TUES: NM Supreme Court rules illegally-obtained evidence allowed in preliminary hearings, + More
NM Supreme Court rules illegally-obtained evidence allowed in preliminary hearings - By Nash Jones, KUNM News
The New Mexico Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that district court judges cannot exclude evidence that was illegally gathered during a preliminary hearing.
In a narrow3-2 split decision, the high court’s majority said that determination should happen in a suppression hearing instead. According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, that proceeding takes place after the preliminary hearing if attorneys of either party file a motion to exclude evidence.
Chief Justice Shannon Bacon and Justice Michael Vigil dissented, arguing protections against unlawful search and seizure are valid at any time during a criminal case, and judges have an obligation to enforce them.
The majority argued judges don’t have the time necessary to carefully consider the legality of how evidence was collected at preliminary hearings, and that their opinion simply holds that line of questioning “for a later date.”
A Second Judicial District Court judge in 2020 dismissed a felony drug possession charge against Ricky Ayon after ruling in his preliminary hearing that he was illegally searched. Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision upholds a state Court of Appeals ruling that the district judge overstepped their authority. That case will now head back to district court.
Albuquerque prosecutors take new approach to combatting retail theft - Associated Press
Prosecutors in New Mexico's largest metro area are taking over all cases involving retail theft including small-scale shoplifting, in efforts to enforce new state sanctions against coordinated retail crime.
Albuquerque-area District Attorney Sam Bregman and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday announced the approach to combatting retail crime.
Previously, police officers in the Albuquerque area often processed misdemeanor sanctions for shoplifting less than $500 worth of merchandise. Prosecutors say they can then consolidate related cases of retail theft over a 90-day period and possibly bring felony charges.
Lujan Grisham signed legislation in April to create a new category of "organized retail crime" and stiffen penalties for organized theft of store merchandize as retailers have highlighted losses from coordinated pilfering.
"People should be able to go to the store without being afraid. Business owners are also fed up," said Bregman, announcing the new approach to prosecution. "We think these new changes will hold repeat shoplifters accountable."
In New Mexico and beyond, major retailers are trying to curb theft while not angering shoppers as they lock up everyday items on display. A new federal law requires online marketplaces to verify high-volume sellers on their platforms amid heightened concerns about retail crime.
Lujan Grisham said the new approach across Bernalillo County will help ensure consistent and effective efforts to combat retail theft, and free up police officers to handle other public safety concerns.
Public invited to honor the life of former Gov. Bill Richardson - Santa Fe Reporter, Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News
The public is invited to attend one of several memorial services next week for former Gov. Bill Richardson.
Vice President of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement Mickey Bergman confirmed to the Santa Fe Reporter that Richardson will lie in state at the Roundhouse next Wednesday, Sept. 13, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
A reception will take place in the Capitol’s rotunda the next day from 1:00 to 2:00 pm. The Albuquerque Journal reportsGov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will host the public gathering.
Additionally, a mass will be held earlier in the day Thursday at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The funeral is from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and is also open to the public.
The Richardson Center announced Saturday that the former democratic governor and UN ambassador died in his sleep at the age of 75.
Housing services provider asks state lawmakers for more flexible funding Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
The leader of a housing services nonprofit says in order to deal with growing numbers of New Mexicans experiencing homelessness, state lawmakers need to loosen requirements around how state funding can be spent.
Nicole Martinez is executive director of Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, a nonprofit organization with a campus including a day shelter, showers, laundry, housing application assistance, and an overnight encampment sanctioned by the city of Las Cruces.
The organization is an effective model for the rest of New Mexico for how to actually provide housing to people, said Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Albuquerque).
In two separate meetings with lawmakers this summer, Martinez asked to set aside public funding for housing services that are not tied to one person, but rather to an entire housing program.
She brought up the issue to the Mortgage Finance Authority Act Oversight Committee in Albuquerque on July 7, and to the Economic And Rural Development And Policy Committee in Las Cruces on Aug. 30.
The Community of Hope receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay for rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, eviction prevention and to operate two apartment complexes.
To get federal housing funding, people have to meet certain criteria, Martinez said, like proving that they have been living on the streets long enough to be prioritized.
Someone has to show they have been homeless for a year, or four times in the last three years that add up to a year, or have a permanent disability, she testified last week.
