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WED: University Of New Mexico Seeks 2.6% Tuition Increase, + More

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University Of New Mexico Proposes 2.6% Tuition IncreaseKOB-TV, Associated Press

The University of New Mexico has announced plans to raise tuition 2.6% for current students while giving employees a 4% pay raise.

KOB-TV reports the proposed increase comes a week after the university announced it will offer free tuition for first-time students whose families make $50,000 or less. University leaders say the tuition increase also comes amid an anticipated 6% drop in enrollment.

The university is also planning on increasing base tuition for out-of-state students 5% next year, and another 5% the next two years. For students taking 15 credit hours, base tuition is currently $10,857.84, not including an additional $787.92 in student fees.

In-state students have a base tuition of $2,709, not including $984.90 in fees.

Former CFO Gets 20-Year Sentence In Guardianship Fraud CaseAssociated Press

The former chief financial officer of a now-defunct New Mexico nonprofit that provided guardianship services is going to prison. That's in an $11 million fraud scheme case in which one co-defendant awaits sentencing and two others are now fugitives on the run.

A federal judge in Santa Fe sentenced 64-year-old Sharon Moore to 20 years in prison on Monday. The judge issued arrest warrants for 73-year-old Susan Harris and 58-year-old William Harris after the Albuquerque married couple failed to appear for sentencing. Their son, Craig M. Young, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty in November.  

Prosecutors say the defendants used client funds to finance a lavish personal lifestyle that included luxury vacations, and upscale homes and vehicles.  

Accent Mark In Official Santa Fe Seal In Wrong SpotSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

An accent mark on the official seal of the capital city of the nation's most Hispanic state is in the wrong spot.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the misplaced accent mark at the top of the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico's website was recently spotted by a reporter who uses an accent in his name.

On the website, the seal uses the official name of the city: La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís, or Santa Fe for short. But the seal on the city's website puts the accent mark over the first "s" in Asís instead of over the "i."  

New Mexico Officials Sign Deal To Expand Hunting AccessAssociated Press

New Mexico wildlife officials and Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard have signed an easement agreement that will allow hunters with valid licenses to access state trust lands.

Under this year's agreement, the New Mexico Game and Fish Department will pay the State Land Office $800,000 for the easement. Wildlife officials also agreed to partner with the land agency on $200,000 worth of projects aimed at enhancing access and improving wildlife habitats.

The agreement also creates pilot programs for dispersed and roadside camping as well as backpacking. The number of days hunters are allowed to scout on trust land also is being extended from 7 days to 14 days.

Garcia Richard said her agency has heard over the past year from sportspeople around the state about how to improve the hunting experience in New Mexico. She said the easement represents a starting point for addressing access concerns and conflicts that arise from mixed uses.

New Mexico History Museum Gets Permanent Executive DirectorAssociated Press

The man who had been temporarily overseeing the New Mexico History Museum since last May has been named as the permanent executive director.  

The state Cultural Affairs Department announced Billy Garrett's appointment Wednesday. His duties include the development of exhibitions and public programs at a number of venues that fall under the History Museum's umbrella. Those include the Palace of the Governors and the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library.

Garrett says he's also excited about a new fundraising campaign aimed at new exhibitions, work on the Palace of the Governors and expansion of public programs.

Garrett spent 26 years working for the National Park Service. He was a principal author of the agency's guidelines on cultural resource management and expanded the use of historic buildings for park housing.

A third-generation New Mexican, he graduated from Las Cruces High School and earned architecture and anthropology degrees from Arizona State University. He also served as a Doña Ana County commissioner from 2010-18.

Special Prosecutors In New Mexico To Focus On Rape CasesAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Now that authorities are close to completing testing on a backlog of rape evidence kits, officials in New Mexico's busiest judicial district announced a plan Wednesday for the next step in bringing justice to victims.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that about 40 private attorneys have volunteered to act as special prosecutors and help the district attorney's office try defendants identified through the testing.

