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KUNM News Update

SAT: Governor calls for special session, Cowboys for Trump co-founder charged for campaign violation, + More

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New Mexico governor seeks economic relief in special sessionBy Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday called for a special legislative session the first week of April, saying she wants lawmakers to consider providing economic relief to New Mexicans as inflation persists and gas prices remain high.

The announcement will help to avoid an election year conflict after fellow Democrats denounced her recent veto of a $50 million wish-list from legislators for community projects. The bill contained funding for law enforcement, senior centers, courts and other critical needs.

Democrats and Republicans had threatened to unite and call an extraordinary session to override her veto, but the first-term governor opted to negotiate with Democratic leaders to avoid the rarely used procedural maneuver.

Lujan Grisham's office said in a news release the governor and legislative leaders agreed to parameters for a new spending bill, "including ensuring that projects are appropriately budgeted as recurring or non-recurring funding."

"As prices remain high nationwide, it is clear that we must act swiftly to deliver more relief to New Mexicans," Lujan Grisham said in a statement. With high prices forcing families to make difficult choices, she said, "it is our responsibility to do what we can to ease that burden."

Republicans said Friday they were kept out of the negotiations and were suspicious that the governor's move was aimed at winning favor as she seeks reelection.

Lujan Grisham earlier this month signed a tax relief package worth $530 million in its first year. It includes $250 rebates.

House Minority Leader Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, said the rebate amounted to a pittance when considering the significant increase in costs for the average household. He added that rural New Mexico is feeling the pinch even more since residents have to drive farther for groceries and doctor visits.

"We have to be concerned about people's standard of living," Townsend said. "Today in New Mexico, about 24% of seniors live in poverty and a little more than a third of those are raising grandchildren because of family issues."

Making ends meet in New Mexico "is a problem," he said.

The Legislature in February wrapped up a 30-day session that was meant to focus on fiscal matters. Lawmakers approved a $1 billion annual expansion for state government to shore up spending on public education, health care and infrastructure while boosting salaries for state police, public school educators and other government workers.

Among the tax reforms, the state narrowed its tax on Social Security to high-income retirees while offering a per-child tax credit of up to $175. It also slightly reduced taxes on retail sales and business transactions.

Across the nation, state lawmakers in blue and red states are proposing to cut taxes and fees as budget surpluses swell, though warnings have emerged that U.S. inflation and Russia's invasion of Ukraine will change the outlook for public finances.

New Mexico, the nation's No. 2 producer of crude oil behind Texas, is experiencing a windfall in state government income tied to oil and natural gas production through a variety of taxes, royalties and lease sales as energy prices surge.

Cowboys for Trump co-founder charged with campaign violationAssociated Press

A New Mexico elected official was charged Friday with a misdemeanor campaign finance violation for refusing to register his political group Cowboys for Trump, the state's attorney general announced.

Couy Griffin, a Republican county commissioner from Tularosa in southern New Mexico, has been facing off with state election regulators for more than a year over whether he needs to register the group as a political committee. Griffin expressed concern that registering may lead to other disclosure requirements about contributions and spending and in 2020 sued the New Mexico secretary of state after she insisted the group must register.

A federal appeals court last month rejected his arguments, upholding a lower court ruling that the reporting requirement is valid. Attorney General Hector Balderas said Friday that leaves Griffin out of compliance with court orders to register the group.

"We live in a nation that ensures that no elected official is above the law," Balderas, a Democrat, said in a statement. "Citizens have the right to expect reporting and disclosure transparency from all elected officials."

Griffin forged a group of rodeo acquaintances in 2019 into the promotional group called Cowboys for Trump that staged horseback parades to spread President Donald Trump's conservative message about gun rights, immigration controls and abortion restrictions.

Griffin told The Associated Press on Friday night that he's planning a fresh challenge to the reporting requirement, this time with Trump attorney Sidney Powell, and expects to find success with the lessons learned from his unsuccessful appeal.

"I feel very strongly that we're gonna get through this and when we do its going to be a big win," Griffin said.

Separately, Griffin goes on trial next week in Washington for misdemeanor criminal charges in the Jan. 6. insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, where he appeared on an outdoor terrace and tried to lead the crowd in prayer.

Griffin denies allegations that he knowingly entered barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent of disrupting government as Congress considered the 2020 Electoral College results, though he has openly ascribed to unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the 2020 election.

Texas crash latest tragedy for family of young driver, dadBy Cedar Attanasio, Jill Bleed, Anita Snow, Associated Press

Authorities investigating a fiery head-on crash in West Texas don't know why a 13-year-old boy was driving while his father sat in the passenger seat of a pickup truck that crossed into the oncoming lane and collided with a passenger van, killing nine people.

