House Passes Crime Bill, Lawmakers Want Drilling Boundaries Near Chaco

Feb 5, 2018

New Mexico House Passes Bi-Partisan Crime BillAssociated Press

The New Mexico House has passed crime-fighting legislation that aims to put more police on the streets, and prioritize treating inmates with substance abuse and mental illness as a way to reduce recidivism.

The omnibus bill includes measures proposed by both Democrats and Republicans. Among the other bills in the package is a measure to increase prison time for violent felons found in possession of a firearm.

The bi-partisan legislation won near unanimous approval in the House on Friday, and now goes to the Senate.

Republican Rep. Nate Gentry said he worked closely with the Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf to bundle together evidence-based legislation that can "move the needle" on public safety.

Addressing rising crime rates in the state has been a focus of this year's 30-day legislative session.

Carlsbad Woman Pleads Not Guilty To Embezzling $800,000Associated Press

A Carlsbad woman has pleaded not guilty to federal wire fraud charges in connection with an $800,000 embezzlement scheme.

Prosecutors say 54-year-old Lori Whitaker was arraigned Friday at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces.

She was released pending trial, which hasn't been scheduled.

Whitaker is facing a 75-count indictment charging her with perpetrating a scheme to defraud her former employer over a two-year period.

Whitaker was an office manager for the Otis Mutual Domestic Water Consumers and Sewage Works Association.

The non-profit association provides potable water and a wastewater system to more than 4,300 people in Otis, New Mexico.

Whitaker allegedly transmitted funds between March 2015 and February 2017 as part of a scheme to defraud the association.

Prosecutors say the 75 wired transactions ranged from $416 to nearly $16,000.

Democrat Takes Lead In Fund-Raising In Congressional Race Associated Press

A Democratic U.S. Coast Guard veteran raised the most money of any candidate last quarter in a congressional race in southern New Mexico.

Still, federal campaign reports show Madeline "Mad" Hildebrandt remains far behind Republican Monty Newman, a former Hobbs mayor, in total cash on hand in the closely watched election that may help determine which party controls Congress.

Reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission show Hildebrandt raised $132,497 at the end of 2017 and had $118,464 cash on hand. That's more than any other Democrat seeking the nomination.

Meanwhile, records show Newman raised $130,168 during the same period and had $356,656 cash on hand.

State Rep. Yvette Herrell, an Alamogordo Republican, reported $106,169 in total contributions during the fourth quarter and $202,557 cash on hand.

New Mexico Governor Clears Way For Child Abuse Legislation Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez has cleared the way for New Mexico lawmakers to consider a measure that would expand obligations under state law to report child abuse or neglect.

The state's top prosecutor and others are concerned that the current law calls for reporting abuse by parents, guardians and custodians of children but leaves out abuse by other people such as school personnel.

The proposed legislation would broaden reporting obligations to cover abuse and neglect by almost anyone.

The governor in a message sent to lawmakers Thursday called for adding the proposal to the agenda.

Supporters, including New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, are hopeful the measure can be debated and reach the governor's desk before the 30-day legislative session wraps up in mid-February.

Lawmakers Want Drilling Boundaries Near ChacoAssociated Press

A panel of New Mexico lawmakers wants the federal government to consult with the Navajo Nation before allowing more natural gas production in the area surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

A Senate committee on Friday endorsed a nonbinding state memorial that also urges the Bureau of Land Management not to allow hydraulic fracturing within 10 miles of the Chaco archaeological site.

Pre-colonial ruins at Chaco Canyon are a popular tourist attraction and hold ancestral and spiritual significance for some Native Americans. The park was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. An upcoming sale of drilling rights by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is stoking tensions about gas development in the area.

Navajo President Russell Begaye testified in support of the measure and cautioned that restrictions beyond a 10-mile radius of Chaco could infringe on income opportunities for Navajo families.

Memorial sponsor and Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup says he expects to see a companion federal measure proposed by Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall.

Truck Lane In Santa Teresa Speeds Up Border ShipmentsAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A cargo lane for trucks is speeding up border shipments from a Foxconn plant on the Mexican side of the Santa Teresa border crossing as part of a new pilot program.

The Albuquerque Journal reports it's one of two pre-inspection pilot programs that have weapons-carrying U.S. Customs officers on site in uniform inspecting cargo in Mexico. Once shipments are inspected, trucks can haul the cargo across the border using a dedicated and secure lane.

Foxconn, a Taiwanese company that builds Dell computers and other consumer electronics, is the only manufacturing facility in Mexico with pre-inspection. The other program is in Tijuana at the Otay Mesa border crossing for trucks carrying Mexican produce.

Trade experts say having the pre-inspection program and dedicated truck lane in Santa Teresa is a major accomplishment.

