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KUNM News Update

Governor Proposes Free College Tuition Plan, State Joins Opioids Settlement With Purdue

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New Mexico Weighs Tuition-Free College For Local Students – Associated Press

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham wants to provide free tuition and waive fees for in-state students across the state's network of public universities, colleges and community colleges.

The first-year Democratic governor announced the proposal for an "opportunity scholarship" on Wednesday at a community college in Albuquerque. It would cover costs not already paid for by federal scholarships and state lottery proceeds.

The plan thrusts New Mexico to the forefront of a national political conversation about soaring student debt and tuition costs.

Free tuition would be available at continuing education programs for older students but not for graduate studies such as medical or law school.

Approval by the Legislature, which is led by Democrats, is needed to tap general fund dollars to cover tuition. New Mexico's general fund is bulging amid an oil production boom.

New Mexico Court Says Prison Settlements Are Public RecordsAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A New Mexico appellate court has determined that settlement agreements reached between a prison health care contractor and its patients are public records.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the state Court of Appeals upheld a judge's decision that prison settlements are public records reaffirming that private entities performing a public function for a public agency are subject to the Inspection of Public Records Act.

Officials say the decision comes more than three years after news outlets, including the Albuquerque Journal, submitted written requests to the state corrections department for settlement records involving Corizon Health.

Outlets say the company settled claims in 2016 for nearly $4.6 million related to a physician suspected of sexually abusing inmates.

The company said IPRA did not require settlement release due to confidentiality agreements.

Medical Marijuana Cards On Hold For Non-New Mexico ResidentsAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico health officials have refused to issue medical marijuana identification cards to out-of-state residents despite a recent order by a judge.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the state Department of Health asked a judge to reconsider a ruling that New Mexico must allow nonresidents to participate in its medical cannabis program.

Health officials say the ruling is not final, because it could be held pending an appeal and that they are waiting until the legal dispute is resolved.

An attorney says the department should be held in contempt of court.

State attorneys say allowing nonresidents to participate would encourage the illegal transport of cannabis across state lines.

Officials say the ruling signed into law this year was a simple drafting error and was not aimed at granting out-of-state residents ID cards.

Weather Radar Proposal To Improve Forecasts In Four CornersDurango Herald, Associated Press

A national weather agency has announced plans to lower its radar system elevation to better track weather in the Four Corners region including southwest Colorado.

The Durango Herald reports that the National Weather Service has proposed adjusting its Grand Junction radar to track areas that were originally blind spots.

Department officials say major radar hubs in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado track data at an elevation higher than where storms usually occur resulting in weather forecasters missing numerous incoming storms.

Officials say the proposal could take up to two years to implement and requires a software adjustment to the system that would not alleviate blind spots in La Plata County or Durango.

A permanent weather radar system in Durango received funding earlier this year, but there is no project timeline.

Judges Tosses Out Lawsuit By Ex-Gallup Police ChiefGallup Independent, Associated Press

A judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed by former Gallup Police Chief Phillip Hart against the western New Mexico city.

The Gallup Independent reports Eleventh Judicial District Judge Robert Aragon dismissed Friday a complaint by Hart, who claimed the city of Gallup violated his rights and prevented him from carrying out his job duties.

Hart was fired in August 2018 as he and the city of Gallup were embroiled in year-long legal disputes.

Hart disputed the city's policy of allowing community service aides to pick up and commit intoxicated residents to the detoxification center.

Hart's attorney JoHanna Cox says the ex-chief plans to appeal Aragon's decision.

Police Say New Mexico Child Dies After Being Left In VehicleAssociated Press

A New Mexico woman has been charged in the death of a toddler who was left in a vehicle.

Investigators with the Hobbs Police Department say Tammy Brooks was supposed to drop off the 2-year-old child at daycare Tuesday morning but drove to work instead. The child was left unattended in a car seat for hours until Brooks realized the child was still in the car after running an errand.

Rescue crews responded after receiving a 911 call around 1:30 p.m. The child was declared dead at the scene. An autopsy will be conducted.

The 41-year-old Brooks is charged with abandonment or abuse of a child resulting in death. She's being held in the Hobbs City Jail pending arraignment. It was not immediately known if she had an attorney.

