New Mexico Tops Latest Unemployment List, Legislature Races Clock To Fix Budget Shortfall

Mar 13, 2017

New Mexico Tops Latest Unemployment ListThe Associated Press

The latest figures from state and federal labor officials show New Mexico has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 6.7 percent.

Officials with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions say the jobless rate for January remained unchanged from December, but it's still up from 6.5 percent a year ago.

Nationwide, the rate increased slightly to 4.8 percent despite an uptick in hiring in January as employers added 238,000 jobs.

In New Mexico, the private sector added about 5,500 jobs over the past year, but goods-producing industries have lost about 4,100 jobs mainly due to continued losses related to mining.

State labor officials say education and health services continue to drive growth as they have reported the largest gains every month since July 2014. The industry has added 3,200 jobs.

New Mexico Legislature Races Clock To Fix Budget Shortfall – The Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers have until Saturday to resolve efforts to raise new money to sustain public school budgets and state agency services in response to a sustained slump in the state's oil and natural gas sectors and a lackluster state economy.

The Democrat-led House of Representatives on Monday was combing through a Senate-approved plan to increase taxes revenues and fees by roughly $350 million to fill a budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez opposes outright tax increases while emphasizing belt-tightening by state government and adjustments to retirement funds and capital spending.

Time is running out for a proposed minimum wage hike and a long list of policy reforms that would overhaul campaign finance disclosures, allow medically assisted suicide and block initiatives from the White House.

Flags To Be Lowered For Fallen Tribal Officer The Associated Press

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is ordering flags to fly at half-staff in honor of a Navajo Nation police officer who died after being shot by someone he encountered in a vehicle along a county road.

Authorities say Officer Houston James Largo was responding to a domestic violence call early Sunday when he came across in the vehicle, which had two people inside, in rural western New Mexico. He was critically wounded and later died at a hospital.

Federal authorities say the suspect is in custody.

Ducey says Arizona is mourning the 27-year-old officer's death along with the Navajo Nation. The reservation spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez also plans to issue a proclamation calling for the lowering of flags.

A former prosecutor, Martinez said Sunday she's confident the person responsible for killing Largo will face the "full measure of justice."

Navajo Leader: Mourning With Officer's Family – Associated Press

The president of the Navajo Nation says the tribe and the U.S. was mourning with the family of a 27-year-old officer who was shot and later died of his injuries.

Tribal President Russell Begaye says he went to the University of New Mexico hospital to be with the family of Officer Houston James Largo, who died hours after he was wounded Sunday while responding to a domestic violence call near Prewitt, New Mexico.

The FBI says a suspect has been taken into custody.

A statement from Begaye called for support of officers protecting the nation's largest American Indian tribe, saying their lives are precious because they protect others.

Begaye says Largo was from Thoreau, New Mexico, and had served for 4½ years. An FBI spokesman in Albuquerque says Largo had five years of service. There was no way to immediately reconcile the different numbers.

4 Governors Seek Grazing Assistance Because Of WildfiresThe Associated Press

The governors of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and New Mexico are seeking temporary suspension of grazing restrictions for farmers and ranchers because of wildfires.

The fires have burned more than 2,300 square miles in the four states, forcing farmers and ranchers to move their livestock.

The letter from the governors to acting Secretary of Agriculture Mike Young asks that the restrictions in the Conservation Reserve Program be lifted to provide more land for grazing.

The program is a voluntary land conservation program of the Farm Service Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help agricultural producers protect environmentally sensitive land.

According to the agency, emergency grazing of CRP land is authorized under certain conditions to provide relief to livestock producers due to some natural disasters.

Enforcement Near Oil, Gas Sites Helps Drive Down CrimeThe Associated Press & The Daily Times

Isolated oil and gas well sites can be enticing to criminals looking to score valuable equipment and scrap metal, but San Juan County authorities have a special program focused on solving such crimes. Authorities say they average about 175 cases a year.

The Daily Times reports sheriff's Det. Mike Sindelar with the Rural Crimes Unit says the unit started more than a decade ago to combat crime in the oil and gas industry.

He says there were more than 500 oilfield crimes in the program's first year but that number has gone down due to increased enforcement.

The county has more than 25,000 oil and gas wells, and property stolen at the sites includes batteries, solar panels and other equipment.

