Gov Martinez Calls For Budget Increase, UNM Investigating Fetal Tissue Transfer

Jan 5, 2018

Governor Martinez Calls For Budget IncreaseThe Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is recommending a $250 million increase in state general fund spending for the coming fiscal year.

Officials with the Republican administration outlined spending and taxation proposals Friday that emphasize investments in the criminal justice system, economic development incentives and early childhood care and education. The Democrat-led Legislature convenes Jan. 16 to craft a state budget for the fiscal year starting in July.

The governor's proposal would boost assistance for child care services by $25 million and increase pay for state police, public prosecutors, court staff, corrections officers, parole officers, public school teachers and other state workers.

It calls for tax law changes designed to collect an additional $99 million, much of it through the nonprofit health care sector. The governor is seeking a 1 percent pay raise for all state employees.

University Launches Investigation Into Fetal Tissue TransferThe Associated Press

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center is investigating the transfer of fetal tissue from a faculty member to a private medical research company in Michigan.

Health Sciences Center spokeswoman Alex Sanchez confirmed the internal investigation Friday after it was first reported by the Albuquerque Journal.

Sanchez said the inquiry began in the fall. She declined to provide details, citing a need to protect the integrity of the process.

According to documents obtained by the newspaper, officials suspended Robin Ohls' research duties in October after learning she had acquired fetal tissue for months from the Southwestern Women's Options abortion clinic and transferred it to Zietchick Research Institute LLC.

An internal memo indicates staff had concerns about possibly infringing on the university's policy to not buy or sell human tissue.

Sanctions Ordered For Attorney In Lawsuit Over Bail RulesThe Associated Press

A federal judge has ordered an Albuquerque lawyer to pay costs and attorney fees to the New Mexico Supreme Court and other defendants in a lawsuit that unsuccessfully sought to block new state rules governing pretrial release of criminal defendants.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Junell's order Thursday says A. Blair Dunn should pay sanctions because the lawsuit that he and other attorneys filed on behalf of the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico and others contained groundless and frivolous claims.

Junell says the sanctions are needed to deter attorneys "from repeating this sort of conduct."

Dunn says the lawsuit did have a legal basis, that it's not clear why Junell singled him out for sanctions and that the sanctions order will be part of an appeal that's already underway.

Bleak Forecast For Colorado River Supplies; 20% SnowpackThe Associated Press & The Las Vegas Review-Journal

The first forecast of the year for Colorado River water supplies is a bleak one.

The river that serves as a key source of water for seven states including California, Colorado, Utah and Nevada is expected to flow at only about 54 percent of its average volume during the key runoff period from April to July.

The National Weather Service's Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City released a report Wednesday showing December snow totals as low as 20 percent of average in some areas.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the discouraging forecast comes on the heels of some welcome news for the drought-stricken and overdrawn river.

Lake Mead ended 2017 almost 2 feet higher than a year ago, as use of Colorado River water by Nevada, Arizona and California hit its lowest level since 1992.

New Mexico Ag Finds No Violations In Fetal Tissue Case - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico's top prosecutors say no state laws were broken by the transfer of fetal tissue between an Albuquerque abortion clinic and researchers at the University of New Mexico.

The New Mexico Attorney General's Office outlined it findings Thursday in a letter to members of a special U.S. congressional committee created to investigate Planned Parenthood and the world of fetal tissue research.

The committee forwarded allegations to Attorney General Hector Balderas' office in 2016. The committee accused tissue procurement firms and research entities like the university of possibly violating federal and state laws.

Balderas' office conducted civil and criminal reviews but found no evidence to indicate any state violations.

U.S. Justice Department officials in December confirmed the FBI was considering criminal inquiries related to the long-running controversy surrounding the use of fetus tissue in medical research.

Officials See Spike In Number Of Flu Cases Across New MexicoAssociated Press

Health officials are reporting a spike in the number of flu cases across New Mexico in the last few weeks.

They say influenza-like illness activity is double what it was at this time last year with the current flu season not yet at its peak.

The number of flu-related deaths has risen in New Mexico to six.

Flu-related hospitalizations —especially among residents age 65 and older — have been steadily increasing since the beginning of the flu season in October.

The New Mexico Department of Health has investigated 12 flu outbreaks in facilities around the state since October, seven of them in the last few weeks.

Health officials say all residents aged six months and older who haven't been vaccinated yet should get their flu vaccine as soon as possible.

Air Force Personnel Honored For 2016 Combat Resupply DropAssociated Press

The Air Force says two service members are being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their roles in making a combat resupply drop of ammunition to ground forces in danger of being overrun during an enemy attack on a forward operating base in Afghanistan.

