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NM Gets Record Tobacco Settlement Payment, NM Hit By 'Flash Drought' Weather Phenomenon

Chris Vaughan

New Mexico Gets Record Tobacco Settlement Payment—Associated Press

New Mexico this year will receive the largest tobacco settlement payment it has ever received from the industry.

The state attorney general's office made the $50 million announcement Tuesday, saying the payment includes an additional $14.5 million as a result of a court ruling in which the judge sided with New Mexico over allegations that the state had been shortchanged by the industry.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said the payment will ensure additional funds are funneled to public education and health programs.

The New Mexico Legislature decides how to spend the tobacco settlement money. The largest recipient is Medicaid, which provides access to health care for low-income individuals and families.

Other programs funded by the settlement money include cancer screening, smoking cessation and services for HIV patients.

New Mexico Hit By 'Flash Drought' Weather PhenomenonThe Associated Press

Across New Mexico, unusually warm March weather and virtually no rain for a month combined to create a weather phenomenon called a flash drought.

The conditions resulted in dust storms that closed highways, warnings for some to stay inside and rapid mountain snow melting that could compromise drinking water supplies and farmers' irrigation needs.

Flash droughts leave top layers of soil bone dry.

Other affected areas include pockets of Arizona and Utah plus northern California and parts of the Midwest.

National Weather Service hydrologist Royce Fontenot says New Mexico's flash drought is ending as quickly as it began thanks to rain this week.

It's too early to say whether more severe drought conditions could affect New Mexico as summer nears.

Forecasters hope for a wet monsoon season.

DA Seeks Answers From New Mexico Supreme Court On Bail Rules - The Associated Press and The ABQ Journal

The top prosecutor for New Mexico's most populous judicial district wants the state Supreme Court to clarify the circumstances under which certain defendants can be held without bail pending trial.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez announced Wednesday that he'll be filing a writ with the high court.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Torrez's move came after he watched a federal proceeding in which a U.S. magistrate ordered Paul Salas held pending trial. Salas is accused of 47 armed robberies in the Albuquerque area.

Salas is facing state and federal charges. In state court, prosecutors tried to get him held without bail but a judge instead set bond at $100,000, which Salas didn't post.

Last year, voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing state judges to hold certain defendants without bail pending trial.

Bernalillo County Approves Upping Taxes To Raise $30 MillionThe Associated Press

Taxes are going up for residents of Bernalillo County.

The Bernalillo County commissioners voted Tuesday to raise the gross receipts tax, a move that is expected to raise $30 million in revenue. The increase of three-sixteenths of 1 cent on the receipts tax will add 18.75 cents to the cost of a $100 purchase. It does not require voter approval.

The tax increase goes into effect July 1.

In total the gross receipt tax moves from 7.3125 percent to 7.5 percent in the Albuquerque city limits and from 6.25 to 6.4275 percent in unincorporated areas of the county.

ACLU To Move Border Rights Office To El Paso From Las Cruces—Associated Press

The American Civil Liberties Union plans to move a regional center on border rights to El Paso, Texas, from Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The ACLU says it will move the regional office 46 miles (74 kilometers) south to El Paso in September to expand its presence and influence in the region and that it'll keep a small presence in Las Cruces.

The office is a collaboration of ACLU affiliates in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and San Diego.

ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson says El Paso is "an epicenter of border enforcement activity and all the civil and human rights problems that come with it. "

Simonson says ACLU of New Mexico is exploring whether to open a small office in Las Cruces after the regional office moves.

The Latest: New Mexico AG Opposes Trump's Executive Order—Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has joined other attorneys general to oppose President Donald Trump's signing of an executive order aimed at unraveling a federal plan restricting greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Balderas and the others said the Clean Power Plan is essential to mitigating climate change's effect on public health and the environment. They also warned that court action is a possibility.

Trump argues that the order would revive the coal industry and create a level playing field for energy interests.

Environmentalists in New Mexico say renewable energy and energy efficiency programs have created jobs in the state and that continuing on that path would boost job growth and reduce pollution.

Efforts Coalesce To Avoid Cavern Collapse In New Mexico—Associated Press

A state official says New Mexico is only a few steps away from being able to backfill a giant underground cavern before it collapses underneath a community of mobile homes and critical transportation routes in southern New Mexico.

Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary Ken McQueen said Monday that his agency will be prepared as soon as July to help commission engineering plans to shore up a cavity left by the extraction of a salt formation.

