Bill To Create State-Run Pot Shops Likely Dead, Education Reforms Now In Governor's Hands

Mar 14, 2019

New Mexico Bill To Create State-Run Pot Shops Appears DeadAssociated Press

A proposal that would make New Mexico the first U.S. state to set up government-operated marijuana stores appears dead in the current legislative session.

Sen. John Sapien, a Bernalillo Democrat, said Thursday lawmakers still have questions about the measure with only hours left before the session ends.

The bill passed by the state House would legalize recreational marijuana in New Mexico.

However, it has stalled in the Senate Finance Committee and it doesn't appear that Sen. John Arthur Smith, chair of the panel, planned to give it a hearing.

Sapien says some private companies and medical marijuana providers have concerns over how the bill is written.

The idea for state-run pot shops came from a trio of GOP state senators who broke with party orthodoxy to embrace legal marijuana.

New Mexico Infant Dies While In State CustodyAssociated Press

New Mexico authorities are investigating after an infant died while in the custody of a foster family that was caring for the child following the arrest of his parents on charges stemming from the death of one of their other children.

Albuquerque police responded Thursday after the boy was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Authorities said the child belonged to Monique Romero and David Zuber. They were arrested in January and their remaining children were placed in state custody after the couple admitted to burying their 1-year-old daughter in a backyard.

Zuber and Romero were released after a judge declined to hold them pending trial.

State spokesman Tripp Stelnicki declined to release any details about the latest sibling's death but said the Children, Youth and Families Department wants to ensure the case is thoroughly investigated.

New Mexico Compound Suspects Face New Conspiracy ChargesAssociated Press

Federal authorities say five former residents of a New Mexico compound have been indicted on charges of conspiring on a plan to attack U.S. law enforcement officers and employees.

The charges in a superseding indictment Wednesday accuse the two men in the group — Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Lucas Morton — of constructing a firing range at the Taos County compound to train others for attacks that never occurred.

The men and three women living at the site were arrested following an August raid that led to the discovery of 11 hungry children living in filth.

Authorities had been searching for Wahhaj's son, who authorities say had medical issues before he was kidnapped from his mother in Georgia and taken by the group to New Mexico. He later died at the compound.

US Immigration Agents Find Ways Around 'Sanctuary' PoliciesAssociated Press

Despite scores of sanctuary laws around the country to shield immigrants from deportation, federal authorities are still getting under-the-table cooperation from some local law enforcement agencies.

Activists say Immigration and Customs Enforcement has informal information-sharing relationships with police and jail officials. In New Mexico, for example, the staff at the county jail in Albuquerque was giving ICE access to its computers and tipping off the agency about inmates being released.

Immigration activists say they have seen it places like Philadelphia, Chicago and several communities in California, which has a statewide sanctuary law. The American Civil Liberties Union reported this week that emails show that a detective in Orange County, California, regularly looked up license plate information for an immigration officer.

Alamogordo Declares Itself Second Amendment Sanctuary CityAlamogordo Daily News, Associated Press

A New Mexico city has declared itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary city in a move to protest legislative actions they feel may infringe on residents' right to bear arms.

The Alamogordo Daily News reports the Alamogordo City Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of the symbolic declaration that is a resolution and not a law.

Alamogordo Mayor Richard Boss says the city's police department is still going to have to enforce the laws of the state of New Mexico.

Alamogordo Police Chief Brian Peete agreed with Boss and added that he expects a constitutional challenge to firearm legislation signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

New Mexico Accuses Texas Oil Firm Of Air Quality ViolationsAssociated Press

New Mexico regulators are going after a Texas-based oil and gas company over alleged air quality violations.

The environment department issued the notice of violation to Hilcorp Energy on Thursday, saying the company has violated state and federal laws by improperly controlling emissions from one of its wells in the San Juan Basin.

The state contends any natural gas released during drilling must be captured and not wasted.

Hilcorp did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The company has numerous wells in the northwest corner of the state and was already at odds with state officials over a request to increase well densities in the area.

The state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are requiring Hilcorp to submit more data on its facilities in New Mexico to determine compliance.

Speaker Says Plan To Bring Back UNM Soccer 'Not Dead Yet'Associated Press

New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf says a plan to bring back men's soccer and other recently cut sports at the University of New Mexico is "not dead yet."

Egolf said Thursday that lawmakers and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham remain committed to reinstate the sports at the state's largest university despite moves by the Senate to eliminate the requirement.

