89.9 FM Live From The University Of New Mexico
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

WED: NM House sends state budget to gov for signature, + More

The Children Youth and Families Department Policy Advisory Council met for the first time inside the New Mexico State Capitol on Thursday, May 4, 2023.
Liam DeBonis
Source New Mexico
The Children Youth and Families Department Policy Advisory Council met for the first time inside the New Mexico State Capitol on Thursday, May 4, 2023.

House sends state budget to governor for signature - KUNM News

Just two days before the scheduled end of the 2024 legislative session, New Mexico’s House of Representatives Tuesday night passed a whopping $10.22 billion state budget for investments in education, workforce development, public safety, infrastructure and the environment.

House Bill 2, or the General Appropriations Act, now heads to the Governor’s desk for her signature.

The bill stands at a 6.8% increase from last year, while retaining a 31% reserve. Last minute amendments to the bill increased the budget by $31.5 million to “grow and maintain key state programs,”according to a press release.

State legislators on both sides of the political aisle say this budget will protect the state against cuts and layoffs the next time oil prices drop or global forces torpedo New Mexico’s economy.

Specifically, it includes $4.3 billion in recurring funds for public schools, including special appropriations for structured literacy, and out-of-school learning opportunities, plus $300 million to the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund for conservation initiatives.

The 2024 legislative session adjourns Thursday at noon.

New Mexico legislators seek cleaner transportation fuels, would follow West Coast's lead - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico's Legislature has approved a bill aimed at reducing climate-warming pollution from cars and trucks through financial incentives to reward businesses that produce cleaner fuels.

The Senate voted 26-15 Tuesday, on a party-line vote with Republicans in opposition, to send the bill to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who supports the initiative.

California, Oregon and Washington already enforce low carbon fuel standards. New Mexico would be the first to follow suit.

The bill calls for a reduction in the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions for transportation fuels used in the state — of 20% by 2030 and 30% by 2040.

It would require producers of high-polluting fuels to buy credits from producers and importers of low-carbon fuels.

The program and its market for carbon credits would be established by mid-2026, with oversight by the state Environment Department.

Democratic sponsors of the bill anticipate it will spur investments in new fuels and new technologies. The transportation sector is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New Mexico behind the oil and natural gas industry.

State Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque rattled off a list of more than 20 companies and coalitions including Chevron that have expressed interest in the low-carbon fuel market under the proposed reforms. She also touted the health benefits through anticipated reductions in airborne pollution that contribute to ozone.

Earlier this month, the bill narrowly won House approval on a 36-33 vote amid concerns about impacts on fuel prices on consumers in the nation's No. 2 state for oil production.

"I am concerned about what this bill will do to the price of transportation fuel," Sen. Greg Nibert of Roswell said during Tuesday's Senate floor debate. "It's going to be felt the harshest by those who have the least, who can least afford these transportation fuels."

Bill cosponsor and Democratic state Rep. Kristina Ortez of Taos pushed back against those worries.

"We believe this is fear mongering," she told a Senate panel Tuesday. "I come from a district that is very poor. I certainly would not bring a bill that would have an impact on my constituents and New Mexicans."

Republican Senate Leader Greg Baca of Belen cautioned legislators against imposing new pollution regulations on rural communities with clear skies in a sparsely populated state.

"Let's use common sense ... not this voodoo science that's being produced for us telling us that we have dirty air in this state in a populace of only 2 million, that we're somehow contributing to this global catastrophe that's being pushed on us."

Separately, a final House concurrence vote sent a $10.2 billion budget plan for the coming fiscal year to the governor for consideration and possible line-item vetoes.

New Mexico would set aside well over $1 billion to guarantee tuition-free college and sustain government spending in case its oil production bonanza fades in the transition to cleaner energy sources, under the general fund spending bill.

Former BernCo Sheriff disqualified from New Mexico Senate race - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News 

Former Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales has been disqualified as a candidate for this year’s race for a U.S. Senate seat.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, Gonzales was disqualified because he simply couldn’t get enough signatures to add his name to the list of challengers to incumbent U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

Nella Domenici, the daughter of the late Sen. Pete Domenici, is now the only GOP candidate in the running.