The formation has been washed away to use as brine by the oil and gas industry for drilling operations.

Funding for the remediation plans still requires the governor's signature and local matching dollars.

Carlsbad City Councilor Richard Doss represents residents at the threatened crossroads and says tensions are high over a possible evacuation.

White Sands Sees Increase In Visitors For 2016—Associated Press

White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico is celebrating the highest number of visits in more than a decade.

Park officials reported this week that 555,793 recreation visits were recorded at White Sands during the National Park Service's Centennial Year in 2016. That's an increase of nearly 12 percent over 2015 and the highest recorded since 1998.

National park sites across the country recorded 331 million recreation visits in 2016.

More recently, Carlsbad Caverns saw higher-than-average visitation for the 2017 spring break season, hosting over 42,000 people in the first three weeks of March.

The economic impacts of visitation to White Sands in 2016 are still being calculated. Officials said visitors in 2015 spent nearly $26 million in communities near the park and supported 387 local jobs.

UNM Extends Its Search For New President Until At Least Fall—Associated Press

The University of New Mexico is pushing back its search for a new president until at least this fall.

The selection of UNM's 22nd president originally was expected to happen by this spring.

But according to a statement issued Tuesday by the president of UNM's Board of Regents, the committee charged with evaluating candidates and picking semifinalists wants to slow down the process and extend it into the 2017-18 academic year.

The search committee wants more time to review and evaluate candidates.

Chaouki Abdallah currently serves as the school's acting president.

Former UNM President Bob Frank announced last September that he would not seek another term when his five-year contract expired and stepped down in December.

Usps, Hispanic Cultural Center Celebrate Delicioso Stamps—Associated Press

The U.S. Postal Service and the National Hispanic Cultural Center will be having a party to celebrate the issuance of a new series of stamps dedicated to the influence of Central and South American, Mexican and Caribbean foods and flavors on American cuisine.

The dedication ceremony for the Delicioso Forever Stamps will be held in April at the cultural center in Albuquerque.

The stamps feature bright illustrations of tamales, flan, empanadas, chile rellenos, ceviche and the traditional soup sancocho.

Artist John Parra designed the stamp artwork under the direction of Antonio Alcalá.

The Postal Service says each illustration was created by applying multiple layers of acrylic paint to textured boards. Sandpaper was then used to reveal the hidden layers and give the designs a worn, vintage look.

Project Aims To Help School Nurses Tackle Suicide Rates—Associated Press

Researchers in New Mexico, California and Maryland are working with public school nurses in hopes of curbing suicide rates within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community by making school grounds safer.

University of New Mexico pediatrics professor Mary Ramos and colleagues at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and the University of California-San Diego are leading the four-year project.

The researchers note that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers and rates are three to four times higher for lesbian, gay and transgender students than their peers.

The team hopes a model for change led by school nurses will result in more schools creating safe environments.

The project is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Attorney Claims AG's Office Is Ignoring Records Requests—Associated Press

A Republican lawyer who unsuccessfully ran for a state Senate seat last year is accusing the state Attorney General of withholding public records out of political spite.

Blair Dunn has filed three separate lawsuits accusing Attorney General Hector Balderas' office of violating the Inspection of Public Records Act. Dunn says Balderas is letting his staff ignore Dunn's requests because of politics.

Attorney General's Office spokesman James Hallinan says Dunn mistyped the email address for requesting public records and that his requests were never received. He says that now that the office has received Dunn's requests, they are being handled.

Dunn is seeking emails or other communications employees of the Attorney General's office had with two people who have pending whistleblower lawsuits against the Secretary of State's Office.

New Mexico Governor Celebrates Safelite Jobs—Associated Press

An insurance claim and support center operated by Safelite Solutions is two years ahead of its hiring schedule and plans to hire more workers than originally anticipated.

Gov. Susana Martinez joined company executives and local officials in Rio Rancho on Tuesday to celebrate the grand opening of Safelite's center.

Since June, the company has created 517 full-time jobs and 288 part-time positions. Safelite plans to have more than 1,000 employees at its Rio Rancho operation by the end of the year.

The grand opening comes as New Mexico struggles to overcome one of the nation's highest unemployment rates. Figures released last week put February's jobless rate at 6.8 percent.

Martinez said New Mexico can continue to attract jobs if elected leaders work to create a business-friendly environment in the state.