NM Virus Outbreak Besieged Hospital

In this May 8, 2020, photo, medical staff from Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital hold a protest over working conditions and depleted staff in Gallup, N.M. Many nurses and doctors say staffing at the hospital was inadequate because of the hospital's move to cut back on nurses in the first week of March to offset declining hospital revenues after elective surgeries were suspended.

NEW MEXICO

Loosened restrictions, mask edict take effect

SANTA FE — The loosening of some restrictions imposed on nonessential businesses by New Mexico's governor two months ago to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak took effect May 16, along with a new edict that people wear masks in public under most circumstances.

Figures released by state officials put the death toll at 259 as of May 16, with the total number of cases statewide at 5,847.

The loosening of restrictions applied to most of the state but not in the northwest region, where McKinley and San Juan counties are located along with Cibola County.

Under the loosening, retailers and many services along with houses of worship could reopen at limited capacity.

Also, in a new move to combat the spread, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered that face masks be worn in public, but with exceptions that included eating, drinking and exercising.

Wearing masks is needed to help produce "a safe environment," but police will not ticket people not wearing some sort of face covering, the governor said.

"I am not going to go out and try to make examples of individuals and cite them. I don't think that that wins the day. I think positive re-enforcement wins the day and we don't have the resources to do it anyway," Lujan Grisham said.

Sheriff switches endorsement in nasty GOP US House race

RIO RANCHO — An influential sheriff has switched his endorsement in an increasingly nasty Republican primary race for crucial U.S. House race in southern New Mexico.

Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage said May 18 he is throwing his support behind oil executive Claire Chase for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

Cage initially has supported former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell for the nomination — a move that Herrell advertised on her campaign's Facebook page. He later said he was staying neutral after Chase jumped in the race

"Unfortunately, the latest very personal, very ugly attacks on my friend Claire Chase have driven me to do otherwise," Cage said in a video.

Herrell has faced criticism for exchanging text messages with a cartoonist who was drafting a meme around false rumors Chase had cheated on her first husband.

Chase also has been the target of Herrell campaign commercials that uses a cheerleader's voice to read old Chase Facebook posts attacking Trump. The ad has been called sexist.

NEBRASKA

High court orders disclosure of execution drug records

OMAHA — Nebraska prison officials cannot withhold public records that reveal where they purchased their supply of lethal injection drugs, the state's highest court said May 15 in a ruling that could threaten Nebraska's ability to carry out executions for the dozen men on its death row.

In ordering the documents to be disclosed for public scrutiny, the Nebraska Supreme Court sided with two newspapers and a prisoner advocacy group that sued the Department of Correctional Services after its 2017 refusal to release them. Before that, the department had regularly disclosed such records to anyone who requested them.

Pharmaceutical companies object to their products being used in executions and have sought to prevent pharmacies from providing them. Some states have moved to keep their suppliers secret, but Nebraska lawmakers have rejected "shield laws" that would have given prison officials the authority to withhold such records.

Nebraska lawmakers narrowly abolished capital punishment in 2015, largely due to a coalition of conservative legislators who viewed it as a waste of money given how long it had been since the state had an execution. As lawmakers were considering the move, prison officials and Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts sent $54,400 in state money to a broker in India who promised to deliver lethal injection drugs. The broker later said his shipments were being blocked and refused to return the money.

The next year, voters approved reinstating capital punishment in a ballot measure that was partially financed by Ricketts, a death penalty supporter.

The state currently has no executions scheduled.

WYOMING

Lawmakers looks to UW, public schools for potential budget cuts

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Senate on May 15 approved a pair of amendments to a wide-ranging COVID-19 relief package that, if adopted, would give Gov. Mark Gordon broad authority to transfer millions of dollars in funding from the University of Wyoming and the state's K-12 education system to help balance the budget.

The amendments, both of which were passed by wide margins, do not necessarily guarantee that cuts will be coming to either public schools or the university. However, they would grant the governor a significant amount of leeway to reduce funding levels in two of the state's most expensive systems at a time where state revenues are projected to decline by catastrophic levels over the coming year.

In the University of Wyoming's case, those reductions could be up to 25 percent of its budget, though the legislation does not mandate any cuts need to be taken.

While the amendments would likely be used to cut education funding, lawmakers also adopted language to allow schools across the state to increase the amount of money kept in their reserves with significant restrictions on what that funding could be used for: an effort lawmakers said could be used to prevent cuts to teachers as local revenues continue to languish.

While the decision to open the door to budget cuts was met with plenty of reluctance, most members of the Senate said they recognized the state's looming financial situation would likely have required major cuts to education down the line regardless.

However dire the state's revenue situation was, some lawmakers -- like Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne -- suggested that the last-minute decision to put education funding on the chopping block was a rushed one, and urged her fellow lawmakers to take on the subject at a time where more members of the public had an opportunity to comment.

UTAH

Stolen $5K marble sculpture found by joggers

LOGAN — A $5,000 marble sculpture has been found resting in a grassy field in northern Utah about two weeks after it was stolen from a local art business, authorities said.

The 400-pound sculpture was found intact near Collinston May 15 by two people on their morning jog who reported it to authorities, The Herald Journal reported.

Sculptor Andrew Keith spent up to 100 hours crafting the "Daring Dancer" sculpture as part of his final project to complete his Bachelor of Arts.

The damage appears to be minimal and could be repaired in six hours, Keith said.

"There's probably some chips and dings on the surface just from them moving it," Keith said. "It looks like they just pushed it out of the back of their truck on the side of a dirt road."

It is still unclear who took the sculpture and what the motive was.

Keith originally had planned on presenting the piece at a juried outdoor sculpture show in Loveland, Colorado, but the show was cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

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