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Effort To Regulate Dark Money Starts In NM, State Jobless Rate Falls to 6 Percent

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National Effort To Regulate Dark Money Starts In New MexicoThe Associated Press

New Mexico may take part in a fledgling effort to limit and regulate the role of money in politics by amending the U.S. Constitution.

State lawmakers are considering a pledge to help Congress ratify constitutional changes to regulate money that is spent to influence elections and governance. The proposed memorial also pledges support amendments to end partisan gerrymandering.

Heather Ferguson of the watchdog group Common Cause said Tuesday that the initiative is being introduced this year in a handful of states that include Alabama and New Hampshire.

She says New Mexico and at least 19 other states previously asked Congress to overturn Supreme Court actions that cleared the way for unlimited independent expenditures in elections.

She says the new initiative provides a streamlined template for legislatures and Congress to follow.

New Mexico's Jobless Rate Fell To 6 Percent Last MonthThe Associated Press

New Mexico's unemployment rate fell to 6 percent in December, down from two consecutive months of 6.1 percent.

The state jobless rate was at 6.7 percent in December 2016.

It's still higher than the national unemployment of 4.1 percent. But labor officials say New Mexico for the 13th consecutive month recorded aggregate gains in the private sector that resulted in 10,800 jobs, or 1.3 percent growth.

The latest figures released by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions show private service industries reported an additional 9,300 jobs while goods-producing industries grew by 2,200 jobs.

Construction and the leisure and hospitality industries both were up by 3,100 jobs.

The mining industry saw 700 jobs lost since December 2016. Local, state and federal government jobs also have dropped over the past year.

Attorney: Man Acted In Self-Defense In Fatal 2015 ShootingThe Associated Press & The Carslbad Current-Argus

Defense attorneys say a southwestern New Mexico man acted in self-defense when he fatally shot 22-year-old Andres Rojo in Artesia in 2015.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports the first day of trial began Monday for 23-year-old Daniel Aguilera, who is charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Prosecutor Ariane Navarrette told the Carlsbad court that Aguilera was upset about not being invited to a party, and no one else was armed during the confrontation that led to the death of the New Mexico State University student.

Defense attorney Gokul Krishna Sripada says Aguilera thought he saw Rojo reach for a gun, and he issued a warning before shooting.

Authorities say Aguilera also shot 25-year-old Luis Rojo who survived the encounter.

Thieves Take Off From Pet Store With Parrots Worth $5KThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

An Albuquerque pet store says two thieves took off with two parrots worth over $2,000 each.

Petland store Owner Terri Hallberg tells the Albuquerque Journal that two men stole a scarlet macaw worth $2,800 and a Timneh African grey worth $2,200 on Saturday evening.

Hallberg says the macaw is the most expensive bird that the store has ever had and added that the less of them are being bred annually.

Employee Terry Goodman says she saw the men walk out of the store with the parrots tucked under jackets.

She says she tried to chase the men and saw them fleeing in a red Chevrolet Camaro with no license plates.

As of Monday, no arrests have been made in the case.

Students Give Mixed Reviews For Sexual Misconduct TrainingThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

The University of New Mexico's sexual misconduct prevention training has garnered mixed reviews from students, but a majority says it has had some benefit.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the university's status report to the U.S. Department of Justice shows more than 75 percent of students say they better understood sexual assault and Title IX after taking "The Grey Area" course.

A similar number of students reported they had more confidence in recognizing sexual behavior that violates university policy and felt more confident in reporting that behavior.

According to the report, about 60 percent of students say the course topics were relevant.

The university's report represents opinions from more than 5,000 students who responded to a questionnaire after the training, which was required under an agreement with the Justice Department.

New Mexico Oil And Gas Lease Sale Spurs Numerous Protests - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Dozens of protests have been filed by tribal officials, environmentalists and others as federal land managers consider leasing parcels in northwestern New Mexico for oil and gas development that critics say are too close to sites they consider culturally significant.

The upcoming lease sale marks the latest flare-up in a long-running dispute over management of vast expanses of land surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The Bureau of Land Management has received 120 protests opposing the March sale. In 2014, similar concerns boiled over, resulting in the agency considering 116 appeals.

It's not clear when a final decision will come on the latest protests.

Efforts in recent years to petition the agency to set aside parts of the Chaco region as an area of critical environmental concern have been unsuccessful.

New Mexico Weighs Whether To Save Or Spend Now On EducationAssociated Press

A proposal to increase funding for early childhood education in New Mexico by distributing more money from a multibillion-dollar state sovereign wealth fund has cleared its first legislative hurdle.

A panel of House lawmakers on Monday recommended approval of the constitutional amendment by a 7-6 vote with only Democrats in support.

The initiative would increase annual distributions from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to roughly 6 percent of assets, from the current 5 percent rate.

