More Than 60 Percent Of NM In Drought, NM Lawmakers Review New Nuclear Proposal

May 18, 2018

More Than 60 Percent Of New Mexico In 'Extreme Drought'The Associated Press

More than 60 percent of New Mexico now is experiencing extreme drought or worse conditions.

The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that around 64 percent of the state is in extreme drought or worse amid dry weather. That's a jump from last week when 55 percent of the state was reported to be in those conditions.

Since last September, New Mexico's drought conditions have continued to get progressively poor as the state has seen little rain.

Officials say those dry conditions have made the state vulnerable to a deadly wildfire season this year.

New Mexico Lawmakers Review New Nuclear Storage Proposal The Associated Press

New Mexico state lawmakers are being briefed on a proposal to temporarily store tons of spent fuel from U.S. commercial nuclear reactors, along with concerns about safety and potentially adverse economic impacts.

State Rep. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces led a committee hearing Friday in an effort to educate New Mexico residents about safety risks and emergency preparedness efforts related to the plan from Holtec International.

Fasken Oil and Ranch representative Jimmy Carlisle is highlighting fears that a storage mishap could disrupt petroleum production at valuable oil reserves.

He says the very presence of the storage site in southeast New Mexico raises quality-of-life issues that may make it difficult to recruit oil-field technicians. Native American tribal representatives from Texas and New Mexico also are raising economic and safety concerns.

New Mexico Unemployment Rate Slips To 5.4 Percent In April - The Associated Press

New Mexico's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped slightly to 5.4 percent in April, down from 5.6 percent in March and 6.3 percent a year ago.

State officials said Friday that nonagricultural payroll employment has grown by 10,100 jobs, or 1.2 percent, between April 2017 and April 2018.  All gains have come from the private sector, which is up 10,600 jobs, or 1.7 percent. The public sector is down 500 jobs, or 0.3 percent.

In the private sector, service-providing industries are up 6,300 jobs, or 1.1 percent, while the goods-producing industries are up 4,300 jobs, a gain of 4.7 percent.

Video Shows Police Question Girl Now At Center Of Abuse CaseThe Associated Press

Albuquerque police video shows officers responding to concerns that a 7-year-old girl — now at the center of a human trafficking probe — was being neglected and abused.

Video released Thursday night shows officers in November visiting a hotel where they questioned the parents and girl. They determined she felt safe there.

Other video shows a teacher saying the girl arrived at school with soiled clothes that included a pair of bloody underwear. The underwear was discovered after the girl changed into donated clean clothes.

The teacher testified in a hearing this week that police threw away the underwear. That's not shown in the video.

The couple was indicted Thursday on separate charges.

The father is accused of forcing the girl to sexually touch adults. The mother is charged with child abuse.

New Mexico Governor Persists With Student Retention PlansThe Associated Press

A years-long standoff over reading proficiency standards and whether young New Mexico students can be held back a grade is coming to a head in the closing months of the administration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

At a hearing Thursday, educators and school officials protested new rules that would alert families early about literacy difficulties and make some elementary students repeat a grade if they still can't read proficiently. The state Legislature has repeatedly rejected similar proposals.

Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski says the plan is based on open and honest communication with parents and has been misunderstood and misrepresented by opponents.

Groups including the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty say the rules are counterproductive and that it is more important to expand preschool and the school year.

Latino Political Committee Pumps Cash Into New Mexico RaceThe Associated Press

A national political committee that helps elect progressive Hispanics is spending an additional $100,000 on ads in support of Democratic congressional candidate Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

The Latino Victory Fund on Friday announced the ad buy in support of Sedillo Lopez, a former law school professor and advocate for immigrants and victims of domestic violence. The fund previously spent $320,000 in support of Sedillo Lopez.

Sedillo Lopez is competing in a crowded primary race for the Democratic nomination to an open congressional seat representing the Albuquerque metropolitan area. At least four Democratic candidates have Hispanic family ties.

Latino Victory Fund President Cristobal Alex praises Sedillo Lopez for her legal expertise and commitment to progressive stances on immigration and women's issues.

Albuquerque-based U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is running for governor.

Education Advocates Seek Halt To New Reading RuleSanta Fe New Mexican

Education officials and teachers spoke out Thursday against plans to implement more aggressive interventions for students struggling with reading.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports critics spoke against the plan by the Public Education Department that would require early assessments of reading problems and interventions that could include holding students back to repeat a grade.

Gov. Susana Martinez has tried for years to get legislation passed that would allow retention of third graders struggling with reading skills. Educators and other officials said decisions on how to work with students who need more help should be left to local schools and parents.

A lobbyist for the National Association of Social Workers said students who are held back are more likely to drop out later. Last month the Legislative Education Study Committee said it was not clear PED can require school districts to implement the rule.

But Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski said PED does have the authority. He told the New Mexican in an email that this new rule is part of the department’s efforts to funnel more money into early childhood education programs.

Campaign Season Opens For Navajo Nation PresidencyAssociated Press

The two-week filing period for Navajo Nation presidential hopefuls is open.

The timeframe has been shortened from 90 days to give election officials a more efficient way to review applications after they're submitted.

The race to oversee the country's largest American Indian reservation typically draws more than a dozen candidates.

Current President Russell Begaye hasn't said whether he'll seek re-election.

The race already has drawn interest from previous presidential hopefuls and political newcomers.

Economic development will be a key issue in the race with the expected closure of a coal-fired power plant next year. The tribe heavily relies on coal revenue.

The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 28 presidential primary choose their own running mates and move on to the Nov. 6 general election.

Albuquerque Police Arrest 2 In Death Of 65-Year-Old WomanKRQE-TV, Associated Press

Police in Albuquerque say two suspects have been arrested in connection with the murder of a woman whose burned body was found in Rio Rancho four months ago.

KRQE-TV reports Annie Rael and Alissa Bickett are accused of beating and stabbing 65-year-old Marilyn Rose Gandert to death before driving the body to a remote area and setting it on fire.

Bickett was Gandert’s daughter-in-law. She and Rael along with Gandert’s grandson were renting a home from Gandert, but were evicted in January for not paying rent.

Sandoval County Sheriff's officials say the body was burned beyond recognition and was discovered by a passer-by.

Parole Official Says State Needs More Housing For Ex-InmatesAssociated Press

The New Mexico Parole Board's chairwoman says the state should invest in more residential treatment centers and transitional housing for people recently released from prison.

Chairwoman Sandy Dietz's comments came during a state public safety task force meeting Thursday.

The task force of judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, and corrections officials convened by the Legislature is expected to recommend changes to state spending on crime fighting.

Dietz indicated the inadequate number of supportive housing and treatment options for ex-inmates transitioning back into society has resulted in some violating their parole and quickly ending up back in prison.

Officials at the meeting also say the lack of housing options has resulted in hundreds of inmates remaining locked up past their expected release dates at an annual cost of $10 million to $12 million.

Albuquerque Couple Indicted In Abuse Case Involving GirlAssociated Press

The New Mexico parents of a 7-year-old girl who authorities say was abused, neglected and sexually exploited are facing multiple charges in separate indictments handed down Thursday.

The couple, both 37, were arrested as a result of what authorities describe as a human trafficking probe.

The father is accused of prostituting his daughter and forcing her to sexually touch men and women in exchange for drugs, paraphernalia and other items. He was indicted on counts of human trafficking, criminal sexual contact of a minor, child abuse and promoting prostitution.

The mother was indicted on counts of child abuse and a count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The Associated Press is not naming the parents to avoid identifying the child, whom authorities have identified as a crime victim.

Hiker In New Mexico Dies After A 200-Foot Fall Near QuestaAssociated Press

New Mexico State Police say a man who was the caretaker of La Junta Campgrounds has died in a fall while hiking near the village of Questa.

They say officers responded Wednesday to a report of a fallen hiker in the Wild Rivers Recreation area in northern New Mexico.

Witnesses told police that 72-year-old Owen O'Keefe was hiking with another person when he fell about 200 feet.

State Police say it's still unclear what caused O'Keefe to fall.

Rescue personnel were called in to retrieve O'Keefe's body for an autopsy.

State Police say foul play isn't suspected, but the incident remains under investigation.

New Mexico Governor To Meet With White House OfficialsAssociated Press

Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is traveling on a state-funded trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with officials from the White House.

Martinez spokeswoman Emilee Cantrell announced the Friday-morning trip. The governor's office did not respond immediately to requests for more information about the meetings.

Martinez is showing renewed cooperation with President Trump's administration on issues including border security and management of public lands. Earlier this week, she accompanied U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on a visit to northern New Mexico to meet with farming and livestock industry groups.

The second-term governor plans to travel Sunday to New York for meetings of the Republican Governors Association, a fund-raising group that seeks to elect GOP governors.

Congressman Steve Pearce is the lone Republican gubernatorial candidate to succeed Martinez in fall elections.

Report Fatal Burns Killed 3 In New Mexico Tank Explosion – Carlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

An autopsy report says the three people who were killed in a tank battery explosion near Carlsbad last year died of fatal burns.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports documents by the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator released this week say the surface area of the bodies were 100-percent charred, exposing muscle, bones and internal organs.

Edgar Garcia, James Hernandez and Ronald Berheimer, all from Texas, died in a battery tank explosion near Carlsbad in far southeastern New Mexico in September 2017.

The report says the men were part of a welding team hired to "work on an oil tank."

All three deaths were officially labeled accidental.

The explosion occurred on property leased by Texas-based Caza Operating LLC.