District Attorney Raul Torrez says 23 cases have already been assigned and three men have been indicted and are awaiting trial. There also are four prosecutors in the office who are funded with grant money to work on the cases.

Torrez was joined by Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and high-profile attorney Randi McGinn at a news conference to announce what they are calling "Project Predator."

New Mexico Bolsters Supplies For Coronavirus TestingBy Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico health authorities said supplies have arrived to allow rapid testing for the new coronavirus as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expressed confidence in the state's preparedness and public education efforts designed to minimize transmission of the virus.

The state Department of Health said it is equipped to test several hundred patients for coronavirus without having to send samples out of state for analysis.

Lujan Grisham said daily emergency contingency planning is underway without providing specifics about items such as available hospital beds. The state has launched a website on COVID-19 with tips on how to best avoid transmission and what to do if infection is suspected.

New Mexico Announces Arrival Of Coronavirus Test Kits Associated Press

The New Mexico Department of Health says it has capacity to test for COVID-19 with tests kits provided by the federal government.

The agency announced yesterday that kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are allowing the Department of Health to test several hundred patients for the coronavirus without having to send samples out of state for analysis.

Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel says testing kits will be provided at no cost to New Mexico residents.

Screening is being considered for people with signs of the illness who test negative for more common respiratory illnesses and have traveled to a countries including China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

Santa Fe Still Tourist Destination Amid Coronavirus ConcernsThe Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Tourism officials in New Mexico say Santa Fe has remained a tourist destination despite fears over the new virus outbreak.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that officials from Tourism Santa Fe have acknowledged that the local tourism industry still could be affected by respiratory illness caused by the virus as its spreads in the United States.

New Mexico has no confirmed cases. New Mexico Tourism Department spokesman Cody Johnson says it's hard to say what effect the disease will have, if any, on domestic travel.

"We are in daily contact with the New Mexico Department of Health, which has been coordinating response in our state related to the COVID-19 since January, and we are monitoring daily developments as they happen," Johnson said.

The virus had infected at least 92,000 people around the world as of Tuesday.

New Mexico Governor Signs Solar Energy, Grid Update Bills - Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico is reinstating a tax credit for households and businesses that adopt solar energy systems and taking new steps to modernize the electric grid and export renewable energy.

Yesterday Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed bills that revive a tax credit of up to $6,000 for the installation of solar panels or thermal solar equipment that heats water.

The state will forgo up to $8 million in taxes a year to offset the solar investments.

She also endorsed a bipartisan grid modernization bill that opens the door for new infrastructure investments by utilities and a grant program for non-utility projects that improve grid resiliency and efficiency.

New Mexico Governor Wants Democratic Nominee Who Can Unify - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is considering the endorsement of a presidential candidate from her party and says she wants a leader who can bridge political divides and get things done.

Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that she has been approached by three candidates who remain in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Albuquerque-based U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland has actively campaigned for Elizabeth Warren, while the rest of the congressional delegation is wary of choosing.

Reversing course from a spokeswoman's statement Tuesday that the governor "is not making an endorsement," Lujan Grisham indicated at a news conference that she might endorse a candidate "probably sooner" without specifying when.

The delegation and governor could be called on to vote as automatic super delegates at the Democratic national convention if no presidential candidate wins a majority of pledged delegates.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is running for an open Senate seat, will not be endorsing anyone in the presidential contest but says he'll support the eventual nominee.

Because the presidential field is changing rapidly, freshman Rep. Xochitl Torres Small said she hasn't decided on which candidate to support. Torres Small is running for re-election in a sprawling district that includes a stretch of the border with Mexico and is home to a portion of one of the nation's most prolific oil and gas basins.

New Mexico Governor Avoids Endorsements In 2020 PrimaryAssociated Press

Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham doesn't plan on endorsing any of her party's candidates for the presidential nomination if she can avoid it.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Nora Sackett said yesterday that no endorsements are being made in the presidential race or the Democratic primary for an open congressional seat in northern New Mexico.

The governor could be called on as an automatic super delegate at the Democratic national convention to vote as she pleases if no presidential candidate wins a majority of pledged delegates.

