WED: New Mexico regulators looking to mitigate rolling blackouts, + More
New Mexico regulators looking to mitigate rolling blackouts - Associated Press
Regulators in New Mexico are trying to work with utilities to deal with supply chain problems that could threaten adequate power availability during peak consumer demand this summer.
The five-member Public Regulation Commission held an open public meeting Wednesday as they consider emergency measures to mitigate the looming crisis of rolling blackouts, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Public Service Company of New Mexico has said it may not have enough generating capacity for customers in the hottest months of July and August when electricity demand climbs to its highest levels.
Pandemic-induced supply-chain issues also have delayed the construction of four new solar facilities that were supposed to replace power from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station when that plant shuts down in June.
PRC Chairman Joseph Maestas said supply-chain problems are also affecting other utilities around New Mexico, particularly some of the state's electric cooperatives.
The Journal reports that commissioners have agreed to immediately compile a lengthy questionnaire for all local utilities to fully assess the problems and consider emergency measures to alleviate potential power shortages.
PNM is a financial supporter of KUNM.
Former Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales dies of cancer at 56 - Associated Press
Javier Gonzales, who served one term as the mayor of Santa Fe, has died after a battle with cancer, authorities said Wednesday. He was 56.
Gonzales' death was announced by Christus St. Vincent where he had worked as vice president and chief development officer of the hospital's foundation after leaving politics.
In an interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican in October 2020, Gonzales said he was diagnosed with cancer after he'd struggled with hip pain and a loss of energy.
He told the newspaper that doctors found a tumor near one of his kidneys.
Gonzales was elected in 2014 and was Santa Fe's first openly gay mayor.
He decided against running for a second term in 2018, citing a desire to spend more time with his two daughters.
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of an undisputed leader and deeply treasured member of the northern New Mexico community," New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. "Javier Gonzales was a trailblazer, a fierce advocate, and a dedicated leader. He was also a beloved son, a remarkable father and an incredible friend, including to me."
Funeral plans were not immediately disclosed.
State Senate moves to end life-without-parole sentencing for young people – Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
After two hours of debate and four attempted amendments, the New Mexico Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 8, approved a bill that would abolish sentences of life without parole for people who aren’t 18.
Young people in New Mexico who are tried and convicted as adults and sentenced to life have to serve 30 years before being eligible for parole. Senate Bill 43 would cut that time in half.
“Most of these children, the vast majority of them, have had enormous trauma in their lives,” said Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Albuquerque), the bill’s sponsor. “And I don’t believe that it’s right to throw them away. I think children especially have enormous capacity to change.”
This is the second time Sedillo Lopez has tried to pass this measure. The first time was in 2021.
She was flanked by her expert witness, Denali Wilson, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and a founding member of the N.M. Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.
Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill (D-Silver City) said sentencing a child to life in prison without the possibility of parole is a human rights abuse, specifically a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States is the only country in the world that hasn’t ratified the convention, Hemphill said.
“Childhood is separate from adulthood,” Hemphill said, quoting the convention. “This is a period of time that should be protected, so children can grow and develop.”
Republican senators repeatedly mischaracterized how parole works, conflated the bill with bail reform, and introduced amendments that sought to either water down or completely undermine the point of the legislation.
Rather than debate the merits of the bill, they slowed the hearing, turning the discussion into a blanket indictment of Democratic lawmakers for allegedly failing to pass bills this session that, in their view, would address crime.
“The declaration was made early on before this session that, ‘Hey, we’re gonna be tough on crime,’” said Sen. Gregory Baca (R-Belen). “Where have we seen that? We’re protecting election workers … when this will never be prosecuted. That’s our ‘tough-on-crime?’ How about the murderers? Let’s try starting with them. There’s an idea.”
The law on which Senate Bill 43 was modeled passed in 2014 in West Virginia, Sedillo Lopez said.
“In the eight years since the passage of that law, there has been no known person released who committed a new offense,” she said.
The first amendment was brought by Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R-Roswell).
It was handwritten.
It would have extended the parole eligibility timeline from 15 to 20 years, which he and Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque) indicated was the wish of the state’s district attorneys association.
Sedillo Lopez said in a previous session she had already compromised the timeline from 10 to 15 years. Pirtle’s alteration failed on a 24-13 vote.
Baca suggested another amendment. This one was not handwritten. The details are unclear, since the amendment was not available on the Legislature’s website before this article was published. Baca said it would have allowed a judge to impose a “dual adult sentence” that would hang over the defendants until they complete their juvenile sentences.
Sedillo Lopez said that change would expose more children to long adult sentences. It failed 24-14.
Pirtle introduced a third amendment that would have given the parole board the option to hold a hearing rather than requiring the board to hold a hearing after 15 years in cases where the defendant was sentenced to multiple consecutive sentences.
Sedillo Lopez said that change to the bill would undermine its whole purpose. It failed 21-14.
The fourth and final proposal came from Sen. Gregg Schmedes (R-Tijeras). It would have denied parole in cases where the child is convicted of first-degree murder of a police officer.
