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Friday News Roundup: NM Scaling Back Marijuana Program Changes

New Mexico Scaling Back Marijuana Program ChangesThe Associated Press and Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Susana Martinez's administration is scaling back possible changes for New Mexico's medical marijuana program.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that a Department of Health official told legislators during a Thursday hearing in Taos Pueblo that the agency will scrap two proposals that had come under fire from pot producers and users.

One would have instituted criminal background checks for patients approved to grow their own marijuana. The other would reduce the number of marijuana plants allowed for personal consumption.

Meanwhile, the department also plans to change a proposed new fee structure for licensed producers.

Department spokesman Kenny Vigil says the department is making the changes based on public comment.

Vigil says the department will make a final decision on its remaining proposals after it receives a hearing officer's report.

New Mexico Senators Push For New State VA Director - The Associated Press

New Mexico's two senators are urging Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson to hire a permanent director for Albuquerque's VA hospital.

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich wrote in a letter yesterday that the hiring is needed in order to gain the trust of veterans and address serious problems with scheduling.

The letter comes as the VA deals with a national scandal over reports of long delays for treatment and medical appointments and of veterans dying while on waiting lists.

A new audit of the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center released yesterday shows there were 353 veterans on the electronic waiting list, down from more than 1,040 a month ago. The list includes new patients for whom appointments cannot be scheduled within 90 days.

VA Secretary: Albuquerque Staff Acted Properly - The Associated Press

Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson says staffers at Albuquerque's VA hospital responded properly when a veteran died after collapsing in the medical center's cafeteria.

Hospital staff faced scrutiny after the death of 71-year-old Jim Napoleon Garcia, who received CPR on the floor while an ambulance was called to take him to an emergency room 500 yards away.

Gibson says an initial review found staffers followed procedure, but he noted the department is reviewing the case to see whether systemwide changes are needed.

Ex-Navajo Lawmaker Pleads Guilty In Criminal Case - The Associated Press

A former Navajo Nation Council delegate has pleaded guilty in what prosecutors say was a scheme to divert tribal funds to his family.

Harry Willeto entered the plea to a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery earlier this month. Prosecutors dropped six bribery charges against him as part of a plea agreement.

Willeto says he gave $11,450 to three of his colleagues with the understanding his family would get equal amounts. He says he knew the arrangement was wrong.

Prosecutors say Willeto can avoid jail time by testifying against others accused of misappropriating discretionary funds.

Window Rock District Court Judge Carol Perry is expected to hear arguments today on a prosecution request to consolidate trials for other current and former Navajo lawmakers facing bribery and conspiracy charges.

GOP Senate Candidate Lends Campaign $500,000 - The Associated Press

New finance reports show that Republican Allen Weh has lent his Senate campaign more than a half million dollars in the past three months while outpacing the fundraising of Democratic incumbent Tom Udall.

But Udall holds an overall financial advantage with cash-on-hand of $3.4 million at the end of last month. Weh had a campaign account balance of nearly $628,000.

Weh raised $905,000 from April through June, with $555,000 coming from personal loans.

Udall reported total receipts of $890,000 during the past quarter.

Weh won the GOP nomination in a two-way race in the June primary election. Udall had no primary opponent.

Weh is a retired Marine colonel who owns a charter aircraft and leasing company in Albuquerque.

Santa Fe Police Hand Out Food Bags To Homeless - The Associated Press and Santa Fe New Mexican

Santa Fe police are trying to make connections with members of the northern New Mexico city's homeless populations through their stomachs.

Four officers in the Police Department's community relations unit spent an hour Thursday handing out 40 food bags to homeless people in the downtown area.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that police want to meet some of the homeless, hear their stories and learn of any possible mental illnesses before they have other interaction with them.

A church and a food distribution organization provided the lunch bags distributed by the officers.

Joni Brenneisen of Christ Church Santa Fe says the police-homeless interaction could help avoid tragic events such as a March fatal shooting of homeless camper by Albuquerque police.

Governor Appoints Insurance Exchange Board Member - The Associated Press

The leader of New Mexico's largest commercial health insurer has been named to a board governing the state's health insurance exchange.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico President Kurt Shipley was appointed to the board by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Shipley succeeds Lovelace Health Plan CEO Ben Slocum, whose term had expired.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield recently acquired Lovelace's commercial insurance business and Medicare customers.

Shipley's term expires June 30, 2016.

The exchange serves as an online marketplace for individuals and small businesses to buy medical coverage.

The 13-member board must decide soon whether to switch to a state-run computer system for enrolling individuals this fall. New Mexico has been using a federally operated exchange, which was plagued with technical problems when it started late last year.

10-Year-Old Boy To Become Honorary Police Officer - The Associated Press

A 10-year-old boy is being sworn in as Albuquerque's newest police officer.

In partnership with Make-A-Wish New Mexico, the department today will grant Andrew Martines's dream of becoming a SWAT officer.

Martines will receive his uniform, ID badge and be sworn in by Chief Gorden Eden. Then he will be briefed on the fictional "Sunday Morning Bandit" that has been terrorizing Albuquerque.

On Sunday morning, Martines will get a call that the department needs his help, and he will be picked up for a helicopter ride and motorcade -- complete with a doughnut stop -- before he captures the bandit with the help of a police dog.

After saving the city, Martines will be awarded the title of police chief and honored by Eden.

Make-A-Wish New Mexico grants wishes for children with life threatening medical conditions.