Bill Would Overhaul Powerful Water Commission, Land Boss Seeks Higher Oil And Gas Royalties

Jan 30, 2019

Senate Panel Advances Bill Overhauling Water Commission – Associated Press

A measure that would overhaul the process for making appointments to a powerful commission charged with protecting, conserving and developing water resources across drought-stricken New Mexico has passed its first legislative hurdle.

A Senate panel voted unanimously Wednesday to advance the proposal, which has been in the works for years.

The sponsor, Democratic Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, says it's an effort to limit dramatic swings in water policy by removing the politics from the Interstate Stream Commission.

The panel's members are currently chosen by the governor. Under the proposal, appointments would be split between the governor and the Legislature.

To broaden the makeup of the commission, appointees also would have to meet certain qualifications. The list calls for engineers and representatives from irrigation districts, utilities and research institutions.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Buys Rare 'Ritz Tower' Painting – Associated Press

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum has announced it has purchased a rare painting of the American artist's take on a New York skyscraper.

The Santa Fe, New Mexico, museum said this week it bought the 1928 "Ritz Tower" painting in October from a private collector.

The slender painting is one of O'Keeffe's rare depictions of skyscrapers in New York City.

O'Keeffe created the image after her male peers discouraged her from painting New York subjects.

O'Keeffe curator Ariel Plotek says the work fills a hole in the museum's collection. Plotek declined to say how much it cost.

Ritz Tower will be on view in the museum's galleries on March 1.

Sun Prairie, Wisconsin-born O'Keeffe, known for her surreal images of the American Southwest, lived and painted for decades in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Body Of Missing Albuquerque Man Is Found In Pojoaque Area – Associated Press

Authorities have found the body of an Albuquerque man who was reported missing last month.

Santa Fe County Sheriff's officials say the body of 27-year-old Marshall Naranjo was discovered early Wednesday in the Pojoaque area.

They say Naranjo's death is considered suspicious and an investigation is ongoing.

Naranjo's body has been transferred to the Office of the New Mexico Medical Investigator to determine the cause of death.

Authorities say Naranjo was last seen at the Buffalo Thunder Resort in Pojoaque on Dec. 28 and he was reported missing on New Year's Eve.

Naranjo's family say he was visiting other family members in Los Alamos during Christmas.

New Mexico Weighs Greater Funding For Early Education – Associated Press

A proposal to divert additional money toward early childhood education from a New Mexico state trust fund has cleared its first hurdle in the Legislature.

Amid emotional debate, a legislative panel on Wednesday voted 10-4 to advance a proposed constitutional amendment that would increase spending from the state's $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund.

The amendment would need to be approval by the Legislature, a statewide public vote and Congress to provide an additional $144 million for spending on early educational services for infants and preschool-aged children.

Lawmakers are confronting a court order to provide greater resources to public education, including early childhood programs. Attempts to increase distributions from the permanent fund have repeatedly failed in recent years as fiscally conservative lawmakers seek to safeguard future investment returns.

New Mexico May Open Medicaid To Paying Customers – Associated Press

New Mexico would open its Medicaid program to paying customers in an effort to expand affordable health care options under newly proposed legislation.

The bill to create a Medicaid buy-in option for state residents who don't qualify for subsidized health care was introduced Wednesday by Democratic Rep. Deborah Armstrong of Albuquerque.

The proposal would allow state residents to pay a monthly premium to the state in return for medical insurance under the state's Medicaid program that currently serves low-income families and individuals.

The buy-in program would be off limits to people already enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid or who received subsidized care through the state health exchange under provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham backed the Medicaid buy-in concept during her campaign last year.

DOE Secretly Shipped Plutonium To Nevada – Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Energy has disclosed that it already shipped one-half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium to a nuclear security site in Nevada despite the state's protests.

The Justice Department notified a federal judge in Reno on Wednesday that the government had already trucked the radioactive material to the site north of Las Vegas when Nevada filed a request for an injunction to block the move in November.

Department lawyers said in a nine-page filing that the previously classified information about the shipment from South Carolina can be disclosed now because enough time has passed to protect national security.

The Energy Department wants to temporarily store the material at the Nevada site and the government's Pantex Plant in Texas, two facilities that already handle and process plutonium. The department says it would be sent by 2027 to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico or another unnamed facility.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak says he's "beyond outraged." He says he's working with Nevada's congressional delegation to fight back against the U.S. government's "reckless disregard" for the safety of Nevadans.

New Mexico Proposal Calls For Hike In Oil And Gas Royalties- Associated Press

Royalty rates for the most productive oil and natural gas wells on state trust land would increase under a measure introduced in the New Mexico Legislature.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard and other supporters say additional revenues from the industry will help fund public education reforms.

