Governor's Vetoes Rejected By State Supreme Court, Lawmakers Review Albuquerque Crime Stats

Apr 25, 2018

New Mexico Supreme Court Rejects Governor's Vetoes - Morgan Lee, Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court sided with lawmakers today in a dispute over the extent of the governor's veto powers, ordering that 10 bills vetoed by Republican Susana Martinez in 2017 go into effect because she offered no immediate explanation to the Legislature.

Attorneys for the Legislature cited the original framers of the U.S. and New Mexico constitutions and their concerns about unchecked veto authority.

Martinez had previously said it was the Legislature that was overstepping its authority.

The vetoed bills sought to expand access to high-speed internet and open the way for industrial hemp research programs and, among other provisions.

Meanwhile, the Public Education Department announced a plan yesterday that mimics one of the vetoed bills to allow high school students to count computer science classes toward core math credits needed for graduation.

Judge Dismisses Historic Preservation Claim In Drilling Case - Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A U.S. district judge has dismissed claims by environmentalists who argued that the approval of dozens of drilling permits in northwestern New Mexico violated historic preservation laws due to potential threats to culturally significant sites.

Despite an earlier ruling that indicated the claims had merit, Judge James Browning issued an opinion and amended order this week determining that federal land managers did not violate the law because they considered the effects of the wells on historical sites.

The decision comes in a long-running dispute over management of vast expanses of land surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The oil and gas industry welcomed the ruling, saying the 2015 lawsuit was more about derailing drilling rather than protecting the environment or the state's cultural treasures.

Environmentalists say they'll continue their fight to limit drilling in the region.

Lawmakers Review Criminal-Fighting Progress, ShortfallsAssociated Press

Statistics showing a recent decline in crime overall in Albuquerque have spurred questions among state lawmakers as to what's working within the criminal justice system to help reverse years of rising crime rates and what still needs to be fixed.

Analysts for the state's Legislative Finance Committee presented lawmakers with figures today, showing crime in almost all categories declining significantly in March compared with a peak in August. Only the number of murders increased in Albuquerque over that period.

New Mexico Public-College Enrollment Falls FastAssociated Press

A recent decline in enrollment at New Mexico public colleges outpaced nearly every state in the nation.

An association of state higher education agencies says enrollment dropped by nearly 5 percent at New Mexico public colleges for the school year that ended in June 2017.

Statistics compiled by State Higher Education Officers Association show that the only greater decline in full-time student enrollment was at South Dakota public colleges.

New Mexico's nonpartisan Legislative Finance Committee highlighted the enrollment decline in a report Tuesday.

New Mexico's 24 public colleges and universities offer some of the lowest average tuition rates in the country. More than 10 percent of the state's annual fund goes toward higher education, and state lottery proceeds offset some in-state tuition.

New Mexico Supreme Court Weighs Lawmakers' Veto ChallengeAssociated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments as it decides whether vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez should be invalidated because she allegedly missed deadlines or failed to explain her reasoning.

Leading Democratic lawmakers seek to disqualify 10 vetoes during oral arguments scheduled for Wednesday.

They allege the Republican governor missed a three-day deadline aimed at helping lawmakers respond quickly to early vetoes or never explained the intent of vetoes.

Attorneys for the governor dispute that account of the veto process and say it was fair.

The Supreme Court review leaves in limbo bipartisan legislation that would expand access to high-speed internet, open the way for industrial hemp research programs, and allow high school students to count computer science classes toward core math credits needed for graduation.

US Regulators Set Public Meetings For Nuclear Fuel ProposalAssociated Press

Federal regulators have scheduled a series of public meetings as they consider a plan to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear reactors around the United States at a proposed site in southern New Mexico.

The first meeting hosted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be Monday, April 30, on the Eastern New Mexico University campus in Roswell.

Another meeting will follow Tuesday in Hobbs and a third will be May 3 in Carlsbad.

The public comment period will last through May on the application filed by Holtec International.

Holtec and a coalition of local leaders from southeastern New Mexico first announced plans three years ago to construct a below-ground space for temporarily housing tons of spent nuclear fuel. The company is seeking an initial 40-year license.

Nuclear Agency Authorizes Construction On New Mexico Complex Associated Press

The National Nuclear Security Administration is beginning work on a multimillion-dollar complex in Albuquerque that will serve as a new workspace for some 1,200 employees.

The agency says construction was recently authorized to begin. Bids were solicited over the winter and officials estimated at that time that the new building could cost between $100 million and $250 million.

