Governor Backs Increased Pension Contributions, Former Executive Returns As Sandia Labs Director

Dec 3, 2019

Governor Endorses Increased Pension ContributionsAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is throwing her political weight behind a public pension reform proposal that would increase retirement contributions by taxpayers and most state and local government workers.

In a statement Tuesday, Lujan Grisham announced her endorsement of a so-called profit-sharing model that links cost-of-living increases for retirement payouts to the performance of pension investments.

Unfunded pension obligations have climbed to $6.6 billion for state and local government employees.

Lujan Grisham says the proposal she backs would put the Public Employees Retirement Association on track to eliminate unfunded pension liabilities within 25 years.

Elderly, disabled and low-income retirees would be sheltered from major pension changes.

The exact scale of pension contribution increases was not immediately available. Taxpayer contributions would decrease as pension-fund finances improve.

$12.7M Dam Project Aimed At Protecting New Mexico VillageAssociated Press

A New Mexico county is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a $12.7 million project aimed at protecting the village of Hatch from flooding.

Doña Ana County officials and the federal agency will sign an agreement next week to move ahead with design and construction of an earthen dam in lower Spring Canyon.

The project will be funded through a combination of federal and local dollars.

Officials say storm runoff has been a continual threat for area residents and that flooding over the years has resulted in millions of dollars in damage.

New Mexico leads the nation with the highest percentage of high-hazard dams in either poor or unsatisfactory condition, according to an investigation by The Associated Press. Doña Ana County is home to many of the dams on the list.

Albuquerque, University Approve Development Financing PlanAssociated Press

The Albuquerque City Council has approved a resolution enabling a new tax financing plan that could result in commercial development around the University of New Mexico.

A non-binding resolution passed by the council Monday enables negotiations to create a Tax Increment Development District.

Officials say the financing mechanism would allow developers to build around the university's athletic venues and Science & Technology Park and receive reimbursement through city sales or property tax.

University officials say potential developments include parking garages, commercial and retail space and other projects that could generate up to $516 million in new tax revenue over 25 years.

Officials say the development is expected to create thousands of jobs.

Officials say previous efforts to generate development in the area have been derailed by infrastructure costs.

Fugitive NM Man, Missing Young Sons Found In Cabo San LucasAssociated Press

Mexican authorities say they have found two young brothers allegedly taken from a Las Cruces, New Mexico, daycare by their father, and arrested the man.

Police in Cabo San Lucas say in a statement that 52-year-old Clarence Michael Ransom was located at a hotel room in the Baja California Sur resort city before dawn Tuesday along with 3-year-old son Maverick and 4-year-old Orion. A woman had reported disturbances at the room.

The statement said Ransom became aggressive when police arrived, and he was detained. Officers then sought information from the local U.S. consulate and determined he had an outstanding arrest warrant for allegedly taking the boys from the country without their mother's permission.

The children were being cared for by Mexican authorities.

New Mexico Hires Team To Study Universal Health Insurance - Associated Press

The Legislature has hired team of consultants as it looks for ways to provide universal health care access under new financial models.

The Legislative Finance Committee confirmed Monday that it has awarded a roughly $390,000 contract for studying the issue to Maryland-based KNG Health Consulting, IHS Markit of London and Albuquerque-based researcher Lee Reynis.

The fiscal study was spurred by repeatedly stalled proposals from state legislators to provide near-universal health care coverage.

The Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign is calling for a system that shifts private insurance to a supplemental role in a way that resembles Medicare.

New Mexico cut the uninsured rate in half since expanding Medicaid in 2014 to more people on the cusp of poverty.

A public meeting on the analysis takes place Wednesday in Albuquerque.

Former Executive To Return As Sandia National Labs Director Associated Press

Sandia National Laboratories has chosen a former lab executive as its next director.

James Peery's appointment was announced Monday. He will succeed Stephen Younger, who will retire at the end of the year.

Peery will become the 16th director to oversee Sandia in its 70-year history. He currently serves as associate lab director of national security sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Peery says the opportunity to lead the nation's largest laboratory and the institution where he started his career will be an honor.

Peery was selected following a national search that included a review of more than 80 candidates. Officials say he was chosen because of his knowledge of Sandia, nuclear weapons and cybersecurity as well as his leadership experience within the national laboratory system.

New Mexico’s Largest City Takes Heat For Flawed Crime Stats - Associated Press

New Mexico’s largest city is taking more heat for flaws in its crime statistics.

The numbers released in July and at the end of 2018 have been revised dramatically to include hundreds — and in some cases thousands — more incidents than were reported initially, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

The city has blamed a lack of staffing at the records unit that prepared the data and a software glitch that resulted in chunks of data missing.

