Insurance Regulator Seeks Stop To Surprise Medical Billing, Judge OKs New Voting Districts

Dec 22, 2017

Insurance Regulator Seeks Stop To Surprise Medical BillingThe Associated Press

New Mexico's top insurance regulator wants new legislation to stop medical providers from hitting patients with unexpected bills for services they thought were covered by their health insurance.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Insurance Superintendent John Franchini has drafted legislation seeking to ease the burden of surprise health care billing on the patients.

Franchini says he is seeking comment from the public on the legislation that aims to restrict out-of-network billing for some medical procedures and require more transparency from providers.

Franchini says this is a big issue and it's not fair to New Mexico policyholders to be hit by surprise medical bills.

Franchini plans to pursue this legislation for the session that begins next month.

Judge OKs New Voting Districts In Racial Discrimination CaseThe Associated Press

A federal judge is approving new county election districts in southeastern Utah after finding the boundaries discriminated against American Indians who make up roughly half the population.

The new San Juan County voting districts are designed to give native residents an equal voice in local races, but commissioner Phil Lyman said Friday they are unfair and the county plans to appeal.

Local Navajo leader Mark Maryboy, meanwhile, calls the ruling a well-deserved victory.

The Navajo Nation, which also stretches into New Mexico and Arizona, sued Utah's San Juan County in 2012. They said school board and county commission districts were racially gerrymandered.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby declared the boundaries unconstitutional. The judge appointed an independent expert to draw new ones and personally ran public meetings to hear local feedback.

New Mexico Land Office Leases Moon Mountain For RecreationAssociated Press

The State Land Office has negotiated a 25-year lease with the village of Ruidoso that will allow for hundreds of acres of trust land on Moon Mountain to be used for recreation.

The Land Office announced the deal this week, saying the property will be open to hikers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts as the village plans to offer an expanded trail system and a community observatory for stargazing.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says he and previous land commissioners have worked to create a healthy environment on the mountain through remediation and flood mitigation.

With the lease, he says the public will have better access to explore the area.

The Land Office said it has owned and managed the property since 1905.

NMSU Works With Navajos To Boost Backyard Gardens Associated Press

Agricultural experts at New Mexico State University are working with Native Americans in the northwest corner of the state to boost interest in backyard gardening.

Officials with NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences say the arid stretch between Gallup and Shiprock used to be home to fruit trees and crops of corn, beans and squash.

As the climate has changed and access to water has decreased, many families have stopped raising gardens so NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service has obtained federal funding for a program to revive the tradition.

During the recent growing season, officials say 19 families were raising backyard gardens. Four schools and three chapter houses also had some form of gardens.

The program helps with fencing, soil supplements, tools, water hoses and drip irrigation lines.

New Mexico Regulators Approve Utility Rate Hike With Caveat Associated Press

State regulators have agreed to allow New Mexico's largest electric utility to raise rates over the next two years but with the stipulation it cannot recoup the money the utility is spending to upgrade a coal power plant.

The state Public Regulation Commission approved the rate increase Wednesday, allowing the Public Service Co. of New Mexico to raise electricity rates by about 8 percent for the average consumer by 2019.

The commission has also barred the utility from recovering nearly $150 million spent on improvements for the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington, describing that spending as "imprudent."

The utility had sought out $99.2 million in new revenue, but lowered the requested amount to nearly $37 million last year after reaching a settlement agreement with about a dozen other parties involved in the case.

The utility and the other parties have until next week to accept or reject the commission's ruling. If it's rejected, the case would be sent back to a new round of hearings on the original request.

If the ruling is accepted, the new rates could begin to be phased in on Jan. 1.

State Police To Probe Shooting Involving Farmington Officer Associated Press

The New Mexico State Police Department's investigations bureau has been asked by Farmington police Department to investigate an officer's fatal shooting of a driver.

They say the policeman was on patrol Wednesday in the area of U.S. 64 when he reported seeing a woman hanging out of a pickup truck's passenger-side window and she was screaming for help.

The officer says the driver weaved in and out of traffic before stopping and the woman either fell or jumped out of the vehicle.

Other Farmington police officers arrived on scene to find the driver of truck dead.

He's been identified as 35-year-old Frankie Anchondo of Aztec.

The name of the policeman hasn't been released.

The events leading to the officer discharging his firearm now are being investigated by State Police.

Man Guilty Of Vehicle Homicide In Albuquerque Girl's Death Associated Press

A man has been convicted of vehicular homicide in the death of a 10-year-old girl in Albuquerque.

Jurors deliberated about four hours Thursday before finding 24-year-old Xavier Nelson guilty but they acquitted him on a charge of street racing.

Prosecutors say Nelson faces up to six years in prison when he's sentenced.

They say Nelson was racing his car on Interstate 25 in November 2016 when he slammed into the back of a family's vehicle.

Carmen Esmerelda Rivera-Navarez was ejected from her family's car and pronounced dead at the scene.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that crash data showed Nelson's car was traveling 107 mph at the time of impact.

Texas Man Convicted Of Kidnapping, Driving Vegas Woman To NM Associated Press

A 32-year-old Texas man faces up to life in prison after he was convicted of kidnapping and driving an ex-girlfriend from Nevada to New Mexico in a van where police found her chained to the floor.

A U.S. District Court jury in Las Vegas found Jack Williams Morgan guilty on Tuesday of one count of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

Prosecutors say the 28-year-old Nevada woman was dragged from her home by Morgan and an accomplice in January but freed that night by New Mexico State Police who stopped the van near Espanola.

The woman told police Morgan told her he was going to take her to a cave to "brainwash her to be his wife."

Morgan's sentencing is set for March 20, 2018. The maximum penalty is life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Trump Declares Disaster On Acoma Pueblo Associated Press

President Donald Trump has issued a disaster declaration for a New Mexico Native American community that is recovering from the effects of severe weather and flooding.

The declaration announced Thursday by the White House frees up federal money to help the Acoma Pueblo recover from damage to roads, bridges and sewer lines. The flooding also caused debris and wreckage to pile up, creating treacherous driving conditions along a 10-mile (16-kilometer) stretch, isolating part of the pueblo's lands.

The state's congressional delegation had urged the president to act earlier this month. They said the conditions affected members throughout the rural community, including those looking to gather firewood to heat their homes and ranchers who wanted to ensure their cattle had feed.

The pueblo is  (106 kilometers) west of Albuquerque.