Supporters of the measure say preschool programs desperately need more money now to expand sufficiently. The administration of GOP Gov. Susana Martinez is seeking more general fund spending for public schools and early childhood education and opposes greater investment withdrawals.

Approval by the Legislature would set up statewide vote in November on the issue.

Group Launches Effort To Break 'West Mesa Murders' CaseKRQE-TV, Associated Press

An Albuquerque non-profit group is launching a campaign aimed at helping police solve the 2009 West Mesa serial killings.

KRQE-TV in Albuquerque, New Mexico, reports Street Safe New Mexico plans to rent four billboards around the city in hopes the ads will lead to a break in the cold case.

Since 2009, police have searched for the killer of 11 women who were buried on the city's west side after disappearing between 2003 and early 2005.  Their bodies were found after a woman and her dog found a large bone protruding from the dirt.

February 2nd marks the anniversary of the discovery of the bodies.

Street Safe New Mexico is hosting a small memorial service at the site where the bodies were found.

Las Vegas Passes Resolution In Support Of RefugeesLas Vegas Optic, Associated Press

A northern New Mexico city has passed a resolution calling on all cities in the state to support refugees.

The Las Vegas Optic reports the Las Vegas City Council approved last week a symbolic measure that backs New Mexico cities who house refugees amid the partisan climate nationally around immigration.

Supporters say Las Vegas needed to make a stand as President Donald Trump tries to impose a temporary travel ban on some Muslim-majority countries and seeks immigration restrictions.

But Star Chavez, a Las Vegas resident and opponent of the resolution, says it wasn't compassionate to invite refugees to New Mexico, a state that is economically struggling.

The resolution will be forwarded to New Mexico's five federal legislators, Gov. Susana Martinez, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales.

Top New Mexico Prosecutor Sees Loophole In Child Abuse LawAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is calling for new legislation that expands the duty to report child abuse or negligence.

Balderas on Monday endorsed a bill that aims to close a loophole in the New Mexico Abuse and Neglect Act. He says current law makes it a duty to report abuse by parents, guardians and custodians of children but leaves out abuse by other people such as school personnel.

Balderas invoked as a cautionary tale the case of former teacher Gary Gregor, who has been charged with sexually abusing elementary school girls after concerns were raised in other states.

Democratic Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City introduced a bill Tuesday that would broaden state reporting obligations to cover abuse and neglect by almost anyone.

New Mexico State Senator Tells Education Secretary To ResignAssociated Press

New Mexico's top education official has been told to resign by a state senator who guides the confirmation process for political appointments.

Democratic state Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque on Monday called on Public Education Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski to resign over his comments last month about Manifest Destiny and proposed state science standards that omitted references to global warming.

Native American tribal leaders say Ruszkowski offensively referred to Manifest Destiny — the 19th century U.S. doctrine of territorial expansion — as a core American value that drives the state's education agenda.

Public Education Department spokeswoman Lida Alikhani says that Ruszkowski has no intention of resigning. She said he has reached out to Native American tribal leaders across the state to express remorse for his poorly phrased historical reference.

Feds Move Ahead To Replace US Border Barriers In New Mexico Associated Press

The Trump administration is waiving numerous laws to clear the way for replacing existing vehicle barriers along a stretch of the US-Mexico border in New Mexico.

The notice published Monday in the Federal Register says the waiver extends around 20 miles west of the Santa Teresa Port of Entry.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will replace the existing barriers with bollard walls to deter and prevent illegal crossings.

This marks the third time the Trump Administration has used broad powers under a 2005 law to waive laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act for the border barriers. In September, it waived reviews for a 3-mile stretch in Calexico, California.

Critics say the waivers are an overreach and a threat to the environment.

Rare Winter Wildfire Sparks In Eastern New MexicoEastern New Mexico News, Associated Press

Firefighters have battled a rare winter blaze in eastern New Mexico amid conditions ripe for winter wildfires from the mid-South through the Great Plains.

The Eastern New Mexico News reports authorities on Sunday were able to contain the grass fire north of Clovis, New Mexico, that grew to 3.1 square miles.

Clovis Fire Department Battalion Chief Joel Gershon says there were no injuries or structures damaged.

The cause of the fire wasn't immediately clear.

Officials warn that eastern New Mexico may see rare winter fires this season thanks to a combination of weather factors, including the climate phenomenon known as La Niña. Those conditions have left a lot of dry growth.

Former New Mexico Gov. Richardson Meets With Myanmar LeaderAssociated Press

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has met with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss the potential return of Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled from Myanmar after being attacked by the military and Buddhist mobs.

Richardson has said he also plans to push for the release of two Myanmar journalists who had been covering the military violence against the Rohingya.

It was not immediately clear what, if anything, was decided in the meeting Monday in Myanmar's capital, Naypyidaw. The Rohingya exodus, along with widespread killings and rapes reported by the refugees, have drawn global attention and brought criticism of Suu Kyi, a former Nobel Peace Prize laureate once seen as a champion of human rights.