The Senate recently stripped out House budgetary language aimed at making the University of New Mexico bring back four eliminated sports teams.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat, has described that approach as "micromanaging" the university's affairs.

Egolf says House Democrats are looking at all options and intend on passing something that would allocate money for the struggling University of New Mexico athletics program to bring back the sports.

Speaker Says New Mexico House To Vote On Film Rebate IncreaseAssociated Press

New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf says he expects the House to pass a measure to double the annual rebate cap to the film industry.

Egolf said the proposal is scheduled to be heard in a House committee and should come before the full House late Thursday.

By a 32-8 vote on Tuesday, the Senate endorsed a bill that would increase the annual rebate cap from $50 million to $110 million. Other major provisions include authorized rebate payments of between $195 million and $225 million by July 2020 to address an accumulation of unpaid incentives.

The tax incentives aim to attract filmmakers to New Mexico and provide a 25 percent rebate to film productions for most direct expenditures in the state, with provisions for larger rebates with long-term filming commitments.

Repository Workers Trapped Underground During Power OutageAssociated Press

Thirty-six miners at a New Mexico nuclear waste repository were trapped underground in an elevator for about three hours due to a power outage.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports the outage Tuesday at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant facility near the Pecos River was caused by heavy winds and storms.

The facility also ceased operations Wednesday due to an ongoing threat of heavy, damaging winds.

Nuclear Waste Partnership spokesman Bobby St. John says an initial investigation showed the facility's utility provider lost power due to the "extreme weather."

St. John says the waste handling hoist carrying the workers lost power at about 7 p.m. and was operational by 10 p.m.

Once power was restored, workers were lowered about 600 feet back underground and brought to the surface using the salt hoist.

New Mexico Democrats At Odds Over Minimum Wage HikeAssociated Press

The New Mexico state Senate has rejected a minimum wage proposal approved by the House of Representatives that would gradually raise base pay to $12 an hour.

The Senate on Thursday appointed members of a conference committee in an effort to resolve a stalemate with House lawmakers. Democrats hold majorities in both chambers.

Democratic Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants say the House-approved version of his bill asks too much of businesses by raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022 and tying future increases to an inflation.

The Senate has agreed to step up the hourly minimum wage to $11 without future adjustments.

Sanchez will represent the Senate in conference committee negotiations, along with Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming and GOP Sen. James White of Albuquerque.

New Mexico Senate Panel Guts House-Passed Tax PlanAssociated Press

A key New Mexico Senate committee has removed proposed increases in personal income tax rates for higher-earning residents.

The Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee voted 5-2 on Thursday to move along a House-passed tax package but only after the income tax hikes were dropped and the bill was significantly amended.

Committee Chair Sen. Clemente Sanchez says the state's budget surplus made it hard to rationalize a major tax hike. Under the changes, proposed tax increases on tobacco products and cars shrank.

Sanchez broke with Democratic colleagues who say significant new sources of state income are needed to ensure sustained funding for higher teacher salaries and roadways.

Rep. Jim Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat, says lawmakers have already spent the projected surplus and the state needed more revenue.

Legislature Negotiates State Budget Boost, Stimulus Package - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico legislators inched closer Wednesday to an annual budget agreement that is likely to increases spending on education by nearly half a billion dollars and channel a windfall in tax income toward infrastructure and economic stimulus.

The $7 billion general fund spending bill for the fiscal year starting July 1 was referred to a conference committee to resolve differences between House- and Senate-approved versions, including how to distribute a 6 percent increase in funding for public school teacher salaries.

The two versions share the same basic outline for a roughly $450 million spending increase to public education funding — a 16 percent boost over the current fiscal year. 

New Mexico Education Reforms Now In Governor's Hands - Associated Press

Sweeping public education reforms have been approved by the New Mexico Legislature that would increase minimum teacher pay and boost spending on low-income students.

The state House and Senate gave final approval Wednesday to mirror bills that would channel more than $100 million toward low-income students and provide incentives for school districts to lengthen the school year.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports major provisions of the bills that would raise minimum teacher salaries by as much as 12 percent and increase resources for at-risk students through adjustments to a complex school funding formula.

The judiciary is threatening to take over budgeting decisions for public education after parents and school districts successfully sued the state for failing to provide an adequate education to students from minority and low-income households.

House Passes $12 Counteroffer On Minimum Wage Increase - Associated Press

State House lawmakers are insisting on an eventual $12-an-hour statewide minimum wage and further increases tied to inflation.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved amendments to a Senate-approved bill that would raise the state's $7.50-an-hour minimum wage for the first time in a decade.