More details about the reasons for the discrepancies came after The Associated Press first reported in October that the city had amended its midyear statistics, noting that several categories of crime had declined by smaller percentages than initially touted by city officials.

The corrected figures showed aggravated assaults declined by just 7.5%, not 33%, for the first six months of 2019 when compared with the same period the previous year. Rape decreased 3%, not 29%, and auto theft decreased 22%, not 39%.

As for homicides, the city reported a 2.5% decrease for the first half of the year, not 18%. However, homicides have since increased substantially since July and the city will end up marking another record year.

Democratic Senate Candidate Highlights Stance On AbortionAssociated Press

U.S. Rep. and Democratic Senate candidate Ben Ray Luján is affirming his commitment to preserving abortion rights.

The six-term congressman said Monday in a statement that he will fight attempts to weaken the right of people to make their own reproductive health decisions.

The abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America is endorsing Luján's campaign to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Udall.

Existing New Mexico statutes could prohibit most abortion procedures if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its Roe v. Wade decision. Udall voted against confirmation of President Donald Trump's two successful Supreme Court nominations.

Luján is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Anti-abortion activist Elisa Martinez recently launched a campaign for the Republican Senate nomination. She is the founder of New Mexico Alliance for life.

Convicted Ex-Sheriff Hopes SCOTUS Ruling May Lead To Release - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A New Mexico lawman convicted of abusing a driver in a bizarre, off-duty traffic stop is hoping a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling may lead to an early release.

The Albuquerque Journal reports a new lawyer for former Rio Arriba County Sheriff Tommy Rodella is planning to argue that a June decision applies to the lawman's case and he should be released immediately.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote on an unrelated robbery case out of Texas, struck down a firearms statute that added seven years to Rodella's prison sentence.

In January 2015, Rodella was sentenced to 10 years and one month behind bars for convictions on two federal counts related to a road rage episode.

He's serving time at a federal prison in Seagoville, Texas.

More Public Meetings Set For Air Force Base's Training Plan - Associated Press

The U.S. Air Force is hosting another round of public meetings around southern New Mexico this week as it calls for expanding areas for training exercises.

Holloman Air Force Base released a draft environmental review of its proposal earlier this fall and extended the public comment period to Jan. 31.

Tuesday's meeting is in Truth or Consequences. Other meetings are planned for Silver City and Las Cruces.

Base officials say the existing training airspace in southern New Mexico was developed more than 30 years ago and hasn't evolved with the technology and capabilities of modern aircraft.

Some residents are concerned about alternatives that call for expanded operations over parts of the Rio Grande and the Gila region. They say the airspace closer to the base near Alamogordo would be adequate.

'El Santo Niño De Atocha' Focus Of Fresh New Mexico Exhibit - Associated Press

A Roman Catholic image of the Christ child popular in Latin America and the southwestern United States is the subject of a New Mexico exhibit.

The New Mexico State University Museum is scheduled Wednesday to unveil its exhibit on "El Santo Niño de Atocha" — a figure widely seen as a protector of children, prisoners, immigrants, poor workers and the seriously ill.

Organizers say they hope the exhibit will show Santo Niño de Atocha's importance to the communities in the borderlands.

The exhibit will feature numerous photographs of the Santo Niño from churches in El Paso, Texas, and in Chimayo, New Mexico.

It will be on display until spring 2020.

Study Focuses On Perishable Items From Guadalupe MountainsAssociated Press

A team of researchers is getting federal funding to analyze perishable artifacts to better understand the early inhabitants who lived in and around caves in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas.

Officials say the region is under-researched and the $200,000 grant from the Bureau of Land Management will help fund more work in the Guadalupe Mountains.

The University of New Mexico is partnering with the Lincoln National Forest, the New Mexico Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and the Carlsbad Museum and Art Center.

The team will use existing museum collections to build a chronology of basket and sandal styles used by those who lived in the area centuries ago.

They also will re-document two of the area's rock shelter sites with new technologies, including a drone and photogrammetric mapping.

'Baby Shark' Creators Plan Navajo Version Of Popular Video - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

Creators of the popular video "Baby Shark," whose "doo doo doo" song was played at the World Series in October, are developing a version in Navajo.

Pinkfong, a subsidiary of the South Korea company SmartStudy, announced last week it is working with the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, to create a new version of the widely popular tune about a family of sharks.

The company is seeking voice actors to portray the roles of Baby Shark, Mommy Shark, Daddy Shark, Grandma Shark, and Grandpa Shark.

The "Baby Shark Dance" video has garnered more than 3.9 billion views on YouTube.

The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American reservation in the U.S.

A second North American leg of the "Baby Shark" concert tour is launching in March.