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TUES: Las Cruces Votes To Support Legalizing Marijuana + More

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Las Cruces Council Backs Legalizing Marijuana In New Mexico – Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

City officials in Las Cruces have voted to support a bill legalizing recreational marijuana throughout New Mexico.

The Sun-News reported that the City Council passed the resolution on Monday. Mayor Ken Miyagishima cast the only opposing vote.

City officials say the vote is a show of support and does not mandate policy. They add the bill would legalize cannabis for recreational use for people 21 years of age and older and would require dispensaries to serve medical patients, automatically expunge past cannabis convictions and allow people with past cannabis convictions to hold jobs in the industry.

The bill would also make medical marijuana tax-free by taxing recreational cannabis at under 20% and establishing a fund to subsidize medical marijuana for low-income patients, officials said.

The state marijuana legalization work group proposed laying out a 9% state excise tax and city and county taxes not to exceed 4% each.

Members of the work group said if the bill becomes law, the legal cannabis industry could add 11,000 jobs and do $318 million in sales in the first year, while bringing in about $55 million in state and local tax revenue.

Opponents say marijuana legalization would increase addiction and youth use.

New Mexico Looks Beyond US Borders For Savings On MedicineAssociated Press

New Mexico's Senate endorsed a bill Tuesday that might allow the state to pursue imports of prescription drugs from Canada on a wholesale basis in search of cost savings.

Several states, including Florida, are looking for pathways to import prescription medicine while adhering to U.S. safety standards.

In December, the administration of President Donald Trump said it was moving forward with proposed regulations that might allow states to import many brand-name drugs from Canada with federal oversight.

It is unclear whether Canadian suppliers are capable or interested in supplying large U.S. markets.

In New Mexico, the bill, sponsored by Democrats, would authorize the state Health Department to develop a future application for federal approval to import wholesale drugs from Canada.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports the effort to get the front of the line as states look abroad for drug savings.

The bill now moves to the state House for consideration.

Albuquerque Begins Process For Picking New SuperintendentAssociated Press

Albuquerque's public school system has started accepting applications for district superintendent, a post that current Superintendent Raquel Reedy will leave when she retires June 30.

District officials announced Tuesday that the Board of Education is seeking a new superintendent whose selection would be announced by mid-May and who would begin serving July 1.

According to the announcement, a search firm has been hired to find a successor to Reedy and that applications are due by May 24.

The announcement said the board wants a superintendent who is ä "student-centered leader who puts the needs of children first" and a "collaborative, stakeholder-focused manager."

Reedy announced her retirement plans in October. She served as acting superintendent for several months before she was named to the post in 2016.

The district credited Reedy with bringing stability, reorganizing the district into learning zones, strengthening a bilingual program and expanding other programs.

Lujan Outraising All Foes In Open Senate Race In New Mexico - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

Records show Democratic Rep. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is outpacing all of his GOP opponents in the fundraising race for an open Senate seat in New Mexico.

Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission showed that the Santa Fe Democrat raised $974,000 in the last three months of 2019. That's more than all of his potential Republican opponents and his Democratic challenger combined.

Records also show that Lujan had a healthy $2 million cash-on-hand at the start of 2020.

Gavin Clarkson, a former Bureau of Indian Affairs officials under President Donald Trump, led all Republicans in fundraising during the same period. He pulled in $249,000 during the last three months in 2019 and reported only having $134,000 in cash.

Businessman Mick Rich reported raising $45,658 during the same period and had $97,787 cash-on-hand.

Elisa Martinez, the founder of an anti-abortion group in New Mexico, reported raising $154,843 after fanfare around her announcement about getting in the race.

She reported having $68,623 cash-on-hand. The records filed by the Martinez campaign reflected the last four months of 2019 instead of the last three since she got into the race later than Clarkson and Rich.

Records did not include campaign finance information for shooting range owner Louis Sanchez or former television weatherman Mark Ronchetti since they've recently announced they would seek the GOP nomination.

Former Española Finance Director Andrew Perkins, who is challenging Lujan for the Democratic nomination, also did not report any campaign finance numbers.

The money disadvantage for Republicans illustrates the challenges the GOP faces in winning in a state that hasn't had a Republican U.S. senator since Pete Domenici retired in 2009.

Democrat Outraises GOP Foes In Key House Race In New Mexico - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

Records show Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small outraised all her GOP opponents in the last months of 2019 as she seeks re-election.

Federal election records show she raised $648,636.52 from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31. She has around $2.3 million cash-on-hand as she enters an election year two years after she flipped the historically Republican leaning seat along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Claire Chase, an oil executive from Roswell, New Mexico, raised $261,417 during the same period. Former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell reported raising $188,005 during the last months of 2019.

Chase and Herrell have been throwing charges at each other that each is a stronger supporter of Trump than the other.

Torres Small defeated Herrell in 2018 by fewer than 3,000 votes.

Torres Small, a granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, rarely mentioned Trump in the 2018 campaign and promised to uphold the region's "rural values." In Congress, Torres Small has attempted to portray herself as a moderate on issues around immigration and spending.

Republicans have challenged Torres Small over her voting record despite the fact that she has voted with Republicans on some issues like minimum wage and trade. She has clashed with some of the more liberal members of Congress.

The sprawling district is home to a lucrative oil region but also has some of the most impoverished communities in the U.S. The district houses the highest percentage of Hispanic voters in the state with the highest percentage of Hispanic residents.

New Mexico Kicks Off Registration Process For Primaries - Associated Press

Candidates are registering ahead of New Mexico's pre-primary conventions to run for federal and statewide elected office.

The secretary of state's office was scheduled to collect initial candidate registration documents Tuesday in preparation for the state's June 2 primary.

The Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties decide next month who qualifies to seek their primary election nominations in an open race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Udall.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján is running for Senate, leaving an open race for his 3rd Congressional District seat. 

U.S. Reps. Xochitl Torres Small and Deb Haaland are seeking reelection under the Democratic banner.

In statewide races, recently appointed Supreme Court Justices Shannon Bacon and David Thomson are running for election to retain their seats.

New Mexico Bill Offers Electric Vehicle Purchase Tax Credit - Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico would provide an income tax credit of up to $5,000 to offset the purchase of new plug-in electric vehicles as part of a proposal that cleared is first legislative hurdle on Monday.

A Senate panel on corporate affairs endorsed a bill Monday that would allow up to $10 million a year in state tax credits toward thousands of possible electric vehicle purchases and smaller tax breaks on home car-charging stations.

The full state tax credit would be available to middle- and low-income residents, while individuals earning more than $50,000 annually would be eligible for a smaller $2,500 credit on qualifying vehicles. A federal tax credit offers up to $7,500 on electric vehicle purchases.

At least 45 states offer incentives for people to buy and drive hybrid and electric vehicles, often through tax incentives or reduced registration fees. 

5% Teacher Salary Hike Heads To New Mexico House For Vote By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A panel of House legislators has endorsed a $7.6 billion general fund spending bill that increases teacher pay by 5% and salaries for state workers by 3%.

The bill won endorsement from the House appropriations and finance committee with Democratic support on a 11-5, party-line vote. Full House approval would move the bill to the Senate. An approved budget bill is due on the governor's desk by Feb. 20.

Republicans in the legislative minority say the increases may be unsustainable and result in government downsizing. Democrats say new investments in education, infrastructure and health care are urgently needed.

Lawmakers are working with an estimated $800 million annual surplus because of record-setting oil production. The budget proposal maintains roughly $2 billion in financial reserves.

Democratic Rep. Patty Lundstrom of Gallup, chairwoman of the House finance and appropriations committee, said the budget addresses critical state needs for public school teachers, Medicaid services, and efforts to attract new industry to the site of the Escalante coal-fired power near Thoreau as the facility shuts down.

She also said it increases spending on early childhood education and well-being programs overseen by a new state agency.

Overall spending on public education would increase by 7.2% to $3.4 billion.

Last year, lawmakers increased state spending by 12%, with major investments in school salaries, efforts to extend the school year and programming for at-risk youth.

Advocates for parents and school districts say much of the money earmarked for extended classroom time is not being spent.

Republican legislators described the cumulative spending increases as irresponsible and unsustainable should oil income decline.

The governor has line-item veto authority to overrule any budget provision.

New Mexico Democratic Lawmaker Endorses Warren For President - Associated Press

A New Mexico Democratic state lawmaker and a proponent of criminal justice reform has endorsed U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren for president. 

The Warren campaign announced Tuesday that Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas, D-Albuquerque, is throwing his support behind the senator from Massachusetts as states begin to hold primaries. 

He is the second high-profile Democrat from New Mexico to endorse Warren. Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, who represents Albuquerque and is one of the first first Native American women elected to the U.S. House, endorsed Warren last year. She now co-chairs Warren's campaign. 

Maestas says he felt Warren was the best candidate to unite the country.

"From rebuilding our nation's infrastructure to promoting sustained economic growth and reinstituting a sound foreign policy to healing our nation from cruel and inhumane immigration policies, Elizabeth has the skills, vision, and leadership to move our communities forward," Maestas said in a statement.

Window Opens For Tribes To Seek Licenses For Internet Access - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

The Federal Communications Commission opened a window Monday for federally recognized tribes to apply for licenses that could help establish or expand internet access on their lands.

The licenses are for a mid-band of spectrum, or channels of electromagnetic waves, that largely is unassigned across the western United States. Tribes had pushed to be first in line for the licenses that once were reserved for educational institutions.

The FCC has estimated that about one-third of people living on tribal lands don't have access to high-speed internet. Others say the figure is twice as high.

The tribal priority window closes Aug. 3.

Some organizations see limits to the licensing rules that they are challenging with the FCC.

One of the largest organizations representing tribes, the National Congress of American Indians, is asking the FCC to reconsider eligibility requirements, particularly when it comes to the definition of tribal land and the inclusion of "rural."

The organization said tribes that don't have reservations or that don't have contiguous parcels of trust land would be left out.

The FCC defined rural tribal lands as being outside urbanized areas and with a population of less than 50,000 people. The National Congress of American Indians said that could exclude tribes with land near Seattle or Phoenix, for example.

Federally recognized tribes and tribally owned entities, including colleges and universities, are eligible to apply for the licenses under the tribal priority.

Flags On Navajo Nation Lowered To Honor Deceased Code Talker Associated Press

Flags on the Navajo Nation were lowered Monday to honor a revered Navajo Code Talker who died in New Mexico last week.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement that all flags will fly at half-staff as a tribute to Joe Vandever, Sr. through Thursday.

Vandever died Friday of health complications in Haystack, according to his family. He was 96.

Vandever was among hundreds of Navajos who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, transmitting messages using a code based on the Navajo language. The code developed by an original group of 29 Navajos was used to confound Japanese forces. It was never broken.

Vandever enlisted in the Marines in Santa Fe in March 1943 and was honorably discharged in January 1946. He worked multiple jobs after the war, including for an oil company and as a mining prospector, and stressed the importance of the Navajo language. He also was a medicine man.

Vandever's death leaves less than a handful of Navajo Code Talkers still alive.

A funeral is scheduled Wednesday at El Morro Theater in Gallup, New Mexico. Vandever will be buried Thursday at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.