NM House Approves School Spending Cuts, NM Legislature Considers Open Primaries

Jan 23, 2017

New Mexico House Approves School Spending Cuts – The Associated Press

The New Mexico House of Representatives has approved funding cuts of 2 percent to most school districts across the state, while exempting districts with low cash reserves.

The House vote on Monday added new exemptions to legislation approved last week the by the Senate that would shore up the state general fund by targeting school district cash reserves. The House amendments still require Senate approval.

Lawmakers are working to close an $80 million deficit for the current fiscal year ending June 30 and restore depleted reserves before tackling next year's budget plan.

The House-approved legislation would funnel $43 million to the state general fund by reducing program spending to public schools. Districts would have to offset the one-time cuts using cash reserves.

Exemptions were provided for schools that rely on emergency allocations or have reserves of less than 4 percent of annual program costs. Other schools would be allowed to maintain reserves of at least 4 percent.

New Mexico Legislature Considers Move To Open PrimariesThe Associated Press

New Mexico lawmakers are introducing a flurry of electoral reform proposals designed to make elections for state offices more competitive by opening primaries to unaffiliated voters and changing requirements for candidates to get on the ballot.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers filed proposals Monday that would upend New Mexico's closed primary system that excludes independent voters from major party primaries.

One bill would allow unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections for a major party. The sponsors say younger voters in particular are being shut out of the electoral process because they do not identify with major parties.

A proposed constitutional amendment would list all primary candidates on a one common ballot. The top two finishers would face off in the general election regardless of party affiliation.

New Mexico Attorney General Raises Budget ConcernsThe Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says budget recommendations from the governor's office and Legislature would result in reduced services and possibly layoffs at his agency.

Balderas said Monday that spending recommendations by the governor and Legislature for the fiscal year starting July 1 would make it difficult for the Attorney General's Office to fulfill statutory obligations. He says it also would become more difficult to collect damages in court and pursue litigation linked to water rights, consumer protection issues, environmental violations and internet crimes.

Budget pressures are mounting at the agency because of shrinking balances in a consumer settlement fund.

New Mexico lawmakers are wrestling with efforts to close a general fund deficit for the current fiscal year amid a downturn in the oil sector and shrinking tax revenues.

Rio Rancho's Police Chief Stepping DownThe Associated 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.

Santa Fe Wants Nonprofits To Pay Fees For Special EventsThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican 

Officials in Santa Fe are trying to get nonprofits to pay a combined $140,000 in parking and police protection fees for their special events.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that those services were provided free in the past, but officials decided to eliminate the giveaways in a bid to close a $15 million budget gap.

Mayor Javier Gonzales says the city notified nonprofits that they would face the fees, yet the groups claim there wasn't ample warning of the costs.

The past-due payments range from $1,515 for the Rotary Club of Santa Fe's Fourth of July Pancakes on the Plaza event to $59,746 for the Santa Fe Fiesta Council's arts and crafts markets.

City spokesman Matt Ross says the city plans to be flexible with the nonprofits.

Albuquerque Man Must Pay Restitution For Food Stamp FraudThe Associated Press

An Albuquerque man has been sentenced to two years of probation for defrauding the federal food stamps program and has been ordered to pay nearly $4,700 in restitution.

Prosecutors say 38-year-old Sergio Escobedo was sentenced Monday.

Escobedo was one of six defendants charged in a 32-count indictment in 2014 with defrauding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Prosecutors say another defendant worked as a family assistance analyst for the Income Support Division of the New Mexico Human Services Department, where he was responsible for determining applicants' eligibility and benefit level for SNAP benefits.

Escobedo pleaded guilty last April and admitted he wasn't eligible to receive food stamps but obtained $4,678 in SNAP benefits between September 2009 and February 2010.

Suspect In Custody After Albuquerque Police Officer Shot At Associated Press

Police in Albuquerque say one suspect is in custody and a second is being sought after an officer was shot at when he tried to pull over a suspected impaired driver.

Police say the officer wasn't injured in the incident early Saturday.

They say 31-year-old Johnny Kocsmar was taken into custody.

He remains jailed on suspicion of aggravated assault on a police officer, fleeing from a police officer, auto theft and conspiracy.

Kocsmar told police he got into a car at a grocery store because he saw the keys in the ignition and he wanted to warm up.

Kocsmar says he then picked up a man, who told him to start driving around.

Around 4 a.m., an officer tried to pull the stolen car over for a DWI stop.

Alleged Intruder Dies After Albuquerque Resident Opens Fire Associated Press

Authorities say a suspected home intruder has died after the Albuquerque homeowner opened fire.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Officer Simon Drobik says police responded to a report Saturday night that two people dressed in black and wearing masks were trying to break into a man's home.

Drobik says the homeowner shot at the intruders inside the residence when he saw them armed with "blunt objects or edged weapons."

One of the reported intruders died at the scene. The other suspect was not there when police arrived and it is unclear if that person has been located.

The homeowner has not been charged with a crime.

The incident remains under investigation.