New Mexico State Sen. Carlos Cisneros Dies At 71 – Associated Press

New Mexico state Sen. Carlos Cisneros, a Democrat from Questa who served in the Legislature for 35 years as a key negotiator on state spending, has died. He was 71.

Cisneros' death Tuesday from a heart attack was confirmed by the Legislative Council Service.

Cisneros first won election to the Senate in 1984 and went on to play a leading role in annual budget negotiations and legislation on tax policy.

He represented a vast district that stretches from the state line with Colorado to the outskirts of Los Alamos, including Taos, Peñasco, Truchas and Pojoaque Pueblo.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was saddened by Cisneros' death and that he played an important role for decades in designating infrastructure projects across the state.

She credited him with drafting successful legislation this year that increases state investments in small businesses.

New Mexico Has Joined Opioids Settlement With PurdueAssociated Press

New Mexico state prosecutors have reversed course to join in a tentative financial settlement over the role that OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma played in the nation's opioid addiction crisis.

Attorney General's Office spokesman Matt Baca confirmed this week that New Mexico will participate in a settlement involving about half of states under bankruptcy proceedings for Purdue.

Baca said the attorney general's office wants to ensure an accurate accounting of assets held by Purdue and the Sacklers that would go toward services to communities ravaged by opioids.

More than 2,600 opioids-related lawsuits have been filed against Purdue.

Prosecutors initially said New Mexico would decline to join the settlement because it was insufficient. New Mexico sued the Sacklers last week on allegations of deceptive practices that helped flood the state with opioids.

Report: New Mexico Needs To Boost Mental Health ServicesSusan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Independent federal investigators say there's a need for mental health services in New Mexico, but many counties in the sparsely populated state lack licensed providers who can serve patients who rely on government assistance.

A report released Monday by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department's inspector general details the challenges for Medicaid patients when it comes to accessing behavioral health care.

The report states that improving access is essential in New Mexico, where more than half of adults with mental illness do not receive treatment.

The report notes that the state has among the highest rates in the nation for suicide and overdose deaths. It also ranks as one of the poorest states, with more than half of the population either uninsured or covered by public health insurance.

Groups Sue Over Pollution Downstream Of Los Alamos LabAssociated Press

Environmental groups are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over storm water contamination downstream of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The groups claim the runoff contains heavy metals, byproducts from decaying radioactive elements and manmade chemicals known as PCBs. They say some of the pollutants are more than 10,000 times public safety limits and should be considered a threat to public health.

In a complaint filed late Monday, the groups say the pollution should have triggered federal action to reduce or eliminate discharges through permit requirements but that the EPA failed to act.

The groups say the federal agency has not responded to previous petitions and letters asking that the pollution be addressed. They first threatened legal action in June , saying they would sue over violations of the Clean Water Act.

New Mexico Tribe Loses Claim To National PreserveAssociated Press

A federal judge has rejected an effort by a Native American tribe to reclaim Valles Caldera National Preserve.

U.S. District Judge James Browning issued a sealed opinion denying Jemez Pueblo's claim that its aboriginal property rights were never extinguished. He found that the federal government had clear title to the land.

The ruling came Aug. 31 following a trial held last year in Albuquerque.

Tribal officials and their attorneys could not be reached for comment. It's unclear if they plan to appeal.

Valles Caldera is home to vast grasslands, the remnants of one of North America's few super volcanoes and one of New Mexico's most famous elk herds.

The pueblo considers the nearly 140-square-mile swath of federally managed public land as a spiritual sanctuary and part of its traditional homeland.

Parties Renegotiate Costs Of New Mexico Water SystemAssociated Press

Federal managers, Native American tribes and others have renegotiated the costs of a drinking water system that will serve communities in northern New Mexico.

The Bureau of Reclamation says with the signed agreement, the start of construction on the Pojoaque Basin regional water system is one step closer. Work is expected to begin next year.

The system will consist of treatment facilities, storage tanks and transmission and distribution pipelines.

It will be able to supply more than 1 billion gallons of drinking water annually to the pueblos of Nambé, Tesuque, San Ildefonso and Pojoaque and other customers in Santa Fe County.

The agreement is a product of nearly a year of negotiations. It contains about $15 million in cost-saving measures and additional financial commitments from the partners.