New Mexico Secretary of State Office spokesperson Alex Curtas told the Journal that Gonzales received 875 signatures but needed 2,351 in order to qualify.

Last year, Gonzales was named in an alleged cross-country machine gun scheme, where federal authorities suspected him and his undersheriff, Rudy Mora, of acquiring machine guns to resell to firearms dealers and gun enthusiasts. No charges have been filed.

Bill to carry governor’s Strategic Water Supply initiative tabled 8-1 – Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico

Members of the Senate Conservation Committee voted 8-1 to table a stripped-down bill creating a market for treated brackish water, likely ending the road for one of the major priorities forGov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in the 30-day session.

Chair Liz Stefanics (D-Cerrillos), who sponsored the bill, was the lone dissenting vote. After it failed, she joked that “we don’t have friends here,” garnering a laugh from the committee members.


In the State of the State and further appearances, Lujan Grisham originally asked for $500 million in severance tax bond sales, the sale of which would be used to buy treated brackish (salty) groundwater, and oil and gas wastewater. The state would act as a “middleman” for sale to manufacturing and industry.

After that measure was excised from the capital outlay package this weekend, a much narrower bill emerged.

The Senate Bill 294 substitution before the Senate Conservation Committee requested $100 million in severance tax sales, for the purchase of treated brackish water.

The hearing on Tuesday morning lasted more than an hour. It was the first look at a bill with details for the governor’s proposal, since capital outlay is wrapped into closed-door negotiations until a final bill is released and voted on.


Stefanics was joined by co-sponsor Sen. Bill Sharer (R-Farmington), State Engineer Mike Hammond, New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney and Rebecca Roose, the governor’s infrastructure czar.

Kenney opened the meeting with a request for passing the legislation.

“I won’t take up much of your time other than to say that being bold, being brave and forging new pathways in protecting freshwater, while diversifying our economy is what we’re doing here today,” he said.

Hammond said the legislation affords a position to “study, investigate, encourage industrial utilization of non-potable freshwater within our state,” and help the state prepare for a more arid future.

Ashley Leach, the director for the State Board of Finance, also voiced support.

In the middle of public comment, Stafanics asked if any members from industry were present to speak on behalf of the bill, no one came forward. Only government agency heads and division employees spoke in favor of the bill.

In public comments, a water expert and lobbyists representing environmental groups requested tabling the bill, raising concerns about the rush to push forward the bill in the final days.

“I want to tell you that this bill is the wrong thing to do for New Mexico at this time of water crisis,” said Norm Gaume, a water expert and former Interstate Stream Director.

As a member of the public, Gaume offered an amendment to the bill to add language from the Water Security Planning Act, which passed the legislature in 2023. That amendment was not taken up by any lawmaker, nor was it acted upon.

The bill raised lingering questions around brine disposal, and wasn’t vetted by communities, said Tricia Snyder, who spoke on behalf of conservation nonprofits New Mexico Wild, Amigos Bravos and the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club.

Further concerns included that there is currently not enough data on aquifers, since the state’s aquifer mapping project has not been fully funded since it passed the legislature in 2019. Snyder said there are few answers for unintended consequences of removing brackish water.

“Deep aquifers are unlikely to be replenished in our lifetime, it is therefore very important decision-makers operate with caution, since this change cannot be undone,” she said.

Doug Meiklejohn, with Conservation Voters New Mexico, said the bill did not have any language regarding how brackish water pumping may impact its legal agreements with other states, which share rivers in compact agreements with New Mexico.

Alejandria Lyons, representing a coalition of environmentalists, said “we fear that creating a market value of brackish water will eventually lead to demand and exploitation of another non-renewable resource.”


Questions from lawmakers on the committee displayed skepticism but also confusion about the bill’s function.

Sen. Bill Soules (D-Las Cruces) asked who owns brackish water.

The answer from Nat Chakeres, general counsel at the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, is that the public owns water in deep aquifers.

“If it’s deeper than 2,500 feet, generally, nobody really has been able to put that to use and so that you still have to get a permit to ensure safe drilling, but it belongs to the public, anybody can tap into that,” Chakeres responded.

Soules asked why any business would allow for the state to be a middleman, rather than water suppliers selling directly to manufacturers.

Kenney responded, “It is hard to wrap your head around this theoretical concept,” then likened the government’s actions to spurring pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccines for a population.

