NM Considers Automated Voter Registration, State Lawmakers Propose Budget Solvency Measures

Jan 18, 2017

New Mexico Considers Automated Voter Registration – The Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers are proposing a change to the state constitution that would automatically provide voter registration through driver's license records unless individuals chose not to participate.

Several Democratic lawmakers and the state's top elections regulator announced the proposed constitutional amendment Wednesday at the state Capitol.

New Mexico currently provides voter registration services at Motor Vehicle Division offices, placing the onus on individuals to fill out an additional form.

Sponsors of the proposed amendment say it would shift that obligation from the individual to government.

Approval by a majority of legislators would send the measure to a public referendum in 2018, with or without the consent of GOP Gov. Susana Martinez.

Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said the changes also could improve the accuracy of voter rolls.

New Mexico Lawmakers Propose Budget Solvency MeasuresAssociated Press

New Mexico lawmakers are diving into efforts to close a lingering budget gap for the current budget year on the second day of their legislative session.

Lawmakers begin deliberations Wednesday on a package of solvency bills designed to close a $69 million budget deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30.

The plan would replenish state operating reserves to more than 2 percent of annual general fund spending. That would mark a significant step toward safeguarding the state's credit rating and low borrowing costs.

Lawmakers are rushing to close a lingering budget gap so that they can map out spending for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget crunch is closely linked to a downturn in the oil and natural gas sectors that has sapped tax revenues.

UNM Charges Student Group $3,400 To Host SpeakerThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal 

The University of New Mexico has told its College Republicans organization it must pay a security charge for a scheduled campus appearance by commentator Milo Yiannopoulos.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the school's College Republicans have been ordered to pay $3,400 for the Jan. 27 event.

UNM College Republicans President Marina Herrera called the charge a "free speech fine" and accused to university of attempting to censor the controversial speaker. She says the group was notified of the fee too late to gather the funds.

UNM spokeswoman Dianne Anderson said the group was given an estimated cost Jan. 10. She denies claims that this is a censorship issue.

Lawsuit: New Mexico Not Investigating 'Wage Theft' ClaimsThe Associated Press

A new lawsuit says the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions isn't investigating claims of "wage theft."

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Santa Fe District Court on behalf of four workers and various advocacy groups says the agency is refusing to look into claims and doesn't hold employers liable for wage violations

In addition, court documents accuse the Department of Workforce Solutions of not investigating or taking any enforcement action on wage claims that go back more than one year.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to require the agency to enforce state law and investigate theft claims.

Department of Workforce Solutions spokeswoman Joy Forehand says she had not seen the lawsuit.

New Mexico Dems Vow To Fight Gov.’s Budget PlansAssociated Press

New Mexico Democrats say they will resist efforts by Gov. Susana Martinez to balance the state's budget by cutting teachers' salaries.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes said Tuesday the Republican governor's proposal to force teachers to pay more into the pension system was "against New Mexican" values and vowed Democrats would fight it.

The Las Cruces Democrat also faulted Martinez for failing to mention child and rural poverty in her State of the State speech. New Mexico ranks at the bottom nationally on both.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said after the Senate and House tackle the budget, both chambers will present a jobs package to help the state's struggling economy.

Cervantes promised that Democrats would halt the governor's plan to end social promotion for 3rd graders who aren't proficient in reading.

New Mexico Speaker Appeals For BipartisanshipAssociated Press

New Mexico's incoming speaker of the House of Representatives is urging his Democratic allies and Republicans to work in cooperation to help provide greater economic security for local families and businesses.

House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe told lawmakers Tuesday that businesses are struggling to find qualified employees even as people leave the state in search of jobs. He says schools must be fixed to resolve that equation.

Egolf says he hopes legislators can balance the state budget, close tax loopholes and collect taxes that are due to the state during the 60 day session. Democrats won back full majority control of the Legislature in November elections.

New Mexico Senate To Archive Webcast Of Committee Meetings Associated Press

The New Mexico Senate will webcast all of its committee meetings and will archive the proceedings.

Democratic Senator Majority Leader Peter Wirth announced Tuesday that the legislative body will store recordings of the committee meetings online so citizens can watch them later.

The New Mexico Legislature has streamed committee meetings online but did not archive them.

State lawmakers are expected to hold a number of committee meetings on the state's budget amid possible cuts.

States Argue In Court For More Say Over Endangered SpeciesAssociated Press

A battle over endangered wolves in the Southwest is moving to a federal appeals court as judges hear arguments on whether states can block the federal government from reintroducing wildlife within their borders.

The Interior Department will ask a Denver-based court on Wednesday to overturn a preliminary injunction that bars the department from releasing more Mexican gray wolves into the wild in New Mexico without that state's approval.

New Mexico has multiple complaints about the Mexican gray wolf program, and in 2015 it refused to issue a permit to the Interior Department to release more of the predators in the state.

Interior released more wolves anyway, citing an urgent need to expand the population to prevent inbreeding. A lower court issued an order last year blocking further releases while the dispute is resolved.

Another Settlement For Navajo Nation Abandoned Mines Cleanup Associated Press

The federal government has reached another settlement for cleanup work at abandoned uranium mines across the Navajo Nation.

The U.S. Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency and tribe announced a settlement agreement Tuesday with two affiliated subsidiaries of Freeport-McMoRan for the cleanup of 94 abandoned uranium mines on the vast reservation.

The mining operations stretched from western New Mexico into Arizona and southern Utah. The last uranium mine shut down in 1986.

Under a proposed consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, Cyprus Amax Minerals Company and Western Nuclear Inc. will perform the work and the federal government will contribute about half of the more than $600 million cleanup costs.

Funds are committed to begin the cleanup process at more than 200 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Leaders Meet With Feds Over Oil, Gas Lease SaleAssociated Press

The leaders of several Navajo communities are asking federal officials to cancel an upcoming oil and natural gas lease sale over concerns about the protection of cultural resources in northwestern New Mexico.

Nine Navajo chapter presidents met with the Bureau of Land Management in Santa Fe on Tuesday as dozens of supporters turned in petitions and letters in opposition to the Jan. 25 lease sale.

The four parcels up for bid include more than 842 acres that opponents say are part of the "greater Chaco area" that surrounds Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Land managers say the land falls outside of a 10-mile buffer around the park.

The period to protest the sale ended in early December. The agency has yet to make a decision on the seven formal protests that were submitted before the deadline.

Exxonmobil Plans Major Expansion Of New Mexico Operations Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

ExxonMobil could become one of southeast New Mexico's top oil producers after announcing plans to acquire 275,000 acres of oil leases in the Permian Basin, which also covers parts of western Texas.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Tuesday that ExxonMobil is paying $5.6 billion to the Bass family of Fort Worth, Texas, to acquire the family's lease acreage and operating entities.

Daniel Fine with the New Mexico Center for Energy Policy at New Mexico Tech says ExxonMobil is likely to begin drilling in the area by the end of the year.

The deal gives the company about 3.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent reserves in the state.

ExxonMobil is the largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world with $16.2 billion in revenue in 2015.