Sindelar says he expects to see more crime when the oil and gas industry picks up.

Powell Announces Candidacy For New Mexico Land CommissionerThe Associated Press

Democrat Ray Powell is running again for New Mexico state land commissioner, an office he's held twice before.

A statement released Monday morning by Powell says he planned to announce his candidacy at an environmental justice rally at the State Capitol in Santa Fe.

Powell served as commissioner from 1993-2002 and again from 2011-2014, when he narrowly lost the 2014 general election to Republican Aubrey Dunn.

The land commissioner oversees management of 13 million mineral acres and 9 million surface acres.

New Mexico Senate Approves Tax Hike, Budget PlanAssociated Press

The New Mexico Senate has approved a $6.1 billion spending plan and companion tax increases for the coming fiscal year designed to shore up funding for public schools and state agencies amid a budget crisis linked to a downturn in oil prices and a sluggish economy.

The Senate voted Saturday to approve a $23 million general fund spending increase for the fiscal year starting in July, and a separate bill that raises roughly $350 million in new taxes and fees. The House approved the original bills and must sign off on Senate revisions before they go to the governor.

Funding would rise by 0.5 percent for K-12 public schools, and 2.5 percent for a judiciary that has struggled this year to pay salaries, compensate jurors and provide attorneys to poor defendants.

New tax revenues from nonprofit hospitals, gasoline and vehicle sales, and trucking permit fees would offset spending and help replenish state reserves to protect the state's credit rating.

Extraction Wells Working To Contain Albuquerque Fuel LeakThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

State environmental officials say tests have determined that two extraction wells near a Kirtland Air Force Base fuel leak in Albuquerque are capturing nearly all the contaminated groundwater.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday that Diane Agnew with the New Mexico Environment Department discussed the test results at a public meeting last week.

She says the extraction wells are capturing 99.5 percent of the contaminated groundwater and performing as expected.

The fuel leak had originated at a jet fuel facility at Kirtland and was first detected in 1999.

Since 2015, Agnew says 152 million gallons of groundwater have been extracted, piped to a facility on the military base and filtered through granular activated carbon tanks.

Some of the treated water is used to irrigate Kirtland's golf course.

Political Contributions Upend New Mexico State Lease DealAssociated Press

A New Mexico Senator is withdrawing a bill to extend a state government lease after learning of political contributions by the privately owned property's owner and developer to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Republican Sen. Steven Neville of Aztec sought to withdraw the Senate-approved bill he sponsored after two state Cabinet secretaries informed him of the political contributions. The seven-year lease extension and expansion of Children, Youth and Family Department facilities in Albuquerque was negotiated directly with the property owners after earlier bids were rejected.

General Services Secretary Ed Burckle says political contributions of $26,200 were made in 2014 and 2015 to the governor's campaign and her Susana PAC political committee. He and Children, Youth and Families Secretary Monique Jacobson say they notified Neville shortly after discovering the contributions and apologized.

New Mexico's US Attorney Submits Requested ResignationAssociated Press

New Mexico's top federal prosecutor is among dozens of U.S. attorneys across the nation who have resigned as requested by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The U.S. Attorney's Office on Saturday confirmed that U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez resigned Friday.

The office said First Assistant U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney will serve as acting U.S. attorney until the Senate confirms a replacement chosen by President Donald Trump.

The Department of Justice said Friday that Sessions had sought the resignation of 46 U.S. attorneys who were holdovers from the Obama administration.

Many other U.S. attorneys nominated by Obama had already left their positions.

Martinez became New Mexico's U.S. attorney in May 2014 following Senate confirmation of his November 2013 nomination by Obama.

He previously served as a federal and state prosecutor.

Audit: Corrections Department Waived Fees For Film CrewSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A state audit suggests mismanagement in the state Department of Corrections allowed a documentary crew to fail to pay fees to gain access to prisons.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that a newly released audit by the State Auditor's Office suggests Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary of Administrations Alex Sanchez waived $20,000 worth of fees a production company should have paid to the state in order for film a documentary series about corrections officers.

Sanchez worked as a spokeswoman for the department from 2013 to 2015. She left briefly to work in the private sector before returning to the department in her higher role.

Corrections Secretary David Jablonski, who was appointed in October, says he is working to correct deficiencies found in the audit.

