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Storm To Produce Dangerous Winds, Governor Orders Hiring Freeze

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Storm To Produce Dangerous Winds In Parts Of New Mexico – Associated Press

Forecasters say an approaching storm system with potentially damaging winds is expected to pose hazards that include extreme fire conditions on New Mexico's eastern plains through Thursday and into Friday.

The National Weather Service says eastern and central New Mexico will see winds gusting up to 70 mph.

Forecasters warn of dangerous crosswinds on roads that run north and south and blowing dust that could reduce visibility to a mile or less on the eastern plains and in central New Mexico's lower elevations.

Other hazards could include damage to trees, power lines and roofs, and forecasters say lightweight objects could become airborne.

Up to 6 inches of snow are expected in the northern mountains late Thursday and early Friday .

New Mexico Governor Orders Hiring Freeze To Save CashSusan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Governor Susana Martinez has ordered a hiring freeze for all agencies under her control, a move designed to save cash pending a political standoff over funding state government and public schools.

Martinez announced the freeze Thursday in a memo sent to her cabinet secretaries. She's still disappointed that the Democrat-controlled Legislature sent her a budget built on $350 million in tax increases and fee hikes.

The two-term Republican governor has vowed not to raise taxes, but lawmakers say the lack of new revenue and the downturn in the oil and gas industry has forced the state's hand.

Martinez plans to call lawmakers back to Santa Fe to renegotiate a balanced budget, but it's unclear when that might happen.

Despite the freeze, some hiring will continue for jobs identified as critical for public safety and health.

New Mexico AG Praises Court Ruling On Special Education - Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is praising a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that bolsters the rights of millions of learning-disabled students.

The ruling issued this week requires public schools to offer special education programs that meet higher standards. The case involved a boy who attended public school outside Denver.

Balderas was among those who filed briefs in the case.

The New Mexico Democrat said Thursday the ruling reverses what had been the law in New Mexico and that educational plans for students with disabilities must be designed so that students can make progress.

School officials from across the country had cautioned the court that imposing higher standards could be too costly for some cash-strapped districts. They warned that it could also lead parents to make unrealistic demands.

Revenue Gap Hampers New Mexico Lotto Scholarship Program – Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico is not getting closer to finding a more permanent solution to solvency problems with a vital program that provides college scholarships for tens of thousands of students through lottery revenues.

The Legislature wrapped up its regular session more than a week ago without passing any measures that would affect the program's long-term bottom line.

Some have warned that the scholarships might only pay 70 percent of tuition starting next fall, but state officials are still crunching numbers.

For years now, tuition and demand for the financial aid have outpaced revenues from lottery sales.

There were measures on the table that included rolling unclaimed prize money over to the scholarship fund and setting the award at a certain amount rather than a percentage of tuition.

Liquor excise revenues that recently helped float the program are being phased out.

Suspended Northern New Mexico Judge Found In Contempt – Associated Press, Farmington Daily Times

A suspended northern New Mexico judge has been found in contempt of court after she failed to follow a court order.

The Farmington Daily Times reports that Aztec Magistrate Court Judge Connie Johnston failed to provide recordings and transcripts of private conversations captured in the Aztec Magistrate Court building. A district court judge found that Johnston violated a court order and may have altered the requested recordings.

Johnston says the court order is incorrect and that she plans to fight it.

The actions, which led to criminal contempt-of-court charges being filed Monday, stem from a civil lawsuit that alleges Johnston placed recording devices around the courthouse.

Johnston was suspended by the New Mexico Supreme Court in December 2015 in another matter, and the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission is looking into whether she violated the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

Drought Threatens Return With Warm, Dry Weather Associated Press

Forecasters with the National Weather Service say warm temperatures and dry weather are combining to create a flash drought across parts of New Mexico.

They issued the warning this week after weighing current conditions. They say the month of March has been bleak when it comes to precipitation and a ridge of high pressure sitting over the state is partly to blame.

Hydrologist Royce Fontenot says temperatures have been well above normal, with several locations setting records. The northeastern community of Clayton topped out at 87 on Saturday, surpassing the record of 81 set in 2004.

Snowpack in southern Colorado — the headwaters of the Rio Grande — is still above normal, but officials are reporting that much of the snow in New Mexico is melting quickly.

Carlsbad Caverns Sees Uptick In VisitorsAssociated Press

Carlsbad Caverns is celebrating the highest number of visitor in 15 years.

The national park says it saw higher-than-average visitation for the 2017 spring break season, hosting over 42,000 people in the first three weeks of March.

That's a 44 percent increase in visitors compared to the same period in 2016.

The park is known for its underground limestone caves. Former President Barack Obama and his family visited last summer.

NM State Land Office Says More Cash Coming To SchoolsAssociated Press

The State Land Office says schools will see an extra $18 million next month thanks to a major lease sale of oil and gas.

Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says the March 21 sale was the second highest in the office's history. It included 56 tracts covering about 16,800 acres in the state.

