NM Legislators Approve Relief Payments for New Mexicans

Legislators pass rebate package

New Mexico lawmakers yesterday approved House Bill 2 during a 12-hour special session focused on delivering some financial relief to New Mexicans amidst high gas prices and rising inflation. The bill will provide $500 to individual tax filers and $1,000 to joint ones in two payments—in June and August—automatically distributed to anyone who files taxes. The bill also authorizes $20 million from the general fund to be used to provide payments to non tax-filers, such as low-income senior citizens, on a first-come, first-serve basis. The House passed the bill 51-13 and the Senate passed it 35-1. All the bill’s opponents were Republicans, who questioned issues such as the bill’s timing (it’s an election year) and whether it would benefit undocumented immigrants. Both chambers also passed Senate Bill 1, the so-called “junior bill,” a $50 million spending bill for approximately 500 projects across the state. Legislators added an amendment to the original bill—vetoed after the last session by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham—to make an online searchable list of the allocations, addressing concerns raised by the governor’s office about transparency. Lawmakers rejected, however, $1 million proposed by the governor to reduce Rail Runner fares. Both bills head now to Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign them.

Nonprofit sues prison employees for civil rights abuse

The New Mexico Prison and Jail Project filed a lawsuit in federal court this week alleging that in 2020 a group of Corrections Department employees violated the civil and constitutional rights of more than a dozen inmates. The alleged events took place when the inmates were transported from the prison in Grants to Los Lunas’ Central New Mexico Correctional Facility. Upon the inmates’ arrival, the suit contends, the inmates were met by “an unusually large number of correctional officers,” who subsequently subjected the plaintiffs “to abusive and sexually degrading language, including threats of physical violence”; provocations to fight; and, in some cases, “deliberately abusive and intentionally punishing strip searches.” In addition, “certain prisoners were selected to have their heads forcibly and violently shaved.” The Corrections Department would not comment on the specifics of the case, but spokesman Eric Harrison told the Associated Press via email it maintains “a zero tolerance policy regarding any and all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment…we absolutely will be investigating these allegations thoroughly and will take action to make certain that any staff involved in any kind of abusive or inappropriate behavior are held accountable to the highest level.” Steven Robert Allen, director of the nonprofit filing the suit, reportedly called the 2020 incident “a systematic, premeditated program to terrorize these guys.” Matthew Coyte, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit against the same facility in 2011, alleging guards sexually humiliated prisoners.

Visiting illustrator looks for stolen art

If you happen to come across illustrations by children’s book author and illustrator Gianna Marino, a. they were stolen and b. the artist is offering a reward for anyone who finds and returns them. Marino, who is in Santa Fe temporarily, says approximately 20 illustrations for her new book, Waiting for Mamawere stolen from her vehicle, which she had parked and forgotten to lock on San Salvador Lane, off Alameda Street. “It’s my fault,” Marino tells SFR. “I left the door open, but it’s sad that people do that. It’s probably meaningless to anybody but me.” She has been searching for them in local consignment and thrift stores. Marino illustrated Chelsea Clinton’s New York Times best-selling book Don’t Let Them Disappear (about endangered animals) and is well-known in the children’s book world; Waiting for Mama is her 16th book. Marino says she’s donated some previous illustrations to museums but mostly keep them all together just because they’re so important to me.” The book’s plot, as described by publisher Penguin Random House: “It’s deep winter in the Antarctic and a little penguin baby waits in the cold and snow for its mama to return from her long journey to find food.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported April 5:

New cases: 102; 518,557 total cases

Deaths: 22; Santa Fe County has had 264 total deaths; there have been 7,315 total fatalities statewide. Hospitalizations: 77; Patients on ventilators: eight

Breakthrough cases: According to the weekly vaccination report, over the four week period of March 7 through April 4, 38.5% of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico were among people who had not completed a primary vaccination series; 24.5% were among those who had completed the series but had not received a booster; and 36.9% were among those who were fully vaccinated and boosted. For hospitalizations, those figures change to 61%,18.6% and 20.4%. The percentages shift to 54.5%, 20% and 25.5% for fatalities. SFR has pending questions with DOH regarding the most recent report on breakthrough cases.

Community transmission: According to the health department’s community transmission report for the two-week period of March 22 through April 4, only DeBaca County has low transmission. Nineteen counties have moderate transmission; 11, including Santa Fe County, have substantial transmission; and two have high rates of transmission. According to the report, Santa Fe County had 177 new cases during that two-week period and has a daily case per 100,000 population of 8.4. According to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “community levels” tracking system—which uses case rates along with two hospital metrics in combination to determine the state of the virus on a county level—31 of New Mexico’s counties—including Santa Fe County currently have “green”—aka low—levels, whereas McKinley and Harding counties have yellow, or medium, levels. The CDC will update its map on Thursday.

