Enrollment Drops In State's Health Exchange, Report Finds Federal Funding For Tribes Inadequate

Dec 21, 2018

Enrollment Plunges In New Mexico's Subsidized Health ExchangeAssociated Press

Enrollment in New Mexico's subsidized health exchange has fallen by more than 10 percent since a year ago even as average premium prices have stabilized.

Office of the Superintendent of Insurance spokeswoman Heather Widler on Thursday said that 45,232 people signed up or re-enrolled in the state's federally subsidized marketplace for health insurance during the 45-day enrollment period ending Dec. 15. Last year, 50,539 people enrolled.

Widler declined to comment on possible reasons for the decline in enrollment through the state's health exchange portal, known as beWellnm. Average prices for purchasing health insurance on the exchange declined slightly for 2019 from the current year.

Numbers released this week by the federal government show just a slight dip in nationwide enrolled policy holders in Affordable Care Act coverage next year through HealthCare.gov.

New Mexico Officials Say Pipeline Spill ContainedAssociated Press

State officials say they have contained a pipeline spill that resulted in 252,000 gallons of gasoline being released into an idle irrigation ditch.

In a statement Friday, a New Mexico Environment Department spokeswoman said the Santa Fe Pacific Pipeline spill happened last week near Anthony, a town that's about halfway between Las Cruces and El Paso, Texas.

Officials are still investigating what caused the oil to release into the ditch. About 168,000 gallons of gas had been recovered as of Wednesday.

The Santa Fe Pacific Pipeline is a foot in diameter and operated by Kinder Morgan. It extends from El Paso to Tucson.

Officials say the Rio Grande is situated about a mile from the spill site, but was not affected.

Colorado Official Tapped To Oversee New Mexico AgencyAssociated Press

Democratic New Mexico Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham has named new leaders to three agencies that oversee state procurement, economic development incentives, and professional licensing and consumer protection regulations.

Lujan Grisham announced Friday at a news conference the appointment of Alicia Keyes as secretary of economic development. Keyes is the film liaison for the city of Albuquerque who previously developed workforce training programs for public universities.

Marguerite Salazar will leave her job as regulatory chief for the state of Colorado to lead New Mexico's Regulation and Licensing Department.

Ken Ortiz is being tapped to lead the General Services Department that oversees state purchasing contracts, leases and more. He is a former state labor secretary who has held administrative posts at the Secretary of State's Office under elected Democrats and Republicans.

Judge Releases Man Who Had Shootout With PoliceAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

An Albuquerque judge has ruled that a man who was wounded in a shootout with police will await his trial out of jail.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that a criminal complaint says Anthony Juarez opened fire on officers last month with an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon when they arrived at his home while responding to reports of a domestic dispute.

An officer fired back, hitting Juarez in the shoulder.

But pro-tem Judge Richard Brown says he noticed problems in the complaint — namely that the detective who wrote it had not provided a source for much of the information it contained.

A spokesman for the district attorney's office says prosecutors plan to appeal the judge's decision.

While that assessment suggested that Juarez be released with no conditions, Brown ordered supervision by the court's PreTrial Services division, which could include a GPS monitor.

Albuquerque Police Seizing Cars Despite Appeals Court Ruling - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Court documents show Albuquerque police are continuing to seize cars from certain drunken driving suspects under a city ordinance that the Court of Appeals recently ruled "completely contradicts" a state law.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Dec. 5 ruling says vehicle seizure programs such as the one in Albuquerque don't comply with the New Mexico Forfeiture Act, which was amended in 2015 to sharply curtail when and how law enforcement could take property from someone.

But as recently as Saturday evening, a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court showed Albuquerque police were still taking vehicles to their seizure lot.

A spokeswoman for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller says city officials are meeting this week to determine what changes will be made to the city's vehicle seizure program after the court's ruling.

New Mexico's Largest School District Keeps Top Leadership - Associated Press

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education has voted to extend by one year the contract of Superintendent Raquel Reedy.

The board took action during a meeting this week.

The new contract runs through 2021 and includes an annual salary of $248,727. That reflects a roughly $8,000 increase to mirror other employee increases that went into effect this fiscal year.

Board President David Peercy says Reedy has provided stability for the district since first being named acting superintendent in August 2015. She was named superintendent eight months later.

The district did record its highest proficiency rates on standardized reading and math tests this year. The most recent data show the district barely falls short of the statewide math average and is about a percentage point behind the state reading score.

Report Finds US Fails In Funding Obligation To Native Americans - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

A new report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights finds that federal funding levels for Native American tribes are woefully inadequate.

That's despite the United States' responsibility under treaties and other acts to provide for services, such as education and health care.

The report released Thursday follows a 2003 report that described the shortfalls as a quiet crisis.

Funding has remained mostly flat. That's left tribes unable to tackle an epidemic of suicide, climate change and violence against women.

Catherine Lhamon is the commission's chairwoman and says the U.S. government lacks the will to boost spending.

The report recommends Congress assemble a spending package to fulfill the tribes' needs.

It also makes a strong push for Native Hawaiians to get the same benefits as federally recognized tribes.

Officials Again Delay New Mexico Racino DecisionAssociated Press

For the second time in a month, New Mexico regulators have delayed a decision on awarding the state's sixth and final license for a horse racetrack and casino.

The Racing Commission met behind closed doors for about three hours Friday before announcing it would be putting off a decision on the advice of the state attorney general's office.

At issue is a petition filed in district court by one of the companies vying for the license. The company is seeking a temporary injunction, saying the commission hasn't done enough to study the issue.

Chairman Ray Willis says the commission is frustrated that it can't move forward. He says the panel still is committed to awarding the license once it gets approval to act from the attorney general's office or once a judge rules on the court petition.

Final Racino License On The Agenda For New Mexico Regulators - Associated Press

New Mexico regulators are scheduled to take up the matter of the state's sixth and final license for a horse racetrack and casino.

The Racing Commission will meet Friday in Albuquerque. While the license is on the agenda, it's unclear whether a final decision will be made.

At issue is a court petition that seeks to temporarily block the commission from making a decision on which of five competing companies will get the license.

The commission voted Dec. 6 to postpone a decision until the court petition was resolved. A hearing on the petition hasn't been scheduled, but there's no court order in place preventing the commission from issuing the license.

The state's five existing racinos have voiced concerns about adding a sixth venue, saying doing so would hurt business.

Lawsuit Urges Feds To Protect Snakes In New Mexico, Arizona - Associated Press

A conservation group is suing the Trump administration over the protection of critical habitat for garter snakes in Arizona and New Mexico.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Tucson, accusing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of endangering the Northern Mexican garter snake and the narrow-headed garter snake.

In the filing, the organization says the populations of both snakes are at lower densities in both states.

Both became listed as threatened in 2014 under the Endangered Species Act.

An attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity says the Trump administration needs to safeguard the rivers the snakes rely on.

A spokesman for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately return a message and email seeking comment.

New Mexico Official Discourages Drilling At Otero Mesa - Associated Press

New Mexico's departing state land commissioner is warning against oil and natural gas drilling activities in a desert grasslands area where environmentalists have sought protections for decades.

State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn on Thursday urged the state to ensure that fresh water supplies and wildlife in the Otero Mesa area are safeguarded from contamination by the oil and natural gas industries.

In a stark warning, Dunn invoked difficulties in monitoring booming oilfield activities in southeastern New Mexico. He says any drilling activity at Otero Mesa should be discouraged until better infrastructure and more regulators are in place to prevent environmental damage.

Dunn will be succeeded as land commissioner on Jan. 1 by Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard of Los Alamos. Garcia Richard could not immediately be reached for comment.