Lawmakers Ponder Next Move In Budget Standoff, Cannabis Dispensary Remains Open

Apr 11, 2017

New Mexico Lawmakers Ponder Next Move In Budget StandoffThe Associated Press

Leading New Mexico lawmakers will gather this week to weigh the consequences of the governor's veto of funding for the legislative branch of government in the coming fiscal year.

The 16-member Legislative Council that oversees Statehouse business in between legislative sessions scheduled a meeting for Thursday to consider how it might respond to major line-item budget vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez.

The Republican governor vetoed the staff budget for the state's unsalaried Legislature, along with funding to all state universities and colleges. She wants to renegotiate a budget deal after vetoing proposed increases to taxes and fees.

Legislative Council Service Director Raul Burciaga says researchers have been unable to find similar instances of any state governor effectively defunding a legislature. Some Democratic lawmakers say they are looking into legal action.

Cannabis Dispensary To Remain Open Despite State Fair ViolationThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

A judge has issued a ruling that prohibits the New Mexico Health Department from imposing a penalty against a medical marijuana dispensary for displaying a marijuana plant at last summer's State Fair.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Judge David Thomson ruled Monday that requiring New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health to close for five days was an excessive punishment not supported by law. He did uphold a $100 fine for the dispensary.

The nonprofit marijuana producer had filed a petition saying the closure would've resulted in a loss of $150,000 and deprived patients of medicine.

Top Organics-Ultra Health Chief Financial Officer Duke Rodriquez says State Fair officials gave the producer permission to display the plant before they received complaints from "higher up" that it needed to be removed.

New Mexico Congresswoman Raises $892K For Gubernatorial Bid – Associated Press

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham has raised more than $892,000 since announcing her candidacy for the 2018 governor's race.

A campaign finance report filed Monday shows the New Mexico Democrat has close to three-quarters of a million dollars on hand as she continues her campaign.

Lujan Grisham was the first to declare her interest in the state's top job. Second-term GOP Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run again because of term limits, and no Republicans have entered the race so far.

State Attorney General Hector Balderas is expected in the coming weeks to decide whether he'll run. Balderas' account has a cash balance of more than $680,000.

Most of Lujan Grisham's donations were small and came from individuals. However, she did receive dozens of larger donations from political action committees, lawyers and others.

New Mexico On Track To Meet Federal Education MandatesThe Associated Press

New Mexico is moving ahead with plans to keep setting high expectations for students and public schools as it works to meet federal mandates aimed at resetting the outdated and widely criticized No Child Left Behind education law.

The state on Tuesday made public its plan for implementing the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, a law signed by former President Barack Obama that addresses school ratings, student report cards and other ways to spot and help troubled schools.

State Education Secretary Hanna Skandera says New Mexico is one of about 15 states that were ready to submit plans to the federal government this month.

She says the state is among the leaders since many of the accountability measures in the federal law were put in place by New Mexico several years ago.

New Mexico Snowpack Survives Record Warm Weather In MarchThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

Forecasters say New Mexico will have a healthy spring runoff despite seeing the warmest March on record threaten the state's snowpack.

The Albuquerque Journal reports New Mexico had a return to cool, wet weather late last month, leaving heavy snowpack in the northern part of the state.

According to the National Weather Service, the average statewide temperature for March was 51.4 degrees, which beat out the previous record set in March 2010 of 49.8 degrees.

Meteorologist Kerry Jones says the weather started to cool down after a March 23 storm hit Colorado and shifted farther south, bringing a series of storms to New Mexico.

Farmers and the endangered silvery minnow are expected to benefit from this year's spring runoff, which typically peaks in mid-May.

Stray Cat Found In North Albuquerque Acres Died Of PlagueAssociated Press

Authorities say a stray cat found in North Albuquerque Acres was confirmed to have died of plague.

They say a recent case of plague in a dog in the same vicinity could indicate re-emergence of the bacterial infection in a part of the city where it was no longer thought to be found.

Albuquerque Environmental Health Department officials say their ongoing surveillance has not detected plague in North Albuquerque Acres since the late 1990s.

They're asking residents in the area to report any pets, wildlife or feral cats that appear to be sick or to have died without obvious physical trauma.

Cats are particularly susceptible to plague and plague can readily be spread among cats in feral colonies.

Left untreated or not diagnosed promptly, plague can be fatal in humans.

Gov. Wants Budget Deal Before Planned Special SessionAlbuquerque Journal

After vetoing a proposed budget from lawmakers, Gov. Susana Martinez criticized tax hikes in the package and said she will call a special legislative session soon.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Martinez said at a press conference Monday Las Cruces the session would be in the next couple of weeks. She vetoed numerous bills, including all funding for higher education and the legislative branch. The Republican governor says she wants lawmakers to have a budget deal ready before the special session.

The $6.1 billion budget included $350 million in tax increases. Martinez has been adamant that she does not want tax hikes. The state has struggled with its budget since oil and gas prices plummeted starting in 2014.

Democrats, who control both legislative bodies, responded that they sent the governor a budget with bipartisan support and input from her administration.