After further back and forth, Kenney told the lawmakers, “By being in the middle, we are facilitating a market that doesn’t exist today, if it did, we wouldn’t be here because they’d be building infrastructure, and they’re not.”

Sen. Steven McCutcheon II (R-Carlsbad) engaged in a back and forth with Kenney and Hammond. He attempted to nail down the specifics of the market model, and expressed concerns about salty water permitted for use in more shallow aquifers.

McCutcheon put forward an amendment to use “non-potable water,” in places of brackish water in the bill. That failed on party lines.

Roose said the amendment was unfriendly as “non-potable water” would be expansive enough to allow oil and gas wastewater back into the bill.

Sen. Carrie Hamblen (D-Las Cruces) asked Hammond multiple times about concerns on current aquifers, or how to ensure safely drilled wells into brackish aquifers, to prevent commingling in drinkable aquifers.

Hammond said that further monitoring and permitting how the wells would be a focus of the agency.

Sharer shared closing remarks advocating for the bill just before the vote, saying that concerns over “unproven technologies,” is too cautious.

“If we’re unwilling to try something, we’ll never get anywhere,” he said.

The committee voted 8-1 to table, most likely killing the bill for this session.

In explaining his no vote, Sen. Harold Pope (D-Albuquerque) likened the debate to his time in the Air Force working on weapons, saying the debate was skimming around the “known unknowns,” and needed more discussion.

“We’re not even getting into the unknown unknowns,” Pope said. He then concluded, “I suggest we keep working on this, let’s get all the stakeholders involved, I believe we are going to go in this direction, I just can’t support this bill as it.”

Oil and gas producer to pay millions to US and New Mexico to remedy pollution concerns - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A Texas company has reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the federal government and the state of New Mexico to address air pollution concerns in the largest oil and gas producing region in the United States.

The agreement announced Tuesday with Apache Corporation calls for the company to pay $4 million in penalties and spend more than $5 million on preventative measures to reduce emissions at its wells in the Permian Basin, which spans parts of New Mexico and Texas.

Apache was accused in a civil lawsuit of failing to comply with federal and state requirements to capture and control emissions at some of its operations in the two states. Federal officials and regulators in New Mexico identified the alleged violations through field investigations and flyovers by helicopters outfitted with infrared cameras that can detect hydrocarbon vapors that are invisible to the naked eye.

Efforts by regulators to crack down on oil companies have ramped up in recent years through a combination of on-the-ground inspections, flyovers and now satellite imagery as they look for Clean Air Act violations across the Permian Basin and in other oil producing regions.

New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney said he's concerned about the compliance rate for companies operating in New Mexico, describing it as terrible.

"The ozone levels are rising, and you know, I think this is that moment where we have to hold up the mirror to industry and say, 'If you don't like what you see, it's a reflection of your own effort," he said during an phone interview.

The civil complaint targeting Apache comes nearly a year after federal and state officials announced a similar agreement with another producer in the Permian Basin over violations. In 2022, an investigation by The Associated Press showed 533 oil and gas facilities in the region were emitting excessive amounts of methane.

Surveillance done by state and federal regulators in 2019, 2020 and 2022 turned up alleged violations at nearly two dozen of Apache's sites.

The company said in an email that the consent decree announced Tuesday resolves alleged violations from years ago and that the company acted swiftly to remedy the issues. Changes have included modifications to allow for more measurement, monitoring and capture of emissions and increased site inspections and expedited maintenance timelines.

"Moving forward, the consent decree represents our commitment to continuous improvement across our facilities in the Permian Basin," the company said. "We also continue to collaborate with industry partners through organizations such as the Environmental Partnership and the U.N.'s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership in striving toward a more sustainable future."

The agreement covers 422 of Apache's oil and gas well pads in New Mexico and Texas, ensuring that they will comply with state and federal clean air regulations and that past illegal emissions will be offset.

State and federal officials estimate that compliance will result in annual reductions of 900 tons of methane and more than 9,650 tons of volatile organic compounds, which contribute to smog.

In all, state officials said the recent consent decrees with energy companies cover about 15% of oil and gas production in New Mexico and about 9% of the wells.