The two chambers of the Legislature are haggling over an appropriate increase and have until noon Saturday to reach a compromise.

The Senate sidelined the original House-sponsored proposal and approved an $11 minimum wage.

Under the latest House offer, the minimum wage would rise to $10 an hour next year and hit $12 on Jan. 1, 2022. Tipped-wage workers would earn a third of the minimum. The bill includes an $8.50-an-hour student wage.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned for a $12 minimum wage.

Bill Signed To Expand State's Small Loans - Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed legislation into law that would provide an additional $50 million to the state's Small Business Investment Corporation to provide loans to small enterprises not served by traditional banks.

Signed on Wednesday, the initiative doubles capitalization of the Small Business Investment Corporation using money from a multibillion-dollar state trust known as the Severance Tax Permanent fund.

Profits from the lender's small loans would returned to the roughly $5 billion Severance Tax Permanent Fund. That fund originates from taxes on oil and mineral extraction and provides about $200 million a year to the state general fund.

Albuquerque Anticipating 'Hundreds' Of Migrant Visitors - By Susan Montoya Bryan And Russell Contreras Associated Press

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller says "hundreds" of migrants from Central America and Brazil are expected to arrive in the city in the coming weeks and volunteers are preparing for visitors.

And Keller said Wednesday if the city runs out of temporary housing, he'll open up his own home.

Keller told reporters federal immigration officials have notified New Mexico's largest city that migrants seeking asylum will be arriving soon but no dates have been set. Recently, Albuquerque played host to around 300 asylum seekers who stayed in hotels before continuing their journeys.

But Keller says the city is seeking medical volunteers and faith-based groups are ready to provide temporary housing when needed.

Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester says the migrant crisis was a "spiritual reality" that has come to Albuquerque.

New Mexico Water Boss: 'We Need To Protect Our Water' - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico's top water official said Wednesday he will team up with the attorney general as a legal fight simmers with Texas and the U.S. government over management of the Rio Grande.

State Engineer John D'Antonio spoke during a confirmation hearing before a key legislative committee, saying he met this week with state Attorney General Hector Balderas as lawyers prepare to brief a special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

D'Antonio told lawmakers the fight over the river is complicated but New Mexico has strong technical arguments and needs to be aggressive in making its claims.

Santa Fe Archbishop: Accused Priests Don't Represent Church - Associated Press

Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester says people shouldn't write off the Roman Catholic Church because of former priests facing child rape charges.

Wester told The Associated Press on Wednesday he understands the hurt and anger surrounding news of former Catholic priests being accused of sexual misconduct. But Wester says the church shouldn't be judged by the actions of a few and those actions don't represent the more than a billion Catholics around the world.

This week, the New Mexico Attorney General's office announced it had filed charges against a former priest who prosecutors say brutally raped a young girl at an Albuquerque Catholic school 30 years ago.

It was the third former priest to be arrested in recent month in connection with pass allegations of sexual abuse.

New Mexico Oilfield Regulators Regain Authority Under Bill - Associated Press

New Mexico oilfield regulators would recover authority to directly levy civil fines against well operators who fail to properly maintain equipment or spill waste under a bill endorsed by the Senate.

The 32-6 Senate vote Friday sends the bill to the House for approval of amendments before it can reach the governor. The bill contains oversight provisions for the handling of water in drilling and fracking.

Collection of fines against oilfield operators has ground to a near halt in the aftermath of a 2009 state Supreme Court decision that required the involvement of state prosecutors to assess penalties.

Under the bill, possible fines would increase from $1,000 a day to $2,500 — and possibly $10,000 for major threats to health, safety or the environment. Fines are capped at $200,000.

New Mexico Group To Keep Pressing Congress On Trinity Test - Associated Press

Residents of a New Mexico Hispanic village near the site of the world's first atomic bomb test plan to return to Washington, D.C., to press Congress about compensation.

The Tularosa Basin Downwinders are holding a second annual benefit on Sunday in Albuquerque to raise money so members can speak before a Congressional committee about the effects of the Trinity Test on generations of Tularosa residents.

Members of the consortium say many who lived in the area weren't told about the dangers and were diagnosed with rare forms of cancer. They say they want acknowledgment and compensation from the U.S. government.

Scientists working in the then-secret city of Los Alamos developed the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project.

Tina Cordova says members hope to speak before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee later this year.