Report: Slow improvements in NM child well-being
A new annual report assessing child well-being in New Mexico released yesterday shows slight improvements, with child poverty rates holding steady after dropping from 29% in 2012 to 24% last year and the year prior. Other downward trends include a decrease in the rate of teens who aren’t in school; who aren’t graduating on time; and teen birth rates. During a news conference, Emily Wildau, New Mexico Voices for Children senior research and policy analyst and author of this year’s Kids Count report, said despite gains, racial inequity persists, which is why the organization will focus on equity proposals during the current legislative session and support House BIll 134, which requests $100 million to create a Tribal Education Trust Fund supporting Native American students and tribally-run schools. On the minus side from this year’s report, school absenteeism rates remains high in the state, as do rates of children with asthma. This year’s report included for the first time data on environmental health. “We felt it was especially important to add indicators that have to do with environmental factors like clean air and extreme heat, since we’re experiencing more climate change-related weather events,” Wildau says in a statement. “So we added child and youth asthma rates, schools and students living near oil and gas well, and temperatures above the 95th percentile. As an oil and gas producing state, these indicators should impact how lawmakers choose to address the impacts of the fossil fuel industry.” Other negative trends include rising child and teen death rates. “Since guns have overtaken automobile accidents as the highest cause of death among children, we’re hoping to see death rates decline now that lawmakers are focused on evidence-based solutions to reducing gun deaths among children,” NM Voice for Children Interim Co-Director/Government Relations Officer Bill Jordan says in a statement. “As we know, there’s always a gap between when legislation is enacted and when we begin to see the changes show up in the data.”
Protesters push back at Gov. Lujan Grisham’s water plans
Environmentalists yesterday gathered at the Capitol to protest Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s $500 million proposal to “purchase treated brackish and treated produced water” in order to build a “strategic water supply.” The governor first announced the proposal at the start of December while attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai. State Environment Department Secretary James Kenney yesterday outlined the plan to lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee, describing the Strategic Water Supply as “a concept that is really identified to create less reliance on our fresh water and preserve fresh water resources.” The environment department recently released a “request for information,” which closes at the end of March, seeking “technical and economic information from individuals, businesses, academia, government agencies, and other stakeholders related to the sourcing, treatment, delivery, storage, and industrial uses of brackish water and produced water.” The state says it will publish a request for proposals this summer, along with “project-specific concept papers.” In a statement accompanying the request for information, Kenney describes the plan as a “game-changing water initiative…essential to fueling the next generation of New Mexico’s clean jobs, growing our economy, and conserving our freshwater sources. New Mexico is meeting the urgency of the moment with this innovative climate and economic solution.” Opponents, however, say the technology being proposed is untested and the plan is in service of the oil and gas industry. A New Energy Economy report, “Bleeding New Mexico Dry: The Truth Behind Governor Lujan Grisham’s Proposed Strategic Water Supply” says the governor “has gone out of her way to court the oil and gas industry, seeking its ‘collaboration’ in policy matters and has promised to balance environmental protections ‘driving with all of our energy industries forward.’ No matter how you spin it, these goals and these actions are at cross purposes.”
SFPD investigates report of gun at SFHS
The Santa Fe Police Department reports that at approximately 8:30 am yesterday, SFPD responded to Santa Fe High School regarding a complaint of 15-year-old male student possibly in possession of a firearm. According to a news release, the officers who responded to the call subsequently learned of an altercation in one of the school’s restrooms the previous school day, Friday, Jan. 19, between the 15-year-old subject of the call and another male juvenile student, during which the firearm in question was displayed. Then, over the course of the weekend, during an “unrelated incident,” staff from the state Children, Youth and Families Department were notified of the Friday incident, and informed school administrators on Monday morning. School officials then interviewed the 15-year-old student, and “video surveillance showed the student abruptly leaving the school campus wearing a backpack and getting in a red pick-up truck.” SFPD officers located the pick-up truck in the vicinity of 3000 block of Calle Princesa Juana, along with the 15-year-old male, who ultimately admitted he had acquired the firearm in December 2023. This case is being actively investigated, and updates are expected, SFPD says; the 15-year-old male was released to his parents’ custody.
