NM Regulators Approve PNM Rate Hike, Federal Judge Holds New Mexico Cabinet Secretary In Contempt

Sep 28, 2016

New Mexico Regulators Approve PNM Rate HikeThe Associated Press 

State regulators have approved a rate hike for Public Service Co. of New Mexico's half a million customers, but it's not as much as the electric utility had hoped for.

The Public Regulation Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday during a meeting in Santa Fe for a compromise that will amount to an average increase of roughly 10 percent.

The utility had initially proposed a more than 14 percent increase to recover the costs of investments it has made in recent years, including new solar generating stations and the purchase of power from an Arizona nuclear plant.

Concerns raised by environmentalists over the value of PNM's stake in the Palo Verde plant led a hearing officer earlier this year to recommend that the multimillion-dollar request be slashed by two-thirds.

Commissioners acknowledged it was a difficult decision.

Federal Judge Holds New Mexico Cabinet Secretary In ContemptAssociated Press

A federal judge is holding New Mexico Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest in contempt for failing to comply with court orders aimed at improving the administration of food aid and Medicaid health care benefits.

U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales issued the contempt order on Tuesday and endorsed findings by a federal magistrate that the Cabinet secretary did not diligently attempt to comply with court orders concerning the handling of Medicaid benefit renewals, aid eligibility for immigrants, training for agency employees and other administrative requirements.

Gonzales previously agreed to the appointment of a court-appointed "special master" to help ensure federally funded benefits are administered properly by the Human Services Department amid internal investigations by state and federal agencies into allegations that food aid applications were falsified.

US Postal Service Responds To Trashed Mail In Santa FeThe Associated Press & The New Mexican

U.S. Postal Service officials say agents are investigating after a pile of undelivered mail was found in a Santa Fe trash bin.

The New Mexican reports that Ray Dobson of Santa Fe's Rancho Viejo neighborhood says his neighbor noticed nearly 300 pieces of mail inside a trash can near a cluster mailbox, including what looked like social security checks and other first-class mail.

Dobson says his neighbor called the Santa Fe postmaster.

Phoenix-based Postal Service spokesman Peter Hass says the discarded mail re-sent to its recipients.

Washington state-based public information officer Peter Masters says local authorities have a person of interest in the case. Masters says he cannot provide further details on the investigation.

The culprit could face fines or a prison sentence of up to 6 months.

State Regulators To Fine Company Over Crouch Mesa WaterThe Associated Press & The Daily Times

State regulators have announced they will fine a water company for failing to restore safe drinking water to a Farmington-area community.

The Daily Times reports that the New Mexico Environment Department has issued an emergency order because of AV Water Company's lack of progress restoring water to Harvest Gold customers. The emergency order imposes a $1,000 per day fine on AV water for each directive from the state that is not accomplished by upcoming deadlines.

AV Water attorney Germaine Chappelle says crews are working to upgrade Harvest Gold's pressure filter and that some customers may be without water during the process, but that the company is very close to being in compliance.

AV Water Co. customers in the Morningstar and Harvest Gold systems were issued a boil-water advisory in June.

New Mexico Judiciary Cuts Spending Amid State Budget CrunchAssociated Press

New Mexico's judiciary system is cutting travel reimbursements to help rein in spending as the state wrestles with a budget shortfall.

The Administrative Office of the Courts announced Tuesday plans to save about $500,000 this fiscal year by lowering the mileage reimbursement rate for travel by judges, court staff, jurors, interpreters and court-ordered witnesses.

The New Mexico Legislature is preparing for a possible special session to replenish depleted operating reserves and address revenue shortfalls linked to energy markets. Gov. Susana Martinez has directed agencies under her control to attempt to trim spending by 5 percent with some exceptions.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels says that even a 1 percent spending reduction by the judiciary would affect some drug courts, while a 3 percent would impact jobs and court hours.

Trinity Site Ranch House Faces Restoration Associated Press

A ranch house where Los Alamos scientists assembled the world's first atomic bomb is being restored.

The McDonald/Schmidt Ranch House at the Trinity Site is facing exterior renovations thanks to a cooperative agreement with White Sand Missile Range Cultural Resources Program.

Improvements will focus on the exterior stucco, gutters and drainage and interior restoration.

On July 16, 1945, scientists from the then-secret city of Los Alamos successfully exploded the first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site, near Tularosa.

The ranch house was located two miles away from the explosion, and its windows were blown out. The house was no significantly damaged but over the years fell into disrepair. It has gone through other restoration.

The bomb later was dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Spending Soars On Medication At New Mexico State Agencies Associated Press

Legislative analysts say spending on prescription medication by New Mexico state agencies is rising quickly as insurance coverage expands under Medicaid and demands for specialty drugs are met.

A report released Wednesday by the Legislative Finance Committee finds that state agencies spent $680 million on prescription drugs during the most recent budget year. That represents a 54 percent increase from two years ago.

