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KUNM News Update

NM Education Dept. Seeks Teacher Evaluation Fixes, Lawmakers Move On Ethics and Campaign Finance

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New Mexico Education Dept. Seeks Teacher Evaluation FixesThe Associated Press

New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera is asking lawmakers to pass legislation aimed at reducing the percentage student test scores count on teacher evaluations.

Skandera said Monday she is recommending that student achievement be dropped from 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation to 40 percent. She also would like principal observations to be counted more.

In addition, Skandera says she'd like to see an increase in the number of days exempt in teacher attendance from 3 days to 5.

Skandera says she is recommending these changes after she went on a "listening tour" around the state and gathered feedback from teachers.

Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein says teachers feel the overall evaluation system is flawed and don't think a 10 percent reduction in student test scores cut it.

Lawmakers Move Quickly On Ethics, Campaign Finance Bills – Associated Press

Efforts to reform New Mexico's political ethics and campaign finance regulations are off to a fast start in the New Mexico Legislature amid recent high-profile corruption scandals and public pressure for change.

The open government advocacy group Common Cause New Mexico released polling results Monday that show broad support for the creation of an independent ethics commission in the state, a cooling off period before public officials can become lobbyists and greater campaign finance disclosures for independent political groups.

In the first weeks of a 60-day legislative session, committees have advanced bills addressing those issues. New Mexico is one of eight states without an independent ethics body.

Common Cause Campaign Manager Heather Ferguson says campaign finance excesses and mysteries of the 2016 election season highlight the need for greater disclosure.

Attorney Generals Of 16 States Condemn Trump's Travel BanAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has joined 15 other AGs in opposition to President Donald Trump's travel ban barring citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations from entry into the U.S.

A federal judge in New York issued an order Saturday temporarily blocking the government from deporting people with valid visas who arrived after Trump's travel ban took effect.

But confusion remains about who could stay and who will be kept out of the country in the coming weeks.

In a statement Sunday, Balderas and the other attorneys general condemn Trump's executive order as unconstitutional and un-American.

He says they'll work together to ensure the federal government obeys the Constitution and protect religious liberty.

Balderas says the AGs are confident Trump's order will ultimately be struck down by the courts.

Trump Wants To Enlist Local Police In Immigration CrackdownAssociated Press

To build his highly touted deportation force, President Donald Trump is reviving a program that deputizes local officers to enforce federal immigration law.

The program received scant attention as Trump announced on the same day his plans to build a border wall and hire thousands more federal agents as he looks to fulfill promises from his campaign.

The program has fallen out of the favor in recent years amid complaints from critics that it promotes racial profiling.

More than 60 police and sheriff's agencies had the special authority in 2009.

Since then, the number has been halved and the effort scaled back amid complaints officers weren't focusing on catching violent offenders and instead arrested immigrants for minor violations.

200 Acres Sought For New Veterans' Cemetery Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A new burial site for those who served in the armed forces is needed before the Santa Fe National Cemetery reaches capacity by the mid-2020s.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the Department of Veteran Affairs' National Cemetery Administration has started a search for 200 acres or more near the northern border of New Mexico's most populous city.

Santa Fe National Cemetery director Susan Parks said officials are working to ensure veterans in Albuquerque and Santa Fe have a final resting place that respects their service.

Parks said the new site's capacity is expected to reach 95,000.

She the land purchase is budgeted and funding would be requested for development.

Property owners can apply for consideration before Feb. 7.

The Santa Fe cemetery is expected to fill before 2030.

Veto Leaves New Mexico Legislature Without CashAssociated Press

The New Mexico Legislature will have to try again to fund its own operations after Republican Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a bill to pay for the current legislative session.

Republican lawmakers urged colleagues Saturday to approve a bill with a smaller spending allowance for the Legislature than the proposal backed by the Democratic majority in the House and Senate.

In her veto message, Martinez sharply accused Democrats of trying to protect funding for the Legislative branch of government amid a budget crisis in state government.

The vetoed bill includes emergency funding for the Judiciary to cover costs for juries, court interpreters and clerk's offices.

Republican lawmakers object to appropriations for the Legislature that exceed final expenses in previous years. The Legislature typically sets aside more money than it spends.

Three Lawmakers Invite Mexican President To Address State House – Associated Press

Three state lawmakers have formally invited Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to address the New Mexico House Chamber during the current legislative session.

Democratic Reps. Bill McCamley, Javier Martinez and Angelica Rubio sent a letter to Nieto last Friday.

There's no word yet if Nieto will accept the invitation.

The Mexican president recently cancelled a scheduled meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump over the border wall controversy.

McCamley and Rubio both represent border communities that benefit from the exchange of goods, ideas and cultures between the two countries.

Martinez is the son of immigrants and says he takes pride in New Mexico's multicultural heritage.

Nuclear Repository Working To Address Post-Start FindingsCarlsbad Current-Argus, Associated Press

The U.S. Energy Department expects the remaining corrective actions needed at the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository to be completed early this year.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant resumed some operations at the end of December following a final inspection by a team of agency inspectors. They identified a total of 36 findings, most of which were addressed before the plant reopened.

A 2014 radiation release in one of the underground storage vaults had forced the facility to close.

Of the remaining findings to be addressed as operations ramp up, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reports 10 have yet to be corrected.

The Energy Department's Carlsbad Field Office is working to obtain more spare parts for the interim ventilation system, provide training to certain employees and hire additional personnel.

New Mexico Agency Imposes Pecan Tree Quarantine In 4 CitiesAssociated Press

A 60-day quarantine is being imposed in four eastern New Mexico communities to restrict the movement of pecan trees in those communities in order to protect the pecan industry from an insect pest.

The state Department of Agriculture says its quarantine bars movement of residential pecan trees within the city limits of Clovis, Roswell, Hobbs, and Artesia without a permit issued by the department.

The department says the pecan weevil has been found in pecan trees in the four communities but not it commercial orchards.

According to the department and the Cooperative Extension Service of New Mexico State University, early detection and eradication can prevent pecan weevil becoming established elsewhere.

Commentator's Campus Appearance Draws Cheers, ProtestsAssociated Press

Hundreds of people protested a far-right commentator's appearance at the University of New Mexico while hundreds in a campus audience cheered him.

A college Republicans organization hosted Milo Yiannopoulos' Friday night appearance on the Albuquerque campus.

Yiannopoulos writes for right-wing Breitbart News and is permanently banned from Twitter after leading a harassment campaign.

Yiannopoulos discussed a variety of topics, including President Donald Trump, freedom of speech and illegal immigration, and he said hate speech is something that critics say about opinions they dislike.

Protesters had signs saying: "White supremacy is inexcusable," ''Don't be a puppet of hate," and "Immigrants are welcome, fascists are not."

Police escorted a handful of people from the venue.

Las Cruces Getting New Veterans Affairs Health Care Clinic Associated Press

Work to build a new health care clinic for veterans in southern New Mexico is underway.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that a Feb. 10 groundbreaking is scheduled for the Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Las Cruces.

Director Michael L. Amaral of the El Paso Veterans Affairs Healthcare System says site preparation has begun, setting the stage for start of actual construction of the new facility.

Members of the state's congressional delegation have advocated for a new facility to replace the current facility with a larger one that could provide more services.