Judge Rules Against State's Medical Pot Plant Limit, More Delays For Albuquerque Transit Project

Nov 2, 2018

Judge Says New Mexico's Medical Pot Plant Limit Is Arbitrary Associated Press

In a big win for medical marijuana producers in New Mexico, a district judge says a state-imposed limit on the number of plants they can grow as part of their licensed operations is arbitrary.

Judge David Thomson in a ruling issued Friday strikes down the Health Department's 450-plant limit on producers.

The ruling sets a deadline for the state to study the issue and establish a new plant count that complies with legislative mandates that guide New Mexico's medical marijuana program.

It wasn't immediately clear if the state would appeal.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit that alleged the agency wasn't fulfilling its obligations to ensure an adequate supply of medical marijuana.

There have long been concerns about shortages as the population of licensed patients has grown exponentially. As of September, there were nearly 59,000 active patients.

Embezzlement Case Moves Forward Against Ex-Tax Official – Associated Press

A judge has found sufficient evidence for a trial to take place against New Mexico's former top-ranked taxation official on charges including embezzlement.

New Mexico Attorney General's Office spokesman David Carl said Friday that a judge ordered a trial to go forward against former Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla on felony charges of embezzlement and using her position in government for personal gain. The judge also upheld several misdemeanor charges linked to state ethics laws after five days of testimony from witnesses.

Defense attorney Paul Kennedy declined to comment on the proceedings. Padilla has not entered a plea.

Padilla was the state's top tax official for five years under Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. She resigned in 2016 after a law enforcement raid on tax department offices.

New Mexico Commission Rejects Community Solar Project Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission has rejected a proposal to build a community solar project in Dona Ana County.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the commission voted Wednesday to ax the El Paso Electric proposal.

The commission approved a motion from Santa Fe-based renewable energy advocacy group New Energy Economy, an intervener in the case, to reject the proposal.

El Paso Electric spokesman George De La Torre says the company has no definite plans to submit a new proposal to the commission.

Opponents of the project claim that solar energy produced by El Paso Electric's proposed project would have been too costly, while supporters argued that the project would have provided low-income county residents access to community solar.

The city of Las Cruces opposed the project.

Los Alamos Lab Is Under New ManagementSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the nation's leading science and technology institutions, is under new management.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports new lab Director Thom Mason said in a statement, "We are committed to partnering with the National Nuclear Security Administration as an integral part of the National Security Enterprise."

Mason, a physicist with a long tenure overseeing Department of Energy nuclear facilities, also serves as president of Triad National Security LLC, a new collective led by the Battelle Memorial Institute, the Texas A&M University System and the University of California.

Triad was created solely to manage and operate the lab for the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The new organization replaces Los Alamos National Security LLC. Under LANS, the lab racked up several security breaches, costly accidents and injuries to employees.

New Mexico Treasurer Faces Challenge From Political Newcomer Associated Press

The state treasurer is the keeper of New Mexico's checkbook and is responsible for collecting and disbursing money and making deposits in investment accounts.

Incumbent Tim Eichenberg, a Democrat, is being challenged for the seat by Republican Arthur Castillo, a military veteran and a retired chief financial officer who worked in the state treasurer's office.

Castillo, who worked under a previous state treasurer, Democrat James Lewis, has said he would bring a fresh perspective to the office. A political newcomer, Castillo also has worked for the city of Albuquerque and the Bernalillo County Treasurer's Office.

Eichenberg is a former state senator and Bernalillo County treasurer. If re-elected, he plans to continue pushing for legislation that would make more transparent the investment fees paid by state agencies.

More Problems Stall Albuquerque's Troubled Transit Project -Associated Press

Safety concerns with new buses that will be transporting people up and down historic Route 66 in Albuquerque have prompted city officials to put the brakes on the transit project.

Mayor Tim Keller on Thursday said the safety concerns started popping up when drivers began training with the buses along the corridor over the summer. The issues range from doors opening when they shouldn't to brakes not functioning when they should.

Training has been halted, and the city is calling for an inspection of all bus operating systems. That's expected to be done this month.

This latest development follows problems with construction along the route and initial uncertainty about federal funding.

