NM Senate Approves Spending Increase, Democrat Disqualified From NM Race

Feb 13, 2018

New Mexico Senate Approves Spending IncreaseThe Associated Press

A proposal to boost New Mexico state spending on public schools, the criminal justice system, business incentives and Medicaid has been approved by the state Senate.

The Senate voted 40-2 on Tuesday to approve a $6.3 billion general fund budget plan for the coming school year that would boost spending by $259 million for the coming fiscal year.

The bill now returns to the House to consider recent amendments. Gov. Susana Martinez has the authority to veto any and all provisions of the final budget.

The district attorney's office overseeing Albuquerque would receive a 16.5 percent operating budget increase, amid acute concerns about urban crime.

The budget bill includes pay increases of at least 2 percent to all state workers and slightly more for public school teachers. Statewide elected officials including the governor, attorney general and secretary of state would earn 10 percent more beginning next year. State police, parole officers and prison guards would get a 8.5 percent pay boost.

Democrat Disqualified From New Mexico Congressional RaceThe Associated Press

A Democratic nominee for New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District has been disqualified.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports a release from New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says Angel Pena was disqualified "because a number of his submitted petition pages failed to meet the requirements set forth in state statute. As a result, Mr. Pena did not meet the minimum number of signatures required for qualification."

An office spokesman says eight pages of petitions had alterations or errors and could not be counted.

Secretary of State spokesman Joey Keefe says Pena would have needed 623 valid signatures

Pena campaign worker Carlos Contreras says the campaign is aware of the situation and is consulting with an attorney.

The primary election is June 5 and the general election is Nov. 6.

New Mexico Student-Athletics Can't Have "F" Grades Next YearThe Associated Press

The body that governs New Mexico high school sports says students who received an "F'' grade won't be eligible to participate in activities and athletics next year.

The New Mexico Activities Association recently voted to make the changes requiring all student-athletes to have at least a 2.0 grade-point-average and no F grades. Students previously had been allowed one F to participate.

According to the changes, eligibility will be determined by semester grades and not six- or nine-week period grades.

Students may make-up multiple courses to attempt to gain eligibility beginning in summer 2018. Officials say the replacement classes are required to be the exact course that was listed on the official transcript.

New Mexico Students Seek Vote On Lottery Scholarship BillThe Associated Press

University of New Mexico students are calling on state lawmakers to vote on a measure aimed at shoring up the lottery scholarship program.

The measure is pending before a key Senate committee after being approved by the House. The session wraps up Thursday.

The revamped bill calls for the New Mexico Lottery Authority to provide at least $40 million each year to the scholarship fund. All unclaimed prize money would also be funneled back into the fund and the authority's operating costs would be capped.

The lottery-funded scholarships help pay tuition for more than 28,000 students at public universities and colleges around the state. The amount of financial aid available through the program has been declining since lottery revenues have not kept pace with increases in tuition and student enrollment.

Trial Dates, Venue Set For Fatal Library Shooting CaseThe Associated Press

The start date and location have been set for a teenager's trial in a fatal New Mexico library shooting.

The Eastern New Mexico News reports Nathaniel Jouett will be tried as an adult on charges including first-degree murder in a trial set to begin March 18, 2019, in in Roswell.

Jouett was 16 when 2 people were killed and 4 injured at the Clovis library last August.

The Associated Press generally does not identify juveniles accused of crimes. It is identifying Jouett, however, because of the seriousness of the crime and because authorities are seeking adult sanctions.

Defense attorney Stephen Taylor wants Jouettt, now 17, transferred from the Curry County Juvenile Detention Center to an adolescent treatment facility in Albuquerque pending trial.

District Attorney Andrea Reeb says she'll oppose that.

Facebook Joins Effort To Fight Opioid Crisis In New MexicoThe Associated Press

Facebook is joining the fight against the opioid crisis in New Mexico as the social media giant faces criticism for allowing sellers to use its platform to offer illegal drugs.

The Menlo Park, California company said Tuesday it will work with the state's attorney general to show Facebook users how they can use its digital tools to combat addiction.

The move comes as Facebook is preparing to open a data center in central New Mexico.