These criteria “make it really difficult to get people in who we know are eligible,” Martinez said.
Unhoused people who are trying to find housing are often met with long wait times, or are blocked from getting housing because they lack employment or income, they use drugs or alcohol, or they have a criminal record, according to a HUD policy brief.
Martinez said both federal HUD funding and state MFA funding have this problem, and they do not provide “the flexibility to meet the needs in our community, for people out there who might not fall under those categories or who may not be currently enrolled in one of your programs.”
“It’s only for certain people,” Martinez said. “Right now, our hands are a little tied. Some of the systems have serious flaws.”
More flexible funding could allow providers to “have a knee-jerk reaction, and head out in the streets when we needed to — when somebody needed us — and not only focus on the grants that were given to us,” Martinez said.
Change could be made if organizations had discretion to provide case management services to the growing number of people experiencing homelessness who are not covered by existing HUD grants, Martinez said.
Martinez said the state should be funding flexible services, which would benefit many organizations trying to help people experiencing homelessness, not just the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope.
Tying funding for supportive services to an entire housing development, rather than the individual people living there, “would make many of our communities much more open to partnering with developers for affordable housing,” Martinez said.
Las Cruces talks challenges with electric buses - By Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico
Las Cruces officials told New Mexico lawmakers they’re looking for more local support in the effort to bring electric school buses to the state with federal grants, during Thursday’s Science Technology and Telecommunication interim committee meeting in Santa Rosa.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is spending $5 billion over the next five years to fund school district purchases of electric and lower-emission buses across the nation.
In 2022, the first year funding was open, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded Las Cruces nearly $2 million dollars for five electric buses to replace diesel counterparts. Those buses aren’t expected for delivery to the Southern New Mexico school district until March 2024.
Electric school buses cost about $400,000 – about three times the cost of diesel school buses outright – according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Gabe Jacquez said Las Cruces spent $400,000 on each bus, compared to $125,000 for diesel replacements.
Jacquez, the deputy superintendent for Operations and Leadership in LCPS, said the district would work to give the legislature what the lifetime savings were at a future date.
However, buses are often zero-emission and low-emission models that improve air quality and reduce climate impacts. More than 25 million children across the country ride buses, the vast majority of which use diesel fuel – a high polluter. Diesel exhaust is considered a ‘likely carcinogen,’ by federal agencies.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that electrifying 200 of Denver’s school buses could mean $461,000 in fuel costs and remove 1,700 tons of carbon dioxide per year – the same as taking 370 passenger cars off the road for the same amount of time. In New Mexico, about 166,000 children ride school buses to over 89 school districts, according to a Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund study.
New Mexico lawmakers asked how they could support electric school bus efforts for local districts.
Jacquez offered some consideration for lawmakers. He told the committee that the legislature should consider more support for districts, consider using capital outlay for infrastructure and ensure state money can be used for buying matching federal funds.
Another point, Jacquez testified, is to start discussions to look at renewable energy buyback programs, since New Mexico public schools don’t qualify for tax credits.
“We don’t pay taxes, but if there’s some sort of incentive to help offset some costs, again, of those taxpayer dollars, because at the end of the day, that’s more money that gets into a classroom, gets into a facility that we need, and covers those costs,” Jaquez said.
Many of the questions from lawmakers centered on safety and logistics.
Sen. Siah Hemphill (D-Silver City) asked officials from Las Cruces public schools about any emergency plans that are in place if buses broke down in rural areas, with limited cell phone service – or if the electric buses failed to charge.
Jacquez responded that Las Cruces schools were working on a plan for emergency scenarios with the bus contractor. He also said the school district is asking El Paso Electric about rolling blackouts and other electrical concerns that could stall school bus operations.
“We’re looking to answer ‘if we were to not have power to these buses, then what’s plan b for us?’ because we don’t have spare buses that we’re able to jump on, sometimes,” he said.
Five other New Mexico school districts received funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. Dora, Dulce and Lake Arthur school districts received between$610,000 and $790,000for two buses in each district.
Pecos Independent School district received $390,000 for one bus.
The grants promised rebates for not only buses but the infrastructure to charge them.
The most recent application closed last week, and more awards will be announced by the Environmental Protection Agency next year.