The young teen who has not been identified died in the crash along with his father, 38-year-old Henrich Siemens, and six members of a New Mexico college golf team and their coach. The cause remains under investigation, though National Transportation Safety Board officials have said the truck's front tire, a spare, blew out before the crash.

It's the latest tragedy for the family of the father and son, of Seminole, Texas.

Community members first rallied around Siemens and his wife, Agatha, in October, when a fire that started in the kitchen destroyed the home where they had lived for a decade. Seminole is a rural community of around 7,500 people, some of whom first relocated to the area in the 1970s with other Mennonite families who started farming and ranching operations.

While the couple and their children escaped the fire without injury, Agatha wrote on her Facebook page at the time that they had lost everything, including one of the family pets.

After the crash, Agatha Siemens shared family photos on social media, saying her husband was the love of her life and that she missed her son. She did not return messages seeking comment.

NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg on Thursday revealed the truck was driven by the child.

After the tire blew, the pickup truck crossed into the opposite lane on the darkened, two-lane highway before colliding with the van. Both vehicles burst into flames.

Although it was unclear how fast the two vehicles were traveling, "this was clearly a high-speed collision," Landsberg said.

The speed limit at the crash site is 75 mph (120 kph), according to the agency.

Landsberg said investigators hoped to retrieve enough information from the vehicles' recorders, if they survived, to understand what happened. He said many in the van were not wearing seatbelts and at least one was ejected from the vehicle.

It's not unusual for young teens to drive in that region and other more rural parts of the United States. One must be 14 in Texas to start taking classroom courses for a learner's license and 15 to receive that provisional license to drive with an instructor or licensed adult in the vehicle.

Investigators have not yet determined why the youth was behind the wheel, Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Steven Blanco said Friday.

The NTSB sent an investigative team to the crash site in Texas' Andrews County, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of the New Mexico state line.

The University of the Southwest students, including one from Portugal and one from Mexico, and the coach were returning from a golf tournament in Midland, Texas, when the vehicles collided Tuesday night. Two Canadian students were hospitalized in critical condition.

University of the Southwest spokeswoman Maria Duarte declined to comment on the NTSB's announcement about the young driver, citing the ongoing investigation. The private Christian college is located in Hobbs, New Mexico, near the Texas state line.

The golf teams were traveling in a 2017 Ford Transit van that was towing a box trailer when it collided with the 2007 Dodge 2500 pickup, according to NTSB spokesperson Eric Weiss.

The Texas Department of Public Safety identified the deceased as: golf coach Tyler James, 26, of Hobbs, New Mexico; and players Mauricio Sanchez, 19, of Aguascalientes, Mexico; Travis Garcia, 19, of Pleasanton, Texas; Jackson Zinn, 22, of Westminster, Colorado; Karisa Raines, 21, of Fort Stockton, Texas; Laci Stone, 18, of Nocona, Texas; and Tiago Sousa, 18, of Algarve, Portugal.

Critically injured aboard the van were Canadian students Dayton Price, 19, of Mississauga, Ontario, and Hayden Underhill, 20, of Amherstview, Ontario. Both were taken by helicopter to Lubbock, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) to the northeast.

"They are both stable and recovering, and every day making more and more progress," University of the Southwest Provost Ryan Tipton said Thursday.

"One of the students is eating chicken soup," said Tipton, calling their recovery a "game of inches."

Tipton said University President Quint Thurman visited the students' parents at the hospital, illustrating the close community at the college with only about 350 on-campus students.

A memorial was set up Wednesday at the golf course near campus where the team practices, with flowers, golf balls and a handmade sign. Counseling and religious services were made available on campus.

About 150 people turned out Thursday evening to remember Jackson Zinn at Texas Roadhouse, a restaurant where he worked and met his girlfriend of five months.

"We met here exactly at this table," said Maddy Russell, 20, of Hobbs. "He was my heart."

The mourners released around 100 blue and orange balloons into the cold whipping wind of eastern New Mexico, which soon disappeared into the horizon.

Crews rescue unprepared hiker stuck on icy ledge in SandiasAssociated Press

Emergency personnel rescued an unprepared hiker who got trapped on any icy ledge after getting lost during a snowstorm on a trail in the Sandia Mountains overlooking Albuquerque, police said.

The hiker was not dressed for cold and windy weather and called 911 Thursday when he was forced to stand still in snow on the ledge to avoid slipping and falling off the mountain, according to a police department statement.

Crew s from several agencies responded and a team was able to hike to within about 60 feet (18 meters) of the man, the statement said.

An officer rappelled down to the hiker and provided him with clothing and crampons, enabling the team to get him off the ledge and hike with him to a parking lot where he was treated and released by fire department medical personnel, the statement said.

The man's identity was not released.

The incident occurred on the La Luz Trail, which the U.S. Forest Service describes as well known and difficult.