Officials at Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico say Capt. Charlotte A. Rabbe was a combat systems officer on a MC-130J special operations aircraft and Staff Sgt. Gary P. Bjerke the plane's loadmaster during the Jan. 5, 2016 engagement.

Award citations said enemy fire hit the aircraft multiple times as it successfully dropped the ammunition to a Special Forces team at the base.

Cannon officials say Rabbe is 29 and from Indian Harbour Beach, Florida, while Bjerke is 25 and from Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Abiquiu Lake To Host Annual Midwinter Eagle Watching EventAssociated Press

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking for volunteers to help with the annual midwinter eagle counting effort at Abiquiu Lake.

Volunteers will be meeting Saturday morning at the northern New Mexico lake.

The effort involves counting eagles along standard, non-overlapping survey routes as part of a nationwide bald eagle survey.

Officials with the National Wildlife Federation have asked participants in each state to count eagles along standard routes to provide data on count trends.

The basic objectives are to index the total wintering bald eagle populations in the lower 48 states, determine distribution during a standardized period, and to identify previously unrecognized areas of important winter habitat.

Unlike nesting surveys, the annual midwinter survey provides information on both breeding and non-breeding segments of the population.

Immersion Art Startup Meow Wolf Picks Denver To Expand - By Morgan Lee And Thomas Peipert, Associated Press

Creators of a popular immersive art entertainment project in Santa Fe, New Mexico, are expanding to a major metropolitan market.

Startup arts company Meow Wolf on Thursday announced plans for a new interactive art exhibition and music venue in an industrial neighborhood of downtown Denver.

The venture presents a major financial and creative test for Meow Wolf and its growing staff of about 200 artists, technicians and project developers.

Company CEO Vince Kadlubek describes them as the "corporate version of an art collective."

Meow Wolf has created a new brand of family entertainment that combines eye-popping psychedelic design work with narrative storytelling.

The Denver exhibit will be three times the size of its Santa Fe counterpart. What it will look like inside remains largely a mystery.

Official Says Cibola County May Be Bankrupt By End Of FebruaryGallup Independent, Associated Press

Officials say a New Mexico county is in deep financial trouble and may be bankrupt in 60 days.

The Gallup Independent reports Interim Cibola County Manager Valerie Taylor says the county is in "crisis mode" and if it doesn't "make significant changes," it is "going to be insolvent by the end of February."

Taylor says she contacted New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration Local Government Division Special Director Michael Steininger to straighten out the county's finances.

The county overspent by $9.5 million from 2013 to 2016, and wrote a $7 million check to CoreCivic in November that bounced. The county has a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to serve as a pass-through for CoreCivic, which houses detainees of the federal agency at its prison in Milan.

New Mexico Regulators To Reconsider Utility RatesSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Regulators have rescinded a decision that allowed New Mexico's largest electric utility to increase rates for customers but limited the amount of money the utility could recoup on upgrades at a coal-fired power plant.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the state Public Regulation Commission on Wednesday backed away from the decision made last month and granted the Public Service Co. of New Mexico a new hearing on rate proposals set for next week.

The commission had voted to allow the utility to raise rates by about 9 percent over the next two years, but it rejected the utility's request to recoup about $150 million from improvements at the Four Corners Power Plant.

The utility filed a request last week, asking the commission to reconsider its previous decision.

New Mexico Court Overturns First-Degree Murder ConvictionAssociated Press, Albuquerque Journal

A man's first-degree murder conviction in a 2011 killing has been overturned because a trial prosecutor got a police detective to testify that the defendant invoked his right to counsel and wouldn't speak with police.

The New Mexico Supreme Court's ruling Thursday says John "Jack" McDowell Jr.'s right to due process was violated and that he's entitled to a new trial in the fatal stabbing of James Chavez during a fight at his Rio Rancho home. The Albuquerque Journal reported McDowell is a former New Mexico State Police officer.

The ruling says New Mexico courts have long held that prosecutors can't comment in court on a defendants' right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

State's Chief Federal Judge To Retire To Senior StatusAssociated Press

New Mexico's top federal judge is retiring.

An announcement by the U.S. District Court for New Mexico says Chief Judge M. Christina Armijo will take senior status in February.

The court's announcement Thursday doesn't specify whether Armijo will continue to handle a reduced caseload once in senior status, as is the practice of some federal judges once they retire to senior status.

Armijo was appointed a federal judge in 2001 by President George W. Bush. She has been the chief judge since 2001.

She previously served as a judge on the New Mexico Court of Appeals from 1996 until her appointment to the federal court.

Armijo is a native of Las Vegas.