Wednesday News Roundup: Senate Panel OKs Funds To Help WIPP Reopen

Jun 18, 2014

Senate Panel OKs Funds To Help WIPP Reopen - The Albuquerque Journal

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad would get an extra $102 million to help reopen the facility, under a new Senate appropriation. 

According to the Albuquerque Journal, this extra money is over a million dollars more that what President Obama has requested.  The plant has been shut down since a February safety incident; the extra cash would be used to the help get the nuclear waste repository back on its feet.  A different subcommittee last week under the US House approved additional funds too, but the money in that proposal would be taken out of an employee pension fund. 

The Senate bill, however, would not dip into that account.   The House and Senate will have to determine a compromise on the spending allotment for WIPP and other energy projects.  A drum of radioactive waste broke open in February at the facility and leaked radiation into the environment.  The Department of Energy is focussing the investigation on nuclear waste drums from Los Alamos.


Democrat Gary King's Campaign Manager Resigns The Associated Press

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gary King's newly hired campaign manager has resigned because of disparaging comments about women and others that were posted on Twitter in the past.

The departure of Steve Verzwyvelt came Tuesday, a day after King announced he had hired the Louisiana native to run his general election campaign against Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

King announced the resignation after a conservative web site, the Washington Free Beacon, posted a story Tuesday on tweets by Verzwyvelt, many of them from 2011 and 2012.

King said in a statement he was previously unaware of the personal comments by Verzwyvelt and they were "in direct conflict with my own beliefs of tolerance, respect and decency."

Access to Verzwyvelt's Twitter account has been restricted.

Taxpayer Money For Governor’s Political TripsSanta Fe New Mexican

Taxpayers spent nearly $16,000 for Gov. Susana Martinez, her staff and her security detail to travel to out-of-state political events last fall.

The Santa Fe New Mexican has the story by Steve Terrell citing records released by the Department of Finance and Administration, and information provided by the Governor’s Office several months ago.

The department released those records in response to an IPRA request made by The New Mexican more than six months ago — although the response did not include any of the actual documents requested.

The period covered by the request spans late September through mid-December 2013.

The New Mexican cites a list of political trips provided by the Governor’s office including visits to New Jersey, Wisconsin, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas.  

Sentencing Set In Governor's Hacked Email CaseThe Associated Press

Sentencing has been scheduled in a case involving Gov. Susana Martinez's former campaign manager who pleaded guilty to stealing her email.

Jamie Estrada is slated to go before a federal judge in Albuquerque on Sept. 15.

The 41-year-old pleaded guilty this week to one count of unlawful interception of electronic communication and one count of lying to FBI agents as part of a plea deal.

Prosecutors alleged that Estrada used password and username information to change the computer account for the governor's 2010 campaign organization after Martinez took office as governor.

Estrada briefly served as campaign manager in 2009 as Martinez, a Republican, was starting her bid for New Mexico governor. An FBI affidavit in the case says he was fired.

Fewer Inmates Crowding Bernalillo County Jail - The Associated Press and Albuquerque Journal

Officials say the number of inmates at a jail in New Mexico's most populous county has been dropping.

The Albuquerque Journal said Wednesday a report provided to Bernalillo County commissioners say the number of inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Center has gone down 13 percent in the last five months.

The report says there was an average of more than 2,300 inmates in May compared to more than 2,700 in January.

County commissioners say cooperation between the courts, prosecutors and law enforcement contributed to the drop.

The county has been trying to improve conditions in the jail in response to a class-action lawsuit filed by inmates.

Under a court order, jail officials and lawyers for inmates will work on changes with the court's jail operations expert.

New Mexico Public Worker Pension Fund Returns 15% - The Associated Press

New Mexico's pension fund for state and local government workers has reached a high of $14.5 billion in assets because of strong investment performance.

Officials of the Public Employees Retirement Association told a legislative committee yesterday the fund had an investment return of about 15 percent from July 2013 through the end of last month.

The pension fund returned slightly more than 13 percent in the last fiscal year.

Since the retirement fund was established in 1985, it's had a net-of-fee return of about 9.5 percent.

The retirement system covers nearly 32,000 retirees and 50,000 state and local government workers, including police and firefighters.

A law was enacted last year to shore up the long-term finances of the pension system.

NM Counties To Share $37M In Federal Funding - The Associated Press

The federal government will be sending more than $37 million to New Mexico to compensate counties for non-taxable federal lands within their borders.

The U.S. Interior Department announced the payments yesterday. They're made each year as part of the Payments in Lieu of Taxes Program.

Nearly $437 million will be paid out nationally this year. Federal officials say that marks the largest amount ever allocated under the program. New Mexico will be getting nearly $3 million more than last fiscal year.

The payments help local governments carry out services such as police protection, firefighting and the building of schools and roads.

The Obama administration has proposed extending funding for another year.


Medicaid To Cover Overdose Drug - The Associated Press

New Mexico health and human services officials say the state Medicaid program now covers the cost of a medicine used to reverse drug overdoses.

Officials announced Tuesday that Centennial care will cover Naloxone, which is a prescription medication that can be sprayed into the nose of a person experiencing an overdose from heroin, methadone or prescription pain medications like oxycontin and hydrocodone.

The drug has been used for decades by emergency responders and hospitals to revive patients from overdose and has been distributed through public health programs across the country to drug users and their families or friends.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows New Mexico has the second highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country.

Santa Fe Superintendent To Get $9,000 Raise - The Associated Press and Santa Fe New Mexican

Santa Fe school board members have approved extending the contract for the school superintendent that includes a significant salary bump.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the board voted 4-1 Tuesday night to grant a $9,000 raise for Superintendent Joel Boyd.

Members also passed a two-year extension on Boyd's contract.

Boyd will now go from earning $171,000 to $180,000 annually.

The superintendent says he will use the raise to establish a scholarship program for students from low-income backgrounds.

Glenn Wikle, the board member who cast the dissenting vote, says the contract amounts to a "large compensation package."

Board president Steven Carrillo says the salary is on par with what superintendents in other cities with similar enrollment numbers earn.

Boyd was hired in 2012 on a two-year contract.

Santa Fe Man Drowns Swimming In Rio Grande - The Associated Press and Santa Fe New Mexican

Authorities say a Santa Fe man has drowned while swimming in the Rio Grande.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that 43-year-old Jesse J. McNamara was in the river north of Pilar on Monday shortly before 3 p.m. when he was swept underwater by currents.

Taos County Undersheriff Edwardo Romero says his girlfriend called 911 and McNamara's body was found a half-mile downstream near the Agua Fria campground.

The incident was first reported by The Taos News.

McNamara's mother, Leslie, told the New Mexican that her son was a set builder and had worked on various film and TV projects shot in New Mexico, including "Breaking Bad" and "Longmire."