Public schools, the University of New Mexico and several other institutions benefit from the State Land office, which is a self-funded agency.

Oil and gas leases are on five-year terms. Royalties earned from them are paid to the Land Grant Permanent Fund, which gives millions of dollars to schools and others.

Taos County Sheriff's Sergeant Charged With FraudAssociated Press

Authorities say a sheriff's office sergeant in Taos is facing 21 felony counts of fraud, falsification of documents and perjury.

Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe says Sgt. Ricky Romero was charged Wednesday and that the department has launched an internal investigation.

The charges were brought forward by the New Mexico Attorney General's Office, which conducted the investigation. The AG's office alleges that Romero was taking payments from Medicaid for caring for an elderly person while at the same time billing the sheriff's office for work.

Authorities say the double-dipping took place between April 2012 and September 2013.

Romero has been a Taos County employee for over 16 years.

Fate Of Child Abuse Bills Frustrates New Mexico Official - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The head of New Mexico's child welfare agency is frustrated that a string of measures aimed at closing loopholes and toughening penalties for those convicted of child abuse and similar crimes failed to reach Gov. Susana Martinez's desk.

The 60-day legislative session wrapped up March 18. Left on the agenda were bills that Monique Jacobson, secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department, said would have increased accountability for those who hurt children.

One measure called for increasing penalties for intentional child abuse not resulting in death or great bodily harm.

Jacobson described photographs in which belt marks and bruises covered one boy's legs while another boy had two black eyes. She said such cases can't be minimized.

Lawmakers also let languish a measure boosting protection for social workers battered or assaulted while on the job.

Xcel Plans $1.6 Billion Wind Farms In New Mexico, West TexasAssociated Press

Xcel Energy has announced plans to invest $1.6 billion to build wind farms in eastern New Mexico and West Texas.

The energy company announced Tuesday that it has filed proposals with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission and the Public Utility Commission of Texas to construct and operate two facilities and to purchase wind under a third transaction.

Xcel plans to build a 522-megawatt wind facility about 20 miles south of Portales. The new wind farm will be the state's largest, far surpassing Xcel's other 250-watt holding in Roosevelt County. The company also plans to build a 478-megawatt farm in Hale County, Texas, just north of Lubbock.

Officials say the new wind projects will save the company's Texas and New Mexico customers about $2.8 billion over the next 30 years.

Albuquerque Police Vehicles To Carry Anti-Overdose DrugAssociated Press

Albuquerque police vehicles could soon be equipped with the anti-overdose drug naloxone.

The City Council voted Monday to equip at least half of the police department's vehicles with the drug by Sept. 30, with the remaining vehicles getting them by the end of the year.

Mayor Richard Berry still needs to approve the resolution, which speeds up deadlines for implementing a naloxone program the council previously approved in October.

The City Council has approved $10,000 for the naloxone program.

Albuquerque Police Department union President Shaun Willoughby says he is not sure police should be administering the drug, as they aren't trained medical technicians.

Judge Approves Settlement Barring ICE Cooperation – Associated Press

A federal judge has given preliminary approval to a class action lawsuit settlement that would ban the San Juan County Detention Center from cooperating with federal authorities on immigration holds.

The decision late last week came as the Trump administration publicly shamed counties and cities that don't cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The settlement is a result of a 2014 lawsuit filed on behalf of a New Mexico woman who was serving eight days in county jail and was held on an ICE detainer after she was supposed to get out.

The settlement bars the county from detaining inmates on behalf of ICE.

Some cities and counties have pushed back against cooperating with federal immigration authorities, saying doing so creates mistrust between the community and local law enforcement.

Suspect In Navajo Officer's Death Will Be HeldAssociated Press

A federal judge has determined there's probable cause for prosecutors to pursue their case against a man accused of gunning down a police officer on the nation's largest American Indian reservation.

Kirby Cleveland is charged with killing Navajo Nation Officer Houston James Largo on March 11 following what authorities call a drinking binge and domestic violence at the defendant's home in western New Mexico.

Largo was responding to the call when he was shot. He later died from his injuries at a hospital.

Cleveland appeared Wednesday in court, where the judge ordered him held pending trial.

During his initial appearance a day earlier, Cleveland said yes when the judge asked if he understood the allegations in the criminal complaint. He has yet to enter a plea.

Health Company Appealing Orders On Records, Legal CostsSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A company that formerly provided medical services to New Mexico prison inmates is appealing court orders for disclosure of certain records and for payment of legal fees of two newspapers and an advocacy group seeking the records.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that state District Judge Raymond Ortiz ruled this month that Corizon Health must pay $37,535 to attorneys for the New Mexican, the Albuquerque Journal and the Foundation for Open Government.

Ortiz ruled that payment is required because the newspapers and the foundation successfully sued to enforce the state Open Records Act.

Ortiz had ruled last August that the records of settlement agreements between Corizon and prisoners who sued the company were subject to disclosure.

The state last year announced it wasn't renewing Corizon's four-year contract.