Special Session Underway, Man Who Killed Officer Gets Life In Prison

Sep 30, 2016

Special Session Underway In New MexicoThe Associated Press

The New Mexico state Legislature has convened for a special session to resolve a major budget shortfall and consider stiffer criminal sentencing laws.

The session began Friday and set the stage for public debate on taxes and government spending and the emotionally charged issue of capital punishment ahead of November general elections that could shift the balance of power in the New Mexico Legislature. Republicans are defending a House majority, and Democrats control the Senate.

New Mexico finished the budget year in June with a $131 million deficit after exhausting operating reserves, as a sustained downturn in energy markets cut into state revenues and rippled through the economy. At last count, the $6.2 billion general fund spending plan for the current year exceeds estimated revenues by $458 million.

Shooter In Officer Death Sentenced To Life Term – The Associated Press

A judge has sentenced a New Mexico man who shot and killed a suburban Albuquerque police officer to life in prison, plus 23 years, after hearing tearful testimony from the fallen officer's widow.

Andrew Romero faced a Sandoval County judge Friday — a week after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Rio Rancho Officer Gregg "Nigel" Benner.

Authorities say Romero shot Benner in May 2015 after the officer pulled over a vehicle that his girlfriend at the time was driving. The vehicle had questionable license plates, and Romero was in the passenger seat.

Tabitha Littles, who was driving the vehicle, agreed to testify against Romero under a plea deal with prosecutors.

Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico Officials Agree To Land SwapThe Associated Press 

The Cochiti Pueblo have acquired 9,000 acres of ancestral land as part of a deal made with New Mexico officials and a longtime Santa Fe family.

The tribe purchased 2.7 acres on the Old Santa Fe Trail specifically for the land swap. The pueblos traded the land they bought from the Catron family to the State Land Office in exchange for thousands of acres of state trust land near Cochiti.

Papers were signed at the Land Office on Thursday.

The Cochiti Pueblo people have been trying to reclaim the land for half a century. It was important to their forefathers, who migrated from the Bandelier area to the fertile Rio Grande Valley.

The transfer could also lead to the redevelopment of the historic hotel on the Old Santa Fe Trail.

PNM Details Effects Of Rate Hike For Electric CustomersThe Associated Press

Customers of New Mexico's largest electric provider will see their bills increase soon.

The state Public Regulation Commission this week approved the rate increase after more than a year of debate, public hearings, protests and legal challenges.

The new rates will take effect once commissioners sign off on a filing by Public Service Co. of New Mexico that details the effects of the higher rates. That's expected to happen Friday.

Officials initially said the increase would amount to roughly 10 percent, but PNM spokesman Pahl Shipley says calculations show the overall average increase will be closer to 7 percent.

The utility had initially requested an increase of more than 14 percent, saying it needed to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on infrastructure.

Santa Fe Archbishop Holding Forum On Child Well-Being Associated Press

Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester is set to hold a symposium on child well-being in New Mexico after a string of high-profile child abuse cases and reports of the state's high child poverty rate.

Wester will convene experts and child advocates to a public forum on Saturday at St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque.

The symposium comes weeks after Albuquerque police found a 10-year-old's dismembered body in a tub. Authorities say the girl's mom admitted to officers that her boyfriend raped the girl after giving her methamphetamine.

It also comes as the Albuquerque advocacy group New Mexico Voices for Children said earlier this year New Mexico had the highest rate of child poverty in the United States.

Stakes Are High In New Mexico's Special Legislative SessionAssociated Press

New Mexico legislators are under pressure to balance a badly listing state budget and contemplate tougher sentencing provisions for violent crime, including reinstatement of the death penalty.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez convened a special session of the legislature at noon on Friday in Santa Fe to mend budget deficits and attack violent crime with stiffer sentencing laws.

The former district attorney wants to bring back the death penalty to New Mexico, even as several states have recently repealed capital punishment.

Agreements on taxes and spending, and crime and punishment, may be hard to reach ahead of November elections.

Trial Date Set For Former New Mexico SenatorAssociated Press

Former New Mexico Sen. Phil Griego will stand trial more than a year from now in a corruption case linked to his private commission on the sale of a state-owned building.

State District Court Judge Brett Loveless during a hearing Thursday set an Oct. 30, 2017 trial date.

