GOP's REAL ID Bill Clears Committee, WIPP Could Re-Open By End Of Year

Jan 22, 2016

 GOP-Sponsored REAL ID Fix Clears First HurdleAssociated Press

A GOP-sponsored bill that would make New Mexico compliant under the REAL ID Act and allow some  immigrants to obtain driver's permit cards has cleared its first hurdle.

The proposal passed 4-3 on Thursday in the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee along party lines after a nearly three-hour meeting.

The measure passed despite charges of racism from immigrant advocates.

New Mexico currently allows immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses and this bill would only allow them get the driver's permit cards.

It was the first of at least two proposals state lawmakers are examining to get New Mexico in compliance with the federal REAL ID Act.

Already, some federal facilities have stopped accepting New Mexico driver's licenses.

US, New Mexico Ink Settlements Over Nuclear Radiation LeakThe Associated Press

New Mexico and the U.S. Department of Energy have inked $74 million in settlements over dozens of permit violations stemming from a radiation leak that forced the closure of the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository.

The settlements are the largest ever negotiated between a state and the Energy Department and come after months of negotiations.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has been closed since February 2014, when a container of waste burst and released radiation that contaminated parts of the underground facility. The container came from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The settlements call for the Energy Department to funnel millions of dollars toward road improvements and environmental projects in New Mexico.

The state initially proposed more than $54 million in penalties against the federal agency and its contractors for numerous violations at the lab and waste dump.

Businesses Nervous On Possible New Mexico REAL ID StalemateThe Associated Press

Business leaders in New Mexico say the partisan stalemate in the Legislature over a REAL ID fix have them nervous about the state's economy.

Border Industrial Association president Jerry Pacheco says potential investors may overlook New Mexico if workers can't get REAL ID compliant driver's licenses. Pacheco says he worries the uncertainty may hurt efforts to attract new companies to places like the booming border city of Santa Teresa.

Some military bases say they would no longer accept New Mexico driver's licenses since they have been deemed noncompliant under the REAL ID Act.

A GOP-sponsored proposal that would make New Mexico compliant and give immigrants in the country illegally driver's permits passed a House committee Thursday.

But Democrats and immigrant advocates are pushing a state Senate "two-tier" plan that would allow those immigrants to keep driver's licenses.

UNM Makes $2 Million Marketing Contract To Boost Its ImageThe Associated Press

The University of New Mexico has a four-year, $2 million contract with a marketing agency to boost its image.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that UNM hired media firm 160over90, which has worked with companies like Nike and Ferrari. Officials hope the firm's work can help the school rebound from its dwindling student population and reputation among some high-school students as a backup school.

School officials and members of the marketing firm presented the preliminary results of the $1.98 million project to about 400 students, professors, staff and administrators Thursday morning.

The presentation incorporated the school's cherry and silver colors into design templates with pithy slogans like "re-imagining rural medicine while fine-tuning flamenco." The mock-up documents included photos highlighting New Mexico culture, like hot air balloons and adobe buildings.

Proposal To Expand Three-Strikes Law Wins Committee Vote Associated Press

A proposal to expand the New Mexico's three-strikes law for sentencing habitual offenders has passed its first House committee vote.

The House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee voted 4-3 along party lines Thursday in favor of the bill filed by Rep. Paul Pacheco, an Albuquerque Republican.

He says the current three-strikes law in New Mexico includes crimes that already can result in life sentences and is so narrow that no one has been convicted under it since it was enacted two decades ago.

His proposed changes to the three-strikes law would add new crimes to the list that make defendants with at least three prior convictions eligible for life sentences, including voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, first-degree child abuse, armed robbery and aggravated burglary.

Plan Calls For Operations To Resume At Nuke Dump In 2016Associated Press

Some operations at the federal government's troubled nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico could resume by the end of 2016 under a plan approved by U.S. Energy Department officials.

The agency's field office in Carlsbad, New Mexico, announced the approval Thursday.

The plan covers recovery activities at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, baseline operations and capital projects that need to be done before the underground facility reopens.

The cleanup of tons of Cold War-era waste from defense sites across the country has been on hold since February 2014 when a radiation leak forced the facility's indefinite closure.

DOE officials say it could be a couple of weeks before details of the new plan are made public. They still have to brief members of Congress.

Women’s Advocates Seek Changes In CYFDSanta Fe New Mexican

Women’s advocates rallied at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe yesterday in support of legislation to protect women and children who have suffered domestic violence.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the groups are supporting the Parents Bill of Rights. The legislation would prohibit the Children Youth and Families Department from denying aid when someone refuses to sue a partner for child support because of domestic violence issues.

