NM Congressional Democrats introduce bill to help those impacted by the Hermits Peak Fire

As the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fire continues to grow, New Mexico’s Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to increase the aid available to people who have lost their homes, businesses and other property. The joined fires have now grown to be the largest wildfire in state history at 259,810 acres. Tens of thousands of New Mexicans have been forced to leave their homes. More than 200 people have lost their homes. The Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act would set up an Office of Hermits Peak Fire Claims within the Federal Emergency Management Agency to process claims of property loss, business loss and financial loss.

RECA extension passes House, heads to president’s desk

The U.S. House of Representatives approved an extension to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act on Wednesday, which means the bill now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk. The extension received unanimous support from the U.S. Senate last week. Without this extension, the program that provides one-time financial support to families impacted by uranium work and nuclear weapons testing will expire in July. RECA was first passed in 1990 and later amended in 2000. Since 1990, it has paid more than $2.5 billion to more than 39,000 claimants.

Travel nurses see swift change of fortunes as Covid money runs dry

Tiffanie Jones was a few tanks of gas into her drive from Tampa, Florida, to Cheyenne, Wyoming, when she found out her travel nurse contract had been canceled. Jones, who has been a nurse for 17 years, caught up with a Facebook group for travel nurses and saw she wasn’t alone. Nurses had reported abruptly losing jobs and seeing their rates slashed as much as 50% midcontract. “One lady packed up her whole family and was canceled during orientation,” she said. Many career nurses like Jones turned to travel gigs during the pandemic, when hospitals crowded with covid-19 patients urgently needed the help.

How much do we know about our watersheds? New study says gaps in knowledge exist because of ‘bias’ in stream gauge placement

Corey Krabbenhoft saw the ebbs and flows of New Mexico’s rivers growing up in Albuquerque. From that experience, she knew how many of the waterways in the state only flow at certain times of the year. As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Buffalo, she is the lead author on a new paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability that looks at stream gauges, particularly in what the authors call “bias” in placement. Krabbenhoft explained that the study doesn’t focus on where the stream gauges are located, but rather what types of rivers are represented globally when it comes to monitoring with gauges. This paper documented that ephemeral waters, headwaters and waterways in protected areas like wilderness areas are less likely to have stream gauges on them, which can lead to a gap in knowledge about how the river systems work. 

In contrast, larger rivers that often have dams on them regulating the flows and usually pass through more populated areas are more likely to have these gauges.

‘This is a U.S. problem:’ Families gather in Farmington to raise awareness about MMIWR

Rose Yazzie last spoke to her daughter, Ranelle Rose Bennett, in June of last year. They were talking about a birthday party for Bennett’s daughter, Yazzie’s granddaughter. 

Yazzie recalls that her daughter hugged her for longer than usual. Looking back, she wonders if she missed the signs that something was wrong. She hasn’t seen or heard from her daughter since, and Yazzie is frustrated with the lack of attention the police have given the case. 

Bennett, Diné, is one of an unknown number of missing or murdered Indigenous people in New Mexico whose case remains unsolved. 

Yazzie attended a rally on Thursday in Farmington to raise awareness about the number of Native Americans who are missing or murdered. This rally took place on the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and on what would have been Zachariah Juwaun Shorty’s 25th birthday.

New Mexico’s Clean Car Rule will go into effect July 1

New Mexico car dealerships will soon be required to stock a small percentage of electric vehicles under the state’s newly adopted Clean Car Rule. The Environmental Improvement Board and Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board both approved the new rules upon the conclusion of a two-day meeting this week. The meeting allowed the two entities to hear from environmental advocates, utility representatives and auto dealers. Under current laws, states are able to choose to either adopt California’s clean car standards or follow the federal requirements. The new rules state that seven percent of model year 2026 vehicles sold in New Mexico must be electric.

Deputy Interior Secretary discusses water infrastructure during visit to Belen

The New Belen Wasteway is an example of how infrastructure funding can accomplish the shared goals of resiliency and protecting water for both people and the ecosystem, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau said during a tour of the facility this week in Belen. The New Belen Wasteway is located at the intersection of several canals and allows water managers to better regulate the flow of water for irrigation as well as returning water to the Rio Grande to meet the needs of the endangered silvery minnow. Beaudreau and U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, visited the site on Wednesday and spoke about funding for water projects that is now available through the infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed in November. They met with officials from various groups including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. MRGDC Chief Engineer and CEO Jason Casuga told them that the district strives toward what he describes as a “triangle of equal sides.” Those equal sides are the commitments to the irrigators, commitments to the ecosystem and commitments to other regions as laid out in the Rio Grande Compact.

Abortion will remain legal in New Mexico, even after U.S. Supreme Court decision

If the Supreme Court’s leaked draft decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization becomes reality in late June or early July, New Mexico will remain what some have called “a beacon” of legal abortion care. The state legislature passed and the governor signed last year the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, which repealed old language from the criminal code banning abortion in 1969. While the antiquated language had not been enforceable since 1973, many policy makers worked to pass the repeal of the old ban before a conservative-leaning state challenged Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court level. State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, who was the lead sponsor on a previous version of the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, told NM Political Report that because of that “foresight,” to “fight forward” the state now doesn’t have to “fight backwards” on abortion rights. She said that, at this time, she is not preparing legislation for further protections on abortion in the state for the next session, beginning in 2023, because of the successful repeal of the ban in 2021.

NM expected to pay an estimated $15 million in tax refunds to medical cannabis companies

New Mexico cannabis businesses are expected to pay cannabis excise and gross receipts taxes by the end of this month. But the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department is also expected to issue about $15 million dollars worth of gross receipts refunds to medical cannabis companies that paid those taxes prior to the enactment of the Cannabis Regulation Act, which legalized recreational-use cannabis. State Taxation and Revenue Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke told NM Political Report that while the estimated refund amount may sound like a lot of money, it is a fraction of the estimated $31.5 million the state is expected to collect from non-medical cannabis sales. Further, she said, the estimated $15 million in gross receipts refunds is an even smaller fraction of what the state sets aside for reserves.  

In the grand scheme of things, we have something like an $8 billion general fund budget, give or take,” Schardin Clarke said. “So there are other things that happen all the time that are just ups and downs in that revenue base.”

The tax refunds are the culmination of a years-long legal dispute between the Taxation and Revenue Department and Sacred Garden, a long-time medical cannabis producer.

Advocates, elected officials and the public respond with rallies and outrage over Supreme Court draft decision on abortion rights

The leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the case that appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade woke up many on Tuesday to a “shocking” reality which may be imminent. Politico released on Monday a leaked draft document, dated February from the Supreme Court. The document is a majority opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case the court heard in early December. Because the document is still a draft, there is still opportunity for the court to rule differently in late June or early July, though it appears unlikely with the current makeup of the court. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito authored the draft, which overturns Roe v. Wade and rules in favor of the state of Mississippi in the Dobbs case.