New Mexicans fight PNM’s proposed price hike, blaming utility for its prolonged fossil fuel usage - By Megan Gleason,Source New Mexico
A room that was empty a month ago was scattered with concerned New Mexicans on Thursday, joined by even more online, gathered to speak up against the possibility of more expensive utility bills next year.
The Public Service Company of New Mexico wants to hike up electricity costs in 2024. The utility in December 2022 asked the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to approve a 9.7% rate base increase, which the state officials will decide on in a few months.
Before that decision, the PRC invited New Mexicans to voice their opinions on the matter. This week, commissioners listened to dozens of people speak for an hour and a half against PNM’s requested price raise and the utility’s history of fossil fuel usage.
This was the second opportunity for New Mexicans to speak after few people attended the first public comment hearing.
Mark Fenton is the executive director of regulatory policy and case management at PNM. He said he was glad more people attended Thursday’s public comment hearing compared to the first one.
“We like to hear what the customers are saying and get the perspectives of the customers,” he said.
HOW MUCH MORE WOULD I BE PAYING?
New Mexican Daneon Riley had one question for the commissioners during public comment: What would the new rates actually be?
That’s something that’s still up in the air. Commissioner James Ellison said the PRC can’t answer that yet because it depends on the outcome of the case.
PNM officials say New Mexicans would only see a .75 cent increase in their bills with this rate change, arguing that it would be a less than 1% price hike taking into account renewable energy savings.
Not everyone agrees.
The full rate change requested is 9.7%. New Energy Economy, one of the environmental advocacy organizations fighting the price change, says that would amount to a billing increase of about $13 for at least seven years.
PNM spokesperson Raymond Sandoval also toldSource NMlast month the stipulation of immediate savings, making it a .75 cent increase, depends on the resolution of ongoing litigation regarding the closed San Juan Generating Station.
The utility didn’t respond to an inquiry on how much more a 9.7% increase would cost on people’s bills.
HIGHER PRICES TO GET AWAY FROM FOSSIL FUELS
PNM argues that it needs to bump prices up to cover costs sustained in its renewable energy transition. The utility has moved away from multiple fossil fuel plants, including the San Juan Generating Station, the Four Corners Generating Station and the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.
But how long the utility stayed at some of those plants is a point of controversy for those fighting the price increase.
Many members of the public reiterated the arguments of environmental organizations that New Mexicans shouldn’t be held accountable for poor decisions the utility made in sticking with fossil fuel facilities longer than it should have.
“I understand the need for utilities to cover their costs, but not because of a bad business decision that wasn’t my responsibility,” Destiny Krupnick said.
Krupnick, like a few others in the public comment, said a price raise could perpetuate the cycle of poverty for New Mexicans and asked the PRC to consider the far-reaching consequences it would have on vulnerable communities.
Krupnick said she’s experienced financial hardships herself. A 20-year-old who’s been experiencing homelessness over the summer, she said her situation is already precarious and every dollar she has is carefully allocated toward necessities like food or health care.
“Any additional financial burden, especially higher utilities, is a blow that could push me back onto the streets,” she said. “It’s a reality that me and many others cannot bear.”
People also spoke up against PNM’s request to increase profits that shareholders can get. They again voiced similar arguments to environmental groups that this is a guaranteed investor profit PNM is making New Mexicans pay for, though the utility has denied that.
Ray Ellen Smith, president of the advocacy organization Indivisible Albuquerque, said she understands that there needs to be a profit margin but investment risks have gone down or are covered by other rate increases.
“A decrease should be put in place rather than an increase,” she said.
A few people didn’t comment on the price raise at all, instead focusing on the negative environmental impacts that PNM’s fossil fuel stations have caused.
Chili Yazzie, logged into Zoom from Shiprock, said waste from the Four Corners plant has contaminated irrigation water that Indigenous farmers depend on. He said the future generation’s welfare will suffer because of the environmental damage being done.
“Is it not clear the kind of future that we are leaving them?” he said. “They will suffer the brunt of our rapid and inconsiderate exploitation of the earth.”
He said he stands with New Energy Economy’s position, a sentiment reiterated by others at the hearing, and asked the PRC to do what it needs to do.
