Supreme Court Backs Removal Of Religious Monument In NM

Oct 16, 2017

US Supreme Court Backs Push To Remove Ten Commandments Monument In NMThe Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with a lower court that ordered a New Mexico city to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the lawn outside City Hall.

Civil liberties advocates behind the case called the decision involving the city of Bloomfield a victory for the separation of church and state.

However, David Cortman, a senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation with Alliance Defending Freedom, said the outcome did nothing to resolve confusion in lower courts involving such monuments.

The decision came after attorneys for the city argued that the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ignored previous rulings by the Supreme Court that simply being offended by such a monument did not give someone a legal basis to challenge the monument.

In Bloomfield, a concrete block that displays the Ten Commandments sits alongside other monuments related to the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address and Bill of Rights.

Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the court's action because he was on the federal appeals court in Denver when it considered the matter.

US Judge Hears Fight Over New Mexico Campaign ContributionsThe Associated Press

Attorneys for Republican Steve Pearce are seeking a preliminary injunction to tap nearly $1 million in political contributions he collected while in Congress to use in his gubernatorial run.

They argued during a hearing in federal court Monday that New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, is misinterpreting a state law that limits campaign contributions and is effectively violating Pearce's constitutional rights.

They say the transfer of funds between Pearce's federal and state accounts should not be considered as an individual contribution. They also highlighted inconsistencies in the reporting law, which allows candidates running for offices within the state to transfer money from one account to another despite the limits.

Attorneys for the state denied that the defendants are treating Pearce differently due to his party affiliation.

UNM Sees Growth Among Online-Only StudentsThe Associated Press

The University of New Mexico has seen a 65 percent increase in its number of online-only students in the last three years.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the school's leaders view the increase as a positive step toward broadening the student base but don't view it as a cure-all for the institution's larger budget woes.

This fall, the university has 1,857 online-only students, up from 1,536 last year and 1,122 in 2014.

The university currently has 7,877 students, out of a total 26,278, who take at least one online course.

Based on fall 2017 figures, 7 percent of all students at the state's largest university now attend exclusively through the internet, and nearly one out of every three UNM students take at least one online course.

Ex-Eunice Public Schools Bookkeeper Accused Of EmbezzlementThe Associated Press

New Mexico State Police say a former bookkeeper for the Eunice Public Schools has been arrested on suspicion of embezzlement and fraudulent use of a credit card.

They say Kristen McLean has been booked into the Lea County Detention Center.

It was unclear Monday if she has a lawyer yet.  State Police didn't immediately release details about the charges against McLean or when they alleged offenses occurred.

After an initial inquiry was completed by the Eunice Public Schools, they requested the State Police for assistance.

Police say McLean failed to appear for two interviews about the allegations and didn't return calls or messages.

They got an arrest warrant for McLean based on the information provided from the school district.

New Mexico Education Secretary Defends Science OverhaulAssociated Press

New Mexico's public education secretary is defending new proposed science standards that have been widely criticized for deleting or omitting references to global warming, evolution and the age of the earth.

State education officials are holding their one and only public hearing Monday to gather comments on the proposed standards.

In a public message published Sunday, Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski says the new standards will give teachers and families flexibility and local control around science materials, curriculum and content. He did not specifically address how the standards address the teaching of evolution and climate change.

Top scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, science education associations and major New Mexico school districts are asking the state to adopt unedited standards developed by a consortium of states.

Winds Keep Pilots From Flying At Albuquerque Balloon FiestaKOB-TV, Associated Press

Windy conditions prevented pilots from flying on the final day of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

KOB-TV reports that event officials raised the red flag around 8:40 a.m. Sunday, canceling all flying events at Balloon Fiesta Park.

The station says visitors at the park saw a static display on the last day of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, and those balloons that inflated did not stay up for long before the red flag went up.

Sunday was the only day over the nine-day event where a mass ascension didn't take place.

However, KOB says some balloons not associated with the Balloon Fiesta did take off away from the park grounds.

The 46th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was expected to draw close to a million visitors to central New Mexico.

Los Alamos National Bank Lays Off 10 Percent WorkforceAssociated Press

Los Alamos National Bank is laying off about 10 percent of its workforce as part of a broad effort to reduce business costs.

The bank's CEO, John Gulas, announced the 26 layoffs on Friday.

He says the decision is based on a strategic business review conducted by the bank's board of directors and senior executives in the last few months.

Gulas told the Albuquerque Journal that the bank is reorganizing some operations to cut costs.

It replaced old data-processing systems with more modern ones and it revised staffing models.

Los Alamos National Bank also expects to save money by fully exiting from temporary consent orders it reached with federal regulators a few years ago to resolve problems in its loan portfolio in the aftermath of the recession.