While many operators in the Permian are complying with existing regulations, Kenney warned those that are skirting the rules will spur even greater federal and state enforcement over the entire industry if ozone levels continue to rise.

"Simply stated, the message is 'Do better,'" Kenney said.

Apache's plan calls for making design improvements and installing new tank pressure monitoring systems that will provide advance notice of potential emissions and allow for an immediate response. Regular reports also will be submitted to the state.

Man who fatally stabbed New Mexico officer had long criminal record, police say - Associated Press

A man who fatally stabbed a police officer in southern New Mexico over the weekend had a long criminal record, authorities said Tuesday.

The death of Las Cruces patrol Officer Jonah Hernandez marked the first on-duty death among officers in the 96-year-old history of the city's police department, officials said.

"We will mourn the loss of our brother forever," Las Cruces police Chief Jeremy Story said at a Tuesday news conference.

Authorities initially received a call Sunday afternoon that Armando Silva, 29, was trespassing on private property at a Las Cruces business, Story said.

Hernandez was dispatched without any backup after the call from the property owner. Story said Silva attacked Hernandez with a large kitchen knife. A witness retrieved a gun from his car and fatally shot Silva before calling on the officer's radio for help, Story said.

Hernandez, 35, suffered a least one stab wound and died at a local hospital.

Story said Silva had a long history of violent crime and mental illness.

"He was convicted of serious violent crimes and spent some time in prison," Story said. "He violated his probation and parole multiple times."

Court records show Silva was sentenced in 2017 to three years in prison after pleading guilty in a domestic violence case and, in 2019, he cut off his GPS bracelet and was found to be in possession of drugs.

A public safety assessment filed in early 2023 showed Silva had both prior misdemeanor and felony convictions and had failed to appear in court previously.

Story declined to identify the witness but said police aren't recommending any charges against him. Prosecutors ultimately make that determination.

Hernandez was a former resident of El Paso, Texas, who had served with Las Cruces Police Department for two years. He is survived by his wife and two sons, ages 2 and 10, plus his parents and two siblings, authorities said.

Law enforcement agencies from across New Mexico helped escort Hernandez's body to El Paso on Monday night. Funeral services were pending.

Las Cruces is one of New Mexico's largest cities and was founded in 1928. It's located about 225 miles (360 kilometers) south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and some 45 miles (75 kilometers) northwest of El Paso.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement Monday that she was " horrified to hear of the murder of a young officer in Las Cruces."

"This loss is felt acutely by every first responder and their families," she said.

On Tuesday, Lujan Grisham ordered all state flags be lowered to half-staff from Wednesday through sundown of Feb. 19 in honor of Hernandez.

New Mexico gets its first cold case unit - KUNM News

New Mexico is getting its first dedicated cold case unit. Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced the unit, which will focus on homicide and sexual assault cases, at a press conference Tuesday.

The unit currently has three full-time law enforcement agents. It will use forensic genetic genealogy methods to identify suspects.

The New Mexico Department of Justice has already accepted six cases. They include two from the 80s, three from the 90s and one from the 2010s.

More information about the cases can be found at the unit’s website. The department is also encouraging people with information about those cases to call its tipline, which can also be found at the website.

How did live ammunition get on Alec Baldwin's 'Rust' set? The armorer's trial will focus on this - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

The scheduled trial next week of a movie weapons supervisor in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin may hinge on an enduring mystery: How did live ammunition find its way onto the set of a film set where it was expressly prohibited?

Investigators recovered six live rounds of ammunition from a box, a bandolier, a gun belt and other locations on the set of the Western movie "Rust," including the round that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.

Special prosecutors say they will present "substantial evidence" at the trial that movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed unwittingly brought live rounds onto the set when she first began work on the film.

They say that includes photos showing that live rounds were present on the set days before Hutchins was killed. They also plan to present testimony that, months before the shooting, Gutierrez-Reed had looked for and purchased live .45-caliber ammunition.

"Ms. Gutierrez is not charged with intentional homicide, she is charged with homicide based on negligence," special prosecutor Kari Morrissey said in a recent court filing. "The tragedy occurred due to a series of negligent acts given that live rounds were on set well before October 21, 2021. Her ongoing negligent acts created numerous opportunities for live rounds to go undetected."