Eleanor Smith (Diné), also from Shiprock, spoke about the negative health consequences like cancer and asthma she’s seen her family and neighbors experience, something she believes is a result of the Four Corners plant.
She said the PRC needs to represent the public interest, which “should be to support truly clean, renewable and sustainable energy rather than perpetuating the deadly fossil fuel industry.”
It’s poor judgment and insensitive of PNM to try to increase prices when New Mexicans are already struggling to make ends meet, Smith said.
POTENTIAL TO SAVE $9 EVERY MONTH FOR A YEAR
The closure of the San Juan Generating Station ties closely into this rate base increase request.
PNM started shutting down the San Juan facility in 2017 and fully decommissioned it last year. Part of the shutdown plan included an agreement between the utility and the PRC that PNM would decrease customer rates and sell bonds to cover investments made in the station.
That didn’t happen. Instead, PNM announced in early 2022 that it would sell bonds in 2024.
Sandoval, the PNM spokesperson, said the utility always planned to sell bonds when its prices changed, which the pandemic delayed.
He said PNM was going to ask the PRC in 2020 for a price increase but waited until 2022 because of the financial hardships COVID-19 put on New Mexicans.
The state commissioners didn’t agree with this change in plans, so they ordered PNM to give New Mexicans credits for improperly charging them for the San Juan coal plant.
PNM appealed that with the New Mexico Supreme Court, and New Mexicans have continued to pay for the San Juan Generating Station.
A recent settlement filed could change that, where PNM agreed to issue $115 million in rate credits to New Mexicans. That would amount to monthly savings of about $9.28 — roughly 11% — on utility bills over the course of a year, according to the PNM.
That would add up to over $100 New Mexicans could keep in their bank accounts, based on the PNM estimates.
Ellison said the New Mexico Supreme Court has to decide whether to return the case to the PRC, which would give commissioners the ability to approve this settlement or not.
A few people on Thursday asked the commissioners to approve it if it does come their way.
How a Louisiana appeals ruling could impact nuclear waste storage in New Mexico - By Danielle Prokop,Source New Mexico
Last week, a federal appellate court in New Orleans ordered a review and reversed a federal license to operate a proposed spent-fuel facility in Andrews County, Texas, just miles across the border from Eunice, New Mexico.
In the Aug. 25 order, Fifth Circuit Judge James Ho wrote that federal law does not grant the Nuclear Regulatory Commission the authority to license private storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel away from reactors.
“The Commission has no statutory authority to issue the license,” Ho wrote. “The Atomic Energy Act doesn’t authorize the Commission to license a private, away-from-reactor storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. And issuing such a license contradicts Congressional policy expressed in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.”
This is just the latest in a decades-long debate on what to do with the growing amount of radioactive waste from former and current power plants across the country.
Recently, Texas and New Mexico legislatures passed laws banning storage of nuclear waste – despitepreviousadministrations welcoming the industry – and setting up for a showdown with the federal government, who has authority over the nuclear industry.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commissionissued a license to Florida-based company Holtec International for a proposed storage site in southeast New Mexico between Hobbs and Carlsbad.
That license allows for a facility to store more than 8,680 metric tons of spent fuel, even as New Mexicopassed a law banning the storage of high-level nuclear waste in the state just before the license was issued. The ban will not be lifted, according to the state law, until a national repository is built, and New Mexico officials give approval for a waste facility.
State officials said they would examine the decision further, said Matthew Maez, spokesperson for the New Mexico Environment Department.
“New Mexico is assessing the applicability of this decision to the NRC’s license to Holtec and evaluating additional avenues for ensuring that the well-being of our citizens and the environment are protected from this type of nuclear waste storage facility,” Maez said in a written statement.
Nuclear watchdogs and environmental groups said the timing of the Fifth Circuit opinion may have an impact on the appeal against the Holtec license going before the D.C. Circuit later this month. The deadline to file arguments is Friday.
Kevin Kamps, with nonprofit Beyond Nuclear, called the judgment “sweeping,” but said it’s complicated to determine how it might impact other cases.
“Sometimes circuits disagree, and they have disagreed here,” Kamps said. “It’s hard to say what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Justice and even [Interim Storage Partners] ISP are going to do in response to the Fifth Circuit ruling.”
