Medical Marijuana Reforms Clear New Mexico Senate , NM Not Backing Down From Mine Spill Suit

Feb 14, 2017

Medical Marijuana Reforms Clear New Mexico Senate – Associated Press

The New Mexico state Senate has approved revisions to the state's medical marijuana program to cover new medical conditions and eventually raise the cap on production to satisfy demand.

The bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Cisco McSorley of Albuquerque won Senate approval Monday and now moves to the House of Representatives.

It would add 14 medical conditions that qualify for marijuana treatment, and allow visitors enrolled in other state medical marijuana programs to buy in New Mexico.

The bill would increase the maximum number of plants for each grower once the number of registered patients statewide reaches 35,000. There currently are about 32,000 registered patients, with growers limited to 450 plants each.

Earlier bill provisions were dropped that would have allowed military veterans to qualify as patients without a diagnosis.

New Mexico Not Backing Down From Mine Spill SuitThe Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says he's not backing down from the legal battle over a mine waste spill that fouled rivers in three Western states.

Attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department are asking that claims made by the state and the Navajo Nation in the wake of the 2015 spill in southern Colorado be dismissed.

Balderas said Tuesday he will continue to seek justice for the region's culturally unique population and the damaged economy.

In a lawsuit filed last year, New Mexico said the environmental effects of the spill were far worse than claimed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The state is seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages.

The owners of two mines also are named as defendants.

New Mexico Lawmaker Warns That State Needs $200 MillionAssociated Press

A leading Democratic lawmaker says New Mexico may need an additional $200 million or more to address a budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year and rebuild reserves enough to protect its credit rating.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith of Deming on Monday warned of a budget gap between $200 million and $250 million for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Closing that gap would leave the state with reserves of about 4 percent of annual general fund spending. Lawmakers are in the midst of drafting a new budget plan amid wrangling over whether to raise tax income, cut deeper into state spending or both.

Lawmakers recently approved a $190 million solvency package to close a current year deficit with cash from school districts and many state accounts.

Lawsuits Draining Albuquerque's Risk Management FundThe Associated Press 

Legal settlements in law enforcement civil rights cases over the past five years have severely depleted Albuquerque's risk management fund, which pays for uninsured losses.

In a letter to city officials, state Auditor Tim Keller wrote that the city needs to increase funding for the risk management fund to $6.3 million a year to cover the fund's $40 million shortfall. The annual audit of the city budget shows that Albuquerque has made $62 million in payouts since 2010.

The city has budgeted between $2.1 million and $3.6 million a year to bolster the risk management fund in the past three years, which Keller wrote was insufficient with the rate Albuquerque is spending.

In a written response to Keller, Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry said the city has adopted policing reforms to reduce the number of claims against the department.

Shipments To Nation's Only Nuclear Dump Will Resume In AprilThe Associated Press 

The U.S. Energy Department expects shipments to the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository to resume in April.

Officials said Tuesday they have plans for nearly 130 shipments from laboratories and other national defense sites over the next year. Those sites must demonstrate that they're ready to load the radioactive waste and that it meets new safety requirements.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant was forced to close in February 2014 after an inappropriately packed drum of waste ruptured, contaminating part of the underground facility in southern New Mexico. Some operations resumed in December after an expensive recovery effort.

Over the last three years, tons of waste left over from decades of nuclear weapon research and development has stacked up at sites around the country, hampering the government's multibillion-dollar cleanup program.

Family Woman In New Mexico Police Shooting Settles LawsuitHobbs News-Sun, Associated Press

The family of a woman fatally shot by a Texas police officer during a high-speed chase into New Mexico has settled a federal lawsuit.

Attorney Joseph Zebas told the Hobbs News-Sun that the family of Amy Reyna settled the case for an amount sealed by court order.

Authorities say the 35-year-old Reyna was shot near Hobbs in 2013 after a chase that began in Denver City, Texas.  Police say she was wanted on several felony warrants out of Texas and New Mexico.

Authorities say Reyna drove into a southeastern New Mexico pasture and stopped before Denver City officer Ryan Taylor fired seven shots at her car.

Denver City attorney Warren New confirms the case was settled and that Taylor is still employed with the police department.

New Mexico's Only GOP Congressman Has No Town Halls SlatedBy Russell Contreras, Associated Press

New Mexico's only Republican in its congressional delegation has not scheduled any traditional town hall meetings amid angry scenes nationally.

Congressman Steve Pearce is asking constituents to sign up for a "telephone town hall" on Wednesday, as activists vow to attend GOP congressmen's town halls across the country.

Pearce spokesman Keeley Christensen declined to say if the Hobbs Republican would hold any upcoming traditional town halls in the future. Pearce regularly has held town hall meetings.

Republicans who want to repeal Obamacare are facing angry pushback at constituent gatherings from Utah to Michigan to Tennessee and elsewhere, even in solidly Republican districts.

The protests are being amplified by liberal activists modeling their opposition to President Donald Trump on the tea party groups that sprang up to oppose President Barack Obama.

Utilities Vote To Close Navajo Coal Plant At End Of 2019Associated Press

Owners of a coal-fired power plant in northern Arizona have decided to close the plant when their lease expires in December 2019.

