New Mexico Tells School Kids: No Lunch Money, No Problem – The Associated Press
A bill to ensure that New Mexico children are served school meals even if their parents do not pay on time has been approved by the state Senate.
The Senate voted 30-7 on Thursday in favor of the bill that outlines debt collection procedures for unpaid breakfasts and lunches at public, private and religious schools that accept federal subsidies for student meals.
The bill also prohibits schools from calling attention to a child who can't pay or requiring they do chores to help pay for food, to avoid any stigma.
Democratic Sen. Michael Padilla says the bill separates parents' debt from a child's need to eat. Republican Sen. Craig Brandt says it would hurt public school finances unnecessarily.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.
New Mexico Senate OKs Ban On Coyote Killing Contests – The Associated Press
The New Mexico Legislature has taken a step toward outlawing coyote killing contests for prizes or entertainment, without placing restrictions on hunting or trapping the animals.
The state Senate voted 26-15 Thursday on a bill that would make it illegal to organize, sponsor or participate in a coyote killing contest. The initiative now moves to the House, where lawmakers debated a similar bill in 2013 for two hours before voting it down.
Ranchers and outfitters from across the state say the contests are a tool for managing packs of coyotes that threaten cattle and sheep. Supporters of the legislation called the practice barbaric and ineffective in the long run.
Republican Rep. and bill sponsor Mark Moores of Albuquerque estimates that at least 32 contests were held over the past year.
Effort To Rein In Payday Loan Industry Gains Steam – The Associated Press
A measure that would cap the amount of interest and fees charged by the payday loan industry in New Mexico has cleared its latest legislative hurdle.
The House Judiciary Committee endorsed the bill on a 9-1 vote Thursday, meaning the legislation will now be considered by the full House of Representatives.
This marks the most steam such legislation has had in recent years. Typically, any proposals to rein in storefront lending fall flat and never find their way out of committee.
The legislation effectively eliminates payday loans by definition and bans small loans that have terms less than 120 days. It also caps interest rates at 175 percent.
Some consumer advocates have pushed unsuccessfully for a 36 percent cap, but the higher rate has won support from industry lobbyists.
Alaska Airlines Adds Daily Albuquerque-San Francisco Flight – The Associated Press
City officials say Alaska Airlines is adding a non-stop, daily flight from Albuquerque to San Francisco and back this fall.
The flights will begin Sept. 18 with one flight leaving for San Francisco International Airport at 7:15 a.m. and another flight headed back to Albuquerque International Sunport at 6:15 p.m.
The daily flights will be operated by Horizon Air on 76-seat E175 jets.
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry says Alaska Airlines now will serve four nonstop destinations from the Sunport.
Since 2009, the Sunport has added three new airlines with service to three new destinations and expanded options to five existing destinations.
The city also has announced a major renovation project to the pre-security portion of the terminal this spring, with completion scheduled next year.
New Mexico House Votes To Tap Permanent Fund – Associated Press
The New Mexico House of Representatives has approved a proposed constitutional amendment to boost spending on early childhood education with money from a state sovereign wealth fund.
The 37-32 vote in the House on Wednesday night sends the proposal to the Senate. Approval from a majority of all Senators would send the proposal to a statewide referendum in the November 2018 general election. The governor's approval is not needed.
The Democrat-sponsored amendment would increase annual withdrawals from the state's $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund by 1 percent to a total of 6 percent of the fund's value starting in 2020. The increase would go mainly toward education programs for children ages 0-5.
Proponents of the measure cite mounting evidence that early childhood years are crucial to brain development and strongly influence educational outcomes later.
But many lawmakers say they are reluctant to risk drawing too much money each year from a fund seen as a trust for future generations.
The fund receives royalties from oil and natural gas production and other income from land given to the state by the federal government, while distributions currently benefit public schools, hospitals and other institutions.
Regulator Links Southwest Methane Cloud To Natural Seeps – Associated Press
New Mexico's top oil and natural gas regulator says a giant cloud of the greenhouse gas methane hanging over the Southwestern United States comes in large part from natural seeps from underground formations and coal mining operations.
At a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, acting New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary Kenley McQueen said the methane hot spot over the Four Corners region of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah dates back 10 million years in his opinion.
The former natural gas executive believes a NASA survey missed the "larger contributions" of methane from coal-seam outcroppings and coal mining. The state Senate voted 32-4 to confirm McQueen.
States are being left alone to calculate methane emissions at oil and gas operations after the Environmental Protection Agency this month withdrew an Obama-era request that drillers provide emissions data.
New Mexico Governor Vetoes Industrial Hemp Bill – Associated Press
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed a bill that would have created a research program for the industrial production of hemp.
The second-term Republican governor vetoed the Democrat-sponsored measure Wednesday without comment.
It would have required the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to set up an industrial hemp research program for cultivation and marketing.
A more restrictive bill from Democratic Sen. Cisco McSorley of Albuquerque is on its way to the governor's desk. McSorley says it addresses concerns raised by the Martinez Administration two years ago about potential conflicts with federal law and provides for police training.