Sedillo Lopez pointed out that the bill already accounts for this. The amendment failed 20-15.
PUNISHMENT IS NOT A DETERRENT
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino said he has “given up” on punishment as a deterrent to crime.
“I’ve been watching it for 50 years, and it’s never gone down,” Ortiz y Pino said. “The country is more violent today than it was 50 years ago when I was starting out in social work, and the punishments were much less than they are today.”
There are 2.3 million people in U.S. prisons and jails today, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Still, the country is no less violent, Ortiz y Pino said.
“If just piling on sentences did anything, I could have more sympathy for some of the amendments that have been proposed, but they won’t do any good,” Ortiz y Pino said.
Adding more years to the sentence just makes the child less able to re-enter society when they do get out, he added.
Instead, lawmakers should work on the root causes of violent crime, he said, including poverty, lack of good education and drug addiction, he said.
“When I was little, my mom just drilled it into my head: ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right,’” Ortiz y Pino said. “What earthly use is it to ruin another kid’s life because he was mean, dumb, angry and stupid enough to kill somebody in the first place?”
Official: It's winter but dryness elevates wildfire threat – KOB-TV, Associated Press
A fire official in northwestern New Mexico says there's an active wildfire threat in the region despite it still being winter.
Capt. Tony Herrera, the wildland coordinator for San Juan County Fire and Rescue, said fire dangers generally diminish during winter but there has been heightened fire activity due to dry conditions.
"It's a trend that has no sign of slowing down," he told KOB-TV.
Herrera said recent snowfall provided much-needed moisture but said it hasn't been enough to take the area out of drought and provide enough relief as the state moves toward warmer weather.
"So the danger of it being so dry in the middle of winter is that people get complacent; they don't realize how high the fire danger actually is," Herrera said. "When in actuality it is still very dry, the fire potential is still very high."
Herrera said his agency and the Bloomfield Fire Department on Monday night both had to deal with brushfires. Both were put out and no homes or other structures were threatened, but people need to be cautious, he said.
Investigation board to look into reported leak at Los Alamos -Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press
The National Nuclear Security Agency has formed an accident investigation board to look into last month's reported leak that contaminated several workers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Tuesday that a breached plutonium glove box at Los Alamos on Jan. 7 released airborne radioactive material that was more than double the yearly limit for a work area.
The leak occurred in a sealed compartment which has attached gloves so workers can handle radioactive material, the newspaper said.
According to a report by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a Los Alamos employee noticed the breach after working with a container of legacy waste in the glove box.
Alarms then sounded, prompting the six-person crew to evacuate.
A lab spokesman said the radiation was contained, the workers' health is being monitored and there was no risk to public health and safety or the environment.
The New Mexican said it was the lab's third reported glove box breach in the past two years.
New Mexico House approves bill aimed at predatory lending - By Morgan Lee Associated Press
New Mexico House legislators have approved legislation aimed at discouraging predatory lending by lowering the state cap on annual interest rates for storefront loans.
Democratic state Rep. Susan Herrera of Embudo is sponsoring the bill that would lower the maximum interest rate on storefront loans to 36%. The bill would also double the maximum size of small installment loans to $10,000, with repayment periods of up to two years.
The bill won House approval on a 51-18 vote Monday night and moved to the Senate for consideration.
Supporters have said restrictions are needed to ensure borrowers don't fall into vicious cycles of debt that contribute to poverty in New Mexico.
"This is an important step to improve financial stability for our neighbors who are struggling to make ends meet," Herrera said in a statement.
The bill also prohibits the garnishing of wages for nonpayment of loans and halts the accrual of interest within 90 days after nonpayment.
It bolsters disclosure requirements such as amortization schedules for loan repayment that are aimed at protecting consumers.
Similar legislative initiatives have failed repeatedly in recent years.
Opponents of the bill warned that it could undermine access to small, emergency loans for people without access to traditional lines of credit from banks or credit unions.
"I think there's a danger for us … whenever we are here as lawmakers and we try to set the rates for the consumer instead of allowing the consumer and the lender to set those rates themselves," said Rep. T. Ryan Lane, a Republican from Aztec.
New Mexico lawmakers in 2017 eliminated payday loans against future earnings and capped interest rates on small loans by storefront lenders at 175%.
The state's small loan industry provided about 224,000 loans worth $420 million in 2020, the most recent year with statistics on record, according to the state financial institutions division.
Judge to consider secrecy of insurance records in abuse case -Associated Press
A federal judge will hold a hearing on whether the Archdiocese of Santa Fe must disclose records on insurance coverage expected to pay much of a settlement in a case involving over 400 victims of clergy sexual abuse.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David T. Thuma scheduled a hearing Monday on the archdiocese's request last month to seal the documents because agreements between the archdiocese and insurers indicated they'd be confidential, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
Diocese attorney Thomas Walker said breaching those agreements' confidentiality provisions could cause them to be voided and lead to expensive and extended litigation of coverage disputes.