Ana Martinez, head of Facebook's community engagement for the U.S. Southwest, says the social media company's online groups offer families support and information to fight addiction.

Last year, a CNBC investigation found that sellers in the U.S. and overseas were using Facebook pages and videos to offer opioids that require a prescription.

Faith-Based Groups Hold Vigil For Preschool Funding Associated Press

Advocates for a New Mexico state constitutional amendment to boost spending on early childhood education across New Mexico are holding a series of candlelight vigils at the state Capitol.

About 30 people attended a vigil on Monday night in support of a measure that would tap more money from a state sovereign wealth fund.

Allen Sanchez of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Archbishops says several faith-based advocacy groups consider the funding proposal a moral imperative.

The House has approved an amendment to distribute an additional $150 million each year to daycare and preschool programs. Senate approval would send the issue to a statewide vote in November elections.

Critics say the plan risks drawing too much money each year from a fund seen as a trust for future generations.

Prosecutors Seek 10-Year Sentence For Former State SenatorAssociated Press

Prosecutors are recommending that a former New Mexico state senator convicted of fraud, bribery and felony ethical violations be sentenced to 10 years in prison and pay fines.

The recommendations for Phil Griego's punishment were outlined in court documents filed Monday by the New Mexico Attorney General's Office.

Prosecutors say the recommendations are aimed at deterring similar misconduct by elected officials and at adequately punishing Griego for betraying the public's trust.

Griego will be sentenced Friday in Santa Fe.

Prosecutors accused Griego of using his elected position and acumen as a real estate broker to guide the sale of a state-owned building in Santa Fe through various approvals without properly disclosing his financial interest.

Griego maintained he did nothing wrong in earning a $50,000 commission from buyers of the property.

New Mexico Senate Approves Spaceport Secrecy BillAssociated Press

The New Mexico Senate has approved confidentiality provisions for aerospace companies working out of a taxpayer-funded space launch facility in southern New Mexico.

The Senate voted 35-5 Monday for exceptions to state open-records law for information about tenants at Spaceport America. The bill moves to the House.

Sponsor and Sen. William Burt of Alamogordo says secrecy provisions won't obstruct financial audits and are bound to help attract new tenants.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government says the information restrictions are unwarranted for the New Mexico Spaceport Authority and would be unprecedented among state agencies.

State Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup says the state should consider selling the Spaceport if its finances don't improve soon. Muñoz is campaigning to lead the State Land Office that leases property to Spaceport America.

New Mexico Student-Athletics Can't Have "F" Grades Next YearAssociated Press

The body that governs New Mexico high school sports says students who received an "F'' grade won't be eligible to participate in activities and athletics next year.

The New Mexico Activities Association recently voted to make the changes requiring all student-athletes to have at least a 2.0 grade-point-average and no F grades. Students previously had been allowed one F to participate.

According to the changes, eligibility will be determined by semester grades and not six- or nine-week period grades.

Students may make-up multiple courses to attempt to gain eligibility beginning in summer 2018. Officials say the replacement classes are required to be the exact course that was listed on the official transcript.

New Mexico Lawmakers Approve Funding To Prevent SinkholeAssociated Press

The New Mexico Legislature has approved funding to help shore up a giant, man-made cavern in southern New Mexico that is on the verge of collapse.

The House of Representatives voted unanimously Monday to use a portion of excise taxes paid on vehicle sales to underwrite as much as $30 million in spending on the problem over the next three years. GOP Gov. Susana Martinez has until Thursday morning to veto or approve the measure.

Experts are painting a dire picture about the impending collapse of the giant cavern under a highway interchange that serves as a gateway to southern New Mexico's oilfields and two national parks.

The cavity was left by the extraction of a salt formation underneath the edge of Carlsbad.

Martinez Encouraged About Rural Infrastructure InvestmentsAssociated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez says she's encouraged that a sweeping plan unveiled by the Trump administration calls for investments in rural infrastructure.

The two-term Republican governor was among other leaders from around the nation who met Monday with President Donald Trump.

Trump's plan is centered on using $200 billion in federal money to leverage more than $1 trillion in local and state tax dollars for new investments and repairs of crumbling roads and airports. It also calls for a streamlined permitting process to get projects going.

