KUNM

Feds Plan To Drop Gray Wolf Protections, Rights Bill For Sexual Assault Survivors Advances

Mar 6, 2019

Federal Officials Plan To Drop Gray Wolf ProtectionsDuluth News Tribune, Associated Press

Acting U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says the nation's population of gray wolves has fully recovered across the Lower 48 states and no longer needs federal protection.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire says Bernhardt made the announcement during a speech Wednesday at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Denver. The weeklong event focuses on wildlife conservation policy and includes researchers, government officials and others.

Gray wolves received endangered species protections in 1975 when there were about 1,000 of them in Minnesota. There are now more than 5,000 living across the contiguous U.S.

But environmental groups say the gray wolf remains absent across a majority of its former range, including portions of the Adirondack Mountains in New York State and the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.

The Duluth News Tribune reports the proposal to remove protections does not include Mexican gray wolves, a subspecies listed separately under the Endangered Species Act that has been re-introduced in New Mexico and Arizona.

Lifting protections would allow hunters to kill wolves and likely slow their expansion. Hunting already is allowed in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

Collette Adkins with the Center for Biological Diversity says her group will go to court to attempt to stop the government from lifting protections.

New Mexico House Seeks Salaries For LegislatorsAssociated Press

A proposal to provide salaries to state legislators for the first time has been endorsed by the New Mexico House of Representatives.

The 44-24 vote of the House on Wednesday advances the measure to the Senate for consideration. The proposed constitutional amendment from Democratic Reps. Bobby Gonzales of Taos and Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces would do away with the prohibition on legislative compensation and create a commission to set salaries. Senate approval would send the measure to a statewide vote.

Rubio and other proponents of professionalizing the legislature say the current system has excluded people who can't afford to take time away from paid work.

Lawmakers currently get a daily allowance for expenses, mileage reimbursements and access to retirement benefits in some instances.

New Mexico Legislature Reconsiders Its Unsalaried StatusAssociated Press

The nation's only unsalaried legislature is reconsidering its volunteer work ethic.

The New Mexico House of Representatives on Wednesday debated a constitutional amendment that would provide salaries to state legislators. Legislative approval would send the matter to a statewide vote.

New Mexico is the only state in the nation where lawmakers receive no salary for their work, though taxpayers foot the bill for travel expenses and an allowance for meals and lodging. Many lawmakers also have access to public pension benefits.

The proposal would repeal the salary prohibition and establish a commission to set legislative salaries. Advocates for professionalizing the Legislature say the current system discourages young, working class candidates from serving.

Opponents including Rep. Greg Nibert of Roswell praise the state's tradition of unsalaried public service and limited government.

Vehicle Access Closed At Valles Caldera National PreserveLos Alamos Monitor, Associated Press

Officials at Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico have started closing all vehicle access along the preserve's main entrance road due to the threat of flooding and poor road conditions.

The Los Alamos Monitor reported Tuesday that the National Park Service says the East Fork Jemez River is threatening to overtop the road and melting snow is impacting road conditions.

Visitors can still access the preserve on-foot through the Coyote Call and Valle Grande trailheads, and through access points at pullouts along New Mexico State Road 4.

Park Service spokeswoman Kimberly DeVall says park rangers will be stationed at the preserve's main entrance to answer questions and give information to the public.

While recreational access is still encouraged, there will be no public restroom facilities and visitors are advised to plan accordingly.

Police, Sheriffs Address Concerns Over Enforcing Gun BillAssociated Press

A bill to expand background checks on private gun sales in New Mexico that is set to become law with the governor's promised signature is presenting a key question for law enforcement: How do they expect to enforce it?

Debate over the bill exposed a rift in the state over gun rights before it won approval in the Legislature this week. A large majority of sheriffs have signaled they will refuse to enforce the law, which they say will do little to address shootings until after they occur.

Others, including Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza, say the measure provides a public safety tool. For example, he said officers could follow up on complaints that felons or others restricted from owning firearms are obtaining them.