Much of the spending increase can be attributed to New Mexico's rapid expansion of Medicaid health coverage for the poor and disabled. Medicaid costs are paid for largely by the federal government.

Increased spending also is linked to high-priced specialty drugs for complex conditions and rare diseases.

The state's Medicaid program spent almost $66 million on drugs for 900 people with hepatitis C between 2014 and 2016.

Burglar Shoots Man At Bart Prince’s Spaceship House – Albuquerque Journal

A man who lives with architect Bart Prince in his landmark spaceship house near Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood was shot after encountering an intruder on Monday evening.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Lewis “Lee” Wilson, who is 63, is in critical condition after undergoing surgery at the University of New Mexico Hospital. He’s expected to survive.

Albuquerque Police spokesman Tanner Tixier says detectives are looking for two men who are white or Hispanic in their teens or early 20s in connection with the crime.

Prince is known around the world for his unusual homes, including his residence, which resembles a spaceship.

New Mexico Court To Settle Dispute Over Pollution Rules Associated Press

Environmentalists say New Mexico isn't going far enough to protect the state's limited groundwater supplies from copper mining operations. Regulators say they have the toughest rules in the West.

After years of legal wrangling, it's now up to the New Mexico Supreme Court to decide.

The justices are hearing arguments in the case Wednesday.

Environmentalists want the court to set aside the rule and require the state to adopt new regulations to prevent pollution. They argue the regulations violate the state Water Quality Control Act and give mining companies too much leeway to pollute groundwater.

The New Mexico Environment Department says the regulations are among the most stringent of any copper-producing state in the West and strike a balance between protecting water and allowing for economic development.

Teen In New Mexico Man's Shooting Death To Appear In Court KOB-TV, Associated Press

One of the six New Mexico teens charged with killing a 60-year-old Albuquerque man in his driveway during burglary rampage is set to appear in court.

KOB-TV in Albuquerque reports that the teen is expected Wednesday to plead guilty in Bernalillo County District Court in connection with the 2015 death of Stephen Gerecke.

Arrest warrant affidavits say the teens had been stealing from several cars and homes in a neighborhood on the city's northeast side before one of them shot and killed Gerecke.

Officers found Gerecke dead in his driveway with multiple gunshot wounds.

Police say an investigation by a police task force and investigators from the district attorney's office led to the juveniles' arrest. Charges against the teens include murder, burglary, and assault with a deadly weapon.

Health Officials: 3 More West Nile Virus Cases In New Mexico Associated Press

The New Mexico Department of Health has announced three more cases of West Nile virus around the state.

During the past month, health officials say a 53-year-old Bernalillo County man, a 57-year-old Dona Ana County man and a 40-year-old McKinley County man have been diagnosed with the virus transmitted by a mosquito bite.

All three men were hospitalized.

Health officials say the three newest West Nile cases doubles the total of human cases identified in New Mexico so far this year.

The three previous cases were reported in Rio Arriba and Valencia counties.

Health officials say New Mexico typically sees most of its West Nile virus cases in August and September, but may potentially see case through October this year because of late-season rains.

Lawsuit Over Gov. Martinez's Campaign Emails Dismissed Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A 2-year-old civil lawsuit over emails released from Gov. Susana Martinez's hijacked email account has been dismissed.

The Albuquerque Journal reports on Monday, court filings showed that both parties have agreed to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning it can't be refiled.

Attorneys in the case declined to comment.

Four plaintiffs were suing several people including a former state Democratic Party chairman and Martinez's ex-campaign manager for violations of laws over the interception and protection of electronic communication in 2010.

The emails on the Susana2010 campaign account were stolen by former Martinez campaign manager Jamie Estrada after he left the Martinez campaign in its early stages. Estrada was sentenced to nine months in prison after pleading guilty to hijacking the campaign website and lying to FBI agents about it.

Bernalillo County To Funnel $5 Million Into Mental HealthKRQE-TV

Bernalillo County Commissioners will funnel $5 million into programs boosting behavioral health services, especially for programs aimed at youth and protecting children.

KRQE-TV reports the commissioners boosted the original amount planned by $1 million at a meeting Tuesday evening to add more funding to help children at risk of abuse and neglect.

Organizations that want to tap into the funds can submit proposals to the county. KUNM reported the money comes from a gross receipts tax voters approved in 2014 following the shooting death of James Boyd in a standoff with police. Boyd had schizophrenia.

The tax will raise about $17 million dollars annually.

Ohio Man Pleads Not Guilty To Killing New Mexico Officer Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

An Ohio man accused of killing a southern New Mexico police officer has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that Jesse Denver Hanes of Columbus pleaded not guilty on Monday to the seven charges he is accused on in connection to the Aug. 12 death of Hatch police Officer Jose Chavez.

A Dona Ana County grand jury has indicted Hanes on charges of willful and deliberate murder, methamphetamine trafficking, distribution of marijuana, two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer and possession of drug paraphernalia.

He has also been charged in federal court in connection to Chavez's death.

No trials have been scheduled in either the federal or state case.