State prosecutors allege Griego, a Democrat, used his position as a senator to profit from the 2014 sale of a state-owned building in downtown Santa Fe by pushing approval of the transaction through the Legislature without proper disclosure.

Griego has pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud, bribery, perjury, tampering with public records and possible violations of public ethics and financial disclosure statutes.

He resigned from the Senate last year amid an ethics investigation.

4th Case Of Wound Botulism This Year Reported In New MexicoAssociated Press

State health officials say they're investigating the fourth case of wound botulism so far this year in a 26-year-old woman from Bernalillo County.

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, the unidentified patient is an injection drug user and the suspected source of infection is a soiled skin injection site, contaminated injection devices or contaminated heroin.

The woman currently is hospitalized.

Two of the previous three cases in were residents of Rio Arriba County and one was a resident of Santa Fe County.

Botulism is a rare but potentially deadly illness caused by a nerve toxin that induces paralysis.

Wound botulism is caused by the toxin produced from a wound infected with bacteria called Clostridium botulinum.

Highlands University Gets New Federal STEM Grants Associated Press

A new federal grant aims to help women and Latino students at Highlands University earn degrees in science and technology.

The northern New Mexico school announced this week it was awarded a three-year, $740,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program.

The university's vice president of strategic enrollment management Edward Martinez says the grant will help diversify the STEM workforce.

The grants will be administered through Highlands University's Achieving in Research, Math and Science Center.

Highlands established the Achieving in Research Math and Science Center in 2009 with a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Officials say since 2009, ARMAS has helped more than 1,700 students at Highlands.

Authorities Suspend Search For Missing Climber Near Aspen Aspen Times, Associated Press

Authorities have suspended the search for a 49-year-old New Mexico man who went climbing in the Aspen area and did not return.

The Pitkin County Sheriff's Office suspended the search Thursday after eight days of looking for David Cook, of Albuquerque.

The Aspen Times reports Cook was planning to climb some 14,000-foot-plus mountains, including the Maroon Bells, some of the most photographed peaks in Colorado. He set out Sept. 19 and was reported overdue the following day.

A Forest Service employee reported seeing Cook the morning of Sept. 20 near Maroon Lake. That was the last confirmed sighting of the climber.

An aerial search was hampered at times by bad weather.

Audit: New Mexico Spends $500 Million Out Of State Associated Press

The State Auditor has found that government agencies in New Mexico last year spend more than $500 million of taxpayer money out of state when it could have been spent locally.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that state Auditor Tim Keller said Wednesday that those figures are among the initial findings of an audit looking at overall contracts over $60,000 entered into by local and state government entities.

The full audit will be released later this year, covering a total of $1.3 billion in contract spending.

Keller said at the Economic Forum that the largest percentage of out-of-state spending happens in the IT, health and medical and food services industries. However most money spent in construction, architecture and engineering was spent in-state.

Bull Snakes Cause Power Outage Near Albuquerque KOAT-TV, Associated Press

Power crews near Albuquerque have had it with the snakes inside transformer boxes.

KOAT-TV reports that officials say two bull snakes are to blame for a Tuesday power outage at Rio Rancho's V. Sue Cleveland High School. Maintenance crews tracked the outage to the school's solar panels, where they found a bull snake hanging next to wires in the transformer box. Another was on the ground nearby.

In a photograph, the snake looks like a cluster of wires at first glance.

Beth Pendergrass of Rio Rancho Public Schools says the snake crawled on the truss, which carries 12,000 volts. The school believe the snakes' scales carried moisture onto the high voltage line, shorting the power supply.

Power crews say the snakes did not survive.

Coalition Opposes Tax Exemption For LANL, Sandia Associated Press

A New Mexico coalition is pushing to prevent tax-exempt operators from taking over the Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories and depriving the state of the labs' hefty tax contributions.

The Los Alamos Monitor reports that the Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Laboratory Communities has asked state lawmakers to consider eliminating the exemption status for any potential future nonprofit contractors at the laboratories.

The coalition wants the state to continue to receive the roughly $200 million in annual gross receipts tax, even if nonprofit management takes over. Los Alamos County receives about $30-$40 million of the $200 million.

The two labs are in the process of finding new contractors. They are currently run by for-profit entities: Sandia Corporation and Los Alamos National Security, LLC.