The current facility includes a former military barracks at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. Some portions date to the early 1950s and are in poor condition. Because of the age of the buildings, officials say routine maintenance is costly and inefficient.

The new building is expected to reduce the agency's total deferred maintenance by about $40 million.

The agency expects construction to be done in the first part of the 2021 fiscal year.

Policy Group Pushes For Risk Assessment To Score DefendantsAssociated Press

A Texas-based public policy group is pushing to expand the use of risk assessment tools to help judges determine the fate of defendants pending trial.

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation announced Wednesday that it's seeking proposals as part of a project to determine the effectiveness of its assessment, which relies on several factors.

The push comes as New Mexico and other states grapple with bail reform.

Foundation officials say there's growing demand for risk assessment and more research will help in understanding the limitations of such tools.

New Mexico voters in 2016 overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment aimed at keeping dangerous defendants in custody pending trial, while allowing for the release of nonviolent suspects who can't afford bail.

Rules related to the change have spurred much debate over the past year among judges, prosecutors and others.

Navajos Share Details Of Historic Tribal TreatyAssociated Press

A previously undiscovered copy of a historic treaty signed by Navajo leaders and the U.S. government that allowed the tribe to return to its homeland in 1868 will go on display later this year.

Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez says relatives of a peace commissioner involved in the process 150 years ago found the document in a trunk in the family attic. It was still bound with the original ribbon.

Pages of the still-pristine document will be on display at the Bosque Redondo Memorial in eastern New Mexico, where the U.S. military imprisoned thousands of Navajos after forcing them to leave their homeland.

The Navajo Nation is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the signing of the treaty with numerous events, including a run that will span more than 400 miles.

The tribe also launched a website focused on the treaty and the commemoration.

New Mexico Education Officials Pursue School Retention PlanAssociated Press

New Mexico public schools officials are moving forward with a proposal that would require schools to administer improvement and intervention plans and in some cases hold back students who have literacy skills below grade level.

Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski is proposing the new rule that focuses on reading proficiency based on a state assessment and would apply to schools teaching students in kindergarten through third grade.

Schools would be required to retain students if they fail to reach reading proficiency following a variety of steps that aim to help struggling students. The proposal would allow some exemptions to retention.

Members of the Legislative Education Study Committee voiced concern about the proposal at their meeting Monday, saying it's similar to legislation that lawmakers have previously rejected.

Drought, Wildfires Force Ranchers To Scramble For FeedAssociated Press

Ongoing drought and wildfires have cattle ranchers in at least five Southwestern U.S. states scrambling for hay or pastureland, while others are selling off some of their herds.

Extreme drought conditions have contributed to wildfires in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, delaying the growth of or destroying grass and wheat used to feed cattle in spring.

Rancher Darrel Shepherd of Custer, Oklahoma, says finding hay in northwest Oklahoma is nearly impossible and two wildfires that burned about 545 square miles have destroyed pastures.

Federal agriculture officials in New Mexico say ranchers may not have feed to maintain their herd sizes and that some are already trimming their herds, while farmers along the Rio Grande are bracing for less water to irrigate their crops.

US Pecan Growers Seek To Break Out Of The Pie ShellAssociated Press

The humble pecan is being rebranded as more than just pie.

Pecan growers and suppliers are hoping to sell U.S. consumers on the virtues of North America's only native nut as a hedge against a potential trade war with China, the pecan's largest export market.

The pecan industry is also trying to crack the fast-growing snack-food industry.

New Mexico produces 20 percent of the U.S. pecan crop each year, according to New Mexico State University.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based American Pecan Council has been formed in the wake of a new federal marketing order that allows the industry to band together and assess fees for research and promotion.

Critics call such orders government-backed cartels. But council members hope to elevate the pecan to the ranks of the almond and pistachio.

Union For Political Campaigns Expands To New Mexico - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

The staff for New Mexico Democratic congressional candidate Debra Haaland has joined an upstart national labor union for election-campaign workers.

The Campaign Workers Guild announced Monday it had secured a union contract with Haaland's campaign that outlines minimum pay, working conditions and benefits for employees. The campaign currently employs four people, with an additional employee on leave for graduate studies.

Launched in February, the Campaign Workers Guild is making inroads into the often high-pressure work environments of election campaigning. It represents workers in 13 political campaigns, including nine congressional campaigns from Pennsylvania to California.

Haaland says she embraced the idea of unionizing when approached by staff members and that it fits with her support for a higher federal minimum wage and paid family leave guarantees.