NM Supreme Court reinstates murder conviction
The state Supreme Court yesterday unanimously reversed a decision of the state Court of Appeals and reinstated Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez’s second-degree murder conviction for the 2017 death of a Florida woman who was driving him to Mexico to live with a family member. According to the background provided in the decision: “Law enforcement found the body of Connie Lopez inside a van that had crashed into a fence along a remote stretch of desert highway. She was still strapped into the driver’s seat, and the engine was running. A pet dog sat in her lap. A belt was wrapped around her neck.” Lobato-Rodriguez then “approached law enforcement at the scene on foot. He immediately and without any prompting admitted to police that he had killed Lopez.” However, as explained in a news release, the Court of Appeals later vacated Lobato-Rodriguez’s conviction and ordered a new trial because of a prosecutor’s statement about the defendant invoking his right to remain silent after being arrested. The Supreme Court in its decision yesterday concluded that while the prosecutor had erred in making that statement at the start of the trial, doing so didn’t reversing Lobato-Rodriguez’s conviction. The justices ordered the case back to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. “While we agree that the prosecutor’s comment violated defendant’s constitutional rights, we conclude that the error was harmless in the context of the trial as a whole,” the Court wrote in an opinion by Justice Briana H. Zamora, adding: “Under the unique circumstances of this case, we perceive no reasonable possibility that the prosecutor’s comment on silence affected the jury’s verdict.” The court also “cautioned prosecutors that they risk mistrial if they comment on a defendant’s post arrest silence and that such comments may also violate the rules of professional conduct,” the news release notes.
Lee Swanson provides today’s installment of the 2024 Morning Word Playlist Project, with a hat-tip to our first entry from SFR Culture Editor Alex DeVore: “Like Alex said so eloquently, I love music more than most things and simply opened my iPhone and within minutes of the last few days of listening picked a few gems…IMHO,” Swanson writes. We’re sharing these playlists at least through January, at which point we may try to wrangle them into one long list. In the meantime, find them in the Morning Word archive.
1. “Midnight” by Yaz: “Because of Alison Moyet’s voice and writing.”2. “Marrow” by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: “Because it’s a beautiful love song, it’s the LAST song on their LAST album (Thao & The Get Down Stay Down), and because it’s a protest to be authentic to oneself.”3. “Fear” by Prism Bitch: “Because they are local (’Burque), rock hard and I think will make it BIG. And their videos are hilarious and punk AF! Oh yeah, pulls on my post-punk heart strings.”
4. “Answer” by Phantogram: “Because this duo is from Saratoga Springs, NY, where I attended college a million years ago (before these two were born…)”
5. “Fed Up” by The Lemonheads: “Because I grew up on punk rock in the early 80s, knew Evan before he was a ‘heart throb’ and because Donald Trump is the devil. I’m fed up.”
