NM Supreme Court upholds constitutional amendment changing PRC to an appointed body

Despite arguments that voters did not understand that they would lose the ability to elect state utility regulators, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the constitutional amendment that changes the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission from an elected body to an appointed body. The court heard oral arguments on Monday and, after a brief recess, the judges returned to the room and announced their decision. A written opinion will be issued that explains the reasoning. The change goes into effect in January and a nominating committee is currently considering about fifteen candidates. The nominating committee meets Friday and is expected to choose which names to submit to the governor for consideration. 

The Indigenous groups argue that the appointment rather than election of PRC commissioners will disenfranchise them by potentially eliminating representation.

Researcher says ancient agricultural fields are threatened by oil and gas near Chaco

When the ancestral Puebloans lived in the Chaco Canyon area, they chose to locate their great houses in areas with high agricultural productivity, according to a new study in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 

Lead author Wetherbee Dorshow said these ancient agricultural fields can be hard to identify. And encroaching oil and gas development in the region could threaten the fields. “There are a lot of areas there that have never been surveyed and we don’t know a ton about,” he said. “There’s also a lot of oil and gas in areas that are highly sensitive.”

He said the fields aren’t lined with stone fences like the masonry walls that have been used in Zuni Pueblo. Dorshow’s team used GIS—or geospatial imaging—to identify areas that the ancestral Puebloans may have farmed during the time period archaeologists refer to as the Great House period, which stretches from 850 A.D. to 1200 A.D.

Dorshow said there are a variety of different ideas about the role that Chaco Canyon played in the ancestral Puebloan society.

A parrot now lost in the United States may have been part of the pre-Columbian bird trade

About four years ago, John Moretti, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, was digging through animal bones found at the Bonnell archaeological site in southeastern New Mexico when he found one that stood out. He later identified this bone as belonging to a parrot that was once native to New Mexico, indicating that the people who lived there may have captured or traded the unique, high-elevation parrot species. He said these bones were essentially in Ziploc bags and had never been identified or cataloged. They’d been removed from the site in the 1950s. “It was really a mundane task,” he said.

Rev. Kathy Hudak speaks to a group of asylum seekers as part of the Rio Grande Borderland Ministries. She is presenting a video on the rights the asylum-seekers have.

‘The need is there’: Borderland Ministries helps migrants and asylum seekers

Ana Reza has served as bridge chaplain for the Rio Grande Borderland Ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande for about three years. The bridge chaplain moves back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico to greet incoming asylum seekers or immigrants seeking legal entry into the U.S.

“I do want people to know how grateful we are in everything we’ve done so far and we look forward to build new relationships and to continue to build the new relationships we have now,” Reza said. “The need is there.”

Sometimes Reza sees up to 900 people a day coming across the border. “It’s a lot of work. Pray for us that we be able to continue to provide a safe space because if it wasn’t for the shelters, Border Patrol would just drop them off at the airport and we see how that’s going,” Reza said.

Animal shelters continue to be in a crisis in 2022

Albuquerque Animal shelter anticipates 21,500 pets will have come through their two city-run shelters in 2022 by the end of the year. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Albuquerque shelters saw 17,000 to 18,000 pets arrive annually. Animal shelters across the country continue to be in a state of crisis. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than usual visited their local shelters in both New Mexico and nationwide. People adopted pets in response to stay-in-place orders, remote working and schooling and, some have said, out of a sense of compassion for the animals when the world seemed upside down.

Legislature expected to consider Paid Family & Medical Leave bill in 2023

A bill likely to come before the New Mexico Legislature next session will be another run at passing a state-run Paid Family and Medical Leave program into law but in 2023, the program will have some concessions to businesses as well as new expansions. Tracy McDaniel, policy advocate for Southwest Women’s Law Center, said a bill is expected to be introduced in  the 2023 legislative session. A Paid Family and Medical Leave bill failed in the 2020 and 2021 Legislatures. The 2022 Legislature passed a Senate Memorial to create a task force that would deliver a report on the issue and arrive at some compromises with the business community. A Paid Family and Medical Leave bill would provide up to 12 weeks of paid time off for employees who request it for a serious medical condition, caring for a family member with a serious medical condition or welcoming a new child.

Displaced coal miners, power plant workers ask for help with health insurance

Unions representing San Juan Generating Station and San Juan Mine employees asked the state for about $6 million in energy transition funds to reimburse displaced workers for the out-of-pocket health insurance costs they have faced since being laid off. The funds would come from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. This is especially important for the mine workers who lost health insurance at the end of the month that they were laid off. Power plant workers, on the other hand, have six months of health insurance following layoffs. Layoffs at the mine began last year as the facilities prepared to close.

Environmental assessment shows Chaco mineral leasing mineral moratorium would impact few Navajo allottees

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s environmental assessment of withdrawing federal lands around Chaco Culture National Historical Park from mineral leasing shows that less than a dozen Navajo allottees will be highly impacted by the decision. This is based on past analysis of where potential development could occur. The withdrawal is intended to protect sites that are sacred to the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico and the Navajo, or Diné, people. The process began about a year ago when Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, issued a secretarial order calling for a 20-year moratorium on new oil and gas leasing near Chaco Culture National Historical Park. While less than a dozen allottees would be highly impacted, another 39 allottees could see moderate impacts from the withdrawal.

BernCo commission votes State Rep. Maestas to fill state senate vacancy

The Bernalillo County Commission voted to appoint New Mexico State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas to the state Senate seat recently vacated by Jacob Candelaria Tuesday night. Maestas was one of seven applicants for the seat. Other applicants included Julie Radoslovich, Steve Gallegos and Em Ward. “I want to thank every member of the public that came both in-person and on Zoom to participate in both tonight’s regular meeting and the appointment for Senate District 26,” Bernalillo County Commission Chairwoman Adriann Barboa said. “We received hundreds of emails about this and public participation is a crucial part of a healthy democracy.”

Barboa said that the County received 66 emails supporting Radoslovich, who was principal at South Valley Academy, 46 emails supporting Maestas and 14 supporting Ward with a few other emails supporting the other contenders. 

The commission approved Maestas on a 3-to-2 vote with Barboa and Debbie O’Malley as the votes against.

Otero County Sheriff David Black removes the microphone from former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin during a heated exchange at the regular Otero County Commission meeting November 10, 2022.

Couy Griffin confronts DuBois over appointment, derails meeting

Former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin caused a fuss at the Otero County Commission meeting last week when his time at the public comment table became so heated, one of the sitting county commissioners plans to file a restraining order against Griffin. Griffin was unhappy that Stephanie DuBois, a Democrat, was appointed to his old seat after Griffin was removed from office based on the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment’s Disqualification Clause after his conviction related to his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection in Washington, D.C.

“I’m going to have to do what I’m going to have to do,” DuBois said Monday. 

DuBois deemed Griffin’s rant as a verbal assault and is in the process of filing a restraining order against Griffin. “Couy Griffin, duly elected and legitimate county commissioner of District 2 as well as founder of Cowboys for Trump and I’d like to just start out by saying looking up here at you Stephanie (DuBois) in that seat is a total disgrace,” Griffin declared. 

Griffin said that he felt DuBois’ appointment was disgraceful because she has run for office in Otero County eight times including in last week’s election and has lost each time. DuBois interjected and Griffin said that “I’m talking right now.