Governor Calls Session On Budget, Democratic NM Leader Says Session Will Not Focus On Death Penalty

Sep 29, 2016

Governor Convenes Legislature To Rewrite BudgetAssociated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez is convening a special session of the Legislature to plug a budget shortfall linked a downturn in oil and natural gas markets and also push for a vote on whether to reinstate the death penalty.

The decision  to reconvene lawmakers on Friday sets the stage for public debate on taxes and government spending and the emotionally charged issue of capital punishment less than six weeks ahead of November general elections that could shift the balance of power in the New Mexico Legislature. Republicans are defending a House majority, and Democrats control the Senate.

New Mexico depends on oil and natural gas revenues more than almost any other state and has watched its operating reserves dwindle into negative territory amid a sustained downturn in energy prices.

New Mexico Senate Leader Focuses On Budget, Not Crime BillsThe Associated Press

The Democratic majority floor leader of the New Mexico Senate says allied lawmakers are focused on resolving the state's budget crisis and that criminal justice initiatives backed by the state's Republican governor can wait.

Sen. Michael Sanchez of Belen said Thursday that Senate Democrats are hoping to close tax loopholes to increase state revenues and avoid significant cuts to government programs and services during a special legislative session.

Gov. Susan Martinez plans to reconvene the Legislature on Friday to try and plug a budget shortfall linked to a downturn in energy markets and push for a vote on reinstating the death penalty for some crimes and tougher sentencing laws for violent crimes.

Sanchez says all other issues beyond the budget shortfall can wait until a regular legislative session in January.

New Mexico Spends $500 Million Out Of StateThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

The State Auditor has found that government agencies in New Mexico last year spend more than $500 million of taxpayer money out of state when it could have been spent locally.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that state Auditor Tim Keller said Wednesday that those figures are among the initial findings of an audit looking at over all contracts over $60,000 entered into by local and state government entities.

The full audit will be released later this year, covering a total of $1.3 billion in contract spending.

Keller said at the Economic Forum that the largest percentage of out-of-state spending happens in the IT, health and medical and food services industries. However most money spent in construction, architecture and engineering was spent in-state.

Republican Budget Negotiator Foresees No LayoffsThe Associated Press 

A leading Republican budget negotiator in the New Mexico House of Representatives says he expects the state's budget shortfall can be addressed without staff layoffs or other major disruptions to government operations.

Rep. Larry Larranaga of Albuquerque on Thursday described the state's budget shortfall as serious but not a crisis as lawmakers prepare for a special session on Friday.

The chairman of the House appropriations and finance committee says most House Republicans have set a high priority on preserving funding for public safety, protective services for children and Medicaid health care.

He says potential funding cuts to public education spending would be focused on administrative areas and designed not to affect teachers.

Insurance Regulator Wants More Time To Pursue Back TaxesAssociated Press

New Mexico's superintendent of insurance is pleading with state lawmakers for more time to recover unpaid taxes on insurance premiums and investigate one company, after an outside audit uncovered at least $193 million in uncollected state revenue.

Insurance Superintendent John Franchini told a legislative oversight committee Wednesday that two undertrained clerks had been left for years to collect and audit premium taxes from roughly 2,000 insurance companies.

Franchini wants two months to recover overdue funds and complete an investigation of an insurance provider. The insurance commissioner says he long suspected the tax collection problems, but state auditors say they were not warned appropriately.

State Auditor Tim Keller is urging lawmakers to commission a more thorough audit to help recover unpaid taxes and ensure future collections.

Las Cruces Man Gets Prison For Illegal Possession Of GrenadeThe Associated Press

A Las Cruces man has been sentenced to more than nearly six years in federal prison for unlawfully possessing a grenade.

Federal prosecutors say 37-year-old Keyton Wayne Lieber was given a 70-month sentence Thursday and will be on supervised release for two years after completing the prison term.

Lieber was arrested in January on a criminal complaint charging him with possessing a destructive device in Dona Ana County on April 21. Federal authorities safely disposed of it.

New Mexico State Police officers reported finding the grenade in Lieber's residence while executing a search warrant.

Lieber pleaded guilty in June to possessing a destructive device which was not registered to him.

US House Panel Heads To Santa Fe For American Indian Hearing Associated Press

The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources is set to hold an oversight hearing in Santa Fe on American Indians and energy development.

The "Tribal Prosperity and Self-Determination through Energy Development" is scheduled Tuesday at the New Mexico State Capitol.

According to the committee, the hearing will review the impact of energy resource development on tribal economies. It also will examine how tribes manage their energy resources and look at obstacles such as federal regulations.

Monitor Calls APD’s Training On Using Force IneffectiveAlbuquerque Journal

The independent monitor overseeing reforms in the Albuquerque Police Department told a federal judge this week that APD’s use-of-force training is “absolutely ineffective.”

The Albuquerque Journal reports James Ginger also said the additional training is necessary and he criticized the pace at which reforms are being implemented at APD.

The department is instituting reforms as part of a settlement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice over how police use force. DOJ also found a culture of aggression in APD.

A spokeswoman for APD said the department has addressed every issue raised by Ginger.

New Mexico Regulators Approve PNM Rate HikeAssociated Press

State regulators have approved a rate hike for Public Service Co. of New Mexico's half a million customers, but it's not as much as the electric utility had hoped for.

The Public Regulation Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday during a meeting in Santa Fe for a compromise that will amount to an average increase of roughly 10 percent.

The utility had initially proposed a more than 14 percent increase to recover the costs of investments it has made in recent years, including new solar generating stations and the purchase of power from an Arizona nuclear plant.

Concerns raised by environmentalists over the value of PNM's stake in the Palo Verde plant led a hearing officer earlier this year to recommend that the multimillion-dollar request be slashed by two-thirds.

Commissioners acknowledged it was a difficult decision.

Artesia Accepts Donation To Overturn Police Pay Cuts Roswell Daily Record, Associated Press

Police and firefighters in Artesia will not be taking pay cuts as the city will accept a donation from an anonymous donor to offset the costs.

The Roswell Daily Record reports that the City Council on Tuesday voted to accept the donation for an undisclosed amount that will restore pay cuts for Artesia's police officers, firefighters and two librarians.

The city announced immediate pay cuts of 10 percent last month for all employees for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Mayor Phil Burch says a generous person came forward last week with a gift that will ensure all first responder personnel receive their normal wages for the rest of the year.

The exact amount of the donation was not disclosed, but based on the city's budget it is estimated to be more than $300,000.

UNM Reports Increases In Auto Thefts, Fondling Cases Associated Press

The University of New Mexico's latest annual campus safety report includes sizable increases in auto thefts and fondling cases.

University Police Chief Kevin McCabe says he's concerned by the increases and he says patrolling the campus and engaging with students, staff and faculty are top priorities for his department.

The university says the increase in auto thefts from 32 in 2014 to 88 in 2015 is based partly on a new federal requirement that attempted auto thefts be reported as thefts and to a general rise in auto thefts in Albuquerque and the state.

Reported fondling cases doubled from 7 in 2014 to 15 in 2015, which McCabe attributes to university efforts to encourage reporting of fondling incidents.

Federal law requires universities and colleges to report annually on campus crime.