CYFD added a check box on child care aid forms in December that allows applicants to get a waiver from that legal requirement. But advocates have argued that caseworkers do not always tell applicants about the waiver.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Deborah Armstrong, an Albuquerque Democrat. She says it would stop CYFD from requiring applicants to submit a statement about why they fear violence from suing a partner for child support. It would also require training for CYFD workers on the policy.

New Television Series 'Preacher' To Film In New Mexico Associated Press

The New Mexico Film Office says production of the television series "Preacher" will begin next month in Albuquerque.

Produced by AMC Studios and Sony Pictures Television, the series was developed for television by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Sam Catlin. It's based on the cult comic book of the same name.

The series will follow a West Texas preacher named Jesse Custer, who is inhabited by a mysterious entity that causes him to develop an unusual power.

Dominic Cooper will star as Custer. He'll be joined by Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, Lucy Griffiths, Ian Colletti and Earl W. Brown.

The New Mexico Film Office says the production will employ at least 175 local crew members.

AMC has ordered 10 one-hour episodes. The series is expected to premiere later this year.

New Mexico Businesses Share In Sandia Labs' Spending Associated Press

Sandia National Laboratories says it spent more money in 2015 than the previous year and more than $381 million went to New Mexico businesses.

The national laboratory released its latest economic impact report Thursday. It covers spending from October 2014 through the end of September 2015.

It shows spending on goods and services was just shy of $1 billion at $983 million. That's up nearly $21 million from the previous year.

Officials say small businesses across the country received more than half of the available dollars, or about $519 million in contracts with the lab.

Don Devoti is the manager of Sandia's Small Business Utilization Department. He says the numbers show Sandia continues to be a driving force in New Mexico's economy.

UNM Rolls Out New Marketing CampaignAlbuquerque Journal

University of New Mexico officials presented preliminary results for a new $2 million marketing campaign Thursday designed to burnish the university's image, raise money and attract more students.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the campaign by marketing firm 160over90 relies heavily on iconic New Mexico images such as hot air balloons and adobe buildings.

It includes short slogans such as “Re-imagining rural medicine while fine-tuning flamenco.” A steering committee that included professors and administrators gave input for the campaign.

160over90 is based in Philadelphia and California and has helped large corporations like Nike turn around their images.

UNM’s student enrollment was 19,800 undergraduates last year, down from from 21,000 in 2011.

Former UNM regent Jamie Koch said the university could see $3.5 million in revenues by boosting student enrollment by just 1.5 percent

Judge: No Medical Oversight At San Juan County Jail Daily Times, Associated Press

A federal judge has denied a request to appoint a doctor to provide medical oversight at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center.

The Daily Times reports that in an opinion filed Friday, U.S. District Court Judge James Browning said the plaintiffs had failed to provide sufficient evidence that the jail was deliberately indifferent to their medical needs.

A group of current and former inmates filed a lawsuit in April against the jail and its medical providers claiming they did not receive appropriate medical care. In September they filed a motion requesting independent medical oversight.

Plaintiff's attorney Christian Hatfield says he filed amended complaints on Friday that contain new evidence to bolder his clients’ claims.

An attorney for the county did not respond to requests for comment.

San Juan County Law Enforcement Protest New Forfeiture LawAssociated Press

Law enforcement officials from San Juan County hauled seized items to Santa Fe to protest the state's new forfeiture law that stops them from seizing property unless the owner has been convicted of a crime.

Officers loaded a U-Haul truck with more than 500 seized items on Wednesday and made the 200-mile drive to the State Treasurer's Office. Shortly after they arrived, they had to turn back for home as the Treasurer's Office was not yet prepared to store the items.

Under the new law, which took effect July 1, law enforcement agencies must store seized items and either send them to the state Treasurer's Office or auction them locally. The proceeds go to the state's general fund either way.

Critics of the law say it will negatively impact police and sheriff's budgets.

New Mexico Utility Dedicates Solar Energy Plant In Santa Fe Associated Press

New Mexico's largest electric utility has dedicated a new solar generating station in Santa Fe County.

The plant is made up of nearly 38,000 panels and has the capacity to produce enough electricity for about 3,850 average residential customers.

The plant came online at the end of 2015, but community members and officials with Public Service Co. of New Mexico gathered Thursday afternoon just south of Santa Fe to dedicate the plant.

Officials say it will provide an estimated $165,000 annually in new tax revenue for Santa Fe County.

PNM says it has invested $270 million on solar power and currently has 15 utility-scale solar plants statewide. The utility serves about 500,000 customers.