The buses are made by a California-based subsidiary of the Chinese company BYD, or Build Your Dreams. The company disputes that the buses are unsafe.

Early Voting Shatters Records In New Mexico - Associated Press

Early voting is shattering previous records for mid-term elections in New Mexico.

Election regulators said Thursday that early voting surpassed 322,000 ballots the previous day.

That exceeds early in-person and absentee voting of nearly 298,000 in 2010 — the last time there was an open seat for governor. In 2014, about 255,000 people voted early or by absentee ballot.

New Mexico voters are picking a new governor, one U.S. senator and deciding on two open congressional seats, as they fill a long list of statewide public offices including attorney general and secretary of state.

Registered Democrats accounted about 53 percent of early votes a week before Election Day.

Republicans accounted for 34 percent. Libertarian, minor party and unaffiliated voters accounted for just over 12 percent of votes.

Southern New Mexico Churches Eye Expanding Migrant Shelters - Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A network of churches in southern New Mexico is seeking to expand the number of temporary shelters for immigrants amid an expected jump in demand.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports a Catholic-run project in Las Cruces that offers short-term refugee housing says the rise of Central American refugees to the U.S.-Mexico border and a recent change in federal practice in housing asylum-seekers is putting a strain on the current number of shelters.

Project Oak Tree coordinator Leonel Briseño says advocates are seeking to expand the number of churches who could offer temporary housing.

Briseño says St. Genevieve Catholic Church and Our Lady of Health Catholic Church, both in central Las Cruces, are planning to open shelters.

Several Methodist and Lutheran churches also are operating small shelters.

Agency Gives Go-Ahead For Next Phase Of Clovis Water Project- Associated Press

The Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority has cleared the way for another portion of a massive water delivery system to be built.

The authority on Thursday signed a construction agreement and issued a notice to proceed on construction of a seven-mile stretch of pipeline from an area northwest of Cannon Air Force Base toward a water storage system in Clovis.

Officials say the cost of this portion of the Ute pipeline project will be nearly $28 million.

The agreement calls for Oscar Renda Contracting Inc. to be done with the project in less than a year.

The pipeline will ultimately be able to provide water to Clovis residents and the air base from interim groundwater sources and eventually from a surface water supply at Ute reservoir.

New Mexico Launches New Legal Document Website - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The New Mexico judiciary has launched a new online service that lets self-represented litigants in divorce and domestic abuse cases prepare certain documents from home.

The Albuquerque Journal reports state District Court Judge Nan Nash said in a release that the site "should alleviate some of the stress that an extra trip to the courthouse adds to situations that are inherently emotional, such as filing for divorce."

The new Guide and File service, available at www.nmguideandfile.com, works like tax preparation software, taking users through a series of questions and then generating a court form, which must be filed in person at the courthouse.

Forms available on the site include petitions for protective orders in domestic abuse cases, divorce petitions, responses, finalizations and applications for free case processing.

International Balloon Fiesta Draws Fewer Visits In 2018 - Associated Press

Organizers of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta say an estimated 886,000 visits were logged this year and the event attracted more than 660 registered balloons from more than a dozen countries around the world.

Officials recapped the annual event Thursday, saying they had more than 1 million views on the fiesta's live feed during the nine-day event.

As for the number of visits, this year's total was down slightly from 2017 by 1,933 visits.

The fiesta started Oct. 6. Balloons launched successfully most mornings, except for Oct. 14 due to the weather. Evening events were canceled three times due to unfavorable conditions.

Next year's fiesta has been scheduled for Oct. 5-13.

Navajo Company Considers Buying Coal-Fired Power Plant On Its Land - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

As states shy away from coal, an Arizona tribe is exploring the purchase of a coal-fired power plant on its land.

The Navajo Generating Station near the Arizona-Utah border and its feed mine are slated to close at the end of 2019, the victims of cheaper power from natural gas.

Clark Moseley is the chief executive of the Navajo Transitional Energy Company. He said Thursday the Navajo Nation has invited the company to look into buying the plant. Hundreds of Navajos work in the coal industry.

Moseley says the company expects to have a plan by the end of the year.

The move is considered risky.

Two other companies that ended negotiations to take over the plant in September couldn't get anyone to commit to buying the power beyond 2019.