Union Complaints Against Las Cruces DA's Office Dismissed Associated Press

Discrimination complaints leveled by a union against a southern New Mexico District Attorney's office have been dismissed.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports prohibited practices complaints against the office of Third Judicial District Attorney Mark D'Antonio were tossed this week in a ruling by Public Employee Labor Relations Board director Thomas Griego.

The decision could settle a case brought by the Communications Workers of America, the labor union that represented the prosecuting attorneys for just one year. The labor board still must accept Griego's ruling at its March meeting.

In a 74-page ruling, Griego set aside claims of sexual harassment and discrimination brought by employees who were disciplined for displaying "No Mansplaining" signs on their doors.

Instead, he focused on whether the union showed that three female attorneys were discriminated against because of their union activity.

Navajo Nation President Says No To Snow Emergency FundsAssociated Press

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has vetoed $3 million that the Navajo Nation Council approved for an ongoing snow emergency.

Nez said in a release Monday that he line-item vetoed the money for the Nation's 110 chapters not only because of unspent chapter funds, but also because the Nation is faced with the real possibility of a major revenue decrease due to the uncertainty of the continuation of some of the Nation's largest revenue sources.

A snow emergency declaration was issued Feb. 19. The Gallup Independent newspaper reports the Navajo Nation Council approved the $3 million appropriation on Feb. 26, even though the Office of the Auditor General and the Division of Community Development produced reports that showed unspent emergency funds of more than $2.4 million for the chapters.

New Mexico Governor Says Trust Should Fund PrekindergartenAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is urging state legislators to devote a share of state trust funds to early childhood education.

The newly inaugurated Democratic governor on Wednesday held her 3-year-old granddaughter on her lap as she addressed member of a Senate panel on education.

Lujan Grisham wants the state to increase withdrawals slightly from a $17 billion trust to fund public preschool and other early childhood education programs.

Opponents of greater withdrawals fear it will erode investment returns that help sustain the Land Grant Permanent Fund. The trust already supplies more than $800 million annually to public education, hospitals and public universities.

Lujan Grisham says increasing withdrawals by roughly half a percent each year won't hurt the fund and can ensure children get schooling when they need it the most.

New Facility To Be Built In El Paso For MigrantsAssociated Press

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is building a new facility in El Paso, Texas, to help manage the ever-growing number of families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Commissioner Kevin McAleenan says the facility will be a centralized location where migrants can get proper medical screenings and care. But he says it is a temporary measure and the system can't support the increase in families, because they require specialized care and cannot be easily returned over the border.

Since January, nearly 100,000 families have been apprehended between ports of entry. From October through September 2018, about the same number of families was apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. There were about 400,000 arrests overall in the 2018 budget year.

McAleenan says families are crossing the border in dangerously rural locations at great risk to their health. Two children died in Border Patrol custody in the past few months.

Los Angeles Woman Found Dead On New Mexico ReservationAssociated Press

A Los Angeles woman who disappeared months ago has been found dead in New Mexico but authorities say they don't suspect foul play.

Police Wednesday say the body of Denise Coultas was discovered last week on the Acoma Indian reservation, near the spot where she'd last been seen.

Officials say Coultas had diminished mental capacity and a history of wandering away from her family.

She was reported missing in November. A search was hampered by bad weather and rugged terrain.

New Mexico Advances Rights Bill For Sexual Assault Survivors - Associated Press

The New Mexico House of Representatives has passed a bill aimed at safeguarding the legal rights of sexual-assault victims who report to police.

The House endorsed the bill on a 67-1 vote Tuesday. The bill now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

The proposed Sexual Assault Survivor's Bill of Rights from Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Thomson of Albuquerque would require that police notify crime victims about their legal rights when it comes to sexual assault examination kits. Those legal guarantees include the right to have the kit tested within 90 days and to be notified whether DNA samples are linked to potential suspects.

The bill also addresses the right of sexual assault victims to have an advocate present during examinations, interviews and investigations.

Minor Marijuana Changes Clear New Mexico Senate - Associated Press

The New Mexico state Senate has passed a bill that would decrease penalties for marijuana possession.