Vaccinations: 91% percent of adults 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 77.8% have completed their primary series; 46% of adults 18 years and older have had a booster shot; 12-17-year-old age group: 71.3% of people have had at least one dose and 61.7% have completed their primary series; Children ages 5-11: 32.8%% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 31.5% have completed their primary; Santa Fe County: 99% of people 18 and older have had at least one dose and 87.4% have completed their primary series.

Resources: Vaccine registrationBooster registration Free at-home rapid antigen testsSelf-report a positive COVID-19 test result to the health department; COVID-19 treatment info: oral treatments Paxlovid (age 12+) and Molnupiravir (age 18+); and monoclonal antibody treatments. Toolkit for immunocompromised individuals. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Listen up

On the first Saturday of the month, Slow Food Santa Fe takes over The Garden Journal show and podcast on KSFR. On the most recent episode, hosts Nina Rosenberg and Lissa Johnson talk with Denisa Livingston (Diné), a community health advocate and food and health justice organizer with Diné Community Advocacy Alliance about her work. For even more discourse, on April 18, Slow Food Santa Fe hosts a dinner/Zoom event to discuss Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. To participate, email slowfoodsantafe@gmail.com for more info.

On the road again

The price of gas notwithstanding, the spring road trip tradition appears to be alive and well, with New Mexico remaining a popular destination. Road tripper James Willamor, for instance, tells the New York Times he’s keeping his planned itinerary here this spring, where he will visit White Sands, Guadalupe Peak and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks, while camping at state parks along the way: “Even with gas prices going up, it would be hard to fly somewhere and get hotels for two weeks for nearly the same price,” he says. Meanwhile, AARP provides road trip advice from “well-known travelers,” including Santa Fe resident and actor Wes Studi (Cherokee), who offers tips on journeying from Santa Fe to Panhandle country in Texas and Oklahoma, such as a recommendation to leave Santa Fe via the high road to Taos: “Leaving town is where the road gets interesting. US Highway 64 snakes through steep canyons alongside the Cimarron River. I’ll usually find a turnout where I can marvel at the 50-foot boulders on either side of the road. You can spend the night in Cimarron. There’s a hotel there called the St. James, where Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill used to stay. I usually have breakfast with the resident ghost,” Studi says. If you’re coming to Santa Fe, rather than leaving, the Dog of the Day website ranks Santa Fe number 3 in its list of top 10 cities for road tripping with your dog. Not only are we a “stunning beautiful” place to visit, but we’re pet-friendly as well. Of course, a road trip doesn’t necessarily require a car: Roadtrippers magazine offers the “ultimate guide” to riding Route 66 on a motorcycle, including highlights in New Mexico.

Looking in on Outside

Denver’s 5280 magazine takes a look at Santa Fe-based Outside magazine in the year or so since multimillionaire Robin Thurston purchased it and folded it into the Outside Inc. empire. That empire, the story details, has more than 500 employees and includes 26 magazine titles (Yoga Journal and Backpacker among them), as well as a book publisher, a GPS app, a fly-fishing film tour and an event-management business. As for Outside magazine, staff were purportedly optimistic in February 2021 when the acquisition happened, as layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs had taken a toll on staff morale. “There were lots of problems,” one anonymous staffer tells 5280. “Hearing about a new owner, that wasn’t so bad. Change brings questions, but there was a lot of hope that things could get better under Robin Thurston.” By the start of this year, 15 of 17 eligible editorial staff members at the magazine expressed interest in unionizing; by the third week of February, the group had backed off, saying they had met with management and were going to “spend the coming months working together to enact the improvements we believe are necessary to make Outside a viable and equitable workplace for years to come.” While it remains to be seen whether that will happen, another open question is whether the magazine can continue to deliver the high-quality journalism it’s produced in the past (some of these stories by authors such as Susan Orlean and Jon Krakauer live in a section called Outside Classics and can only be accessed with an Outside+ membership). Says one Outside writer: “Everyone’s waiting and wondering what Robin Thurston is going to do. Is he interested in paying for the next Into the Wild, or does he only care about his service?”

It’s a breeze

According to the National Weather Service, we could see more areas of blowing dust today after 3 pm and, yet again, winds that could gust as high as 40 mph. Otherwise, it will be sunny with a high near 61 degrees. As the high winds indicate, wildfire season is “just around the corner.” The Santa Fe National Forest this week issued reminders of how to prepare one’s home in spring, when fire danger is also high.

Thanks for reading! The Word was already excited about the forthcoming publication of former long-time Santa Fe resident poet Dana Levin’s new book, but all the more so for having just read this interview with her in McSweeney’s and this write-up in the New York Times.