Snake receives critical habitat designations in Arizona, New Mexico

A small snake that eats fish has gained additional critical habitat designations in New Mexico and Arizona under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule in the Federal Register this week designating 23,785 acres of critical habitat for the narrow-headed garter snake in five Arizona counties and three New Mexico counties (Grant, Catron and Hidalgo counties). The majority of the land in the critical habitat is federal, however about a quarter of it is privately owned. The Glenwood State Fish Hatchery is also included in the critical habitat, although the snake has not been found on the property. The notice states that the “narrow-headed garter snakes are primarily found in rocky stretches of canyon-bound headwater streams that have perennial flow or limited spatially intermittent flow that is primarily perennial.” It rarely ventures far from water.

Conference provides fresh data on wellbeing of New Mexico children during the pandemic

New Mexico Voices for Children held its annual conference Thursday and put a special emphasis on the need to support women of color. The nonprofit, which advocates for children and family-friendly policy, provides the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids COUNT data book each year. The data book, which gives data from recent years to show things such how New Mexico ranks in child wellbeing comparative to other states, came out earlier this year. But during the conference, Amber Wallin, deputy director of NMVFC, provided some recent data on how the pandemic is affecting children in New Mexico. Wallin said that as of September of this year, 21 percent of New Mexico parents were unsure of how to pay the rent; 31 percent of New Mexico households with children are not eating enough; 38 percent of New Mexico households with children had difficulty paying for basic household expenses; and 40 percent of New Mexico parents with children under 5 faced childcare disruptions in the month of August because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. Supreme Court ruling on qualified immunity won’t affect New Mexico

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of qualified immunity in two separate, but similar, federal cases that involved police officers who, the plaintiffs alleged, used excessive force in the two separate incidents. 

But, those rulings will not impact the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which prohibits the use of qualified immunity as a legal defense in state civil cases, said Leon Howard, legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. Howard said that states are allowed to provide more protection for the individuals who live in the state than the federal constitution does but not less. 

“When the Supreme Court rules on a constitutional issue, they’re interpreting the federal constitution and the body of law that makes up interpretation of the federal constitution,” Howard said. The Supreme Court does not get involved in a case unless there is a federal question, Howard said. 

A plaintiff in New Mexico can still sue a government entity for constitutional violation in federal court, Howard said. But in federal court, the government entity can still rely on the qualified immunity defense. Qualified immunity is a judicial rule established decades ago that has become an obstacle almost impossible to surpass in court. 

Related: What ‘qualified immunity’ means for New Mexico

The government entity in a case would have to argue that the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, passed in the 2021 Legislature and signed shortly thereafter by the governor, was violating its federal constitutional rights, Howard said.

State supreme court sets date for arguments on pandemic aid case

The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case over who has the authority to distribute federal pandemic aid funds in November. The case, which will have oral arguments on Nov. 17, is brought by legislators who say the governor’s veto of language that directed the use of federal COVID-19 pandemic aid is illegal and that the Legislature should have the authority to direct where the money goes. 

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat from Albuquerque, and Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, a Republican from Belen, filed the petition in September. 

At the time, the two said the governor’s action was unconstitutional. The Lujan Grisham administration said that previous state supreme court precedent allowed the governor to direct federal funds. “The Supreme Court of New Mexico has concluded that federal contributions are not a proper subject of the Legislature’s appropriative power, and the Legislature’s attempt to control the use of such funds infringes ‘the executive function of administration,’” Lujan Grisham wrote in her veto message regarding the funds. 

When asked about the dispute when State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, a Democrat, said he believed the money should be handled by the Legislature, a spokeswoman for the governor said she believed the Legislature had the authority to dispense state, not federal funds.

EPA issues roadmap for addressing PFAS contamination

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a roadmap for addressing PFAS, a group of forever chemicals that have contaminated air, water and soil across the United States. “For far too long, families across America – especially those in underserved communities – have suffered from PFAS in their water, their air, or in the land their children play on,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a press release announcing the roadmap. “This comprehensive, national PFAS strategy will deliver protections to people who are hurting, by advancing bold and concrete actions that address the full lifecycle of these chemicals. Let there be no doubt that EPA is listening, we have your back, and we are laser focused on protecting people from pollution and holding polluters accountable.”

Related: NMED secretary says federal regulations are needed for PFAS

PFAS, or per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances, are also called forever chemicals because they do not break down under normal environmental conditions. PFAS chemicals are man-made and use of them dates back to the 1940s.

Texas judge stays six-week gestational abortion ban

Update: The federal Fifth Court of Appeals temporarily reinstated the ban on Friday, Oct. 8. A Texas federal court judge stayed the Texas six-week gestational abortion ban this week. The law went into effect on Sept. 1 and has created chaos in Texas for abortion care patients who now must travel hundreds or thousands of miles to a clinic out of state, including in New Mexico.

More than 1,200 customers of Monterey Water Company told to boil water before use

More than 1,200 water users in Valencia County have been asked to boil their water after E. coli bacteria was discovered in a routine sample. These customers receive their water from Monterey Water Company. The New Mexico Environment Department instructed the utility to issue a boil water advisory on Oct. 2, according to a press release. E. coli is commonly found in the intestines of both humans and other animals and NMED states that the bacteria’s presence in water indicates that it may have been in contact with sewage or animal waste.

New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs requests $5 million in funding

During an interim committee hearing, the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs asked for $5 million to be added for state budget consideration in the 2022 Legislature. Alexandria Taylor, deputy director of the coalition, said the state ranks seventh in the nation in rates of sexual violence and called the rates of sexual violence in New Mexico an “epidemic.” She asked that any crime package “prioritize” the crime of sexual violence. The $5 million request includes $2 million for sexual assault programs to increase services, address gaps across the state and focus on rural and underserved areas, including a 12-month wait list in some counties for services; $1 million to address sexual assault mental health programs to address that gap in services; $1.3 million to sustain satellite children advocacy centers in rural areas; $500,000 for operation of the statewide sexual assault hotline and $200,000 for Indigenous research and coordination of tribal services, Taylor said. She said 41 percent of reported assaults in New Mexico are children who are under the age of 18. She also said that while reports of sexual violence to law enforcement are trending downward, there has been an increase in requests for sexual assault services.

BLM lease sale seeks to expand geothermal energy in New Mexico

As part of an effort to increase renewable energy, the Bureau of Land Management will hold a virtual geothermal lease sale this fall for three parcels totaling nearly 4,000 acres. These parcels are located in Hidalgo and Sierra counties in southwest New Mexico. This comes after President Joe Biden issued an executive order to increase renewable and clean energy sources. Additionally, the Energy Act of 2020 directed the BLM to permit 25 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal on public lands no later than 2025. According to the BLM, as of May there were 36 wind projects and 37 solar projects on federal lands across the United States.

Two New Mexicans die treating COVID-19 with ivermectin

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A veterinary drug doctors call unsafe for treating COVID-19 has caused the deaths of two people in New Mexico, according to the state’s Department of Health. “Ivermectin toxicity” is being blamed for the deaths, with doctors reminding those desperate for a cure that drugs to treat animals are not approved for use in humans. Elaine Blythe, New Mexico veterinary pharmacist and member of the American Pharmacists Association, said despite warnings, people have gone to the hospital after feeling ill from taking the drug. “What we’re seeing now is that when people do make that choice, physicians are saying, ‘I don’t know how to treat this patient who took a veterinary medication. We don’t have any data on that.