County Officials Ask Navajo Nation To Help Pay For StraysDaily Times, Associated Press

Northwest New Mexico officials are asking the Navajo Nation to pitch in and help with the costs to shelter stray animals from the reservation.

The Daily Times reported earlier this week that San Juan County expects to pay about $766,000 to house strays this year due to a 6 percent increase in costs at two animal shelters in the area.

Officials say more than $200,000 is used on stray animals from the Navajo Nation.

County Commissioner Jack Fortner says he has sent a letter to Navajo Nation officials informing them of the cost increase.

He says he hopes that the tribe will be able to pay for a portion of the annual cost for stray animals from the reservation.

Albuquerque Police Close I-40 As Man Threatens To Jump From OverpassKRQE-TV, Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Interstate 40 was reopened around 1 a.m. Monday after authorities shut down a section for more than 12 hours because a man threatened to jump off an overpass.

KRQE-TV reported crisis negotiators with the Albuquerque Police Department were eventually able to get the man to safety after they talked to him for hours as he stood at the Louisiana overpass.

The Albuquerque Journal reported their efforts were hampered by motorists driving by who urged the man to jump or kill himself.

Another part of westbound I-40 was shut down around 9 p.m. Sunday due to a fatal rollover crash, but that was apparently unrelated to the other situation. 

2 Key Lawmakers To Albuquerque: No New Money For Police -Associated Press

Two key New Mexico Democratic lawmakers are pouring cold water on Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller's plea for state help to hire 400 officers.

KOB-TV in Albuquerque reports Sen. John Arthur Smith and Rep. Patty Lundstrom say the new mayor shouldn't expect any new appropriations to fulfill a campaign promise to increase police staffing.

Both, who chair important appropriation committees, say Albuquerque has its own tax base and can fund the new officers if that's what its city council wants.

During the mayoral campaign last year, Keller promised to hire 400 new officers to help fight rising crime in New Mexico's largest city. He vowed to convince state lawmakers to help the city out.

Albuquerque needs roughly $17 million to hire 400 officers.

New Mexico Governor Highlights Law-Enforcement Budget Needs -Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is describing a House-approved budget as soft on crime in a push to increase salaries for state police, corrections officers, prosecutors and public defenders.

The Senate Finance Committee on Monday was preparing amendments to a $6.3 billion state general fund spending plan for the coming fiscal year.

Democratic Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith of Deming says legislative leaders understand the need to increase law enforcement and judiciary salaries. Corrections officers, state police and district attorneys would receive a 6.5 percent pay bump under the House-approved budget.The bill falls short of the GOP governor's recommended spending on Albuquerque-area prosecutors amid acute concerns about urban crime. Smith says budget priorities from House lawmakers who are running for re-election take precedent over the outgoing governor.

New Mexico House Approves Medicaid Buy-In Study - Associated Press

Mexico would study opportunities to allow almost anyone to buy Medicaid health care coverage under a measure approved by the state House of Representatives.

House lawmakers voted 42-22 on Monday to move forward with initial studies toward opening up access to Medicaid services for a fee to more people. A Senate vote was still needed to initiate the year-long study by the Legislature and state insurance regulators.

Democratic Rep. Deborah Armstrong says several states are studying the potential to provide more affordable coverage to consumers through a Medicaid buy-in program. She says the state's managed care system for Medicaid provides lower-cost care per person than the private marketplace.Republican Rep. Larry Larranaga of Albuquerque says he does not see the need for a buy-in program given current insurance options.

Lawmakers Call For Plan On Movement-Disorders Center Associated Press

The New Mexico Legislature approved a measure last week that calls on the University of New Mexico to devise a plan for a center for patients with movement disorders.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that many people with Parkinson's and other such ailments seek treatment out of state because so the state has so many mobility disorder patients and so few doctors.

The measure was pushed by the New Mexico Parkinson's Coalition as part of a long-term effort to help with the Parkinson's treatment shortage in the state.

An estimated 10,000 people in New Mexico live with Parkinson's disease.

The total number of those diagnosed with movement disorders in New Mexico is 250,000.

New Mexico Tribe Fails On Bid To Buy Louisiana Casino -Associated Press

A New Mexico tribe's bid to buy a Louisiana casino has failed.

The Gallup Independent reports Laguna Pueblo didn't obtain approval from Louisiana Gaming Control Board by a deadline. That prompted the owner of the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel Lake Charles in Westlake, Louisiana, to cancel plans to sell to the Laguna Development Corp.'s Kicks Entertainment unit.

In August 2016, the Laguna Development Corp. announced it has signed a purchase agreement to acquire the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel Lake Charles for $134.5 million. But the purchase had to be completed within 12 months.

Laguna Development pulled its application from the Gaming Control Board in November 2017.

Laguna Development President and CEO Jerry Smith said in a statement he was disappointed a deal couldn't be reached.