearing focused on differing interpretations of a state statute, with Sommer siding with Gutierrez-Reed’s lawyers’ interpretation. “I don’t read the statute as you read it,” Sommer told Carmack-Altwies. “I think it’s a twist to read it as you read it.” By invoking that particular statute, the judge said, the DA is “manifesting your intention to be can not ignore the plain language of that statute.” In response, Carmack-Altwies said that “I guess what my argument would be is that there’s nothing to stop the special prosecutor from then reappointing either me or someone from my office if I were to allow that.” Sommer: “Do you think that’s a real argument after all is said and done? I will cite case law regarding that.” The judge did grant the DA until end-of-business Thursday to potentially brief an argument based on another statute supplied by Sommer herself.

Lauded long-standing LFC director to retire

Come summer, Legislative Finance Committee Director David Abbey, who has served in that role since 1997—the longest running LFC director in the agency’s history—will retire. According to a news release yesterday, Abbey will continue to lead the LFC through the end of May and work with the committee and lawmakers “to ensure a smooth transition.” The LFC will select the next director. House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, described himself as “deeply grateful” to Abbey, who “has responsibly steered our Legislative Finance Committee through both enormous challenges and unprecedented opportunities—from the national financial crisis of 2008 to today’s record revenues. Our state is immeasurably better off because of his steadfast leadership.” Prior to becoming director at the LFC, Abbey held positions as chief investment officer for the State Treasurer; director of the Board of Finance; and chief economist for the Department of Finance and Administration. Of his time with the state, he told the Albuquerque Journal yesterday: “I was lucky to have this career. I couldn’t have designed a job I felt fit my interests and skills better.” House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chairman Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, also in a statement said Abbey had “set a high standard for all others to follow and assembled an incredible team who deliver an invaluable service to our state.” During his tenure, Small noted, Abbey “always put the people of New Mexico first and led with prudence, thoughtfulness and tenacity.”

State announces $6.2 million settlement with alleged air polluter

The state environment department yesterday announced a $6.2 million settlement with Matador Production Company, which resolves a complaint against the company filed by both the state and the US Environmental Protection Agency alleging violations of state statues and the federal Clean Air Act. As described in a news release, the consent decree addresses allegations the state and federal governments made in their complaint that Matador’s failed compliance, inspection, monitoring and record-keeping at 25 of its New Mexico oil and gas operations caused significant excess emissions of volatile organic compounds both government agencies identified during 2019 flyover surveillance and field investigations. Under the consent decree, Matador will ensure all 239 of its tank batteries in New Mexico are operated properly and comply with the law; the company also will “implement extensive design, operation, maintenance and monitoring improvements” that will create notification for potential future emissions. The company will pay a civil penalty of $1.15 million—which the US and state government will split—and spend no less than $1.25 million on a supplemental environmental project to reduce both nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide. Matador will spend an additional $500,000 to conduct aerial monitoring of its New Mexico facilities for leaks of methane and other pollutants; and an estimated $2.5 million in injunctive relief and $800,000 in mitigation costs to offset the harm caused by the alleged violations. “This settlement begins to hold the ninth largest oil and gas producer in our state accountable and mitigate the harmful impacts to our communities and ability to breathe clean air,” Environment Secretary James Kenney said in a statement. “We are committed to holding companies accountable when they violate our air quality regulations.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported March 27: New cases: 423 (includes the weekend); 674,215 total cases. Deaths: four; Santa Fe County has had 401 total deaths; 9,102 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 77; patients on ventilators: five

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; 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

In the most recent episode of Report from Santa Fe, host Lorene Mills talks with Institute of American Indian Arts Museum of Contemporary Native Arts Director Patsy Phillips (Cherokee Nation), who has served for 15 years in that role, overseeing a museum recently voted in a USA Today poll as the third best art museum in the country. Phillips discusses her own struggles, growing up, to understand her dual Cherokee and Irish identities; the issue of identity is a big issue in my field,” Phillips says, and one numerous MoCNA exhibitions have explored during her tenure.

By any other name

New York Times Cooking Founding Editor Sam Sifton set off the type of Twitter pile-on necessitated by people who are not in or from New Mexico recommending recipes they describe as New Mexican. To wit: In a recent newsletter, Sifton promoted a repast he calls New Mexican Hot Dish, which appears to be…an enchilada casserole minus the chile. As Vice magazine senior staff writer and native New Mexican Anna Merlan tweets so concisely: “This is not a thing.” Former Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett also chimed in with “HAHAHA absolutely not. Literally how dare they,” as did Santa Fe New Mexican Opinion Editor Inez Russell Gomez, who notes: “With all the New Mexicans at the Times, why no quality control?? Hot dish!?” For those wanting to check out this abomination recipe—technically, one of Sifton’s “no recipe recipes”—but lacking a Times cooking subscription, remember Times access is freely available on a daily basis through the Santa Fe Public Library, which supplies a changing QR code here. The recipe, by the way, is not new, but its recent plug attracted new suggestions and disparagement from readers/home chefs in the comments section, including this one: “I’m a big fan of no-recipe riffs, but to call this New Mexican anything is a travesty, as are many of the comments…adding lime and cilantro sounds absolutely delicious...if I were making California-inspired Mexican food. The comment about ‘a lot of Mexicans who use process cheese’ is also fine—except *NEW* Mexico and New Mexicans are not the same thing. Make what you like, just don’t call it New Mexican. New Mexico is about 1 chili and 1 chili only—The New Mexican Chili, red or green.” Amen.

Visionary (hotel) women

La Fonda Hotel’s 100+ years in business makes it a venue with ample history. Now, Historic Hotels of America has named La Fonda to its 2023 Top 25 Historic Hotels of America Where Women Made History list. Specifically, La Fonda—which Historic Hotels of America inducted in 1991—received recognition for its connection to Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, “a noteworthy figure in the architectural history of the Southwest” and “the principal architect and interior designer for the Fred Harvey Company from 1902 to 1948.” In addition to Colter’s work on La Fonda’s interior, a news release notes, she also “served as one of the guiding forces behind National Park Service Rustic-style architecture, believing that a building should grow organically out of its environment.” As for her work at La Fonda, Colter’s “vision and authentic elements of the American Southwest” can be viewed in La Fonda’s “hand-hewn beams, hammered-tin chandeliers, painted headboards and terracotta tiles, each crafted by local artisans.” Another notable New Mexico woman receives recognition via another historic hotel on the list, 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which also served as the Crescent College & Conservatory for Young Women between 1908 and 1934 during the hotel’s off seasons. Among its graduates: Mayme “Natachee” Scott Momaday (Cherokee), who would go on to lead, with her husband Al Momaday (Kiowa), Jemez Pueblo Day School; author the 1965 children’s book Owl in the Cedar Tree; and become the mother of New Mexico resident N. Scott Momaday, whose 1969 novel House Made of Dawn won the Pulitzer Prize.

Ready, set, spring

The National Weather Service forecasts a mostly sunny day with a high temperature near 49 degrees and early morning wind chill values as low as -3 early. Northeast wind around 15 mph will become south in the afternoon. Temperatures start rising considerably tomorrow, along with high winds and critical fire weather on Thursday across much of central and eastern New Mexico below snowpack.

Thanks for reading! The Word is happily reading the 2023 Happiness Report and will be even more happy if she wins the happiness masterclass trip to Finland (more details here).

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