Santa Fe County Prepares For Annual Pilgrimage To ChimayoAssociated Press

Authorities in northern New Mexico's Santa Fe County are preparing for an annual pilgrimage during which thousands of people walk along roads to Chimayo in observance of the Easter holiday.

The Sheriff's Office will increase patrols beginning at noon Thursday when most walkers start their trek and begin distributing glow-in-the-dark sticks that evening.

The sticks are intended to make walkers more visible to drivers. Many pilgrims walk along heavily trafficked roads such as State Routes 502 and 503 and U.S. 84/285.

Other enhanced law enforcement efforts will include DWI checkpoints and traffic enforcement patrols.

The Sheriff's Office advises walkers to purchase reflective tape to apply to clothing or wear reflective safety vests over clothing.

Drivers are being used to slow down and keep away from road shoulders.

Bills Flounder On Both Transparency, Secrecy In New MexicoAssociated Press

Residents of New Mexico may be none the wiser when it comes to information about independent political expenditures and everyday spending by lobbyists after key transparency measures were vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. At the same time, a long list of anti-transparency initiatives designed to restrict access to government information have floundered.

Some advocates for greater transparency in government were breathing a sigh of relief Monday after the demise of a bill to prohibit law enforcement authorities from releasing the names of victims in sexual assault and stalking cases.

The defeat of a proposal to make more information available about so-called dark money political donations drew mixed reactions, with prominent Democrats expressing disappointment and one conservative-backed group describing a victory for open debate.

Driver Shot At Checkpoint Remains HospitalizedAssociated Press

Authorities say a driver is undergoing treatment at a hospital after exchanging gunfire with Border Patrol agents at an immigration checkpoint in southern New Mexico.

Customs and Border Protection confirmed Monday that the driver involved in the Sunday evening shooting remains alive and hospitalized but said no additional information was immediately available regarding his specific injuries, condition, name and age.

Customs and Border Protection says the shooting occurred at a checkpoint on Interstate 25 in the Las Cruces area as agents questioned the driver after he was referred to a secondary inspection.

According to the agency, agents returned fire after the driver brandished a handgun and fired one shot toward the agents.

CBP says the incident is under investigation by CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility, the FBI and state authorities.

The Intel Plant In Rio Rancho Continues To Shed Jobs Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The Intel plant in Rio Rancho continues to shed jobs.

According to the company's latest annual report to the Sandoval County Commission released Monday, the number of full-time workers directly employed by Intel Corp. at its Rio Rancho plant fell by 37 percent in 2016.

The plant has gone from 1,900 salaried workers in 2015 to 1,200 as of last December.

About half of the 700 employees who departed from Rio Rancho last year were retirements.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Intel still employs about 1,000 contract workers, about half of whom are generally on site daily to work on specific projects.

The company announced in April 2016 that it planned to lay off about 12,000 people worldwide, or about 11 percent of its global workforce.

Shipping Resumes To Only Us Underground Nuclear Waste Dump By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The nation's only underground nuclear repository has received its first shipment of waste, more than three years after shipping was halted in response to a radiation release that contaminated part of the facility.

The U.S. Energy Department said Monday that the shipment from a federal facility in Idaho marked a milestone for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and the government sites where waste left over from decades of nuclear weapons research and development has been stacking up.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant was forced to close in February 2014 after an inappropriately packed drum of waste ruptured, hampering the government's multibillion-dollar cleanup program.

Some operations at the repository resumed in December after an expensive recovery effort, but federal officials have acknowledged the resulting backlog.

The facility hopes to receive four shipments a week by the end of 2017.

DA Letter Describes 'Strained' Relationship With Las Cruces Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

Doña Ana County's district attorney has issued a scathing letter to the Las Cruces Police Department after learning of alleged problems with the department's investigation into the fatal shooting of a Santa Fe County sheriff's deputy in Las Cruces.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports District Attorney Mark D'Antonio's letter to police Chief Jaime Montoya accuses the department of maintaining a culture of disrespect and undeserved criticism toward his office.

The Tuesday letter follows Detective Irma Palos' lawsuit alleging her investigation into the 2014 fatal shooting was obstructed by her supervisors.

D'Antonio says he had not been informed by the department of Palos' lawsuit, which was filed in October.

Las Cruces City Manager Stuart Ed said he will work to improve communications between D'Antonio's office and the Police Department.

TV Series On Branch Davidian Shootout To Film In New MexicoAssociated Press

A six-part television series covering a deadly standoff between the federal government and the Branch Davidians spiritual sect more than two decades ago will be filming in New Mexico starting this month.

The New Mexico Film Office says Monday that locations for "Waco" will include everything from the rural reaches of Santa Fe County to urban spots and studios.

The series will star Michael Shannon and John Leguizamo and will premiere on Paramount Network in 2018. It will be directed by John Erick Dowdle and Dennie Gordon and The Weinstein Co. will be the producer.

The series will explore the details leading up to and chronicling the 51-day standoff in 1993 in which four federal agents were killed along with some 70 people inside the sect's Texas compound.