Thirty-one states have authorized hemp research. The crop is prized for its oils, seeds and fiber.
The 2014 federal farm bill allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp projects for research and development.
New Mexico Governor Approves Broadband Expansion Bills – Associated Press
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has signed two bills designed to extend high-speed internet access to the farthest reaches of the state.
One bill signed into law Wednesday by the governor creates a "dig once" policy that ensures broadband conduit can be inserted underground any time trenches are dug to access utility lines.
The second law seeks to spur investment in broadband infrastructure by combining demand for internet access among public schools and other educational institutions, while recovering a large portion of costs from a federal program established in 1996 to help connect public libraries and schools to the internet.
Other provisions would help connect Native American tribes to high-speed internet in return for rights-of-way. Martinez says the legislation will help spur business competition and growth in New Mexico.
New Mexico Senate Approves Cigarette Tax Hike – Associated Press
A proposal to increase New Mexico's tax on cigarettes to $3.16 a pack has been approved by the state Senate.
Senate Democrats backed the $1.50-a-pack increase Wednesday over Republican objections on a 24-16 vote. The bill now moves to the House.
The initiative would raise an annual $89 million for public schools, as New Mexico lawmakers wrestle with a budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has vowed to veto any outright tax increases while considering changes to credits and deductions.
The bill from Democratic Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City would raise taxes on other tobacco products including electronic cigarettes to 75 percent from 25 percent. E-cigarettes heat a nicotine liquid into a vapor, delivering the chemical that smokers crave without harmful tar from burning.
New Mexico Officials Warn Of Escalating Fire Danger – Associated Press
State and federal land managers in New Mexico are warning people about escalating fire danger.
This week, red flag warnings were issued throughout eastern New Mexico due to extreme fire danger, and the dry, windy conditions are likely to remain in the forecast.
Surrounding states such as Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas have already been hit with serious wildfires this year due to similar conditions.
So far this year, officials say New Mexico has seen 55 wildfires burn more than 10 square miles — about half of that being charred in the last two weeks alone.
Acting State Forester Donald Griego says last year's fire season was very active and destructive. More than 200 square miles burned on public and private lands in 2016.
Santa Fe City Council Votes To Send Soda Tax To Voters – Albuquerque Journal
A proposal for an extra tax on sugary drinks passed the Santa Fe City Council Wednesday night and now heads to voters in May.
The Albuquerque Journal reports the plan by Mayor Javier Gonzales to charge a tax of two cents per ounce on sweetened drinks passed 8-1. That came after a public meeting where more than 100 people spoke, most in support of the bill, which will expand access to pre-kindergarten programs.
Gonzales said he pushed the initiative because the state has not done enough to fund early childhood education. Supporters also said it would bring health benefits by discouraging sugar intake.
But critics argued a tax to support education should be more widespread and employees of the local Coca-Cola distributor and others warned it could bring job losses.
Voters will decide on the proposal on May 2.
State Police Drill Inspection Process For Nuclear Repository – Carlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press
New Mexico State Police are gearing up for when nuclear waste shipments return to the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository.
The Current-Argus reported Tuesday that patrolmen practiced inspection procedures at Carlsbad's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in preparation for shipments to resume next month.
State police will have to examine motor vehicles to check for radiation leaks, undergo hazardous waste training and learn how to inspect radioactive loads.
Trucks transporting waste to the facility must be deemed completely defect-free in inspections. Minor issues like broken taillights or non-functioning turn signals will result in an inspection failure.
Waste shipments are set to resume in April. The exact date for shipments has not been finalized.
New Mexico Congressman To Hold Town Hall Saturday In Hobbs – Associated Press
The sole Republican member of New Mexico's congressional delegation has scheduled a town hall Saturday in Hobbs, the second such event that Rep. Steve Pearce will hold in eight days.
The town hall will be held at the Lea County Event Center at 9 a.m.
Many members of Congress from both parties have skipped holding town halls, including vulnerable Senate Democrats and majority Republicans pummeled by critics of President Donald Trump.
Pearce last Saturday held a town hall in Ruidoso that drew approximately 300 people. He also recently held a telephone town hall.
He said in a statement announcing the Hobbs town hall that he wants to focus on concern such as community safety, the economy and opportunities for children and that he hopes "political disdain" can be put aside.
Sandoval County Settles Jail Suicide Suit For $1.8 Million – KOB-TV, Associated Press
Sandoval County has agreed to pay $1.8 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from a jail inmate who killed herself after leaving her isolation cell.
KOB-TV reports that attorney Jack Jacks filed a lawsuit after Raynbow Gignilliant killed herself weeks after she was released from solitary confinement at the Sandoval County Jail. Gignilliant had been in isolation for two months before her death in 2014.
Jacks also filed suit against the jail's medical provider. That settlement amount has not been disclosed.
Jacks says Gignilliant was not allowed out of her cell for recreation or even to shower. He says her mental health deteriorated while in isolation to the point that she was hallucinating and throwing feces around the cell.