Previously, members of Congress and other party leaders voted as super delegates in the initial convention balloting.

Report Finds Zookeeper Loses Finger After Violating Protocol - KOB TV, Associated Press

An internal investigation determined a hyena bit off the finger of an Albuquerque zookeeper after the worker violated zoo protocol.

Surveillance video obtained by Albuquerque television station KOB-TV shows the worker entering the hyena enclosure and poking her fingers through the chain link fence.

It shows one of the animals biting down on the zookeeper's hand. Security records state the zookeeper's middle finger was eaten.

City officials said a thorough investigation was done and appropriate actions were taken but they declined to discuss what they described as personnel matters.

The hyena remains in its enclosure and officials say there's no threat to other staffers or the public.

New Mexico Prosecutor Resigns After DUI, Firearms Arrest - Hobbs News Sun, Associated Press

A southeastern New Mexico prosecutor has resigned following his arrest for aggravated drunken driving and negligent use of a firearm.

The Hobbs News-Sun reports Fifth Judicial District Attorney's office prosecutor Jonathan Michael Thomas stepped down Saturday after getting arrested in Chaves County on Friday.

According to a criminal complaint, a sheriff's deputy said Thomas was found in a car with a strong odor of alcohol and had bloodshot eyes.

The deputy says Thomas refused to perform field sobriety tests and informed the deputy he had a firearm at his waist.

District Attorney Dianna Luce says the criminal case has been sent to the Ninth Judicial District Attorney's office for prosecution.

It was not known if Thomas had an attorney.

Las Cruces OKs Plan To Expand Public Murals, Sculptures - Las Cruces Sun News, Associated Press

As New Mexico's capital city works to remove public murals, the state's largest southern city is pushing for more public art.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports Las Cruces lawmakers Monday approved a master plan for public art throughout the city.

The Las Cruces Public Art plan will guide how the city commissions artists to create public murals and sculptures.

It also establishes how the city will maintain its public art and how it will sustain funding sources for public art projects.

Officials say the master plan promotes the creation of artistic landmarks to define the city's neighborhoods. 

Art program coordinator Lorenzo Zepeda said the plan includes opportunities for local talent to be mentored by more experienced artists to help up-and-coming Las Cruces talent develop their skills.

Report Finds Hospital Prone To Post-Surgery Blood Infections - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A federal health agency has found the University of New Mexico Hospital to be one of the worst in the country for sepsis after several patients developed the blood infection condition following surgical procedures.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a report that showed the hospital had the tenth worst rate in contracting the condition in the country.

The report also showed the facility was ranked the worst in the state for post-surgery blood infections. Hospital officials say results do not speak to the quality of care provided at the facility.

Richard Crowell, chief quality officer for the University of New Mexico Health System said The hospital, which is the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the state, has a poor rating partially because the facility houses patients with some of the most severe illnesses, making them more vulnerable to infection

Sheriff Says Man Shot, Wounded During Encounter With DeputiesAssociated Press

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales says a man was shot and injured during an encounter with sheriff's deputies.

Gonzales says the incident occurred Tuesday when deputies responded to calls about a person walking on or next to Interstate 40 on the eastern outskirts of Albuquerque.

The sheriff says the man was armed and that he was shot by at least one deputy after refusing to obey commands.

The man was taken to a hospital for surgery. No information was provided about his injuries and no identities were released.

Albuquerque mayor aims to establish gun buy-back program Associated Press

Elected officials in New Mexico's largest city have approved funding for a gun buy-back program.

The vote came Monday night, clearing the way for Albuquerque to spend $75,000 on a program similar to those held previously that compensated people for the voluntary surrender of firearms.

Last year's buy-back event resulted in 415 unwanted guns being handed over to police. Mayor Tim Keller, a Democrat, says gun violence is one of the city's biggest challenges.

City officials say more than 700 firearms were stolen from vehicles or during auto thefts and another 500 were stolen during residential burglaries in Albuquerque in 2018.