New Mexico Natural Disasters Bring In $296M In FEMA AidAssociated Press

Local and state agencies in New Mexico have received more than $296 million in disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency since 1999.

An analysis by The Associated Press shows that New Mexico didn't have any cases that resulted in appeals based on the funding the agency decided to award. In some states, FEMA has denied appeals for tens of millions of dollars in applications for disaster aid.

New Mexico's disasters over the past 20 years have included wildfires and flooding as the result of heavy runoff following severe storms.

The state's costliest disasters in terms of federal financial aid involved flooding in 2014.

Gov. Susana Martinez declared back-to-back emergencies as storms in July, August and September 2014 resulted in damaged roads, bridges and other infrastructure in several communities.

Martinez Appoints New Members To State Water Resources PanelAssociated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez has appointed two new members to a state water resources commission, which has seen three members resign recently amid what critics described as a simmering conflict with the state's top water regulator, State Engineer Tom Blaine.

The governor's office on Friday announced her appointments of Carolyn Hollifield of Roswell and Samuel Gonzales of Aztec to the Interstate Stream Commission.

The commission is responsible for protecting, conserving and developing water resources across New Mexico.

Martinez's office said Hollifield is a rancher and a board member of the Chaves County Soil and Water Conservation District and that Gonzales is an irrigator who is an acequia member.

The governor appoints both the state engineer and the commission members. The state engineer also serves on the commission.

New Mexico Candidate Says She's Working To Resolve Tax LiensAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A candidate for New Mexico lieutenant governor says she's working to resolve over $15,000 of unpaid Utah tax bills that she says stem from confusion over filing taxes jointly with her husband, who lives in Utah.

Republican Kelly Zunie told the Albuquerque Journal that she was largely unaware of the Utah tax liens until being contacted by the newspaper.

Zunie says she's "stepping up and taking care of it."

She also acknowledged other past financial problems, including a 2002 bankruptcy filing with her husband.

Zunie says she has no plans to give up her bid for lieutenant governor. She is the only GOP candidate running for the office.

Zunie served for two years as Gov. Susana Martinez's Cabinet secretary for the Department of Indian Affairs until stepping down in July.

State Auditor Questions Charter School Administrators' TripsAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

State Auditor Tim Keller says he's concerned that the top two administrators at an Albuquerque charter school are taking lavish work trips using money from the school's nonprofit foundation.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Keller says taxpayers deserve an explanation for the roughly $16,000 spent on out-of-state travel that included stays at luxury resorts for Jasper and Keisha Matthews who operate The GREAT Academy.

Academy Executive Director Jasper Matthews says the travel expenses follow guidelines, and they have not had any violations for their travel. He says the expenses covered three educational conferences and the stays were at host hotels.

Keller's concerns follow previous criticisms that the husband-and-wife administrative team was earning a combined $300,000 a year — the highest charter school salaries in New Mexico.

New Mexico Joins Lawsuit On ACA SubsidiesAssociated Press

New Mexico has joined a long list of states that are challenging President Donald Trump's decision to end provisions of the Affordable Care Act that lower out-of-pocket medical costs.

Attorney General Hector Balderas confirmed Friday that New Mexico would participate in the lawsuit.

In anticipation of the move by Trump to discontinue the subsides to insurers, New Mexico insurance regulators already have approved record-setting health premium increases of 36 percent for next year on the state's subsidized exchange. Further increases are not expected next year.

State insurance superintendent spokeswoman Heather Widler emphasized that direct marketplace subsidies to low-income consumers will continue.

Forest Officials Advise Visitors To Watch For Mountain LionAssociated Press

Gila National Forest officials say visitors to the Mogollon Box day-user area northwest of Silver City should be on the lookout for a mountain lion.

Forest officials say they're posting education and cautionary signs because they've received a report of a possible sighting.

According to forest officials, mountain lions tend to spend daytime hours in dense cover and be out more at dawn and dusk.

They recommend that anybody encountering a mountain lion to back away slowly while continuing to look as big and intimidating as possible, while leaving the lion avenues of escape.

Pueblo Potter To Give Annual Rudolfo Anaya Lecture At UNMAssociated Press

The University of New Mexico has announced that Native American potter and poet Nora Naranjo Morse will give the annual lecture named after Mexican-American novelist Rudolfo Anaya.

Naranjo Morse is scheduled to speak on campus Oct. 27 for the Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya Lecture on the Literature of the Southwest.

The lecture was created through a donation from the Pastura, New Mexico-born author who also founded the university's creative writing program.

Naranjo Morse, a member of the Santa Clara Pueblo, is an internationally known sculptor, poet, filmmaker and producer of films on Pueblo life and culture.

University of New Mexico English professor Bernadine Hernandez says in recent years Acoma Pueblo poet Simon Ortiz and novelist Rigoberto Gonzalez have been keynote speakers for the lecture series.