The Navajo Generating Station's plant's operator, the Salt River Project, has said closing the three-unit, 2,250-megawatt plant in Page near the Arizona-Utah line was a possibility because less expensive power generated by burning natural gas is available.

The SRP is one of the plant's owners, along with Tucson Electric Power Co., Arizona Public Service Co., Nevada-based NV Energy and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The owners reached their decision Monday after a telephone meeting.

The utility owners need to work out an arrangement with the Navajo Nation to decommission the plant after the lease expires.

Couple Gets $1.6M After Incident Involving Las Cruces PoliceLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A federal jury has awarded $1.6 million in damages to a woman and her husband over a 2013 incident involving two Las Cruces police officers.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the verdict was reached last Friday after a five-day trial in U.S. District Court.

According to the newspaper, a Las Cruces police officer threw Jillian Beck onto gravel and slammed her face into rocks — causing profuse bleeding, a broken nose and a fractured wrist.

Jurors also concluded another policeman unlawfully seized and arrested Andrew Beck after officers were called out to a January 2013 dispute between neighbors.

The couple filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the two officers, who are still employed by the city.

The Becks were awarded $1 million in punitive damages and $600,000 in compensatory damages.

Police: Carjacking Victim Also Wounded In Police ShootingAssociated Press

Albuquerque police say officers accidentally shot the victim of an attempted carjacking as they aimed for the armed man who was trying to steal her vehicle.

Officer Simon Drobik said during a news conference Monday that three officers opened fire during Friday's shooting, striking the victim once. The suspect, identified as 41-year-old Lee Brandenburg, was hit multiple times in the legs.

Both are recovering, and Drobik said Brandenburg would face charges of attempted armed robbery and aggravated assault once he's released from the hospital.

Drobik said the events unfolded quickly and the officers felt they needed to take action to stop Brandenburg. He said the shooting remains under investigation.

At the time of the shooting, Brandenburg was wanted on felony warrants. Authorities said he had been arrested several times last year.

New Mexico Posts Officials' Financial Disclosure StatementsAssociated Press

The New Mexico Secretary of State's Office has posted on its website the 2017 financial disclosure statements of hundreds of state officials including the governor and lawmakers.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said Monday that statements for the previous five years will be posted in the coming months.

Toulouse Oliver said the business dealings of public officials should be accessible to all New Mexicans and that more transparency should give people confidence that the majority of officials are working on their behalf and living within the law.

In recent years, the information had been available upon request only.

Filed by most officials by Jan. 31, disclosures are intended as a precaution against conflicts of interest in government under the Financial Disclosure Act and are signed under penalty of perjury.

Senate Passes Bill Raising Distracted Driving PenaltiesAssociated Press

The New Mexico Senate has passed a bill boosting penalties against people caught texting or talking while driving.

The Senate voted Monday 24-16 to pass a measure that would increase the first fine for distracted driving from $25 to $100. Drivers would pay an even bigger fine for subsequent violations.

Sen. Steve Neville hopes the increased fine will force drivers to pay attention to the road, and he likened it to the dangers of drunken driving.

The current Mrs. New Mexico asked the Republican from Farmington to sponsor the bill after a distracted driver killed her father in an accident a year and half ago.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Martinez Says Immigration Issues Can't Be Lumped TogetherAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said the nation's immigration enforcement policies should distinguish between the "various situations" of people living in the country illegally.

In an interview with the Albuquerque Journal published Sunday Martinez warned against allowing harsh rhetoric to get ahead of policymaking that should treat "multiple problems" in immigration policy with "multiple answers." She did reiterate that she has long opposed efforts to make New Mexico a so-called "sanctuary" for undocumented immigrants.

Martinez said her message to the Trump administration would be to include people who live on the border in conversations about border-related policies.

The governor has often taken a more moderate tone on immigration at the national versus state level; she faced criticism from immigrants' rights groups for her push to repeal the 2003 state driver's licenses law.

County Ethics Board Never Asked To Investigate ComplaintsSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A 7-year-old ethics board set up in Santa Fe County in response to a bribery scandal has never been asked to investigate a complaint against a public official or volunteer.

An outgoing board member tells the Santa Fe New Mexican that the panel stopped holding regular meetings in the spring.

The board has reviewed no complaints because attorneys have found all the complaints to be personnel matters that aren't under its jurisdiction.

The board's authority doesn't extend to the more than 900 county employees.

The panel was a response to a scandal in which two road-paving firm owners were convicted of offering cash and trips to former Public Works director James Lujan in exchange for steering contracts to their company.

Lujan pleaded guilty to demanding or receiving bribes.

State Auditor Says Lawsuits Left $40M Gap In Albuquerque FundAlbuquerque Journal

The state auditor warned the city of Albuquerque that it is facing a $40 million shortfall because of multimillion dollar settlements in lawsuits over cases filed against police.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Tim Keller told the city needs to put more money in its risk management fund as part with his office’s annual audit.

Keller, who announced he would run for mayor in the next election, said the city should put $6.3 million annually in the fund. Over the last three years, he noted, the city budgeted between $2.1 million and $3.6 million to the fund.

Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry said in a response to Keller that the city has moved to reduce the number of lawsuits against the city through reforms in the police department and better training. The city has implemented those as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department.