Gutierrez-Reed has pleaded not guilty to the involuntary manslaughter charge.

Flimsy is how her attorneys describe the evidence that she might have unknowingly brought live rounds on set, saying it falls far short of standards for prosecution.

Her attorneys also accuse prosecutors of compromising a crucial trial witness by handing over privileged communications about their case to the Albuquerque-based dummy ammunition supplier for "Rust" — whom they contend is the source of live ammunition that made its way onto the set. A civil lawsuit by Gutierrez-Reed against ammunition supplier Seth Kenney was dismissed in August and can't be refiled.

Much of the evidence about ammunition on set — culled from sources including thousands of text messages between "Rust" crew members — has not been made public under commonplace rules of evidentiary discovery prior to trial.

The proceedings against the armorer hold implications for Baldwin, the lead actor and co-producer on "Rust." He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter and could face trial later this year. "Rust" assistant director and safety coordinator David Halls pleaded no contest to unsafe handling of a firearm and received a suspended sentence of six months of probation, agreeing to cooperate in investigations of the shooting.

Prosecutors allege that Gutierrez-Reed eventually loaded a live round into the gun that Baldwin discharged during the October 2021 rehearsal, killing Hutchins, and that the tragedy was a consequence of lax oversight of ammunition.

Baldwin has said he assumed the gun had only inert dummy rounds inside that can't fire and that someone else is responsible.

But the indictment against Baldwin provides two alternative standards for prosecution, one based on the negligent use of a firearm and another tied to negligence without due caution or "circumspection," also defined as "total disregard or indifference for the safety of others." Legal experts say the latter standard could broaden the investigation beyond Baldwin's handling of the gun. A date has not been set for Baldwin's potential trial.

"Rust" used an operable revolver. Industry-wide guidance, under a bulletin that applied to "Rust," says that "live ammunition is never to be used nor brought onto any studio lot or stage." It also says to "treat all firearms as if they are loaded."

Crew members also say Bonanza Creek Ranch, the movie set location where Hutchins was shot, forbade the presence of live ammunition on its property.

State workplace safety regulators say Gutierrez-Reed was responsible for storage, maintenance and handling of firearms and ammunition on set and for loading firearms with blanks that have a charge but no projectile, or inert dummy rounds.

Live rounds are typically distinguished from dummy rounds by a small hole in the dummy's brass cartridge, indicating there is no explosive inside, by a missing or dimpled primer at the bottom of the cartridge, or by shaking the round to hear the clatter of a BB that is inserted inside.

Live ammunition has made its way onto U.S. movie sets with severe consequences in just a handful of instances.

Actor Brandon Lee died in 1993 after he was shot in the abdomen while filming a scene of "The Crow." Lee was killed by a makeshift bullet that remained in a gun from a previous scene. The production ended up paying a $55,000 fine to federal regulators.

In 2005, federal regulators fined Greystone Television and Films $650 after a crew member was shot in the thigh, elbow and hand. It turned out that balloon-breaking birdshot rounds were in the same box as the blanks that were supposed to be used in rifles.

In New Mexico, a scathing report from state regulators about the "Rust" shooting said the production company did not develop a process for ensuring live rounds were kept away from the set and failed to give the armorer enough time to thoroughly inventory ammunition.

Prosecutors want the regulators' conclusions kept out of the trial because it might be used to argue that "Rust" management was responsible for safety failures and not Gutierrez-Reed.

Heated and disparaging exchanges between defense counsel and prosecutors in recent pretrial court filings include accusations of "vindictive," unconstitutional prosecution tactics. Special prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis are pursuing additional felony charges of tampering with evidence on allegations that Gutierrez-Reed handed off a baggie of possible narcotics to another crew member in the aftermath of the shooting to evade prosecution and took a video of herself bringing a gun into a Santa Fe bar weeks before the fatal shooting.

Defense attorney Jason Bowles says prosecutors are using trumped-up charges to pressure Gutierrez-Reed to make a false confession regarding the source of live ammunition on the film set.

"The state has always been open to resolving Ms. Gutierrez's cases," special prosecutor Morrissey responded in a court filing, "on one condition — that she take responsibility for the fact that she unknowingly brought live ammunition onto the set of 'Rust.'"