Previous court appeals over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission license of the Andrew’s Texas Facility have been tossed, most recently by the D.C. Appeals Circuit in January this year.
Kamps said Beyond Nuclear is “more confident” about the Holtec challenge. The court has not currently scheduled oral arguments, but it’s possible they’d be set for early 2024.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty, said Don Hancock, the nuclear waste program director at Southwest Research and Information Center.
“It’s better for our point of view than it is for Holtec’s point of view. But it doesn’t, for sure, decide what’s going to happen with the D.C. Circuit on the Holtec license,” Hancock said.
Patrick O’Brien, a Holtec International spokesperson, said the company had “no comment on the ruling at this time.”
The facility, located in the Permian Basin, was supposed to be a private facility managed by nuclear technology company Interim Storage Partners, to hold 40,000 metric tons of used fuel rods.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commissionissued a license to operate the Andrews County, Texas facility in September 2021. Thelicense designates the site as a “temporary facility” while a permanent place for nuclear waste is developed.Nuclear watchdog groups are concerned these interim facilities will become over time the permanent storage sites for high-level nuclear waste. The federal government abandoned the effort to build a permanent nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain, afteryears of opposition from officials and organizers in Nevada.
Oil and gas companies and the state of Texas sued in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, requesting a review of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission license, and for the court to vacate it. The panel of three judges sided with Texas’ arguments.
The federal agency is checking its options to appeal, said David McIntyre, a spokesperson for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“We are reviewing the Fifth Circuit Court’s decision and consulting with the Department of Justice,” McIntyre said in a phone call with Source NM.
The commission has until Oct. 17 to determine if it will file an appeal, which could include going before the entire Fifth Circuit. The license currently remains in place, since the court has not yet issued a mandate, he said.
New Mexico scores high in gender parity report - By Nicole Maxwell, New Mexico Political Report
An organization seeking gender equality in public office ranked New Mexico fourth in its 2023 Gender Parity Index.
RepresentWomen has published gender parity indices since 2013. In the last three indices, New Mexico has scored highly. Gender parity is when 50 percent or more public offices are held by women.
The gender parity scores measure women’s representation across state and local government from 0-100 with 0 meaning there are no women in public offices to 100 if women serve in every public office.
In 2023, New Mexico scored 46.7 points out of 100 which is down from 2022 when the state’s score was 49.2 points. In 2021 the state scored 49 points for gender parity. New Mexico was top ranked those two years.
Part of the drop comes from New Mexico’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives coming from an all-woman delegation to having one female representative, Yvette Herrell, losing her re-election bid to Rep. Gabe Vazquez, a Democrat from Las Cruces.
Herrell, a Republican from Alamogordo, announced her bid for re-election in April. She was the 2nd congressional district representative, a seat that has been a revolving door in the last few elections.
Herrell won the seat during the 2020 election from then-incumbent Xochitl Torres Small who is now serving as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.
Torres Small had served one term when Herrell won the seat in 2020. Herrell served one term before Vazquez won the seat in 2022.
Herrell, the Republican Party of New Mexico and others claim the recent decennial redistricting effort “gerrymandered” the second congressional district since it now includes part of Albuquerque when before it covered the southern half of New Mexico.
The gerrymandering case is set to have a bench trial beginning Sept. 27, according to court records.
The second congressional district is not the only factor in RepresetWomen’s findings.
New Mexico has elected a woman governor in the last three elections.
“For New Mexico to maintain its Parity Score, it will need to elect another woman governor after the current governor is termed out in 2026,” the index stated.
Institute of American Indian Arts raises $760K for scholarships — Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News
More students will be able to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts debt-free thanks to a successful fundraiser at the Santa Fe Indian Market.
The Albuquerque Journal reports the school brought in over $760-thousand dollars and counting, as donations continue to come in. The funds will go toward student scholarships.
More than 8 in 10 IAIA students receive federal financial aid — but it’s often not enough. The Journal reports the Pell Grant pays for less than half of annual tuition and fees. More than 90% of the school’s students rely on scholarships to supplement that federal aid.
Attendees to the event held at Santa Fe’s La Fonda came from around the county. A live art auction brought in over $160-thousand dollars for the IAIA Foundation, and the school raised more from calls for donations and event sponsorships.