ACLU Sues Over Initial Hearings For Detained Immigrants - By Elliot Spagat, Associated Press

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the federal government to limit the amount of time that people can be held before seeing an immigration judge, saying many are held for months while waiting for an initial appearance.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court on behalf of three Mexicans at a San Diego immigration detention center.

The ACLU asks to represent all people who are held more than 48 hours on immigration violations along California's border with Mexico. An estimated 1,500 people are held on any given day.

The lawsuit comes as President Donald Trump moves to significantly expand border and immigration enforcement, which is likely to further strain jails and courts.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department and Executive Office for Immigration Review declined to comment.

Couple Accused Of Abducting Teenage Boy After CarjackingAssociated Press

A couple who reported being carjacked by two teenage boys are accused of tracking down one of them the next day and abducting him at gunpoint.

Los Lunas residents 37-year-old Juan Saavedra and 23-year-old Christal Holliday remain jailed after being arrested Friday on suspicion of kidnapping, battery with a deadly weapon and other charges.

Police say Saavedra and Holliday had an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle when they put the boy in their vehicle in Albuquerque before shooting him with a stun gun, tying him up, taking him to Los Lunas,  throwing him into a 5-foot-deep hole, threatening to kill him and then taking him back to Albuquerque, where he escaped.

Police said the boy was bleeding, covered with dirt and scratches and had marks on his wrists and ankles.

New Mexico Lawmakers Reject Higher Renewable Power Mandate Associated Press

A proposal to ramp up renewable energy requirements at New Mexico's investor owned utilities and cooperatives through the year 2040 has been voted down by a Senate committee, ending chances for approval this year.

The Senate Corporations Committee voted 5-3 Friday against a plan to gradually increase the share of electricity generated from solar, wind and other renewable sources to 80 percent of supplies for utilities.

Senate bill sponsor Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque criticized Democratic Senate colleagues Mary Kay Papen and Clemente Sanchez for voting against the bill with Republicans.

Portfolio standards requiring utilities to sell a specific percentage or amount of renewable electricity have been adopted in 29 states, helping drive the nation's multi-billion dollar solar and wind markets. New Mexico's standard is set for 20 percent by 2020.

New Mexico Wildlife Managers Relocate Bighorn Sheep Associated Press

New Mexico wildlife managers have relocated nearly three dozen bighorn sheep to the Jemez Mountains in hopes of boosting the population there.

The state Game and Fish Department says 34 sheep were captured this week at the Chevron Mine near Questa and transported south to Cochiti Canyon. The sheep found on mine property originated from the herd at Wheeler Peak.

Aside from augmenting the Jemez herd, biologists say they wanted to reduce the number of sheep along New Mexico Highway 38 between Questa and Red River.

Numerous sheep have been killed in traffic collisions on the rural highway in recent years. A motorcyclist died in one of those crashes.

Biologists say it's possible the sheep released this week may move onto Cochiti Pueblo and Bandelier National Monument lands.

Mail Theft Concerns Prompt Hiring Of More Postal InspectorsAssociated Press

With New Mexico's largest metropolitan area being plagued by mail thefts, the U.S. Postal Service has agreed to add two more postal inspectors in the Albuquerque office.

The announcement was made Friday by U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The New Mexico Democrat met with the chief postal inspector last year after hearing from constituents about mail thefts.

Lujan Grisham says mailbox break-ins are a major problem, especially for elderly, disabled and low-income residents who may have difficulties traveling to the nearest post office to pick up their mail or prescriptions drugs.

The congresswoman's office says the Postal Service is replacing older neighborhood delivery collection box units with high security boxes in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. The service also pledged to take other measures to prevent mail theft.

Court Issues Order To Preclude Release Of Some DefendantsAssociated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has issued an order aimed at preventing the inadvertent release of defendants in criminal cases where detention motions are pending or a detention order is already in effect.

The court publicized the order Friday, notifying attorneys and judges around the state that it takes effect immediately.

The justices stated that the issue demanded immediate action pending a review and any changes to release and detention rules.

The order comes as courts adapt to a constitutional change that was approved by voters last November that allowed judges to deny bail to defendants considered exceptionally dangerous. The constitutional amendment also granted pretrial release to those who aren't considered a threat but remain in jail because they can't afford bail.