First day with 200 new COVID-19 cases in nearly a month

On Wednesday, the New Mexico Department of Health reported 200 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths related to the disease. This was the first day the state reported more than 200 cases in a single day in nearly a month, since August 26. The most cases came in Doña Ana County, with 33, followed by 28 new cases in Bernalillo County, 22 new cases in Chaves County, 22 new cases in Eddy County and 15 new cases in Curry County. DOH also reported 11 more cases among state Department of Corrections inmates at the Lea County Correctional Facility, bringing the total in that facility to 48. DOH also reported the first case in the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Doña Ana County. 

COVID-19 has spread quickly throughout detention centers and prisons in New Mexico and elsewhere.

Tax expert says there could be significant revenues in cannabis legalization, some lawmakers still skeptical

Comments and questions raised on Tuesday during an interim legislative tax policy committee point towards lengthy debates on recreational cannabis legalization in the upcoming legislative session in January. 

Richard Anklam, the president and executive director of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, told lawmakers that states that were early in legalizing recreational-use cannabis like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California have seen significant tax revenue increases in the past several years. Anklam, using a study from the Tax Foundation, a national think tank, said New Mexico could see roughly $70 million in excise taxes, before factoring in gross receipts taxes, if the state legalizes cannabis for recreational use. 

While not as common, Anklam said some states who have recently legalized recreational-use cannabis have developed tax models based on potency instead of by volume of what is sold. He said, the potential increase in tax revenue may not become the state’s saving grace, but that it would make a significant impact. 

“What’s the marijuana market worth? It’s worth a lot,” Anklam said. “Most states can’t fund highly significant portions of their government with it, but every little bit helps.”

Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of Ultra Health, a New Mexico medical cannabis production company, told lawmakers that despite the large amounts of possible tax money going to the state, current restrictions on cannabis production would not be conducive to a cannabis boom. 

Rodriguez has long been a vocal critic of the state’s Department of Health’s restrictions on how many plants producers can grow.

Armed with new research, ranchers rethink depredation

Rangeland management of the 20th century was dominated by killing anything and everything that threatened livestock. Predators, and especially wolves, were characterized as both nuisance and threat to ranchers and hunters alike for most of the last century. 

As the nature writer Aldo Leopold once wrote about the first quarter of the 20th century, “In those days we had never heard of passing up the chance to kill a wolf.”

That mindset, encapsulated by extermination campaigns waged by the U.S. government up until the 1960s, brought species like the Mexican gray wolf to the brink of extinction. Today, wolves, coyotes and other predators are still considered public enemy number one in many ranching communities. But a growing body of research indicates that killing predators doesn’t actually help prevent attacks, and may in fact lead to increased conflicts between humans and livestock. 

“There’s this old saying, if you kill a coyote, two show up to its funeral,” said Michelle Lute, National Carnivore Conservation Manager at Project Coyote, adding that there is now an “increasing scientific understanding around why people say that.”

“We didn’t know that for a long time, because science only answers the questions that we ask of it,” Lute said. “We just made this assumption that we’re going to kill a bunch of coyotes and of course that’s going to help.”

Now, there are hints that the mindset among some ranchers around wolves and other predators is beginning to shift away from lethal management and towards something like coexistence, where preventative management practices are employed to keep livestock losses at a minimum, while keeping the rangeland ecosystem healthy. 

Such techniques “prevent loss before they occur, which is better for everybody,” Lute said.

DOH: 106 new COVID-19 cases, two additional deaths

On Monday, state health officials reported 106 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths related to the disease. Bernalillo County, with 27, Doña Ana County, with 18, and Santa Fe County, with 15, were the only three counties with double-digit numbers of newly reported cases. The state Department of Health has now found 27,683 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 851 deaths related to the disease. The two deaths related to the disease were both women who had underlying conditions, though DOH, as usual, did not disclose which underlying condition because of privacy concerns. One woman was in her 70s from Bernalillo County, while the other was a woman in her 60s from Sandoval County who was hospitalized.

Secretary of State talks voting by mail in New Mexico

Election Day is a month and a half away and New Mexico’s Secretary of State Maggie Tolouse Oliver wants voters to know the state’s election process works and is safe and secure. 

Over the past several weeks, there has been speculation from President Donald Trump and the Republican Party that voting by mail could result in widespread voter fraud. Questions about how secure mail in ballots are is nothing new. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a push by many to encourage voters to mail in their ballots instead of showing up in person to vote. 

Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report that she is confident in both her staff and the county clerks’ ability to accurately and efficiently process ballots on Election Day and even the days leading up to it. 

National political rhetoric has also seemed to create confusion in New Mexico whether mailing in a ballot is safe. Trump has expressed his concern with mailing in ballots, yet he has voted by mail in Florida, where he is registered to vote. Further, the Republican Party of New Mexico has sent out at least one batch of mailers, encouraging voters to request an absentee ballot and vote in support of Trump.