NM-made movie opens at Sundance
Made in New Mexico film In the Summers began its screenings at the 2024 Sundance Festival last night and runs through Jan. 28 with two online showings available in addition to the in-person ones. The movie filmed in Las Cruces last June and employed more than 100 New Mexicans—approximately 50 background talent, 40 resident crew members, and 21 actors—according to the state Film Office. It is a nominee in Sundance’s US Dramatic Competition, which describes it thusly: “On a journey that spans the formative years of their lives, two sisters navigate their loving but volatile father during their yearly summer visits to his home in Las Cruces, New Mexico…With grounded thoughtfulness, debut feature director Alessandra Lacorazza weaves a rich tapestry of memories in New Mexico as childhood and adolescence collide with the realities of adulthood.” Filmmaker magazine interviews In the Summers’ editor, Adam Dicterow on the nitty gritty of editing the film; producer Daniel Tantalean about the “long journey” to get it made; and cinematographer Alejandro Mejia about the film’s look. Regarding lighting, Meija says, “from the beginning we wanted to incorporate hard light because of the location, time of year and the story. We normally see a tendency towards soft light, and in this case we choose to embrace what this desert place Las Cruces offered us.” The most complicated scene, he tells Filmmaker, was “a car accident at night in the desert because it obviously required us to put our light sources in places where there is practically nothing, using a large softbox created by 10 sky panels mounted on a Condor crane, which we achieved thanks to the support of the incredible local New Mexico crew.” Filmmaker also talks to Lacorazza, who wrote the script as well, about choosing Las Cruces, which she said she did early in the writing process, describing it as “a town with a personality as rich as the characters, from the house with its treasures, Slot Canyon with its million mosquitoes and rattlesnakes, to White Sands, where the temperature reached 108°F by 11 am.”
If we all had a bong, we’d all get along
New research indicates using weed may make people nicer, the Washington Post reports, citing research from the Journal of Neuroscience Research that proposes a connection between using cannabis and empathy. As explained by the Post, researchers administered to 85 regular cannabis users and 51 nonusers a test that measures empathy, and also “used brain imaging to study some of the subjects, analyzing a region of the brain that plays a central role in mediating the empathic response.” The cannabis users both scored higher on their abilities to understand another person’s emotional state, and the parts of their brains “associated with emotional and empathy-related regions” showed greater connectivity. University of New Mexico Associate Professor of Psychology Jacob Vigil, one of the study’s co-authors, tells the Post cannabis users “tend to have enhanced sense of care for other people and be motivated to engage in the world in a way that is benign and selfless.” Vigil has also started a retail cannabis business since completing that research. Also on the cannabis front, the most recent edition of SFR’s monthly Leaf Brief newsletter assesses the legislative lay of the land as it relates to weed, which includes House Bill 128, sponsored by Reps. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, and Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, which would increase plant counts for micro-businesses from 200 to 500. State Rep. Andrea Reeb, R-Clovis, who formerly served as prosecutor on the Rust case, also filed several cannabis-related bills, including the Cannabis School Use Prevention Resource Act and cannabis packaging rules that would prohibit packaging and labels that appeal to children. Finally: SFR is in the market for a new writer to pen Leaf Brief each month. Yes, this is a paying gig. Send a writing sample along with ideas for the newsletter to: email@example.com
Fire & rain
The National Weather Service forecasts a slight chance for precipitation today, via isolated showers after 2 pm. Look for increasing clouds, with a high temperature near 46 degrees and northeast wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. Overnight, we have a 40% chance for rain showers before 8 pm; possible rain and snow between 8 pm and 11 pm; and scattered snow showers thereafter, with patchy fog after 2 am becoming patchy freezing fog after 5 am tomorrow. And speaking of snow, the Tesuque Peak chairlift at Ski Santa Fe reopens at 11 am today.
Santa Fe may also have some visible smoke this week, as Forest Service officials tentatively plan to begin ignitions on pile burn projects located near Hyde Park Road in the Española Ranger District. “Fire managers will take advantage of favorable weather windows this week as series of slow-moving disturbances bring rounds of mainly light snow to the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains through the remainder of the week,” USFS Air Quality Specialist/Meteorologist Kerry Jones says in a statement. “This late week system looks to bring the best potential for several inches of fresh snowfall producing substantial snow cover, transport wind directions from the west or northwest, and near to above average mixing heights (height above the surface throughout which smoke can be dispersed).” A Forest Stewards Guild and Nature Conservancy prescribed pile burn located north of the Randall Davey Audubon Center may also cause smoke visible from here.
Thanks for reading! The Word will be tuning in at 8 am when The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and special guest Bill Nye announce whether the time on the Doomsday Clock will change. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists also devoted the January issue of its magazine to stories on how people can help turn back the Doomsday Clock’s hands.