During her recent state of the state address, Martinez said investing more in large-scale projects that create jobs and working with partners in Mexico to build a modern manufacturing and transportation hub along the border would be important steps for the state's economic growth.

Drought Hitting Ruidoso's Ski Season HardKVIA-TV, Associated Press

A New Mexico mountain hamlet known for its ski resort is struggling amid little snow and drought this winter.

KVIA-TV in El Paso, Texas reports Ski Apache on Sierra Blanca Mountain in Ruidoso, New Mexico has only recorded 24 inches of snow.

Ski Apache director of operations Justin Rowland says the mountain resort saw more than 300 inches of snow during the 2010 season.

Alto Ski Shop owner Jodee Damron says business has been down about 75 percent.

Tom Dorgan, owner of Ruidoso's Winter Park, says this is the driest winter the region has had in 125 years.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported last week that 80 percent of New Mexico is experience severe drought or worse conditions.

State Attorneys General Urge No Citizenship Question On CensusAssociated Press

A coalition of state attorneys general is urging the U.S. Department of Commerce to not add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, saying it could lower participation among immigrants and cause a population undercount.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led the names on a letter sent on Monday to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

The letter says adding the question "would fatally undermine the accuracy" of the 2020 count.

They were joined by Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The governor of Colorado also signed on.

There was no immediate comment from the Commerce Department.

Interior To Replace Obama-Era Rule On Methane Emissions - By Matthew Daly, Associated Press

The Interior Department says it is replacing an Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands.

A rule being published in the Federal Register this week will replace the 2016 rule with requirements similar to those in force before the Obama administration changed the regulation.

Interior had previously announced it was delaying the Obama-era rule until January 2019, arguing the rule was overly burdensome to industry. Officials said the delay would allow the federal Bureau of Land Management time to review the earlier rule while avoiding tens of millions of dollars in compliance costs to industry.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is frequently wasted through leaks or intentional releases during drilling operations. A 2016 report found a huge methane plume over New Mexico came in part from leaky pipelines and storage areas, coal bed vents and a gas processing facility.

The public has 60 days to comment.

New Mexico Lawmakers Eye Marijuana In Fight Against OpioidsAssociated Press

Some New Mexico lawmakers are pushing to add opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for the state's medical marijuana program.

Supporters gathered Monday in Santa Fe with representatives of the Drug Policy Alliance to build support for expanding access to medical marijuana.

An advisory panel has twice considered petitions calling for medical marijuana to be added as a tool in the fight against opioid abuse, most recently in November. The state Health Department said Monday that Secretary Lynn Gallagher is awaiting a report from the panel before making a decision.

New Mexico's medical marijuana program was started a decade ago and the number of licensed patients is now nearly 48,000. In Santa Fe County, the number of medical marijuana cardholders has jumped nearly 43 percent from January 2017 to January 2018. There are now seven dispensaries in the county with two more on the way.

Texas Hornshell Placed On The Endangered Species ListAssociated Press

U.S. officials have listed a freshwater mussel species from New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico as an endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the listing last week for the Texas hornshell drawing praise from environmentalists and scorn from at least one Republican congressman.

Michael Robinson at the Center for Biological Diversity says the listing gives the unique mussel an excellent chance of survival "in the face of would-be dam-builders and polluters."

But Republican Congressman Steve Pearce says the listing could harm local communities, businesses, jobs, and may reduce New Mexico's revenues from local energy production. He says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the decision despite a lack of scientific information.

The hornshell was once found throughout the Rio Grande drainage.

New Mexico Senate Seeks Income Tax Credit For Rooftop SolarAssociated Press

The New Mexico Senate has approved a tax credit that would offset costs of solar energy systems for households, small businesses and farms.

The Senate voted 35-6 on Monday for a bill that offsets income taxes to reward investments in small-scale rooftop solar investments.

The proposal now moves the House. Outgoing GOP Gov. Susana Martinez has indicated she is unlikely to support stand-alone tax measures.

Bill sponsor and Democratic state Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque says the bill reinstates tax credits that expired in 2016 and cap annual credits at $5 million. The new credit would gradually decline from 10 percent of costs to 6 percent over a 15-year period.

Republican Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque voted in favor but indicated the bill is unlikely to become law this year.