Gun Safety Group Outspends Lobbyists In New Mexico Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A gun safety group ranks as the state's top spender out of all the lobbyists in the state.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports documents filed with the secretary of state's office show New York-based Everytown for Gun Safety spent nearly $220,000 in 2016.

The National Rifle Association spent $10,000 in New Mexico last year.

New Mexico lobbyists shelled out a total $1.7 million.

Everytown Regional director Pedro Morillas mostly focused the expenditures on political action committees. The group also made $1,000 to $5,000 donations to certain lawmakers.

Minority Leader Nate Gentry was the lone Republican to receive an Everytown donation.

Group spokeswoman Stacey Radnor said in an email that Everytown is focused on supporting legislative efforts to require background checks for most private firearm sales.

New Mexico Child Welfare Agency Reviews Case Of Slain GirlAssociated Press

A review by state officials shows there were no indications of previous abuse involving a New Mexico girl who was strangled to death on her 10th birthday, her dismembered remains found in her home.

Children, Youth and Families Secretary Monique Jacobson released a summary of her department's investigation Friday.

It shows social workers interviewed Victoria Martens and her sibling more than once and the children never disclosed any physical or sexual abuse. Allegations of poor hygiene were also unsubstantiated.

While the review shows the department's investigations regarding Victoria and her sibling were done in accordance with state law and agency policies, Jacobson said the case speaks to the frustrations that social workers cannot predict or control human behavior.

Jacobson called the case heartbreaking and said new efforts to raise awareness about abuse and prevention will be rolled out soon.

Protestors Gather Around New Mexico After InaugurationSanta Fe New Mexican, Albuquerque Journal

The day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, millions of protestors demonstrated in cities around the country and the world, including New Mexico.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported more than 1,500 people marched Saturday morning in conjunction with the Women’s March on Washington. The march focused on women’s rights and immigration reform as well as LGBTQ rights.

In Santa Fe, 10,000 to 15,000 people walked from the Bataan Memorial Building to the Plaza and then to the Roundhouse, reported the Santa Fe New Mexican. Many participants spoke of fear that women’s rights are threatened by the Trump Administration’s policies.

In Albuquerque as many as 6,000 people braved periodic hail storms to pack Civic Plaza reported the Albuquerque Journal. They listened to speeches about women’s rights, health care access and environmental issues.

Flights Planned Over Arizona, New Mexico For Wolf SurveyAssociated Press

Biologists plan daily flights over forested areas of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico in late January and early February to conduct an annual survey of the region's population of endangered Mexican gray wolves.

Federal and state agencies say the flights may be visible to residents of Reserve, New Mexico, and the Arizona communities of Alpine and Springerville.

Biologists conduct the survey as part of a multi-agency effort to reintroduce wolves into their traditional habitat.

The operation includes capturing wild-born wolves to fit them with radio telemetry collars and capturing wolves to replace collars and to treat those appearing to be sick or injured.

Agencies say the aerial operation is scheduled to run Jan. 23 - Feb. 4, weather permitting, with results released in February.

New Mexico: Residents May Wait Longer For State Tax RefundsAssociated Press

The Taxation and Revenue Department says some New Mexico residents may wait longer for income tax refunds in 2017 as the state steps up efforts to combat identity theft and tax refund fraud.

Acting Director John Monforte says returns seen as having a potential for refund fraud will probably take longer to process.

Monforte also says a state refund request which has a corresponding federal refund request stopped by the IRS will be held by the state until the IRS stoppage is resolved.

Additionally, Monforte says data breaches involving businesses and the federal government are forcing the state to take additional precautions such as asking for identification information while processing tax returns.

According to Monforte, taxpayers should be prepared to wait up to 12 weeks for tax refunds.

House Adjourns After Approving 2 Budget Bills – Associated Press

The New Mexico House has adjourned until Monday after approving two of four bills of a budget solvency plan but deferring action on the plans' other two bills until the coming week.

The House was in session Saturday as lawmakers worked to dig the state out of an $80 million budget hole and restore a modest financial cushion in the current fiscal year.

The House send the two bills to the Senate, which has approved its own versions. The Senate versions are similar but not identical to the House-approved bills. That means further Senate consideration is required.

The House then paused its budget work Saturday after sending its versions of the other two bills back to committee and taking steps to allow consideration of the Senate's versions of those two bills, possibly as early as Monday.

Navajo Leaders Consider Switching Name To Dine NationGallup Independent, Associated Press

Navajo Nation leaders are considering changing the name of the tribal government from Navajo to Dine.

The Gallup Independent reported that legislation proposing the official name change went before the Navajo Nation Council's Budget and Finance Committee and was unanimously supported.

The legislation would change the name of the Navajo Nation to Dine Nation and would have the president and all departments, divisions, agencies and entities of the tribe use the phrase "Dine Nation" in describing the lands and people.

Health, Education and Human Services Committee Chairman Jonathan Hale says he decided to sponsor the bill because the term Navajo comes from Spanish conquistadors. Dine is the Navajo word meaning "the people" and is commonly what tribal members call themselves.