Merit Benefit, a lawyer for several victims, objected to confidentiality and sealing of records and told the New Mexican in an interview that secrecy is what led to the tragedy of widespread priest abuse of children in the first place.
Man gets life in prison for fatal shooting of a UNM athlete -KRQE, Associated Press
A judge on Tuesday sentenced an Albuquerque man to life in prison in the 2019 shooting death of a University of New Mexico baseball player outside a bar.
Darian Bashir was sentenced in Bernalillo County District Court three months after a jury convicted him on charges of first-degree murder and evidence tampering.
Prosecutors told Albuquerque TV station KRQE that the sentence will ensure Bashir stays in prison for at least 33 years.
Bashir, who turns 26 in April, will be eligible for parole in 2055.
On the night of the shooting in May 2019, prosecutors said 23-year-old Jackson Weller was out with friends and fellow teammates at a nightclub when say the group got into a fight with some men who Bashir knew.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that surveillance video showed Weller was walking away from Bashir when the suspect called the victim toward him.
Prosecutors also said Bashir was concealing a gun he used to shoot Weller.
Bashir acknowledged his role in the shooting and offered an apology and condolences to Weller's family at the sentencing hearing.
Working conditions for Border Patrol getting more attention - By Ben Fox Associated Press
A strained Border Patrol is getting increased attention from the Biden administration after tense meetings between senior officials and the rank and file while the agency deals with one of the largest spikes in migration along the U.S.-Mexico border in decades.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who oversees the Border Patrol, laid out 19 ways to address working conditions after frosty receptions by agents, said Chris Magnus, the new commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.
Mayorkas also pledged in a memo to push for more prosecutions of people accused of assaulting CBP personnel in the course of their duties, an issue raised at a recent meeting in Laredo, Texas, and elsewhere, Magnus said Tuesday.
"That's something that agents in the field want to hear because assaults are on the uptick," Magnus told The Associated Press. "We are not just seeing folks who are fleeing to the U.S. to get away from conditions. We are seeing smugglers, members of cartels, and drug organizations that are actively engaged in doing harm."
Efforts to deal with working conditions for agents come as President Joe Biden has been criticized across the political spectrum over immigration. He has sought to reverse many hardcore policies of his predecessor but has come under fire over the situation at the border that could cause trouble for Democrats in the midterm elections.
CBP encountered migrants from all over the world about 1.7 million times along the U.S.-Mexico border last year. The total, among the highest in decades, is inflated by repeated apprehensions of people who were turned away, without being given a chance to seek asylum, under a public health order issued at the start of the pandemic.
Immigration advocates have condemned the administration for not repealing the public health order, known as Title 42, while critics, including many Border Patrol agents, say a Biden policy of allowing children and families to stay in the country and pursue asylum has encouraged irregular migration.
Magnus said the agents, and the administration, are just trying to manage a complicated situation.
"We're seeing folks that are encountering political conditions and violence, unsafe conditions to live and work, at unprecedented levels," the former police chief of Tucson, Arizona, said in an interview, the first since he was sworn in Friday. "We've seen, for example, in places, earthquakes or other environmental conditions. We're seeing unprecedented levels of poverty. All of these are things that are in many ways, you know, pushing migrants again at high levels to this country."
The administration has sought to address the cause of migration, including by increasing aid to Central America and re-starting a visa program that was ended under President Donald Trump. It has also sought assistance from other countries, including Mexico, to do more to stop or take in migrants.
As the overall numbers have increased, and the administration has decided to allow many families to stay and seek asylum in a process that can take years, some Border Patrol agents have grown disenchanted as they spend their shifts processing and transporting people, not out in the field.
That frustration boiled over in Laredo as agents met late last month with Mayorkas and Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, who acknowledged morale was at an "all-time low," according to a leaked video published by the Washington Examiner. One agent complained about "doing nothing" except releasing people into the United States, referring to the practice of allowing migrants to remain free while their cases wind through immigration court.
At another meeting, in Yuma, Arizona, Mayorkas told agents he understood that apprehending families and children "is not what you signed up to do" and that their jobs were becoming more challenging amid an influx of Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans, according to video published by the conservative website Townhall. One of the agents turned his back on the secretary.
Magnus has heard similar concerns raised in meetings. "I think it has been difficult for many of them who spent most of their careers or anticipated that their careers would be largely working in the field, on the border," he said.
The commissioner declined to specify the 19 areas where Mayorkas "wants to see improvement," because they have not been publicly released. But another official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans, said they include expanding the role of a new class of civilian employees to add tasks such as transporting migrants to medical facilities so agents can return to other duties.
Another point calls for faster decisions on asylum cases at the border. Agents have expressed frustration that asylum-seekers are freed in the U.S., often for years, while their claims make their way through a system backlogged with about 1.6 million cases.
Magnus said he hopes to expand mental health services for agents and provide additional resources to help them and their families cope with a stressful job that requires them to move often.
"There is never one simple solution to addressing morale at any organization, but I absolutely appreciate the very challenging conditions that the men and women of the Border Patrol and CBP in general have been have been working under," he said.