Under the legislation, the royalty cap would be increased to a high of 25 percent on future leases. The State Land Office currently can charge up to 20 percent.

The measure introduced Tuesday also calls for royalties to be paid on vented and flared gas.

Industry experts say the proposal could push more development to federal lands.

The oil boom in southeastern New Mexico hasn't slowed down, and a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey suggests parts of the Permian Basin hold even more potential.

New Mexico Considers Lighter Punishment For Drug Possession- Associated Press

Democratic state lawmakers in New Mexico are proposing to reduce drug possession offenses from felony to misdemeanor classification in an effort to decrease incarceration costs and more effectively treat addiction.

A bill introduced Tuesday by Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque and Rep. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe would reclassify as a misdemeanor the possession of drugs including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and various psychedelics when there is no intent to distribute or traffic.

The initiative follows the example of reforms in states such as Oklahoma, Connecticut, Alaska and California.

Candelaria says felony penalties for possession of trace amounts of illegal drugs are dividing families and preventing access to gainful employment and public housing.

New Mexico Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur says prosecutors would retain discretion over the severity of charges.

New Mexico Governor Joins Alliance Against Climate Change– Associated Press

The Democratic governor of New Mexico is committing the state to aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and endorsing goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global warming.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order Tuesday that sets in motion new efforts to encourage renewable energy development, improve energy efficiency for buildings, improve air quality and possibly set new vehicle emission standards.

She said the state will pursue a 45 percent reduction in the emission of heat-trapping gases by 2030. The goal is benchmarked to 2005 emission levels.

President Trump has pulled the U.S. out of an international agreement that seeks to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). Lujan Grisham is joining an alliance of state governors seeking to combat climate change.

New Mexico 'Open Primaries' Bill Passed House Committee-Associated Press 

A New Mexico proposal that would allow independent voters to participate in the state's primary elections has passed its first test.

The New Mexico House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted 3-2 to move along a bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Natalie Figueroa that would let "decline-to-state" voters cast ballots in either the Democratic and Republican primaries.

The committee's two Republicans opposed the measure.

Proponents of the bill say open primaries would allow more voters to participate in primaries.

But Republican Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell says the open primary proposal would be "an absolute nightmare" for county clerks offices.

About 22 percent for registered voters decline party affiliations in New Mexico. State law requires voters to register with a party 28 days before participating in a primary election.

New Mexico Bill To Rename Columbus Day Clears Hurdle- Associated Press

A New Mexico proposal that would trade the Columbus Day holiday for a tribute to Native Americans instead has cleared another hurdle.

The New Mexico House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee unanimously passed Tuesday a measure to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Sandia Pueblo tribal member and Democratic state Rep. Derrick Lente sponsored the bill that renames the state holiday celebrated on the second Monday in October.

He says the tribute to explorer Christopher Columbus should be dropped in a state with 23 designated Native American communities.

But Republican Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell says she was concerned the attempt to rename Columbus Day was linked to the effort to remove Confederate Monuments.

At least five states have done away with Columbus Day celebration in deference to Native Americans, though the federal Columbus holiday remains in place.

New Mexico Bill Would Prohibit Right-To-Work Ordinances- Associated Press

Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico are supporting a measure that would prohibit local governments from enacting right-to-work ordinances, arguing that the state should have exclusive jurisdiction over the issue.

After an hours-long hearing Tuesday, a House panel voted 6-3 along party lines to advance the legislation.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that government workers can't be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining. The ruling involved an Illinois state worker who argued that everything unions do, including bargaining with the state, is political and employees shouldn't be forced to pay for it.

In New Mexico, several counties have approved ordinances that prevent employees from being required to join a union or pay union fees.

Union leaders contend the ordinances create confusion and are undermining the labor groups.

Officials Say Vandals Hit New Mexico School With Vegetable OilHobbs News-Sun & Associated Press

A New Mexico high school was forced to delay classes after authorities say vandals slipped onto campus and poured vegetable oil throughout the hallways.

The Hobbs News-Sun reports the slick attack at Eunice High School in Eunice, New Mexico, reportedly occurred late Sunday and forced custodial staff to race Monday morning to clean up the mess.

Principal Tracy Davis says surveillance cameras captured six people wearing black clothing with hoodies and gloves pouring the vegetable oil on floors. Davis says the greasy attackers gained entrance through an unlocked classroom window.

Officials alerted parents and students via social media that classes were delayed until staff removed the oil.

No arrests have been made.

Eunice is about 327 miles southeast of Albuquerque.