New Mexico's Solar Tax Credit Moves Ahead, NM House And Senate Diverge On Solvency Plan

Jan 24, 2017

Bills To Reinstate New Mexico's Solar Tax Credit Move AheadThe Associated Press

Bipartisan efforts are making headway in the New Mexico House and Senate to reinstate a tax credit that spurred nearly a quarter billion dollars of investment in roof-top solar and related jobs before expiring last year.

A Senate panel on Tuesday endorsed one of three identical bills that call for renewing the credit for an additional eight years. A House committee took similar action Monday.

The credit expired in 2016 despite attempts during the previous legislative session to extend the program. The chief concern last year was the $5 million it would cost the state annually to continue the program.

While lawmakers are still grappling with a budget crisis, supporters say the return on investment outweighs the cost and that the legislation should be seen as an economic development bill.

New Mexico House And Senate Diverge On Solvency PlanThe Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers are sending a budget solvency bill to the governor even as new disagreements have emerged over how to fix a state budget deficit and rebuild reserves.

The Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that would tap tax payments by insurance companies immediately instead of waiting for the next fiscal year. That would free up $88 million to shore up the state general fund.

The Legislature is attempting to plug an $80 million current-year deficit and create a modest financial cushion.

Negotiations over three other solvency bills were extended Tuesday after the Senate rejected House amendments. A proposal to reduce public school district funding by 2 percent was sent to conference committee to decide whether schools with low reserves will be exempt.

New Mexico Bill Would Halt Enforcement Of Immigration Laws – The Associated Press

A new proposal would prevent New Mexico law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration laws.

Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero has introduced a bill that would prohibit New Mexico police departments or sheriff's offices from cooperating with federal agents in deporting immigrants suspected of living in the country illegally.

The Albuquerque Democrat's plan also would ban agencies from getting "federal funds, equipment, personnel or resources for the purpose of detecting or apprehending" such immigrants.

The proposal comes as a number of New Mexico cities and towns have declared themselves "sanctuaries" for immigrants living in the country illegally. Activists have pressed cities and towns for the declaration amid uncertainty from President Donald Trump.

The new president campaigned on building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and promised to deploy a "deportation force."

Bill Revamps Police Shooting Investigation RulesAlbuquerque Journal

A bill that would require outside agencies to investigate officer-involved shootings in the Albuquerque Police Department passed a committee and will go to the City Council for a vote.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Councilor Pat Davis, a former police officer, sponsored the bill passed by the Finance and Government Operations Committee. It would ban APD from investigating shootings by its officers.

Right now, a task force that includes multiple agencies and APD investigates deaths in custody and shootings by Albuquerque officers.

The bill was opposed by State Police Chief Pete Kassetas and Robert Perry, the city’s chief administrative officer.

The committee also passed a bill requiring rape kits be tested within three months after they are received. The state has a huge number of untested rape kits and most were from investigations in the Albuquerque metropolitan area. 

New Mexico Pecan Farmers See Record-High Prices For CropAssociated Press

New Mexico pecan farmers and backyard growers are receiving record-high prices for the crop.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports a new federal report for farmers in New Mexico, Arizona, and West Texas shows the price paid for a common variety of pecans is ranging between $2.88 to $3.05 per in-shell pound.

A previous record high for New Mexico pecan prices happened in 2010 when growers received about $2.83 per pound on average for the season.

John White, executive director for the Las Cruces-based Western Pecan Growers Association, says several factors are contributing to the record prices. He says the Southeast, for example, has had some problems with insects, disease, and storms.

Skandera: 3rd-Grade Retention Will Boost Graduate Rates MoreAssociated Press

New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera says policies advocated by Gov. Susana Martinez must be enacted or the state's high school graduation rates could fall after hitting record levels.

Skandera told The Associated Press lawmakers should pass the governor's third-grade retention proposal to halt future high school students from dropping out. The bill would allow schools to require third-graders to repeat the third grade if they aren't proficient in reading.

The proposal faces fierce opposition from Senate and House Democrats.

Last week, Martinez announced the class of 2016 set an all-time high graduation rate at 71 percent. That's an eight-point spike since 2011.

But it is still below the 2015 national rate of 83 percent.

National Education Association-New Mexico executive director Charles Bowyer says the state needs more early intervention programs, not third-grade retention.

Trump Nominates Heather Wilson To Air Force Secretary PostAlbuquerque Journal

President Donald Trump said he will nominate former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, who represented New Mexico for more than a decade, as secretary of the Air Force.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Wilson is currently president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. She was in the House of Representatives from 1998 to 2009.

Wilson would be the second woman in this position and the first graduate from the Air Force Academy to serve as secretary, according to the Journal.

Wilson will likely face questions at her confirmation hearing about a consulting contract she had with Sandia National Laboratories after she left Congress. A report by the Department of Energy’s inspector general found Sandia paid her $226,000 in fees to lobby for the lab.

Wilson and Sandia said she did not do lobbying work. Her name was not in a settlement agreement between Sandia and the federal government.

Wilson successfully pushed for the repeal of a ban on women flying in combat and was honored by the now-defunct New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women as an outstanding woman.

State Police Say Bernalillo County Election Case Is ClosedAssociated Press

Authorities say allegations that a winning candidate for a commissioner's seat in New Mexico's most populous county failed to sign the needed paperwork to declare his candidacy are unfounded.

New Mexico State Police announced Monday that they are considering the case closed.

Republican Patricia Paiz had filed a lawsuit in December, accusing "Breaking Bad" actor and now-commissioner Steven Michael Quezada of not signing the paperwork in March.

Her lawsuit included an affidavit from a handwriting analyst who said Quezada's wife, not Quezada himself, appeared to have filled out the declaration.

Quezada disputed the allegations. His campaign released photos showing him holding up election forms as he posed for pictures with county staff.

State police say the investigation revealed all the handwritten contents of the candidacy forms were true and correct.

Albuquerque Bill Changes Rules For Investigating Police Shootings -

Water Service Restored For Northern New Mexico VillageAssociated Press

State officials say safe drinking water service has been restored for nearly 2,000 residents in the village of Questa.

The New Mexico Environment Department said a boil advisory that was first issued in early December was finally lifted last week after the northern New Mexico community drilled a new well and addressed leaks and pressure problems with its distribution system.

State officials say the new well met structural and public health standards, eliminating the need for a backup water supply.

Environment Secretary Butch Tongate says the problems in Questa should serve as a reminder for the managers of public water systems around the state to have up-to-date maintenance manuals and emergency plans.

Rio Rancho's Police Chief Stepping Down For Personal ReasonsAssociated Press

The police chief in Rio Rancho says he's stepping down for personal reasons.

Michael Geier's last day on the job is Feb. 18.

Geier says changing circumstances in his wife's health and personal life have made it clear to him that he must spend more time with his family.

Geier was appointed police chief in February 2014.

Before coming to Rio Rancho, he was a commander for the Albuquerque Police Department and served about 20 years with that agency.

Rio Rancho City Manager Keith Riesberg has designated current Deputy Police Chief Paul Rogers to serve as acting police chief.

A national search to find Geier's replacement will be conducted.