The Senate voted 30-8 yesterday to pass a bill, sponsored by Democrats, that would reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. More ambitious reform proposals to allow recreational marijuana sales in New Mexico have yet to reach the House or Senate floor.

The bill from Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces would reduce penalties for possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana to a $50 fine on first offense.

Republican Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque says the bill doesn't go far enough toward modernizing marijuana regulation. He is sponsoring a bill to tax recreational marijuana sales at state-operated stores that has been heard by two committees with winning an endorsement.

New Mexico Education Reforms Win Senate, House Endorsements - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Sweeping public education reforms were endorsed by the New Mexico state House and Senate on Tuesday in an effort to boost minimum teacher pay, channel more than $100 million toward low-income students and provide incentives for schools to extend the instructional time.

Nearly identical bills were approved by a 41-0 vote of the Senate and 53-14 in the House.

Provisions of both bills would raise minimum teacher salaries by as much as 12 percent and increase spending on students from low-income and minority families through adjustments to a complex school funding formula.

The state would offer $120 million in annual spending for elementary schools that chose to extend the school year by five weeks through a program called K-5 Plus. The program is initially reserved for schools with a high percentage of low-income students or faltering academics, though other districts can apply for leftover money.

New Mexico Sues US Air Force Over Groundwater Contamination - Associated Press

New Mexico is suing the U.S. Air Force over groundwater contamination at two military bases in the state.

State Attorney General Hector Balderas said Tuesday the lawsuit is aimed at getting the Air Force to clean up the pollution and ensure that residents have access to clean water.

Chemicals associated with firefighting foam once used at Cannon and Holloman air bases were detected last year in groundwater on and near the military installations. State regulators say the contamination constitutes an immediate and substantial danger to surrounding communities.

The Air Force declined Tuesday to comment on the pending litigation.

The Pentagon acknowledged in a report to Congress last year that water at or around dozens of military installations across the U.S. contains levels of the chemicals above federal health standards.

New Mexico Bill Aims To Limit Immigration Detention Centers - Associated Press

A new proposal would restrict federal contracts for immigration detention centers and could make New Mexico a sanctuary state.

Democratic state Reps. Angelica Rubio and Antonio "Moe" Maestas are pushing a bill that limits the use of state and local resources for civil immigration custody or detention purposes.

Under the proposal, state law enforcement agencies would not be able to sign new federal contracts or renew current ones involving civil immigration custody unless there have been two public meetings.

Legislative analysts say the bill potentially could make New Mexico a sanctuary state in the view of the federal government and cost the state millions of dollars in federal grants.

House Republicans are expected to strongly oppose the bill.

Union Complaints Against Las Cruces DA's Office Dismissed

Discrimination complaints leveled by a union against a southern New Mexico District Attorney's office have been dismissed.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports prohibited practices complaints against the office of Third Judicial District Attorney Mark D'Antonio were tossed this week in a ruling by Public Employee Labor Relations Board director Thomas Griego.

The decision could settle a case brought by the Communications Workers of America, the labor union that represented the prosecuting attorneys for just one year. The labor board still must accept Griego's ruling at its March meeting.

In a 74-page ruling, Griego set aside claims of sexual harassment and discrimination brought by employees who were disciplined for displaying "No Mansplaining" signs on their doors.

Instead, he focused on whether the union showed that three women attorneys were discriminated against because of their union activity.

New Mexico Regulators May Fault City Over Sewage Plant - Hobbs News-Sun, Associated Press

Officials in a southeastern New Mexico community are expecting state regulators to fault the city over its sewage treatment plant.

The Hobbs News-Sun reports Jal City Manager Matt White said this week he's expecting a noncompliance letter from state regulators after the city's sewage treatment plant and lagoons showed high levels of nitrates.

The New Mexico Environment Department recently notified White by email. A noncompliance letter will be issued in five to six weeks.

White says nitrates problems seem to have been getting worse in the last five years. He vowed the city would work to fix the issue.

Fertilizer in runoff is the most common source of nitrate contamination.